Countertop Dishwashers

Three years ago, I was newly married and was touring the farmhouse we were going to be renting. As I entered the kitchen for the first time my heart sank as I realized there was no dishwasher. “I’ll be fine,” I told myself, “How many dishes can we actually make?”

Countertop dishwasher loaded with dishes

I had grown up in a household without a dishwasher (or should I say machine dishwasher; my mom shouldered the brunt of the dishwashing growing up) and had lived without one until purchasing my townhouse. Over my six years in this townhouse, I had grown very accustomed to a dishwasher. But I figured we could make the best of our current situation. As time marched on, I got used to doing dishes and it only seemed to be a nuisance during times we had done lots of cooking. However, November of last year, our son Thomas came along. Enter bottles, pump parts, and most recently, additional dishes. Our kitchen countertop was a disaster zone most of the time.

About a month ago a box showed up on our front step. Much to my surprise, the box contained a countertop dishwasher! I had been fantasizing about one but couldn’t justify the expense. My husband had decided the amount of time and sanity this unit would save us would pay off in the long run. Beyond time and sanity savings, dishwashers also use less water compared to handwashing. Countertop dishwashers only use around 2 gallons of water and portable and built-in units can use as little as 3 gallons of water per load. Handwashing can use up to 27 gallons of water.

There are several options for portable dishwasher models. Freestanding, portable units are available that hook into your sink, but these are large, so you will need to think about where this will be stored when not in use. You can add a butcherblock type surface to the top so it can serve as an island that is used for food prep. We don’t have a great space to store a larger unit like this, which is why we went with a countertop model.

Considerations

  • Size: Think about how much countertop space you are willing to give up as well as the weight if you plan on moving the dishwasher around. You will also want to consider the distance between your countertop and the bottom of your cupboards and make sure the height of the model doesn’t exceed this distance.
  • Capacity: How many place settings do you want the unit to be able to hold? Most countertop units claim to hold up to six place settings and accommodate dinner plates ranging in size from 10-12 inches. Make sure the unit can hold the plates you use most often.
Countertop dishwasher with lid closed
  • Sound: Consider how loud you want the unit to be. Remember that a full-size dishwasher has noise dampening due to the cabinets and walls around it; portable units do not. The lower the decibel rating (dBA), the better. Typical dishwashers have a noise level of 63 to 66 dBA. Quieter portable units have a decibel rating of around 55 dBA, which is about as loud as a microwave.
  • Settings: Think about which controls and cycles will be most useful given your situation. Sleek electronic controls generally cost more than push buttons but are easier to clean.
  • Water source: Your portable unit is going to need a water source. Some portable units have a hose that attaches temporarily to the faucet of your kitchen sink. This only works in your sink faucet has a threaded faucet spout. The other option would be models that include a water reservoir that holds the water needed to run the unit. We went with this option so our kitchen faucet could always remain usable.
  • Energy efficiency: All countertop dishwashers carry yellow Energy Guide labels, so you’ll be able to compare approximately how much they will cost you per year to run. Some models are Energy Star certified, meaning that they are the most energy efficient models.

Cleaning and Sanitation

You may be wondering about the cleaning and sanitizing ability of these portable units. The National Sanitation Foundation has set sanitation standards for residential dishwashers, referred to as NSF/ANSI 184. This standard helps confirm that a residential dishwasher can achieve a minimum 99.999 percent or 5-log reduction of bacteria when operated on the sanitizing cycle. Other requirements of this standard include the dishwasher reaching a final rinse temperature of at least 150°F and sanitation performance being verified only when the unit is operated on the sanitizing cycle. A sanitize cycle will typically increase the heat during the main wash and finish with an even hotter final rinse.

A list of residential dishwashers certified to NSF/ANSI 184 can be found here. I checked on our unit, which does not appear to be certified to NSF/ANSI 184, however the user manual does indicate two of the programs achieve a final rinse temperature of at least 150°F:  

  • Normal: final rinse 158°F, total cycle time of 130 minutes
  • Baby Care: final rinse 162°F, total cycle time of 120 minutes

All countertop dishwashers have filters that require cleaning, and some recommend a regular vinegar rinse to remove deposits and mineral build up. Our model doesn’t require that we pre-rinse our dishes, but we do scrape off any excess food before loading it into the dishwasher. When thinking about detergent, the packets, tablets, powders, and gels are all fine to use. However, most brands caution against using the packets or tablets for short cycles as they may not fully dissolve.

We are looking forward to this device continuing to free up some of our time and counter space, as well as reduce the amount of water we use. Regardless of what unit you end up with, make sure you do your research to ensure the product meets your needs!

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Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer. 

Resources:

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/appliances/dishwasher-reviews/g33438785/best-countertop-mini-dishwashers/

https://www.cnet.com/home/kitchen-and-household/how-to-buy-a-portable-dishwasher/

https://www.energystar.gov/products/dishwashers

https://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/articles/dishwasher-certification

Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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Tips for Success with DIY Caramel Apples

There is no substitute for the thrill and challenge of eating a caramel apple—biting through the sweet, sticky caramel into a tart crisp apple while sweet, sticky juice runs down your chin.  Oh, the memories!

While the memories are sweet, the potential for a foodborne illness from caramel apples is real.  Caramel apples should either be eaten freshly made or refrigerated.  Once punctured with a stick, caramel apples can become a breeding ground for Listeria monocytogenes, a harmful bacteria, if left at room temperature for prolonged time. When the stick is inserted into the apple, a bit of apple juice tends to leak out and that moisture, trapped under the caramel layer, creates an environment that aids the growth of Listeria which is naturally present on the apple’s surface.   If caramel apples are purchased at the store, farmer’s market, carnivals, or even presented at a party, make sure that they have been refrigerated.

