Open Enrollment Help

Since early this fall, the promotional materials for health insurance options have been flooding my mail box and likely everyone else’s, too, in preparation for open enrollment or the period when people can change or enroll in a health insurance plan.  Open enrollment for 2020 runs from November 1 to December 15, 2019 but some job plans may have different open enrollment times.  Outside of the open enrollment time, one can only enroll in a health insurance plan if certain qualifications are met for a special enrollment period.

Each year it is a good idea to review options provided by one’s current plan to see if it will continue to best meet one’s health needs for the next year.  Prior to open enrollment, most plans publish changes to annual costs and policy changes.  It is also a good time to take a look at different plans should the current one become excessively expensive or discontinue coverage that is needed.

The process of sorting through plans and comparing options can be intimidating and confusing.  There are resources available to help one navigate the various options.  HealthCare.gov has a wealth of information online designed to help one make the best decision.  Another resource might be to enlist the help of a trusted insurance agent.  A third option is to enroll in Smart Choice:  Health Insurance Basics and/or Smart Choice:  Health Insurance Actions.  The Smart Choice classes are online classes offered by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.  Both of these classes are free and designed to make comparing policies and understanding coverage easier. 

Smart Choice:  Health Insurance Basics will meet online, November 6, 7-8 pm.  One must register for the class by November 4 at http://bit.ly/schi14326.  This class will provide an overview of health insurance and cover strategies for selecting a health insurance plan that will meet your health care needs and fit your spending plan.

Smart Choice:  Health Insurance Actions will meet online, November 13, 7-8 pm.  Registration must be completed by November 11 at http://bit.ly/schi14328.   This class will provide information on maximizing benefits, understanding billing statements, resolving errors, securing medical information, and keeping necessary health documents.

Most importantly, know when your open enrollment period is and take the time to review your options before the deadline so that the best policy will be in place to meet your health care needs for the coming 12 months.

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.

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Green Tomatoes

We have had several frosts recently and we have been getting many calls on what to do with green tomatoes harvested before the frost.  It is possible to try to ripen green tomatoes indoors, but there is a greater chance of spoilage.  Green, mature tomatoes stored at 65-79 degrees F, will ripen in about two weeks.  If stored in cooler temperatures it will slow the ripening.  Below 55 degrees F they may still ripen but the quality will be inferior.  Also, remember that if the humidity is too high the tomatoes can mold and rot.  If the humidity is too low they may shrivel and dry out.

If you would rather use them as green tomatoes, there are a number of recipes that you can try.  This link is to a publication entitled “A Harvest of Green Tomatoes” from the University of Alaska Extension. It includes recipes for Fried Green Tomatoes, Green Tomato Egg Bake and Green Tomato Pie just to name a few.  There are also green tomato relishes and pie filling recipes that are preserved in a boiling water bath. The National Center for Home Food Preservation also has information on preserving green tomatoes both in a boiling water bath and by freezing.

Enjoy these recipes and using the tomatoes that were grown in your garden.

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Pumpkin Pie

Many of us will be making pumpkin pie during this Fall season. And many of us have favorite pumpkin pie recipes that have been in our families cookbook for many generations. Whether your recipe uses evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, a milk alternative,  is a “lighter” version or gluten free there are some tips for helping make a pie with better results and keeping the pie safe.

Pumpkin pie is considered a custard-based pie so it must be refrigerated to keep it safe to eat. Do not leave the pumpkin pie at room temperature for more than two hours. Custard-based pies do not freeze very successfully. If you want to make the pie ahead of time you  might want to consider freezing the crust and filling separately then after thawing in the refrigerator putting the pie together and baking it. When you are baking the pie be careful not to overbake it as that will cause the pie to crack. Remove the pie from the oven before the center is completely set. The internal temperature of the pie will help it finish baking.

You may want to mix your filling ingredients together the day before you are planning to make the pie to give the spices a chance to blend. For a twist on the crust, one site I looked at suggested replacing 1/4 cup of the flour with 1/4 cup cornmeal to add an interesting texture to the crust since the filling is so smooth. To make your own pumpkin pie spice at home combine 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves. This will substitute for 1 teaspoon of commercial pumpkin pie spice.

Pumpkin pie is a delicious dessert addition to a special Fall meal. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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.

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Pumpkin Season!

Pumpkin Season is upon us! Pumpkins are a Fall favorite for our family. They have both culinary and ornamental uses for us. They are delicious in pies and other desserts, fun to paint and display indoors or out, fun to carve into jack-o’-lanterns as a family activity and of course used in Fall decorations.

Pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family along with squash, cantaloupe, cucumber, watermelon and gourds. Pumpkins are considered a type of squash. They are typically round with slightly ribbed deep yellow to orange skin.

