Get Fired UP! Tips for Baking on the Grill

Nothing says summer quite like the smell and sound of food sizzling on the grill.  In previous blogs, tips for grilling meat and sides—fruits and vegetables—were shared.  Did you know that you can use your grill as an oven for baking, too? 

Anything you can bake in a kitchen oven – casseroles, pies, cookies, brownies, pizza, coffee cake, bread – can be baked on a gas or charcoal grill all summer long without heating up the kitchen.  While you don’t need to adjust the recipes, you do need to figure out how to turn direct heat into indirect heat. Every grill is different, so you’ll need to figure out what will work best with what you’ve got. It’s also a good idea to start with something simple (I started with brownies and pizza) and work up to more complicated baked goods. It may take some time to get it just right, so be patient and write down what you learn along the way. Here are some tips to get you started.

Start with a clean grill.  You don’t want your baked goods to taste like last night’s onions or brats or whatever was grilled last.

Preheat the grill.  Weber [1] has some great tips for preheating and baking with both gas and charcoal grills.  I have a gas grill and have found that preheating to 25⁰ F higher than the desired temperature is helpful.  Heat is lost when placing the unbaked items inside and is not regained as quickly as in an oven.  Every grill is different, so getting the temperature right may take some experimenting. If your grill doesn’t have a built-in thermometer as mine does, invest in one as knowing the temperature inside the grill is important.

Use indirect heat.  To create indirect heat, turning off some burners on a gas grill will be necessary to create indirect heat.  My grill has three burners so I turn 1 and 3 to medium and turn off 2 allowing me to bake in the middle of the grill.   Sometimes, I find the need to turn off both 1 and 2 and use only 3 for heat giving me more space on the grill for baking.  For charcoal grills, move the charcoal to one side of the grill and bake on the side away from the heat.

Choose baking dishes that withstand intense heat.  A pizza stone or a cast iron skillet are perfect options. I bake cookies, pizza, and bread on my pizza stone and casseroles, cakes, brownies, cobblers, and crisps in my cast iron skillet!  Avoid using glassware even if it is Pyrex® as it is prone to breaking despite using indirect grill heat. Grill mats are another options for some baked goods.

Choose recipes that are forgiving.  Since grill baking is less precise than oven baking, choose recipes that will withstand the fluctuating temperatures on a grill.  Cakes are the most finicky. I’ve had the best luck with pizza, brownies, fruit crisps, and casserole dishes.  Flatter, artesian-type breads usually do well for me, too.

Keep an eye on the temperature while baking.  Grill temperature fluctuates more than the oven so sometimes adjustment of temperature is necessary.  I’ve found this to be particularly true when there is wind. Check the temperature frequently while baking and adjust as necessary.

Avoid the temptation to lift the lid.  Lifting the lids releases a lot of heat.  Use your nose as much as possible and if you must lift the lid, make it quick.  It takes a little practice to know that distinct perfect—DONE—smell.  (We all know the one of food baked too long.) 

Grill baking time may be different than oven baking time.  I find that baking goes faster in the grill than in my oven and that the same recipe can vary in time depending upon grill conditions.  While the traditional toothpick inserted into the middle technique works well to determine doneness, it is helpful to insert a temperature probe into the center of the unbaked product to determine when some baked items are done.  For example, cake is done when the probe reaches 210⁰ F.

Baking in a grill takes experimentation and patience.  Grilled baked goods may not turn out the same as baked in an oven.  There may be signs of hot spots or browned more than usual on the bottom.  As long as they are not over-baked (burned), they will still be tasty.  By using your grill, you’ve kept the kitchen cool.  And as a bonus, in the event of a power outage, you will have learned a means of baking without an oven.  Check out Get Fired UP!  Tips for Grilling Meat and Sides—Fruits and Vegetables for additional grilling tips and get into summer grilling in a big way!

This blog was reviewed by Anirudh Naig, Associate Professor in Hospitality Management & State Extension Specialist for Retail Food Safety at Iowa State University.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Get Fired Up! Tips for Grilling Sides – Fruits and Vegetables

Nothing says summer quite like the smell and sound of food sizzling on the grill.  In a previous blog, tips for grilling meat were shared.  While the king of the grill might be meat, the produce aisle is full of goodies that take on amazing flavors when grilled.  Grilling brings out the sweet, toasty, and caramelized flavors that other cooking techniques do not. Besides shining with flavor, there’s very little prep involved.