The best way to safely enjoy caramel apples is to make them fresh.   While DIY caramel apples may be intimidating, it really is quite easy and a fun family or party activity.  Recently I made caramel apples with my grandkids using freshly picked apples.  It was a successful, fun time using tips I gathered beforehand from various resources.

Tips to craft your very own caramel apples

Choose Apples.  Any apple variety will work as long as it is crisp.  Smaller apples give a better ratio of caramel to apple.  Apples should have a flat bottom so that they sit upright.

Do All Prep Work in Advance. Have apples and all needed equipment ready and at hand.  If you are going to decorate the apple with candy, nuts, sprinkles or anything else, make sure all is ready to go before you dip.

Remove Wax.  Wax must be removed from the surface of the apple skin to allow the caramel to adhere to the apple.  This can be done by dipping in boiling water for 3-5 seconds and wiping with a paper towel or scrubbing the apple with vinegar (white or apple cider) or lemon juice and baking soda. In addition to removing wax, vinegar also help remove pesticides and bacteria.  Another option is to wash the apple and lightly sand with fine sandpaper.  Whichever method is used, be sure not to puncture the skin.

Thoroughly Dry and Chill the Apples.  Any moisture on the skin will cause the caramel to bubble and stick poorly to the apple.  Chilling the apples for about 30 minutes will help the caramel set quicker and keep it from running off.

Insert Sticks. Use candy or popsicle sticks and insert them directly through the center (stem end) of the apple straight down about half to two-thirds way into the apple. Be sure to dab away any juice that may seep out when inserting the sticks. The presence of moisture will keep the caramel from adhering to the apple.

Use a Good Recipe.  Recipes can be as simple as two or three ingredients added to a bag of purchased wrapped caramels or a recipe made with all pantry ingredients from a trusted source.  Regardless, follow the recipe carefully.  If making from scratch, be sure to use a deep and thick saucepan with straight sides and a good candy thermometer.  For additional tips on making caramel, visit Success with Caramel.

Carefully Prepare Caramel. The temperature of the caramel is really important.  Whether making caramel from a recipe or melting caramels, you will want to cool the caramel to about 190 degrees before dipping. If you dip the apples as soon as the caramel is made, it will slide off or form a thin layer instead of a nice, thick caramel layer.  The caramel will be the right temperature to set up properly on the apple if you maintain your caramel temperature in the 180°-190° range, stirring sparingly to minimize air bubbles.  Some like to put the melted caramel mixture in a slow cooker on the low setting to maintain this temperature.  Caramel that gets too hot will lose the proper consistency, becoming too firm and crunchy to dip. 

Dip – Scoop, Twist, Drip, Flip. Set your apple in the caramel, scoop the caramel up onto the apple twisting the apple slowly with the stick while continuing to scoop the caramel onto the apple.  Raise the apple and let the excess drip off.  Scrape the bottom, flip the apple over and count to 20.  Set the apple on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and let cool.  If you get a caramel foot, fold it under the apple or cut it off.  Sliding the apples into the refrigerator after dipping will help set the caramel and prevent the caramel from sliding off. 

Decorate (if desired).  Roll, sprinkle or drizzle the caramel apples with any desired decorations once the caramel has cooled but is still tacky.  If the decorations will not stick, the caramel may have set up too quickly. By carefully holding the coated apple over a saucepan of boiling water, the steam will soften the caramel enough so the toppings will stick.  After decorating, return the apple to the parchment paper to continue cooling. Dipping the caramel coated apples in chocolate is another option.  Be creative.  Taste of Home has some fun ideas if you want to go beyond chopped peanuts and sprinkles.  Be careful not to overload the apples with too many toppings as the caramel may become too heavy and slide off. For gift giving, wrap the apples in a cellophane or plastic bag.

Enjoy and/or Store Safely.  To enjoy immediately, let the caramel set about 45 minutes. If the treats are not consumed right away, they should be refrigerated.  This will prolong freshness, slow oxidation, and slow the growth of bacteria.  If the apples are refrigerated, remove them from the fridge about 45 minutes before eating to allow the caramel to soften. The coated apples will keep 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

After creating our very own caramel apple personalized with assorted decorations or not, we could hardly wait for the caramel to set.  Needless to say, there was no need to refrigerate! 

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References: 

Allen, Lauren. (2020, October 10). How to Make Perfect Caramel Apples.  Taste Better from Scratch. https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/caramel-apples/

Anita. (2014, October 10). 10 Tips for Perfect Caramel Apples.  Eat, Think, & Be Merry. http://eatthinkbemerry.com/2014/10/10-steps-perfect-caramel-apples/

Brazier, Yvette. (2015, October 17). Dangers of Listeria in Caramel Apples. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/301091

Geiger, M.R. (2021, October 26). Success with Caramel.  AnswerLine Blog. https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2021/10/26/success-with-caramel/

Glass, Kathleen A., Golden, Max C., Wanless, Brandon J., Bedale, Wendy, and Czuprynski, Charles. (2015, October 13). Growth of Listeria monocytogenes within a Caramel-Coated Apple Microenvironment.  ASM Journals, Vol. 6, No. 5.  https://journals.asm.org/doi/full/10.1128/mBio.01232-15 

Habermehl, Lauren. (2022, August 20). How to Make Traditional Caramel Apples.  Taste of Home.  https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/how-to-make-caramel-apples/

McKenny, Sally. (2019, October 1). Homemade Caramel Apples.  Sally’s Baking Addiction.  https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/homemade-caramel-apples/

Rachel. (2022, September 27). Tips for Perfect Homemade Caramel Apples.  Adventures of a DIY Mom.  https://www.adventuresofadiymom.com/2012/10/caramel-apples.html

Steed, Marcia.  (2016, September 29). Storing Caramel Apples.  AnswerLine Blog. https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/2016/09/29/storing-caramel-apples/

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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Baby-Led Weaning

My son, Thomas, recently reached a milestone – he tired his 100th food at 10 months of age. You may wonder how this concept of introducing a baby to 100 foods came about. Early last November I was very pregnant, listening to Katie Ferraro, RD, speak at the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics annual meeting on Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) and the first 100 foods approach. Her presentation solidified that this was the approach I wanted to take when feeding our baby. I will admit I was a bit intimated but was ready for the challenge.

