Is it safe to eat rhubarb?

It is time to stop pulling rhubarb and picking asparagus. We often have callers asking if rhubarb is poisonous after the middle of June. Actually, it is safe to pull rhubarb all summer long but we stop in mid-June for the health of the plant. Rhubarb plants will feed their roots while growing the rest of the summer. It is safe to pull a small amount of rhubarb for an occasional pie or crisp throughout the summer as long as the plantings are well established. You should pull the thinnest, most tender stalks when harvesting later in the summer.

You will not be able to harvest asparagus throughout the summer as the stalks will grow their fern-like foliage and you will not enjoy eating it. The easiest way to keep the weeds out of the asparagus is to mulch it. I used some grass clippings on mine this summer.

Liz Meimann

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.

More Posts - Website

Allergies

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has deemed May National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. In addition, the third week in May is designated Food Allergy Awareness Week. Allergies have become really important and can mean life or death to the nearly 15 million people in the US who are affected by food allergies. The Centers for Disease Control estimate four to six percent of children and four percent of adults are affected by food allergies.

A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system perceives a certain food as dangerous or harmful. The body reacts by causing symptoms. Those symptoms are an allergic reaction and can range from mild to severe. The foods that cause the allergic reactions are called allergens. There are eight major food allergens: Milk, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Wheat, Soy, Fish, and Crustacean Shellfish. There is currently no cure for food allergies so avoiding the food with the allergen is the most effective way to not suffer a reaction. Food allergies are most common in young children but can appear at any age. Some of the allergies are occasionally outgrown but not always. The most common ones that are occasionally outgrown are milk, egg, wheat and soy. Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic diseases.

Most food related symptoms occur within two hours of ingesting the food. Sometimes the reaction can happen within minutes. An initial reaction may produce mild symptoms but that does not guarantee all reactions will be similar. The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. It is life-threatening and can effect breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. Because it can be fatal it must be treated promptly with an injection of epinephrine. You may know people who carry an EpiPen with them because their reactions can be so severe.

If you suspect you or someone you know has a food allergy it is important to have testing done by a board-certified allergist.

Marcia Steed

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.

More Posts

My rhubarb froze, help!

We had some nice warm days around Easter and then we have had a bit of cold weather this year.  Some places even had a bit of snow.  I’ve had five calls about rhubarb already this morning so I thought that I might repost this blog post from two years ago.  This information is very timely.

A sure sign of spring at AnswerLine are the calls from people concerned about the safety of their rhubarb plants. It seems like every year we have a week or so of really nice temperatures that allow the rhubarb plants to grow vigorously. Then the temperatures take a dive and we have a frost or freezing weather.  There is an old wives tale that says rhubarb that has frozen is poisonous and that you should destroy or dig up your plants to stay safe.

That old wives tale is just that; a tale that is not correct.   If your patch of rhubarb freezes, the fleshy part of the plant will freeze.  After a day or two, the frozen leaves and stems will become soft and blackened.  This is a result of the damage that freezing and thawing cause to the plant.  Most people, when they pick rhubarb, are particular and choose the nicest, freshest looking stalks.  They would not choose softened, black, or mushy stalks.  Those stalks should be pulled and discarded; this is something most people would do without thinking.

Remember, only the stalks or petioles should be eaten because the leaves contain moderately poisonous oxalic acid.  It is generally recommended that home gardeners stop harvesting rhubarb in early to mid-June. Continued harvest through the summer months would weaken the plants and reduce the yield and quality of next year’s crop. The rhubarb stalks may become somewhat woody by mid-summer, but they don’t become poisonous. Sometimes we have callers wanting to harvest enough for a crisp or a pie during mid-summer.  We tell them to look for some smaller, tender stalks that could be pulled.  If the rhubarb patch is an older, established patch pulling a few stalks should not cause permanent damage to the patch.

Enjoy your rhubarb.

Liz Meimann

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.

More Posts - Website

Baking bread

Baking bread is a creative outlet for me and satisfies that “need to bake”.  I started searching for the perfect white bread recipe last November.  I’ve been baking two loaves a week since then.  The first recipe I tried made a loaf that we thought was a bit dry.  I’ve been using this recipe since early December.  I like it and we always get a nice tender, light loaf.  It just takes me a short time to mix up the dough.  Proofing (or letting the bread rise) takes a couple of hours and baking takes about 35 minutes. 