Here are a few pointers to perfect your vegetable and fruit grilling technique:

  • Wash, trim, and peel as necessary.
  • Make sure to clean the grill grates with a wet cloth or paper towel. If using a metal brush, besure that there are no bristles left behind. Bristles can attach to food and if consumed can cause choking or affect the digestive tract.
  • Prepare pieces that are consistent in size to ensure even cooking.
  • To prevent sticking and add flavor, brush or toss with 1-2 tablespoons oil per pound. Excessive oil will cause flare-ups.  Add any seasonings desired with the oil.
  • Use a perforated grilling basket or grilling mats to prevent items from falling through the grates.  I prefer the grilling mats, copper or non-stick PTEE (PFOA free).  Mats make grilling so easy and still allow foods to take on the grill flavors and coveted grill marks. They are easy to clean and keep the grill grates clean, too. 
  • Stainless steel kabob skewers are best for grilling because they don’t roll and they are easy to flip. Wood or bamboo skewers should be soaked in water for 30 minutes before using to keep them from burning.
  • When grilling a variety of vegetables, be sure to start with the ones that take the longest to cook and add the others incrementally, saving the quickest-cooking ones for last. Produce should be removed before it is soft as it will continue cooking once removed from grill.  On a medium hot grill it typically takes 10 minutes or less for most vegetables to cook.
  • Apply barbecue or other sweet sauce or coatings toward the end of cooking so it has time to glaze but not burn.

Guidelines for Grilling Individual Vegetables

Here are some great tips for grilling individual vegetables from Alexandra Grenci with Rutgers Cooperative Extension [1].

  • Asparagus: The ends of asparagus spears can be tough, so trim them off, then toss the spears in olive oil and salt/pepper and grill for 4-5 minutes over a medium-high grill, then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes.
  • Bell peppers: Remove the core and seeds, then slice each pepper into about four separate sections. Toss with olive oil and salt/pepper and grill over a medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes. Then turn and grill 4-5 minutes longer.
  • Cabbage: Cut the cabbage in half and then slice each half into thick 1-inch slices. Toss with olive oil and your favorite seasonings. You can skewer each big slice to keep it from falling apart. Grill over a medium-high grill for about 10 minutes, then turn and grill for another ten minutes.
  • Cauliflower: Cut the cauliflower into big florets, toss in olive oil and your favorite seasonings and then skewer. Grill over medium-high heat, turning often, for about 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and lightly charred.
  • Corn: Some people like to grill corn with the husks still on, but that’s just steaming the corn, really. By removing the husks and the silk and cooking the corn directly on the grill, the kernels get lightly blackened and caramelized, bringing out tons of sweet corn flavor. You should grill corn over a medium grill for 4-5 minutes, turning frequently.
  • Eggplant: Cut the eggplant into ½-inch slices. Brush them with oil or a simple balsamic vinaigrette, toss with your favorite spices. Grill over a medium-high grill for about 5 minutes, then flip and grill for 5 minutes longer.
  • Mushrooms: Toss white or brown button mushrooms with olive oil and Kosher salt. Then skewer and cook over a medium-high grill for 7-8 minutes, turning frequently. You can also grill a whole Portobello mushroom cap directly on the grill. Grill them smooth-side-down for 8-9 minutes.
  • Onions: Large, sweet onions like Vidalias are great for grilling, as are red onions. Just peel them, cut them into ½-inch slices, toss them in olive oil and your favorite seasonings and cook over a medium-high grill for 2-3 minutes, then turn and grill 2-3 minutes longer. A skewer can be handy to hold the onions together on the grill.
  • Tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes can be skewered and grilled whole, for 3-4 minutes over a medium-high grill. Be sure to turn them frequently so that they cook evenly. You can also grill plum tomatoes. Cut them in half the long way, remove the seeds and grill for four minutes, then turn and grill for four minutes longer.
  • Zucchini and yellow squash: Cut into ½-inch pieces lengthwise, toss in olive oil and salt /pepper and cook over medium-high grill for 4-5 minutes. Then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes longer.