What is BLW?

Weaning is the process of babies transitioning from milk/formula to food. In the traditional method of weaning parents either buy or make pureed foods (typically starting with baby cereal, and then fruits and vegetables) for their infant and spoon-feed them. Parents gradually transition their child from totally pureed foods to thicker purees, to chunky purees, and eventually solid food. BLW is the process of allowing babies to learn how to feed themselves as they transition from milk/formula to eating solid foods1. From the beginning, we have offered Thomas solid foods (non-pureed, whole) alongside some purees that he has feed to himself. Occasionally we will help load his spoon with food (pre-load), but he will bring the spoon to his mouth. In BLW, baby is offered the same foods as everyone else but with a texture that is modified to be soft enough for his/her developmental age2.

We enjoy having Thomas eat with us at mealtimes and that we can eat alongside him while he feeds himself, rather than one of us having to spoon feed him.

Why BLW?

My husband and I chose to do BLW with Thomas for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it aligns closely with the Ellyn Satter principles on childhood feeding. In the Ellyn Satter approach, the role of the parent is to decide when and what nutritious food to provide, and the role of the child is to decide what and how much of that food they want to eat3. We let Thomas decide if he wanted to eat what we provided him and when he was full. This allowed him to practice honoring his hunger and fullness cues from day one of beginning solids. Introducing Thomas to 100 foods has exposed him to a wide variety of tastes and textures. When he becomes more selective (aka picky) and decides there are 10-15 foods he doesn’t like to eat, we still have 85-90 other foods to offer him. Some studies have shown BLW babies are less fussy and less picky eaters4. Thirdly, it allowed us to expose Thomas to allergenic foods; he successfully tried all the top allergens (egg, peanut, tree nut, cow’s milk, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat). Scientific evidence supporting the early introduction of top allergenic foods during infancy for the prevention of food allergies has grown. In fact, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend offering top allergens early and often starting around 6 months of age (in conversation with the pediatrician if babies are at high risk for food allergies)5. For additional benefits and research on BLW, check out the article, Baby-Led Weaning: An Approach to Introducing Solid Foods to Infants from Utah State University Extension.

We started BLW with Thomas when he was six months old. The World Health Organization recommends babies be exclusively breastfed or formula fed until 6 months of age6. Once baby is 6 months old and is showing signs of readiness, complementary foods (foods offered in complement to breastmilk/formula) can start being offered.

Signs of readiness:

  • Baby can sit up unsupported7.
  • Baby can grasp food in hands and move it to mouth7.
  • Absence of tongue thrust 8.
  • Baby makes attempts at chewing, can move food to back of mouth and swallow.

How to Make BLW Work?

First, I did my homework. I read the book, Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide, to educate myself on BLW. The book taught me more about appropriate food sizes and textures (as well inappropriate foods) to offer, what to expect at different ages of baby, how to adapt food, easy first foods, introducing a cup, and much more. I then printed off a calendar for each month from May – November 2022. Each day of the week was assigned a different category (Monday – fruit, Tuesday – starch, Wednesday – protein, Thursday – vegetable, Friday – challenge). I then filled in the calendar days with foods from the 100 foods list and placed it on our refrigerator.

I used an app called Solid Starts to help determine appropriate sizes and textures of various foods to offer Thomas. There are many recipe ideas you can find online for BLW; I often referred to ideas from my friend, Kara, who is also a dietitian, at Kara Hoerr Nutrition.

We also found several tools to be very handy, including a crinkle cut knife (made items easier for Thomas to grab), hardboiled egg slicer, full coverage bib, washable mat to put under Thomas’ high chair to make clean-up easier, silicone plates that suction to the highchair, and an adjustable footrest to add to our highchair (ours didn’t come with one and it is important to have baby’s feet supported when eating as it helps them maintain good posture and core strength when eating). Living in rural Iowa, some food items (like peanut puffs) where hard to find. Shopping online helped us find products we weren’t able to locate in local stores. And finally, we explained the approach and solicited help from other who feed Thomas. This included our childcare provider and his grandparents.

Does BLW Increase Choking Risk?

A common misconception related to BLW is that this approach increases choking risk. However, studies show that when parents are educated on food sizing and texture, BLW does not increase the likelihood of choking9. Additional studies indicate that BLW babies are no more likely to choke than babies who are spoon fed10, 11, 12. To make sure I felt prepared for any situation, I took an online CPR/AED course through the American Red Cross. It reviewed a variety of topics, including choking for infants, children, and adults. I also posted CPR and choking information inside one of our kitchen cabinets so it can easily be accessed in the event of an emergency. The Utah State University Extension article offers the safety precautions listed below to help reduce the risk of choking.

How to prevent choking:

  • Ensure your baby is always sitting upright during feedings.
  • Make sure the food presented is in the proper shape, size, and texture for the baby.
  • Cut food into long strips they can grab in their fists.
  • Never leave your baby alone with food8.

Our BLW journey has been full of learning, fun, and messes (lots and lots of messes)! If you are thinking about this feeding approach for your baby, I would recommend you do your homework and don’t hesitate to ask questions! Make sure to contact us at AnswerLine if we can be of help.