I usually use my bread machine to make the dough for rolls and then take the dough out of the bread machine pan and shape and bake it. I like to use my mixer to knead the bread. Using the mixer for a specific time, 8 minutes for this recipe, ensures a similar result every time.

Of course, not every bread recipe requires kneading.  King Arthur Flour had this recipe as their recipe of the year last year.  My son made some when we were visiting last week and we enjoyed the nick crusty, rustic loaf.  If you want to try something super easy with guaranteed great results, give this recipe a try. This recipe would not be appropriate for a 4-H member to take to the fair if they allow it to raise for more than one day in the refrigerator.  Call AnswerLine if you have any questions about using this recipe.

I love to get some bread started early on a Saturday morning and let it proof while I’m doing laundry and other chores around the house.  This way we have some nice fresh bread to start the week, and a great treat of warm from the oven bread before lunch.  Try some homemade bread this weekend.  Or on a snow day.

 

Liz Meimann

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.

More Posts - Website

Baked Alaska

I recently wrote about cream puffs and how relatively easy they are to make yet look very fancy. Another dessert I think falls into the same category is Baked Alaska. It is really just a dressed-up ice cream cake. It is cake topped with ice cream, covered with meringue, then baked in a hot oven for a few minutes to brown the meringue while leaving the ice cream frozen and firm.

President Thomas Jefferson is reported to have served ice cream wrapped in hot pastry at a White House dinner during his presidency. The early versions are recorded as using a piping hot pastry shell to encase the ice cream while later versions used meringue and browned the dish in the oven or with a chef’s blowtorch.

In 1867, Charles Ranhofer, a French chef at the time at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York, created a cake to celebrate the United States purchase of Alaska from the Russians. He called it an Alaska, Florida to show the contrast between the cold and hot – ice cream and toasted meringue. The original dessert used walnut cake, banana ice cream and meringue. Baked Alaska is still on the menu today at Delmonico’s in New York but has been updated to using walnut cake, apricot jam, banana gelato, and meringue. It still says right on their dessert menu that it was created by Charles Ranhofer in 1867.

You can use basically any cake as a base for Baked Alaska: boxed or homemade, chiffon, pound or even a brownie. Although the traditional shape is a bombe, Betty Crocker has a recipe done in a 9×13 pan that seems like an easy place to start.

If you are making the traditional bombe shape, bake a cake of your choice then top it with softened ice cream you have shaped in a plastic wrap-lined container to match the shape of your cake (typically round). Press the cake and ice cream together and freeze. You can freeze the dessert at this point for a couple days. When you remove this from the freezer, cover the cake and ice cream with a thick layer of meringue making sure it is totally sealed. It is important there are no holes allowing exposure to the cake or ice cream or you will have a melted mess when you get it out of the oven. The meringue is the insulation that protects the ice cream from melting in the oven. Once you have the meringue on, freeze the Baked Alaska for a few hours or overnight before baking. Right before you are ready to serve put the Baked Alaska in a 500 degree oven for 4 or 5 minutes to brown the meringue or use your kitchen blowtorch.

A Baked Alaska is impressive when whole. Very often once you cut the slices to serve, the ice cream and meringue will separate from each other but that does not affect the taste of course.

I am looking forward to making some “fancy” desserts in the near future!

Marcia Steed

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.

More Posts

Cream Puffs

I recently was enjoying a cream puff dessert with my sister and we were talking about how we never make them yet they are so easy and “fancy” and look like you spent a lot more time on them than you actually did.

Puff shells are made from dough called pate a choux. The French “choux” means cabbage. A patissier perfected the pastry dough in the middle of the eighteenth century and created choux buns. Because the buns were the same shape as little cabbages the name stuck.

The dough is easy to make and it’s a great recipe to make ahead, freeze, and bake as needed. You can make the dough, spoon dollops of it onto a baking sheet and freeze unbaked. Once the dollops have frozen individually, wrap them in a plastic bag and put them back in the freezer. You can bake them from the frozen state for about five minutes longer than your recipe calls for. You can also freeze them after baking and cooling then crisp them up in a 300 degree oven for five to eight minutes.

If you are working just a couple days ahead you can store the prepared dough in a pastry bag or zip-lock bag in the refrigerator.

The pate a choux can be used to make several desserts. You can fill the cabbage shaped puffs with whipped cream, pastry cream, or custard. Profiteroles are made from the same dough but are usually frozen and filled with ice cream then drizzled with chocolate sauce. Eclairs are the same dough but stretched out into an elongated shape.