If you want to store your pumpkins for use at Thanksgiving or later, place them in a single layer where they don’t touch each other in a cool, dry place (ideally 50-55 degrees F). The room should have good circulation to prevent moisture from forming on the surface of the pumpkins which causes decay. Do not store the pumpkins near apples, pears or other ripening fruit as the ripening fruit releases ethylene gas which shortens the storage life of pumpkins. If you store pumpkins correctly you can expect them to last 2-3 months.

Spend Smart Eat Smart has a great recipe for pumpkin pudding that is low calorie and can be used as a snack or dessert. If you prefer to use fresh pumpkin you can substitute 1 and 3/4 cups mashed fresh pumpkin for the 15 ounce can called for in the recipe.

The USDA SNAP-Ed Connection has more recipes, information about pumpkin nutrition, and how to preserve pumpkin.

If you want to preserve your uncarved pumpkins, start with soaking the pumpkins in a solution of 1 gallon water, 2 T. bleach, and a squirt of dish soap for 15-30 minutes. Rinse and dry well. You can then coat the pumpkins with a spray matte sealer.

Enjoy the abundance of pumpkins this Fall!

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.

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Preparing for winter

Winter scene
Winter scene

Weather forecasters are busy predicting a second winter storm for the north west.  After all the rain we have had this fall, I’m starting to think about getting ready for winter myself.  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.

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Time to put the garden to bed

Cleaning the garden

Now that we have had several frosty nights, it is time to think about getting the garden finished for the season. I have been reading some press releases from Richard Jauron a the Hortline at Iowa State University to remind me of everything I need to accomplish this week . If you want to speak with Richard directly, you can call him at 515-294-3108 any weekday between 10 to noon or 1 to 4:30.

I plan to follow his directions for getting my garden ready for winter. I will need to mulch my strawberry bed to prevent damage to the plants from repeated freezing and thawing. Temperatures much below 20 degrees F could kill the flower buds or damage the roots of the plants. I do have some time to get my mulch prepared as the advice for mulching includes letting the plants acclimate to the cooler weather before mulching. I plan to use chopped cornstalks as they are more readily available to me than oat, wheat, or soybean straw.

I have been trying to get all the garden debris cleaned out of the garden between rainstorms this fall. Removing garden debris helps control the spread of disease and prevents insects from overwintering in the dead plants. I took the tomato plants out when they stopped bearing tomatoes. The plants didn’t look very healthy at that point. The potatoes were dug early to prevent them from rotting in the ground. The onions were pulled early for the same reason. I’ll get everything else out later this week, but with a late harvest, I’m not sure my husband will be able to till the garden yet this fall. If he is able to get that done for me, the garden will dry out and warm up a bit earlier next spring.

If we have a warm weekend, I hope to clean up my garden tools. Richard advises removing that caked-on soil from shovels, hoes, and rakes. Wash the tools and coat with WD-40 to prevent rust. Blades and edges of hoes and shovels can be sharpened. If I have lots of time, and energy, I can sand the rough handles on both of my hoes. Both hoe handles are very rough and I don’t like the way they feel when I use them. Richard says that linseed oil will prevent cracking and drying of the handles. I have already put my hoses away for the winter. I drained and coiled them carefully to ensure that they will be in great shape next spring.

Hopefully, the time I take this fall to get things cleaned up will make gardening in the spring more enjoyable.

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.

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The Many Colors of Cauliflower – Purple, Green, Orange, and White

Green, yellow, and purple cauliflower
Green, yellow, and purple cauliflower

Have you been seeing something in the supermarket or famer’s markets that looks like cauliflower but instead of the traditional white, the heads are purple, orange, and green?  Colored cauliflower started popping up in the markets about 10 years ago and have increasingly become more popular and readily available.    What are these colored cauliflowers?  How do they taste?  How to prepare them so they retain their color?

White cauliflower used to be the only option.  The colored cauliflowers, like the white variety, are members of the cruciferous vegetable family.  They have a similar texture and taste—mild, sweet, and nutty.  The major difference is their color and with color, a slight difference in nutritional value. 

White cauliflower matures creamy white if the head is void of direct sunlight.  Older cultivars need to be blanched (inner leaves are tied loosely over the small heads to reduce the amount of light penetration) to prevent the sun from turning white cauliflower to yellow.  Newer cultivars are self-blanching as the plants produce inner leaves that hug the heads tightly preventing light penetration.  No blanching is required for the colorful varieties.

Purple cauliflower gets its color from anthocyanin, a naturally occurring phytochemical that is also found in other red, blue, or purple fruits and vegetables, as well as red wine.  Carotenoids are responsible for the color in orange cauliflower; carotenoids are also found in carrots, squash, and other yellow vegetables and fruits. Orange cauliflower actually came about as a genetic mutation that allows it to hold more beta carotene than its white counterpart.  Green cauliflower, also known as broccoflower, is a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower.  Green cauliflower contains more beta carotene than white cauliflower, but less than broccoli.