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Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer. 

Resources:

  1. Rapley, G., & Murkett, T. (2010). Baby-Led Weaning (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Experiment.
  2. Rapley, G. A. (2018). Baby-led weaning: Where are we now? Nutrition Bulletin, 43(3), 262–268. doi.org/10.1111/nbu.12338
  3. Satter, E. (2012). How to get your kid to eat: But not too much. Chicago, IL: Bull Publishing Company.
  4. Fu, X., Conlon, C. A., Haszard, J. J., Beck, K. L., von Hurst, P. R., Taylor, R. W., & Heath, A.-L. M. (2018). Food fussiness and early feeding characteristics of infants following Baby-Led Weaning and traditional spoon-feeding in New Zealand: An internet survey. Appetite, 130, 110–116. doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.07.033
  5. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved September 21, 2022. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf.  
  6. World Health Organization. Infant and young child feeding. (2018, February 16). Retrieved September 21, 2022. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infant-and-young-child-feeding.
  7. Rapley, G. (2015). Baby-led weaning: The theory and evidence behind the approach. Journal of Health Visiting, 3(3), 144–151. doi.org/10.12968/johv.2015.3.3.144
  8. Schilling, L., & Peterson, W. J. (2017). Born to eat: whole, healthy foods from baby’s first bite. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.
  9. Brown, Amy E. “No Difference in Self-Reported Frequency of Choking Between Infants Introduced to Solid Foods Using a Baby-Led Weaning or Traditional Spoon-Feeding Approach.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 31, no. 4 (December 2017): 496-504. Doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12528.
  10. Fangupo, L. J., Heath, A.-L. M., Williams, S. M., Williams, L. W. E., Morison, B. J., Fleming, E. A., … Taylor, R. W. (2016). A Baby-Led approach to eating solids and risk of choking. Pediatrics, 138(4), e20160772. doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-0772
  11. Pesch, D. (2019). Introducing complementary foods in infancy. Contemporary Pediatrics, 36(1), 6.
  12. Rapley, G. (2011). Baby-led weaning: transitioning to solid foods at the baby’s own pace. Community Practitioner, 84(6), 5.

Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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Small-Batch Fermentation – AnswerLine Team Gives It a Try

In recent years, consumers have become more interested in home fermentation, especially in making their own sauerkraut and kimchi for the beneficial bacteria it provides for gut health.  As this trend grows, the AnswerLine team receives many questions about the fermenting process. To help answer questions with first-hand experience, the AnswerLine team rolled up their sleeves and spent an evening learning to create the digestive ‘wonder food,’ sauerkraut, from scratch.

The biggest trend in DIY sauerkraut and kimchi is making it in small batches—small amounts made regularly using quart, half-gallon or gallon jars. Kraut or kimchi made in small batches ferments more quickly than in big crocks allowing one batch to be fermenting while another is refrigerated and eaten. The market has responded to consumer demand by providing consumers with a large assortment of fermentation kits, containers, and gadgets to make fermentation easy and fun.  The AnswerLine team randomly chose two different kits with which to experiment—MasonTops® and Ball®—to ferment cabbage into sauerkraut. Both of these kits used quart jars which were prepared in advanced.

Mature, firm heads of cabbage were selected from a team-member’s garden a day prior; cabbage can also be purchased at the supermarket for year-round kraut making.  Both red and green cabbage varieties can be used; the team used a mix of red and green.

We used a mandolin to shred the cabbage. Cabbage can also be shredded using a sharp knife, kraut cutter, or food processor.  However cut, the shreds should be long and thin.  Once the cabbage was shredded, it was weighed, and salt (canning and pickling salt) added per the kit recipe.

The salt was massaged into the cabbage until the cabbage was wilted and juicy. 

The wilted/juiced cabbage was firmly packed into the quart jars allowing the juice to come to the top and completely cover the cabbage. 

The two kits allowed for different amounts of headspace.  What is most important is that there is sufficient headspace for the brine from the cabbage/salt mix to completely cover the top of the cabbage.  After the jars were filled, the jars were weighted and topped with the fermenting lid and screw band supplied with each kit.  Weights can be a food grade glass disk (provided with the MasonTop® kit), stainless steel spring (provided with the Ball® kit), a freezer bag filled with brine* that fits into the jar, a smaller glass jar filled with water or brine, or a full wine bottle that sits on top of the cabbage.  If using a brine bag, glass jar, or wine bottle for weight, whole cabbage leaves (discard when the kraut is done fermenting) should be packed atop the cabbage first.

Rachel Sweeney and Thomas, Marlene Geiger, Beth Marrs, Marcia Steed, and Carol Van Waardhuizzen show the jars of cabbage ready for fermenting.

Each team member left the workshop with two jars to ferment at home.  At home, team members were advised to store their jars in a cooler, darker place in their home, to check it daily to make sure that the cabbage was always covered in brine, and to wait about 2 weeks to test.  Fermentation time is dependent on quantity and temperature.  Kraut fermented at 70º-75ºF will ferment in about 1-2 weeks; at 60º-65ºF, fermentation may take 2-3 weeks.  At temperatures lower than 60ºF, kraut may not ferment and above 75ºF, kraut may become soft or mushy.  The best way to determine when the kraut is ready is by smell and taste.  The cabbage should be translucent but remain crunchy, not soft or slimy. The salty flavor should be diminished and replaced with a bright, tangy flavor of the lactic acid. When the kraut has reached an individual liking, it is time to stop the fermentation by refrigerating and eating it.