Guidelines for Grilling Fruit

  • Just about any fruit can go on the grill as long as it is fairly firm and not overripe. Peaches, melons, pineapple, pears, tomatoes, bananas, and figs are just some of the fresh fruits that will hold their shape over the coals.
  • Most fruit is fairly fragile, so cut fruit into large chunks, slices, and wheels to help it maintain its structure as it heats up and breaks down. Smaller fruits like grapes and blueberries can be prepared on a skewers.
  • Grilled fruit kabobs are a win at any picnic or barbecue.  Any combination of fruits can be used and they make a perfect appetizer or dessert.
  • In addition to a small amount of oil (neutral) or butter, fruits are best mixed or brushed with a bit of citrus juice (lemon juice prevents browning), maple syrup, or honey prior to grilling.  For additional flavor, try adding cinnamon, chili powder, smoked paprika or a curry blend.
  • Grill fruit over high heat for three minutes without moving or turning it to get the perfect sear (and coveted grill marks). Flip and cook for one to three minutes more.
  • Grill fruit flesh-side down.  If you place it skin side down, you’ll miss the caramelized texture and the heat won’t get through the rest of the fruit evenly.
  • Fruits contain a lot of water, which makes them very hot once they are cooked. Be sure to allow time for grilled fruits to cool down a little before serving.
  • Even though grilled fruit makes a great dessert, it is not just for dessert.  Grilled fruit can be used as a side dish, in fresh salsas, and as part of delicious appetizers.  Taste of Home [2] offers 39 amazing ways to grill fruit.

If you haven’t grilled fruits and vegetables, do give it a try. You will find them tasty, nutritious and a great way to enjoy those foods that are so good for you. Enjoy your grill even more by getting additional Get Fired Up! tips for grilling meat and baking.

This blog was reviewed by Anirudh Naig, Associate Professor in Hospitality Management & State Extension Specialist for Retail Food Safety at Iowa State University.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Get Fired UP! Tips for Grilling Meat

Nothing says summer quite like the smell and sound of food sizzling on the grill.  Of all the foods that can be prepared on the grill, meat is king with everyone’s goal to cook it to perfection.  Whether it is steak, pork chops, chicken, or fish, knowing how to grill each type of meat is crucial for success. There’s nothing worse than overcooking or undercooking the priciest part of the meal! Meat, chicken, hamburgers, or seafood must be fully cooked to a safe internal temperature before serving to prevent falling ill after eating from food poisoning. 

Grill Safely to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses

Before starting any grilling, care needs to be taken to prevent foodborne illness.  The risk of foodborne illness increases during the summer months because disease-causing bacteria grow faster on raw meat and poultry products in warmer weather. Bacteria also need moisture to flourish and summer weather, often hot and humid, provides the perfect conditions. Follow these four USDA recommendations to keep friends and family safe from foodborne illness:

  • Clean – Wash hands and surfaces often.  Prior to placing food on the grill, wipe the grill surface or clean the grill grates with a stiff brush. If a stiff brush is used, inspect the grill surface to ensure there are no bristles left behind; bristles can cause physical contamination if it sticks to the food.
  • Separate – Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods.  Place grilled food on a clean plate, not the plate you used to carry the raw meat to the grill.
  • Cook – Use a food thermometer to ensure meat and poultry are cooked to a safe temperature to kill harmful germs. When smoking, keep temperatures inside the smoker at 225oF to 300oF to keep meat at a safe temperature while it cooks [1].
    145oF – whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal (stand-time of 3 minutes at this temperature)
    145oF – fish
    160oF – hamburgers and other ground beef
    165oF – all poultry
    135oF – all pre-cooked meats, like hot dogs
  • Chill – Refrigerate or freeze left-overs promptly – within two hours of cooking (one hour if above 90oF outside.).
    For more food grilling safety tips, see Food Safety Tips to Grilling Pros and Beginners provided by the USDA .