The puffs do not need to be used only as a dessert. They can be used with savory fillings such as chicken salad, hummus, cheese spread, pate, roast beef with sauce, etc. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Cream puff dough requires only four ingredients – water, butter, flour and eggs. The only tips to remember are not to overmix when stirring in the flour and to add the eggs one at a time after you have removed the mixture from the heat, beating after each addition.

Cream puffs are leavened by eggs and steam. If you find your cream puffs have collapsed the most common reason is too little water in the recipe so there was not enough steam created to help the puffs inflate. Opening the oven door during baking and having your oven temperature too low are other causes of cream puffs collapsing.

Once you have removed your cream puffs from the oven, use a serrated knife to carefully split them open and remove any “eggy” filament that is inside using a fork. The puffs should be crisp and hollow.

Unfilled, baked cream puffs can be stored in an airtight container for two days or frozen as I mentioned earlier for longer storage. Filled puffs can be kept in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or frozen for 2-3 months for best quality.

Marcia Steed

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.

More Posts

Be prepared for a winter storm

As I write this, I’m at home waiting to see if the next big winter storm will hit. Over the years, I’ve learned that as winter approaches I need to check the pantry to make sure I have enough staples to make it through being snowed in for a couple of days. Since I live on a farm, we usually have a freezer (or two) filled with enough beef and pork to provide meals for several months. When the kids lived at home, we always had a big garden and canned and froze a variety of fruits and vegetables. Now that it is just my husband and myself, I always try to have a variety of commercially canned and frozen vegetables and fruits on hand. As long as I keep my flour, sugar, and oil containers reasonably full, I know that I can bake just about anything else we might need. Keeping powdered dry milk on hand also helps me avoid the grocery store when everyone else is rushing in to pick up that loaf of bread and gallon of milk. We don’t really enjoy drinking reconstituted milk, but when you need milk for baking it is great to have some in the house.

We have blogged over the years about keeping a winter kit inside the car with items you may need if you get stuck in the snow. I try to check my kit before Christmas so that I have those things fully stocked when the first big storm hits. We have also blogged about understanding weather terms and just how to prepare your home and pets to stay safe. We are lucky to live in a time when it is so easy to wait out a winter storm and stay safe.

I’m still waiting for those first snow flakes to fall.

Liz Meimann

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.

More Posts - Website

What about silicone bakeware?

If you’ve been considering new bakeware for your holiday baking, you’ve likely noticed all the silicone bakeware that is available for any baking need in various sizes, shapes, colors, and prices.  Perhaps you’ve wondered:  Is silicone safe?  Is it worth the money spent? and Is it better than traditional bakeware?

Silicone bakeware is made from a synthetic polymer created from a mixture of silicon, a naturally occurring element on the earth’s crust, combined with carbon and/or oxygen to create a rubber-like substance. The rubber-like substance can be shaped into any desired shape during manufacturing.  The FDA has approve silicone as a food safe substance and it is generally considered inert and will not leach into foods.  Silicone bakeware is rated safe for temperatures below freezing and up to 500֯F (always check the manufacturer’s specs).   Good quality silicone should not emit any odor or discolor with use.  Lower quality silicone may contain fillers or additives which may cause odor during baking and discolor over time.

Silicone bakeware is durable, non-stick, and quite flexible. A wide variety of silicone products are available for the kitchen beyond bakeware. Potholders,  trivets, spatulas, whisks and other utensils, collapsible mixing bowls and strainers, ice cube trays, rolling pins and mats, and much more have become commonplace. Silicone baking pan liners provide a non-stick surface for baking sheets and jelly roll pans making for quick and easy cleanup. It can go directly from the oven to the freezer or vice versa, is microwave and dishwasher safe, and easy to clean.  Since silicone is naturally non-stick no additional oil or grease calories are needed to prep the mold.  However, a small spritz of cooking oil could be helpful with the more decorative molds with sharp corners or intricate designs. Another special feature of silicone is that it’s a great insulator. This means that it both cooks evenly and also cools down quickly. While metal or glass bakeware retain heat, silicone bakeware cool enough to handle within minutes after removal from the oven. Silicone bakeware can go straight from oven to table allowing the molds to be a serving dish, too.  They can also be used for non-baked foods that require molding or even arts and crafts projects.

Silicone bakeware should always be used in conjunction with a firm surface like a cookie sheet to prevent burns and flipping baked goods to the floor.  In most cases, baking and cooling time is the same as for traditional bakeware.  While quite durable, beware of sharp objects and direct heat; a knife will cut through silicone and direct heat will melt it.