Here are the team takeaways from this experience:

  • Small batch kits make it easy to get started, learn about the fermentation process, and build fermentation confidence. Kits are a matter of personal preference.
  • Approximately 2 pounds of cabbage is needed to fill a quart jar.
  • Tightly packing the cabbage into the jars is important to continue releasing the juices necessary to create the anaerobic (without oxygen) environment need for lacto-fermentation to take place while inhibiting spoil-causing bacteria.
  • Work in small batches when packing the cabbage into the jars.  Pack tightly after each handful addition.
  • Important to keep oxygen out yet allow carbon dioxide to bubble out.  Good amount of brine, weight, and lid with an air release enable this. 
  • Keep the cabbage submerged under the brine at all times to prevent oxidation; cabbage will brown at the top if the brine level drops. Add brine during the fermentation time, if needed.
  • Monitor it daily watching for off smell or loss of brine.  Watch for signs of healthy fermentation: cabbage swelling, gas pockets, color changes, bubbles or foam on the surface of the brine, some white sediment in the bottom of the jar. Bubbling activity is normal and a good sign the fermentation process is working.
  • Flavor improves with age but can be customized to individual taste and probiotic level. Longer ferments give a stronger flavor and more probiotics. 

Fermented foods can be a healthy and nutritious addition to your diet and a great way to preserve the harvest as well. Sauerkraut is one of the oldest and easiest of fermented food. Unlike the packaged kraut at the supermarket which may have been pasteurized to kill bacteria, small-batch sauerkraut is lacto-fermented, a fancy term for soaking uncooked cabbage in brine (salt and water), then letting nature ferment the vegetable’s own beneficial bacteria.  This process was perfected by the Germans during the 16th century and still used today.   (While the Germans are best known for their kraut making skills, it is believed that the first sauerkraut was made in China about 2,000 years ago, during the building of the Great Wall.)   

For additional information or help, check out Small Batch Sauerkraut Tips and Sauerkraut:  Problems and Solutions by Oregon State University Extension. 

Taking the plunge into home fermentation can be an intimidating proposition. Whether you’re a complete beginner or have some experience, small-bath fermentation with cabbage is a good place to start to build your confidence while learning about fermentation.

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*Brine – ½ teaspoon salt to ½ cup water

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

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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September is National Honey Month

‘Tis the month to celebrate all things HONEY!  The National Honey Board declared September as National Honey Month in 1989 to promote the beekeeping industry and honey as a natural and beneficial sweetener.  Honey is a great sweetener for many reasons.  However, it is important to note that honey is more than a sweetener and has a long history so let the celebrations begin!

Honey History

Honey dates back centuries.  In 2012, archaeologists discovered what is believed to be the world’s oldest honey in a ceramic jar in Georgia (Eastern European country) which is estimated by scientists to be about 5,500 years old.  However, honey was used long before this and may have a life of millions of years.  Beekeeping apiculture dates to at least 700 BC.  Documentation has been found showing that ancient Egyptians sacrificed honey to their river gods, Roman’s slathered honey on wounds, Alexander the Great was embalmed with honey, and honey was used as a form of currency in Europe.  There are also numerous ancient references to mead, or honey wine, which is the world’s oldest known fermented beverage.

Honey Uses

Honey, as a sweetener, has many health benefits.  Besides being loaded with minerals, vitamins and important enzymes, honey is a natural, healthy energy booster. It is an immune system builder and has both antioxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-tumor properties. Honey has a healthy glycemic index which means that can be absorbed into the bloodstream gradually resulting in better digestion.  For more detailed information on the nutritional value of honey over table sugar, see Benefits of Honey by Michigan State University.  Honey is denser than sugar. One tablespoon of honey has 69 calories compared to 48 calories in one tablespoon of processed white sugar.  When using honey as a sweetener begin substitutions by replacing the amount of sugar called for in the recipe with half the amount of honey.  Honey can be substituted in equal measure for other liquid sweeteners such as sorghum, molasses, or maple syrup.  Learn more about cooking with honey from All About Honey.

Bee pollen is another important substance found in honey. Bee pollen may provide some relief for those who suffer with seasonal allergies since it contains trace amounts of pollen. Daily trace amounts of pollen may help reduce the symptoms of pollen-related allergies by inoculating the individual.  When used as an inoculant, it is very important that the honey be purchased locally since that is where the allergens are located.

While some of the health benefits of honey have been discussed, the many uses of honey is extensive.  For more honey uses, take a look at some suggestions for honey outside of the kitchen by Sioux Honey™.

Honey Safety and Storage

The primary food safety issue related to honey is infant botulism. Because infants have an immature geostatistical tract, the spores of the Clostridium bacteria (the causal pathogen of botulism) are provided
the amount of time needed and the environment to produce toxins. Babies under the age of 1 should not eat honey.

In general, honey is safe for adults and children older than the age of 1.  Those allergic to honey should avoid it.

Honey has a very low water content and high acidity, which usually inhibits the growth of bacteria.  However, honey is hydroscopic, which means it draws in moisture. Moisture in honey can create favorable conditions for mold and yeast growth.  To prevent such, honey should be stored in a clean, airtight container and preferably away from light.  When stored properly, honey will remain safe indefinitely. Honey may crystallize or granulate as it gets older, is refrigerated, or is frozen. This is a natural process and does not harm honey in any way. To convert crystallized honey to a liquid form, place the opened honey jar in a heat-safe container of approximately 1-2 inches of hot (not boiling) water. Crystals will begin to disappear; stir as needed. Be careful not to overheat honey; excessive heat can cause honey to change color and flavor.

According to National Honey Board trivia, a single worker honeybee produces approximately 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. That means around 22,700 bees are needed to fill a single jar of honey!   So celebrate the benefits of honey, the bees that make it, those who work in the honey and bee industry, and enjoy the seet nectar of their labor!