Tips to Ensure Your MEAT Masterpieces Come Off the Grill Flawlessly

  • Prepare the grill by cleaning the grill grates as previously stated. Oil the grates. A great tip I learned from a program on IPTV is to slice an onion in half, stab one half on the onion with a long fork, dip the onion in oil and rub the grates with the onion. It not only does a great job on getting oil on the grates without flare up, but also seasons the grates a little.
  • Pat meat dry using paper towels to remove any excess moisture that would otherwise steam-cook the meat or inhibit caramelization.
  • Liberally rub the meat with a dry brine or salt and pepper to help keep the meat from drying out.  For steaks and chops, season just before grilling.  Salt pulls moisture to the surface so seasoning when the grill is ready keeps that process from drawing moisture out of the meat and making it wet. It helps to rub the meat with a little bit of olive oil prior to seasoning as it helps to hold the seasoning in place.
  • If possible, establish a two-zone cooking area in the grill.  One area should be hot for searing (cooking briefly over high heat) the meat and the other at a cooler temperature for cooking the meat to the desired doneness after searing.  If this is not possible, turn the heat down on the grill after searing. 
  • Once the meat is on the grill, resist all urges to touch or lift it until it releases from the grill naturally. This will aid in solid grill marks which lend flavor and keep the meat from tearing. Once the meat releases, turn it often to allow even cooking.
  • Use a meat thermometer to gauge when the meat is done using the USDA’s Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart, updated in 2020.  After grilling, hot foods should be kept at a minimum of 140⁰F.
  • After the meat has reached temperature, allow it to rest before slicing or eating so the meat has time to reabsorb its favorable juices and make the meat soft and moist.  Cover with foil and let rest a minimum of 3 minutes before serving. The meat temperature will also rise a small amount while resting.
  • Slice the meat against the grain. Cuts made perpendicular to the grain results in short meat fibers which gives a tender bite of meat.

Meat Grilling Specifics from the Pros

For specifics on grilling the various meat types see the following:
Grilling Pork by the National Pork Board.
Grilling Basics for Beef or Expert Grilling Advice from Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Also, How to Grill Steaks Perfectly… For Beginners by Omaha Steaks.  
Poultry Grilling Guide by Weber, B&G Foods, Inc.
How to Grill Fish by the Institute of Culinary Education.

Grilling is more than throwing some meat on a hot grill.  Whether using a gas or charcoal grill, following a few steps when grilling and knowing how to cook and how long to cook the particular food will help assure a successful outcome. The Get Fired Up! grilling tips continues with Grilling Sides–Fruits and Vegetables and Baking on the Grill.

This blog was reviewed by Anirudh Naig, Associate Professor in Hospitality Management & State Extension Specialist for Retail Food Safety at Iowa State University.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Sweet Corn – A Summertime Treasure

The long-awaited summer treasure, sweet corn, will be available from local growers very soon.  I am fortunate to have sweet corn growing in our garden but if I didn’t, sweet corn would be at the top of my list to buy only in season from local growers.  Getting a variety I like and biting into an ear of plump kernels bursting with that sweet, corn flavor is well worth the wait. 

Sweet corn is an old food. The specific time when sweet corn originated cannot be pin-pointed.  However, Spanish explorers in the early 1500s found Indians growing corn in East Texas, and the Spanish carried on corn culture in the Rio Grande valley settlements and Texas missions. They ate the grain as a basic ingredient in tortillas, tamales, posole, and atole.  The first known variety, Papoon, was acquired from the Iroquois Indians in 1779 by European settlers. Sweet corn has been ever evolving. Over time, plant breeders have developed sweeter cultivars as well as cultivars with better keeping qualities, flavor, tenderness, vigor, and other characteristics. Sweet corn now comes in several hundred varieties of five genetic types and is available in three different colors: yellow, white and bi-colored (yellow and white).

Genetic Types and Characteristics

The long-grown or older varieties of sweet corn are known as Standards (su).  These cultivars have the traditional sweet corn flavor and texture with sugar levels generally between 10 and 15 percent at harvest. Unfortunately, standard cultivars retain their high quality for only one or two days and don’t generally store well as sugars quickly convert to starch after harvest [1]. Honey and Cream, Silver Queen, Sterling Silver, Jubilee, and Merit are some well-known names.

The first breeding improvement was the introduction of Sugar Enhanced (se) cultivars. Sugar enhanced cultivars contain the sugar enhancer (se) gene that produces ears with sweet, tender kernels. Sugar levels are slightly higher than standard sugary cultivars. The harvest and storage life of se types are slightly longer than standard sweet corn [1].  Well-known SE varieties include Bodacious, Ambrosia, Sweet Temptation, Delectable, and Miracle.  SE varieties are typically used for freezing.

Then along came the Supersweet (sh2) corn varieties.  These cultivars contain the shrunken-2 (sh2) gene. Supersweet varieties have smaller, crisper kernels with high sugar levels and convert sugar to starch slowly, allowing for a longer harvest period and storage life [1] of about three days1. Candy Store, Florida Staysweet, Sugar Loaf, Sweet Time, and Sweetie are some of the Supersweet varieties.