Colored cauliflower can be eaten raw, roasted, grilled, sautéed or steamed.  Cooks Illustrated experimented to find out the best method of preparation for holding color.   They found that the orange cauliflower proved to be the most stable; the orange pigments are not water soluble or sensitive to heat.  The chlorophyll in the green cauliflower is heat sensitive just like broccoli; overcooking will cause the cauliflower to become brown.  The anthocyanins in purple cauliflower leach out in water which dulls it’s color; color is better retained with dry heat such as roasting, grilling, or sautéing.   

There are lots of recipes available online for preparing the colored cauliflowers.  Enjoy the color!

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.

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October is Pork Month!

Pork loin chops

Although we are already part way through October, there is still plenty of time to celebrate Porktober19.  Pork is a very versatile meat and can be prepared many different ways.  Pork has been a part of my family’s life for many years as we raised a lot of hogs on our farm.  My husband and I continued the family tradition of raising hogs from farrow to finish (birth to market). After we made the tough decision to get out of the hog business, I worked for a neighbor as a herdswoman for an additional 5 years.  We always had pork in the freezer as we took a hog or two to the locker plant in town every year.  It is easy to make a quick work night supper with some ham steaks or pork chops or a special family meal with a pork loin roast. 

Whole pork loins

If you are in a rut and need some new and interesting pork recipes, the Iowa Pork Producers have plenty of new recipes that you may enjoy. If you are a new cook or have not had a chance to cook pork for a while, the National Pork Board has some great, quick videos covering multiple ways to cook or work with pork.  They demonstrate how to cook pork chops or how to cut down a large tenderloin into cops and roasts.  There is also a demonstration on how to correctly use a thermometer to check if the pork has been cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Enjoy some pork tonight.

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.

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Substituting honey for sugar

We get calls all year long from consumers wanting to substitute honey for sugar.  Some people prefer the taste of honey, some feel that honey is a more “natural” product, and some think that honey is healthier than sugar.

Honey pot preserved with honeycomb on wood background

We help callers understand the facts surrounding honey and sugar substitutions.  If the substitution is in a baked product, you will substitute half of a cup of honey for one cup of sugar. Remember to decrease the amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup for every cup of honey used.  Sometimes this substitution will affect the overall quality of the product.  The best option would be to start with a recipe designed to use honey. 

If you wish to substitute honey for sugar in a drink, such as lemonade, use half the amount as listed above, but do consider using a bit of hot water to help the honey dissolve into the drink.

Honey is a natural product produced by bees using the nectar from flowers to make honey.  Raw honey contains pollen grains but is usually available in the store as processed honey.  This product may have been heated or filtered.  Sugar is also a natural product made by processing sugar beets or sugar cane.  We should avoid using an excessive amount of either product.

For our callers that think of honey as a healthier option, it does have a small amount of minerals but overall it is not really much healthier than sugar. The American Diabetes Association states that there is no advantage substituting honey for sugar in the diabetic diet.  Most of us would benefit by limiting our sugar intake. 

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.

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Pumpkin Puree Leftovers

I was recently doing some baking with pumpkin. My recipe called for only 1 cup of pumpkin rather than the whole can which left me with about half a can of pumpkin puree leftover. Some of you may have experienced the same thing. If you have, there are some options for you to consider. First of all you might want to double the recipe you are making and share the additional baked product with a friend:) One 15 ounce can of pumpkin is just shy of 2 cups. If you definitely want the full cup for the second batch you are making just add 1 tablespoon of applesauce to the leftover pumpkin puree. I think you will also find being a tablespoon shy of a full cup of pumpkin will not affect the outcome of your recipe.

If you are using commercially canned pumpkin puree you can refrigerate and use any leftovers within 5-7 days. If you have made your own pumpkin puree you will want to refrigerate and use it within 3-5 days. The leftover pumpkin is wonderful stirred into oatmeal or yogurt or added to a smoothie. Libby’s has posted on their site recommendations for substituting pumpkin puree for eggs, oil or butter in your baking.

 

You may also freeze any leftover pumpkin puree. An easy way to do that is to lightly spray a muffin cup and spoon 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup measurements of pumpkin into each cup. Freeze in the muffin pan until solid then remove the pumpkin mounds/scoops from the pan and transfer to freezer bags. Make sure to label your bags with what it is, the amount in each mound and the date. It is easy to remove the amount you need for a recipe later on. If you thaw the pumpkin puree in the refrigerator, which is the recommended way, you have an additional 3-4 days to store it in the refrigerator and use it. If you thaw the pumpkin in the microwave or with the cold water method you need to use it immediately. Once the pumpkin has thawed if there is any liquid pooling just drain it off before using. For best quality, use frozen pumpkin puree within 3 months. It will be safe indefinitely however if continuously frozen but will lose some quality over time.

There are so many delicious pumpkin recipes out there. I hope you will enjoy baking with pumpkin puree this season!

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.

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