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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Can’t Beat Beets and Beet Chips

Beets are packed with nutrients and heart-healthy antioxidants, making them a great addition to any diet. Aside from being totally delicious and beautiful on a plate, beets are low in calories and really good for you.  They lower blood pressure, boost stamina, fight inflammation, are rich in fiber, support detoxification, contain anti-cancer causing properties, and so much more.

There are any number of delicious ways to prepare and serve beets for every day eating—vegetable side dish, soup, pickles, relish, salad, cake, hummus. . . . .  Beets also are easy to preserve by freezing, pickling, canning, or drying when one has an abundance of these root vegetables.  Michigan State University Extension and Penn State Extension have excellent information on selecting, storing, and preserving beets.   Tested recipes for beets can also be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

For a shorter preservation time, you might want to give beet chips a try.  Beet chips are a tasty and healthy alternative to potato chips and other junk food. They store well and are a good way to deal with the munchies when those evil urges strike.  They are easy to make in the oven or air fryer, have no “bad” fats, no preservatives, and you control the salt and seasoning.  Any color of beet may be used.  Beet chips are made from finely sliced beets, tossed in oil (olive, avocado, or coconut) and optional salt and seasoning, and then roasted in the oven or air fryer.  Beet chips store well for at least 2 weeks in an airtight container—that is if they last that long!  They can be made in any quantity desired.

Begin by washing beets thoroughly under cool running water.  Remove the tops to within 2-inches of the beet.  Trim off the tail.  Peeling is optional. 

Oven Baked Beet Chips

Beet chips can simply be made by slicing the beets very thin (1/16-in) using a mandolin if possible, tossing with a small amount of oil, seasoning as desired, arranging in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and baking in the oven until dry and crisp.  This recipe from University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources would be one example of how to make beet chips by this method.

Another way to make oven baked beet chips is to sweat (rest beets in salt and oil for a short time) the beets prior to baking.  This is the method I like best.  A brief sweating allows the beets to release some of their moisture before baking which makes all the difference in size, color, and texture of the beet chips.  After draining the beets, I also lightly pat the beets with a paper two to remove excess moisture before placing on the parchment-lined baking sheet to shorten the drying time.  Carnegie Mellon University provides this recipe. This recipe is easily made with a smaller quantity of beets as well.

Air Fryer Method

Prepare the beets as for oven baking.  Set the air fryer to 330°.  Arrange the slices in a single layer and air fry 15 – 20 minutes until crispy.  Time will vary depending on the thickness of the chips, air fryer, and moisture in the beets.

Give beets a try in whatever way you enjoy them. Beet chips are a great lunchtime side and snack option.

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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Score a Safe Tailgate with Wings

Wings are ubiquitous with tailgates!  They are easy to prepare (or pick up), budget friendly, an easy-to-eat finger food, incredibly fun to try with different sauces, and when cooked properly, tasty and satisfying.  Sadly, many tailgates have been spoiled by food poisoning due to improper cooking or care of the meat.  Unlike other types of meat, chicken meat can host harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli (E. coli).  By using safe food handling practices and proper cooking techniques, there is no need to worry.

What are wings?

Wings are the forearm of the chicken and are part of the breast muscle which runs along both sides of the breastbone. Chicken wings are considered white meat, even though they’re juicier than white meat and have a more concentrated poultry flavor, like dark meat.  The wing of the chicken consists of three sections, the wing tip, the wingette (or flat wing having two small bones in it), and the drumettes (the part that looks like a mini-drumstick).  At the supermarket, wings are usually sold as the whole wing, wingettes, drumettes, or the wingette and drumette attached (no wing tip). 

The drumette is the part of the wing that is attached to the breastbone and usually considered the most desirable because it is meatier.   Many people think of Buffalo wings when they think of this part of the chicken.  (Buffalo wings, originated in Buffalo, New York, around1964, and became famous for the tangy, hot sauce-coated, deep-fried drumettes served with blue cheese dip and celery sticks.)

Be a Tailgate Wing MVP and Score a Winning Tailgate

The best offense is a good defense.  Have your food safety plan in place before the tailgate starts and know your opponent—harmful microbes—and deal with it using these tips for a worry-free tailgate:

Clean.  When preparing any food, start with clean hands, work surfaces and utensils.  DO NOT WASH the wings.  Rinsing meat or poultry under running water, results in splashing of water droplets onto other surfaces, kitchen utensils or food, causing contamination with harmful microorganisms.  Skip the wash, but instead pat-dry the chicken with paper towels, like many professional chefs do.  Dispose of the towels safely. Season as desired.

Separate.  If it is necessary to cut the whole wing or wingette and drumette apart, use a separate cutting board from any that would be used for fruits and vegetables.   Cross-contamination of utensils, cookware, cutting boards, countertops and anything else that has been exposed to raw chicken can put one at risk for salmonella. Thoroughly wash hands and any items that may have come into contact with the raw chicken with hot, soapy water before using for any other purpose.

Cook.   It doesn’t matter what cooking method* is used to prepare wings; it is essential to make sure that the chicken wings are thoroughly cooked to a final temperature of 165°F (74ºC). If not, you might have to deal with a bout of food poisoning. Salmonella and other bacteria are killed when subjected to a temperature of 165° F (74ºC). Use an instant-read digital thermometer to check the temperature by inserting the probe part of the thermometer into the thickest part of the wing, avoiding the bone.  Check several wings in the batch.  Use a clean thermometer for each and every temperature check.  Visual color is never a reliable indicator of safety or doneness.  Precooked frozen chicken wings, must be reheated to 165°F (74ºC) as well.