With further development, the Synergistic (syn) cultivars possessing the su, se, and sh2 genes entered the sweet corn scene. These cultivars are sweet, creamy, and tender and have an excellent storage life [1] remaining at their peak for five days before converting to starch1. Allure, Inferno, Providence, and Sweetness are examples of Synergistic varieties.

Lastly, an improvement on the Supersweets are the Augmented Supersweets (shA). They are sweet, tender, and have an even longer storage life [1] offering a ten day window where sugars are at their peak before converting to starch1. Anthem, Obsession, and Patriarch are examples in this group.

Of course, when you’re buying corn, you often only have one choice and it’s frequently not labeled as anything but fresh corn. If you really want a particular variety or want to know the characteristics of what you are buying, talk with the producer at a farmer’s market; they will likely be able to fill you in on the variety or other details.  A seller at a local stand may or may not know the variety and simply sell the corn by a popular or recognized name.  One that I often see used for bi-color corn is ‘peaches and cream,’ a sugar enhanced (se) bicolor that has been around for some time. For a short listing of suggested cultivars of each each gene type, see Sweet Corn by Iowa State University Extension horticulturalists.

Get It Fresh – Keep It FreshEnjoy It Fresh

Despite all the genetic improvements, the trick to getting good corn for eating is to get it as fresh as you can and cook and eat it promptly. When choosing corn, look for ears with moist, fresh-looking husks free of insect damage. Feel the ears to assess the plumpness of the kernels and whether the rows of kernels are fully formed. (Quick fact:  the average ear of corn has 800 kernels, arranged in 16 rows. There is one piece of silk for each kernel.)  Refrain from pulling the husks back to check out the kernels as it is not only bad manners, but spoils the corn for others; opened corn dries out quickly. Once home, store sweet corn in the refrigerator with the husks on or off in a plastic bag; husk on is best but shucked corn may fit in the fridge better. Remember, depending on cultivar, the sugars in corn begin to convert to starch so purchase only what you can use in a few days.

Fresh sweet corn can be prepared in a variety of ways—boiled, steamed, microwaved, grilled—and even raw. The key thing to remember is that today’s sweeter and fresher varieties do not require the cooking time of yesteryear.  Sweet corn can be cooked anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, depending on how “done” you like it.  Once cooked, it can be eaten directly off the cob or sliced off and used in recipes.

Fresh corn kernels are also great to keep on hand for tossing into salads or other side dishes. Raw corn cut off the ear will last only a day or two in the refrigerator before turning sour. To preserve the freshness, cut the kernels off the cobs and blanch them in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes. Drain, let cool, and store in a covered container in the fridge for up to five days. Another option is to blanch, cool, and freeze the kernels in a single layer on a baking sheet until hard, and then store in an airtight container in the freezer where they will retain best quality for up to three months.

Lastly, when sweet corn is in season, it is a great time to freeze or can it for eating throughout the year. Corn is one of the best vegetables to freeze because the quality of home-frozen corn is superior to commercial products. Purdue Extension [2] says most sweet corn varieties are acceptable for canning and freezing but recommends the following varieties:
Yellow -Bodacious and Incredible
Bicolor – Temptation, Delectable, and Providence
White – Silver King, Silver Princess, and Whiteout.

For specifics on canning and freezing corn, see the National Center for Home Food Preservation website for details:
Freezing Corn,
Canning – Whole Kernel Corn,
Canning – Cream Style Corn.  
Or
Let’s Preserve Sweet Corn by Perdue Extension
Freezing Sweet Corn:  Whole Kernels by University of Minnesota Extension.

Enjoy and make the most of one of summer’s treasurers.  It’s only a matter of days!
_____________________________________
1
Rupp Seed Inc, 2021 Vegetable Resource Guide:  Sweet Corn Genetic Types

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Make Lemonade! Drink Lemonade!

Sipping ice-cold lemonade on a hot summer day is one of life’s memorable pleasures.  However, for me, that means lemonade made with real lemons, sugar, and water.  I am not a fan of frozen concentrate, powdered instant mixes, or bottled or canned (refrigerated or shelf-stable) lemonades.  While the latter are very convenient, they just don’t make the mark for me; they are nowhere near as delicious as a homemade version and often are full of artificial ingredients.  There’s seriously nothing more refreshing than a big glass of cold, fresh squeezed lemonade.