While silicone bakeware offers some distinct advantages and tradeoffs over the traditional alternatives, the question remains: are they for you?  I have a few silicone pieces and enjoy using them.  However, some products are simply made better in a traditional pan; others are better in silicone.  Muffin cups are my favorite.

Marlene Geiger

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.

More Posts

The Canning Police?

Comments

BWB1Why are we such sticklers at AnswerLine when it comes to canning advice?  Callers are sometimes a bit frustrated with us when we answer canning questions.  We often have to tell a caller that the old family recipe for a canned product is not safe.  We must advise them that oven canning, canning low acid vegetables in a water bath canner, and using “any old recipe” for pickles are not safe practices.

Times have changed since Great Grandma was canning for her family.  We now have recipes that have been scientifically tested to ensure a safe product.  They are available through several resources.  Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has the Preserve the Taste of Summer series of recipes, The National Center for Home Food Preservation through the University of Georgia has both a website and a cookbook “So Easy to Preserve”, the USDA has a Home Canning Guide, and the Ball company has the Ball Blue Book as well as their Complete Book of Home Preserving.

The recipes and procedures in these books have been scientifically tested in a laboratory to ensure the coldest part of a canning jar gets hot enough long enough to kill the botulism bacteria if present.  We don’t want you to cut corners and put your family at risk.  Botulism can be a deadly disease and those at the greatest risk are those who are often most dear to our hearts; the elderly and the very young.  Pregnant women and those people with a compromised immune system are also at great risk.  Why take unnecessary risks with the health of your family and friends?

We sometimes don’t enjoy our role as the “canning police” but our main goal is to help you keep your family safe for years to come. Please contact us if you have any canning questions or need some tested recipes.

Liz Meimann

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.

More Posts - Website

Asparagus Tips

After weeks of anticipation, asparagus spears have finally appeared in my garden!  The spears are about two to three weeks late this year due to our late spring and cold ground temperatures.  But they are here now and ready to enjoy!

Whether asparagus is home grown in the garden or purchased at the supermarket or Farmer’s Market, fresh asparagus season is short.  Here are some tips to help you select, store, and prepare asparagus to maximize the season.

Green is the most common color of asparagus.  However, it can also be purple or white.  White asparagus is the same as green asparagus; it just hasn’t been allowed to see light so photosynthesis hasn’t taken place.  The green shoots are covered to prevent light getting to them.   White asparagus has a very mild flavor and because of the extra effort to blanch it, it is usually more costly.

Peak season is usually mid-April to early/mid-June in the Midwest depending upon the season.  When the temperatures warm in June, the spears begin to get spindly indicating it is time to stop harvesting and let the plants mature into their fern-like foliage.

Select stalks that are smooth, uniform in color, and have compact tips.  Avoid stalks that are shriveled, limp, or have open, seedy tips.  These are signs of age.  Do a sniff test; old asparagus gets smelly fast.

Asparagus is best used fresh.  Store asparagus spears in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel or with the stalk ends in shallow water. Loosely cover with plastic.  If the asparagus has been purchased at the market, cut the stalk ends about an inch back before wrapping or placing in shallow water.  Don’t allow the water to get cloudy.   Asparagus will keep well in the refrig for a week using one of these methods.

Wash and remove the woody stems prior to cooking or fresh use by gently bending the stalk until the woody part snaps away naturally.  Peeling is a personal option; some people like to peel the lower stalk if they are 1/2 -in or larger as they lower stems may be a little tougher.

Asparagus can be prepared in any number of ways–broiled, steamed, grilled, roasted, sautéed–or used fresh in salads.  Asparagus can also be par-cooked and quickly cooled for use in salads.  Whatever cooking method is used, the cooking time is short.

Asparagus is nutritious.  It is high in fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamins K, E, A, and C.  Because it is a good source of vitamin K, the amount eaten may need to be monitored by those who are on blood thinning medications.  Asparagus does not contain fat or cholesterol and is very low in calories–just 4 calories per spear.

Make the most of asparagus season while it’s here!

Marlene Geiger

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.

More Posts

AnswerLine

Subscribe to AnswerLine Blog

Enter your email address:

Connect with us!

AnswerLine's Facebook page AnswerLine's Twitter account AnswerLine's Pinterest page
Email: answer@iastate.edu
Phone: (Monday-Friday, 9 am-noon; 1-4 pm)
 1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
 1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)
 1-888-393-6336 (in South Dakota)

Archives

Categories