Place cooked wings into an insulated container or slow cooker for transporting or keeping hot during the tailgate if electrical outlets are available. Or use disposable foil pans and reheat on the grill. If prepared at the tailgate, bring wings chilled ready to cook on the grill and eat them as soon as they can be handled easily.

Chill.  Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left in the “Danger Zone” (40°F-140°F, 4⁰C-60⁰C).  Get wings and other perishable foods into coolers within 2 hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F (32⁰C), chill within 1 hour. Sauces may be kept chilled by placing them above a cold source like a bowl of ice.  If foods have not been exposed to Danger Zone temperatures for more than 2 hours and chilled properly, they may be reheated for halftime or after the game treats. Before reheating, use a thermometer to check the temperature of the food.  If food is at 40°F or lower it may be reheated. Be sure to reheat wings and other originally hot foods to 165°F (74⁰C) and check the temperature with a food thermometer. Do not reheat in a slow cooker; rather use a grill, or if at home, an oven or microwave.  Any food left in the Danger Zone for more than 2 hours should be discarded.

Other tips include having a serving utensil for each item and plenty of paper plates so everyone can use a clean plate when getting more food.

Be a Tailgate Wing MVP! Go for the win! Follow basic food safety principles, properly handle raw chicken meat, cook wings to an internal temperature of 165°F (74ºC), and chill as needed to keep you and your guests safe.

*Wing Cooking Methods

With any chicken wing recipe, it’s important to follow the instructions carefully to ensure that you have cooked them properly.  Cooking times are approximate; always use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature.  Wings may be prepared by oven baking, air frying, grilling, or deep fat frying following these general directions or your favorite wing recipe.

Oven – Place wings in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake at 400⁰F (204⁰C) for approximately 40 minutes.  It is a good idea halfway through the cooking time to turn the wings over to allow both sides of the wings to get crispy. 

Air Fryer – Spray the air fryer basket with cooking spray. Pat the chicken wings dry. Place the wings in the fryer basket so they are not touching. Set the air fryer to 360⁰F (182ºC) and cook for 12 minutes, then flip the wings with tongs and cook for 12 minutes more. Flip the wings again, increase the heat to 390⁰F (199ºC) and cook until the outsides are extra-crispy, about 6 minutes more.

Grill – Turn the wings every 4-6 minutes to ensure that they are cooked evenly throughout the grilling process.  Cooking time should be about 25-30 minutes.

Deep Fat Fryer – Heat oil to 375°F (191⁰C). Fry wings in batches until skin is crisp and meat is tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

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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Canning Mistakes: “But, My Jars Sealed”

The AnswerLine Team receives many phone calls and emails regarding canning mistakes—incorrect processing time, canner wasn’t vented, wrong size jars used, forgot to add acid to tomatoes, incorrect headspace, hot water canner used for low-acid foods, elevation not considered–just to name a few.  Mistakes happen but the biggest mistake of all is the assumption, “BUT, MY JARS SEALED!”

A SEALED JAR DOES NOT EQUAL A SAFE PRODUCT if a canning mistake has occurred, a recipe has been altered, or if an untested recipe was used.  In the canning process, jars of food are heated to destroy pathogens, expel air, and create a vacuum seal.  While this process provides shelf stability, it is also the perfect environment for food borne bacteria, especially Clostridum botulinum, to germinate and produce toxins when a tested canning procedure is not followed.  In that ‘sealed jar,’ conditions favorable to producing the “perfect bacterial storm” exist:
MOISTURE,
‘DANGER ZONE’ TEMPERATURES that allow for bacterial growth (40⁰F – 120⁰F),
ABSENCE of OXYGEN (anaerobic) resulting from the air being driven out during processing, and possibly a LOW ACID food.  (Foods high in acid, like most fruits, or foods to which acid was added, such as vinegar to pickles, are less susceptible to bacterial growth.)

IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE, ACT QUICKLY.

Canning mistakes can only be rectified in the first 24 hours.  Within that time, they can be reprocessed, frozen, or refrigerated for quick use.  After 24 hours, the food needs to be disposed as it is no longer safe.  This is also true for jars whose lids did not seal.

Reprocessing means following the same processing that would have been done if starting with fresh food—empting and washing jars, reheating, re-filling jars, using new flat lids, and processing with correct time and weight (pressure canning).   Most foods do not tolerate reprocessing very well.  Quality is diminished as they usually end up soft and mushy.  Soft foods, such as applesauce, handle reprocessing better than foods with structure.

When reprocessing isn’t a good option, freezing is.  Remove the contents from the jar and put into freezer containers or bags, label and freeze.  Leaving food in the original canning jars is not recommended unless some of the contents are removed to allow for freezing expansion.

One may also put the jars into the refrigerator and use the contents within 3 days.  This is a good option with small batch canning, but may not be so when 7 quart jars are in question.

Home canning is about following the science to make a SAFE product by preventing foodborne illness.  One can never assume the contents of a sealed jar are safe if there has been any alteration to the recipe or procedure, whether intentional or by mistake.

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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Thickeners for Home Canning

Home canned fruit pie fillings make it easy to prepare delicious pies and desserts all year long. Since 2015 the USDA and the National Center for Home Food Preservation has recommended Clearjel® (cook type, not instant) as the thickening agent for some home canned fruit pie fillings.  There is not a safe substitute for Clearjel® when canning pie filling.