There are two easy ways to make fresh lemonade—fresh squeezed or DIY concentrate.  Either option is made with just three simple ingredients—fresh lemons, sugar, and water.  Making your own lemonade gives the option to adjust the sweetness to one’s liking and also add other fruits or herbs to the mix—like strawberries or mint.   WARNING!  There are downsides to making your own lemonade: it may ruin your taste for any store-bought lemonade, be more costly, and require preparation time.

Get Squeezing and Make Lemonade.

Fresh Squeezed.  Fresh squeezed lemonade can be made by combining fresh lemon juice, sugar, water, and ice followed by stirring or shaking to dissolve the sugar OR by combining the lemon juice with a simple syrup and pouring over ice.  Recipes for both styles of fresh lemonade can be found at food.com and tastesbetterfromscratch.com.

DIY Lemonade Concentrate.  Concentrate is made by adding fresh lemon juice to a simple sugar.  It can be store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months (for best quality). When the mood strikes, the concentrate is simply diluted with water and ice.   A good recipe can be found at realsimple.com.

Health Benefits Derived from Drinking Lemonade

As it turns out, the adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is good advice.  Beyond quenching your thirst, fresh lemonade has many health benefits because it contains lemon juice—lemons are one of the superfoods. Lemonade made with real lemons is an easy way to get a healthy dose of lemon juice.  Lemon juice is an especially good source of vitamins (C, B6, A), folate, potassium, phytonutrients and antioxidants (flavonoids) that can assist the body in numerous ways.   Some benefits include:

Assist with Digestion:  Citric acid stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach which improves digestion. Citric acid also slows the break down food and absorption of nutrients in the gut.

Prevent Kidney Stones:  According to researchers at UC San Diego [1], lemons have the highest concentration of citrate of all citrus fruits.  Citrate is a natural inhibitor of kidney stone formation and also breaks up small stones that are forming. The more citric acid in your urine, the more protected you are from forming new kidney stones [2]

Improve LDL Cholesterol Levels.   Citrus fruits contain a compound known as citrus limonoids. One type of limonoid, called limonin found in the juice of lemons, may help reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol and improve heart health.

Prevent Cancer:  The antioxidants found in lemons have been shown to prevent cells in your body from deforming which can lead to cancer developing and/or spreading.

Lower Blood Pressure:  Lemons contain a high amount of potassium which can help to calm numerous cardiac issues.

Risks of Consuming Lemonade

If consumed in excess, lemonade could cause gastric reflux problems or heartburn for those who suffer from the conditions. Citric acid can also wear down tooth enamel.  For that reason, drinking lemonade through a straw is encouraged.  Additionally, there are approximately 28 grams of carbohydrate (sugar) or 150 calories in a 12 oz glass of lemonade.  

Fresh lemonade—it really does a body good!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Containing Strawberry Freshness

It’s strawberry season!  Those lush, first fruits of summer are starting to appear in home gardens, farmer’s markets, and u-pick patches.  How do you keep them fresh and enjoy them at their prime?

There is nothing worse than having fresh strawberries go bad within a day or two.  Because it happens all too frequently, consumers have shared their ‘secrets’ or methods to thwart this disappointing situation.  Any number of recommendations on keeping strawberries fresh can be found by perusing the web.  One site, thekitchen.com [1], put seven popular methods of storing strawberries to the test with the hopes of find the best method of storing strawberries longer.  The test findings revealed that rinsing the strawberries in vinegar water prior to storage proved to be the best.  Having heard that method several years ago, I tried it and did not find it to be as successful as touted.   According to food scientists, moisture is the enemy of strawberries.  So what do the experts recommend?

Rinse the berries and remove caps when you are ready to eat or use them.    

University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension [2] says that “strawberries are like small sponges and soak up all the water they come into contact with.  Once they have soaked it up, they are quick to turn to mush and mold even if they have been thoroughly patted dry.” This is also the reason that strawberries should not be picked when they are damp.  The same holds true for berries that have experienced heavy rain or several days of wet weather even though they are dry at the time of picking; they are on moisture overload and will not keep long regardless of how they are cared for or stored.

Therefore, strawberries should only be washed before eating or using to remove dirt and any potential bacterial contamination.  To wash, rinse the berries thoroughly under cool running water, drain in a clean strainer, and pat dry with paper towels.  For any berries showing signs of dirt, gently rub the berry under running water.  Linda J Harris, Food Safety Expert at UC Davis [3], says “Washing strawberries in a sink filled with water is not recommended since the standing water can spread contamination from one berry to another.  The use of soap or detergent is also not recommended or approved for washing fruits and vegetables because the produce can absorb detergent residues.”

Refrigerate if not used right away.

Strawberries do not ripen after picking so putting them in the refrigerator does not slow the ripening.  It does, however, slow the progression of mold growth on or between the berries if they will not be used for eating or cooking shortly after picking.  If they will be used or eaten after picking, they will not deteriorate sitting on a counter for a couple of hours at room temperature.  Cold temperatures suppress the flavor of the berries so they will taste sweeter if you let them come to room temperature before eating.

The optimum storage temperature for strawberries is 32⁰ to 36⁰F with humidity at 90 to 95 percent.  Therefore, the refrigerator fruit crisper drawer is the best place to keep them.  Purchased berries can be stored in the plastic clamshell containers they are usually sold in. However, the containers should be opened and the berries checked for any that are crushed or spoiling and removed before refrigerating.  For fresh picked berries, consider placing them in layers between paper towels in a covered container.  The purpose of the paper towels is to soak up excess moisture from the strawberries and to allow air circulation between the berries.  I’ve had very good luck storing my freshly picked strawberries in clamshell containers that I’ve saved from purchased berries.  Stored properly under optimum conditions, fresh strawberries should last 7 days but their shelf life also depends on how ripe the berries were when purchased or picked.

Berries that have been cut or sliced should be covered and refrigerated if they are not eaten or used within 2 hours of preparation. [3]

For longer term storage, freeze, dry, or preserve (jams and jellies). 

For best quality, strawberries should be preserved on the day they are harvested.  Select berries that are firm, brightly colored, sweet-scented, and have hulls (green caps) attached.  On average, 1 pound of fresh berries yields 1 pint of frozen berries. One pound of fresh berries is approximately 2/3 – 1 quart of fresh berries. A quart container of fresh strawberries is approximately 1½ pounds or 4 cups sliced berries.  Wash the berries as indicated and remove the caps.

Freezing strawberries is quick and easy and perfect for making smoothies, sauces, and jams at a later date.  Frozen berries are also great for baking.  Further, a lot of berries are not needed at any one time to freeze.  There are different methods for freezing—sliced or whole, sugar or no sugar, container or bag—all are acceptable personal choices.  What is important is that the berries are protected from freezer burn.  My favorite method is to spread whole prepared berries on a tray and freeze.  When frozen, remove them from the freezer, package (I like the zipper bags), and quickly return to the freezer.  The fruit pieces remain loose and can be used in whatever quantity is need. 

Drying strawberries reduces the amount of space needed for storage.  Berries can be left whole but dry better if sliced ¼ to ½-inch thick; they can also be pureed for a fruit leather.  A food dehydrator produces the best quality dried strawberries.  Strawberries should not be dried in a microwave oven as they are prone to scorching and burning.  Proper drying temperature is 135⁰ to 140⁰F. The amount of time it takes to dry strawberries depends on their initial moisture content, the volume being dried, the size and thickness, humidity of the ambient air, and the dehydrator. Berries are dry when they are pliable but not sticky or tacky.  Cool the dried berries thoroughly and package quickly.  Dried strawberries can be rehydrated.  I like themas a snack food; they can also be added to yogurt and cereal.  For additional information on drying strawberries, the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a publication, Drying Fruits and Vegetables.

Preserving strawberries in the form of jams, jellies or fruit spreads are rewarding ways to use ripe strawberries.  Preserves made with commercial pectin products are quick and easy to do; package directions should be carefully followed for success.  Jam can also be made without added pectin.  A good recipe can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  Freezer jam is another option.  It is made with a modified pectin as freezer jams do not require cooking.  Freezer jam tastes more like fresh strawberries.

Enjoy those succulent strawberries while at their prime!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Freezing strawberries

This is the last week for picking strawberries at the farm I go to. I am always sad to see the season end. The berries are consistently delicious! The ones I buy in the store the rest of the year never measure up. I do make sure I freeze a certain amount to have on hand during the Winter as I enjoy the flavor in smoothies and desserts.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends using a sugar syrup or sugar pack when freezing strawberries. This process works very well and helps preserve the color and texture of the berries. It is however a quality issue, not a safety issue.