Clearjel® is a flavorless, modified cornstarch that doesn’t break down through the canning and baking process.  It can withstand a variety of pH levels and allows for adequate heat penetration during processing to render a shelf-safe product.  Clearjel® differs from other thickeners such as regular cornstarch, flour, and tapioca which thicken with heat, become dense, clump, break down with additional cooking, and do not allow for adequate heat penetration during processing. Without heat penetrating throughout the jar, yeast, mold, or other harmful bacteria can form. Clearjel® only thickens a small amount with heat; thereby, reducing the density and heat penetration issues during processing. Heat is able to penetrate the contents of the jar completely and safely.  The filling thickens in the jar after the jars are removed from the canner and the food cools. Clearjel® does not break down over multiple heatings as other thickeners might. In home-canned pie fillings, it easily survives the three heatings of preparation, processing, and eventual baking. 

To use, follow directions in Fruit Pie Fillings for Home Canning by Washington State University.  Care should be taken to not exceed the specified amount of thickener to avoid jelling, oozing*, or inadequate heat penetration. 

The shelf-life of Clearjel® in canned foods is excellent. Canned products retain a smooth texture with no liquid separation, weeping, or curdling during storage.  Like most home canned foods, pie fillings should be used within a year for best quality.

Clearjel® is not designed for freezing as it breaks down through freezing and thawing. Instant Clearjel® is freezer stable yet tolerates baking temperatures.  It thickens without cooking and begins to swell as soon as it is added to liquid gradually increasing in thickness during heating.  Although not modified food starches, arrowroot and tapioca starch can also be used to thicken products for freezing yielding satisfactory freeze-thaw results. Do not use Instant Clearjel® in canned pie fillings.

While Clearjel® is widely used commercially, its manufacturer, Ingredion, has not made it easily available to consumers. Therefore, it behooves one to think ahead. It is generally sold in bulk and is available only through a few supply outlets; it is not currently available in traditional grocery stores.  Look for it at online sources, Amish groceries, or bakery supply stores.  If Clearjel® is not available at the time of preserving, pie filling can be made without and thickened at the time of use with any suitable starch.  There are about 3 cups of Clearjel® in a pound.

At the present time, the USDA, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, and most University Extensions, including Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Minnesota Extension, stand by Clearjel® as the only recommended starch for four pie fillings– apple, blueberry, cherry, and peach pie fillings; there have been no broadening of recommendations from the USDA or NCHFP for other uses. However, some University Extensions have expanded the use of Clearjel® with tested canning applications or alternative products.  Food scientists at Oregon State University Extension have added a Blackberry Pie Filling option to the list of approved USDA pie filling recipes by following the USDA cherry recipe with blackberry as a substitute. Washington State University Extension has added recipes for making jams with Clearjel®.

PermaFlo®, ThermFlo® and Thick Gel™ are commercial equivalents that have been accepted as alternatives for Clearjel® by some University Extensions.  Penn State prefers ThermFlo® as an alternative for its “added advantage of holding up well during storage if canned goods are stored in a cold basement.  This stability factor allows it to be used in frozen pie fillings.” ThermFlo® is also made by Ingredion. Utah State Extension recognizes Thick Gel™ as an alternative for Clearjel®. Thick Gel™ is made and marketed by Cornaby’s, a Utah based company, which sells directly to consumers.  It advertises itself as gluten-free and non-GMO.  (Per the Ingredion website, Clearjel® is also gluten-free.)  PermaFlo® was not found to be mentioned by any particular University Extension; it is a product of Tate & Lyle International.

As always, to ensure a safe product, use a tested canning recipe without alteration and follow the latest guidelines; the National Center for Home Food Preservation, USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, and So Easy to Preserve are trusted sources. If other recipes or products are used, check with the manufacturer or recipe source regarding use and product safety.

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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Think Safety as Students Return to Campus

It’s that time of the year when college campuses are preparing for students moving into dormitories, campus housing, or off-campus apartments or housing.  Stores are stocked with every possible item a young, trendy college student could possibly need or want.  With all of the excitement, anticipation, and stress, it is important for students and parents to revisit “college safety!”  College life brings new challenges.

10 safety tips to remember as students return to campus

  • Keep electric safety in mind.  Don’t overload outlets, extension cords or power strips.  Keep electrical cords and appliances away from bedding, curtains, and other flammable material.  Make sure that all cords and electrical products are UL, CSA, or MET approved.  Check with university/college housing for specific housing rules for use of hot plates, coffee makers, microwaves, air fryers, etc allowed in dorm rooms.  Many colleges are banning the use of cooking appliance in on-campus housing and instead providing a designated area for the use of cooking appliances.
  • Check for smoke detectors.  Know the fire escape route and never assume that if an alarm sounds that it is a drill.
  • Always keep dorm or apartment doors locked, even when occupied. 
  • Keep an inventory of valuable possessions and record serial numbers.
  • Know what coverage is needed for the housing situation.  A student living in a dorm may have coverage for their personal belongs under their parents’ homeowner’s insurance policy. Students living off-campus will want to consider rental insurance to cover their personal possessions.
  • Make sure that health insurance coverage meets the university/college requirements.  Most colleges in the United States require their students to have health insurance.
  • Don’t allow technology to cause unawareness of surroundings.  When one is plugged into music or a smartphone, they may no longer be aware of their surroundings leaving one open to potential dangerous situations or walking into traffic.
  • Never walk alone, especially at night.  Utilize the buddy system whenever possible and know where emergency call buttons or phones are located across campus. Consider carrying pepper spray or a whistle.
  • Have fun, party safe. Come and go with a friend. Avoid becoming inebriated and losing control. It’s easy for others to take advantage of someone who is alone, can’t think or act rationally.
  • Always have emergency contacts on you or in your device. In the event of an emergency, one of the first steps emergency responders and hospitals take when someone is admitted alone is to check a smartphone (in most cases they are able to bypass the pass code in order to access contacts) or look for medical ID tags.

Wishing all students and parents a safe academic year!

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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