Many people prefer not to have the added sugar. This also gives you more options when you are ready to use them later in the year. For my purposes I prefer the dry pack method. It is easy right now to spread my berries out in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet and let them freeze individually overnight then transfer them to my freezer bags/containers. By letting them freeze individually first it is easy to just remove the amount I need without any of them sticking together in a glob.

I will enjoy the fresh strawberries of the season as long as I can and also make sure I freeze some to enjoy later.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Mice in the camper!

My camper is my happy place. It is my escape from stress and the best way for me to relax. Last week I discovered mice have invaded my happy place. I have always taken precautions when closing the camper for the summer before winter storage. I can only remember one other time that we had mice in a camper and that was after we had stored our tent trailer in a small shed with a dirt floor. Now we store our camper in a shed with a concrete floor. I noticed a couple of mouse droppings inside the camper after we had used it several times. When we moved our fifth wheel camper out of storage, I did not find any evidence of mice.

We have a permanent campsite on our farm, near our pond, and we often use the camper spontaneously. I like to keep food in the refrigerator and in the pantry so that we can relax any time we like.

I was putting away some groceries in the pantry when I noticed that a bag of croutons had a hole in the bottom and croutons were scattered all over the shelf. I knew that I needed to remove any food that would attract mice and I needed to remove anything that they could chew into and damage.

We bought a variety of products to kill mice as I was unsure which one would be most effective but I wanted to eliminate the mice as soon as possible. We set two traps on the top shelf, some glue traps among the canned foods and a mouse poison bait on the floor of the pantry.

So far, the traps have been the most effective. We caught a mouse the first night and again several days ago. One glue trap had a trace of mouse hair but all the glue was gone.

I have done a bit of research to keep our food safe from mice. I will store my food that is not in cans or bottles in smaller plastic totes. I hope that we caught all the mice sharing our camper but I am not sure that is true. I will be cautious and store any food that attracts mice in plastic for the rest of the summer.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Summer Baking with Kids

Summer is nearly upon us and many of us will be looking for fun things to do with the children in our lives. One thing I love to do with my grandchildren is bake. I recently attended a cookie decorating class in hopes of picking up a few tips about some new techniques or products to use. The cookies we used were homemade (which are always fun to do with children) but if you find you don’t have enough time to do everything, using refrigerated cookie dough works just fine. There is a wide range of cookie cutters available on the market today for most any interest your children would have. If you can’t find exactly what you are looking for, trace a pattern and make your own!

 

Once your cookies have baked and cooled, frost with your favorite sugar cookie icing. Buttercream and Royal frostings are always popular. Experiment with making different colors of frosting using gel or powdered coloring. Put the prepared frostings in a baggie, cut one corner of the baggie diagonally and let the children use their creative skills to add frosting to the cookies.

The class I attended introduced me to Sprinkle Pop which is one of many brands of sprinkle type toppings available on the market in many different forms. Some of the varieties include sanding sugar which is translucent and quite fine and delicate; crystal sugar is also translucent but has larger, coarser crystals; nonpareils are round; quins come in many different shapes; edible glitter; and dragees which have a hard outer shell. It is important to be a good label reader when purchasing decorations for your cookies to make sure they are all edible. Some decorations will be labeled for use as decoration only and should not be consumed. They should be removed before serving the cookies. The FDA advises to avoid the use of non-edible food decorative products.

 

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Tree Sap?

Parking your car underneath a tree can actually do permanent damage to the finish of your car. It seems that we have all experienced parking under a tree and discovering some sap on the hood or trunk of the car. I always thought this was just a minor inconvenience in life and never worried too much about removing the sap. According to Consumer Reports magazine, “Heat accelerates how sap sticks to the paint. The longer you wait, the harder it is to remove.” Sap left on the car can actually eat through the paint.

The magazine recommends using rubbing alcohol and a soft cloth to remove sap. Test it on an inconspicuous area of the car before attacking the sap on the hood. If rubbing alcohol does not seem to work, some specialized cleaners remove both sap and bug stains. As we do with stains on clothing, wash the car after using either of these products. Waxing the car will help to further protect the finish on the car.

If you find sap on the windows of the car, remove it with a plastic scraper. If necessary, a single edged razor blade can also remove sap. Just be careful not to scratch the glass.

I will look more carefully at my parking spots if I need to park under a tree at my grandsons’ baseball games this summer.

 

 

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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