Recipe Makeovers for Healthier Versions

One doesn’t have to give up favorite recipes to maintain a healthy diet. Making a few simple changes can make most recipes more healthful without sacrificing taste.  It begins with preparing a recipe in a different way or by substituting ingredients.

Recipes can be altered to reduce or eliminate fat, salt, and unwanted calories in the form of sugar. Recipes can also be altered to increase nutrition or fiber. When modifying a recipe, it is best to make one modification at a time, reducing, substituting, or increasing an ingredient by a small amount at first.

Baked goods require careful adjustments as each ingredient has an important role in the outcome of the product.
– Fat provides flavor, richness, and texture.
– Eggs provide structure, act as a binding agent, and add volume.
– Sugar provides flavor, increases tenderness, and acts as a preservative.
– Salt provides flavor.

Below are suggestions for reducing fat, calories, sugar, and salt and/or increasing fiber in your recipes without changing texture, flavor, purpose or structure.  Be sure to keep a record of the changes that produce the best tasting and satisfactory product.

If your recipe calls forMake the following adjustments or replace with
Condiments and toppingsOmit or use fresh cucumbers vs pickles, cherry tomatoes vs olives, non-fat or reduced fat spreads, mashed fresh berries, thin slices of fresh apples, peaches or pears.
Canned fruit packed in syrupFresh fruit or canned fruit packed in water
Chicken stock or brothsVegetable stock/broth or refrigerated broth with fat skimmed off
Sour creamLow-fat yogurt or blended low-fat cottage cheese
1 egg2 egg whites
CreamWhipped non-fat dry milk or skim evaporated milk
RiceBrown rice
Sautéing in butter or oilNon-stick spray, chicken or beef broth
Cream cheeseNeufchatel cheese or light cream cheese
Gravy1 Tbsp cornstarch or 2 Tbsp flour added to 1 cup fat-free broth
Whole milkSkim or 1% milk
Ice creamLow-fat or non-fat yogurt
All-purpose flour½ whole wheat flour and ½ all-purpose flour
Ground beefLean ground turkey or chicken
BaconTurkey bacon
Ricotta cheeseNon-fat or low-fat cottage cheese
CheeseLow-fat or non-fat cheese or use only half 
PastaWhole wheat pasta

If your baking recipe calls forMake the following adjustments
Sugars – Brown, Corn Syrup, Honey, MolassesUse up to one third less sugar in recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads, and pie fillings. Add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg, or flavorings such as vanilla or almond extract to boost sweetness.
Fat – Shortening, Butter, Lard, OilReplace solid fat with vegetable oil using 1/4 cup less.  Or, use half the butter, shortening or oil and replace the other half with an equal amount of applesauce, mashed bananas, pureed prunes or commercially prepared fruit-based fat replacers.
SaltReduce the amount by ½ (except in yeast breads), use spices or herbs or light salt.

Other options to add fiber include adding whole oats or chopped dried/fresh fruit to cookies, muffins, waffles, and pancakes and beans to soups, casseroles, and salads. Using fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits whenever possible not only increases fiber, but also ups nutrition.

Cooking methods such as baking, boiling, broiling, grilling, roasting, or stir-frying whenever possible are the best choices for reducing fat intake. Along with fat reduction, the high heat associated with frying changes the chemical structure of the fat making it difficult for your body to break down which can negatively affect health.

Remember, make small modifications at a time. Be creative and, most importantly, have fun! Enjoy the challenge!

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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Know Your Pork Ribs

“My family loves ribs. 
I want to try them on my own but I don’t know what to buy.  Spare ribs? Baby back ribs?  Country ribs? St Louis style/cut ribs? 

What’s the different?”

Ribs are one of the marquee pork dishes that are a favorite at backyard barbeques, family reunions or anyplace else that people gather over food. Because there are various rib choices, consumers have questions about which rib for what. To begin to answer the question, we need to take a brief look at the source of ribs within the anatomy of the pig.  

As shown in the picture, ribs are derived from the lower sides of the pig, specifically the belly and breastbone, behind the shoulder and picnic and comprise 14 long bones attached to the spine.  There is a covering of meat on top of and between the bones.  From this area, we get four basic cuts: Baby Back Ribs, Spareribs, St Louis (Style/Cut) Ribs, and Rib Tips. Each rib type has its own distinct characteristics and refers to the section of the rib cage from which it has been cut and how it is trimmed.  Sometimes these same cuts have different names based on a local way of cutting and trimming. 

Baby Back Ribs.  Also called loin ribs or riblets, baby back ribs come from the highest part of the rib section and are connected to the backbone, right beneath the loin muscle.  They are curved and called ‘baby’ because they are short or small and have a small amount of meat on them.  Ranging in length from 3-6 inches (short end to long end), baby back ribs are the most tender, lean, and expensive of the four types.  Each rack is about 2 pounds in weight with approximately half of the weight in bone.

Spareribs.  Spareribs are the most plentiful of rib types and generally what are known as ‘ribs.’  They are found below the baby back ribs, have flatter, straighter bones and are meatier.  Generally they have more marbling and more flavor.   A rack typically has 11-13 bones and ranges from 2.5 to 3.5 pounds with about half being bone and cartilage.  Spareribs may require some trimming.

St Louis (Style/Cut) Ribs.  St Louis style/cut ribs are simply spareribs spiffed up.  They are cut from the area of the rib cage that is closest to the breastbone. As a result of their location, these spareribs have a lot of tough cartilage. However, the hard breastbone, chewy cartilage and gristle is removed. Compared to spareribs, St. Louis ribs are a uniform, rectangular shape making them competition champions as the meat is neat and tidy for presentation and easy to eat. Because they are thinner and flatter, they also brown more evenly.  (Kansas City style ribs are St Louis style/cut ribs with more bones removed.)

Regardless of rib type, any of these three types are prepared and cooked the same. If you can’t find the type of rib that the recipe calls for, don’t fret.  Any of the three fore-mentioned varieties of pork ribs will work great. To prepare ribs, follow these easy steps:

Step 1: Remove the Membrane or Silverskin. The silverskin covers the bone side of each rack.  If left on, it cooks leathery-crisp and keeps seasonings, rubs, and smoke from penetrating the meat.  You can do this by hand. Scrape a corner with your thumbnail to get it started and pull the rest free from the ribs. 

Step 2: Season. Season ribs as desired – pick your favorite rub or marinade and apply liberally. Many recipes will recommend seasoning at least four hours in advance of cooking for best flavor and aiding in tenderizing. 

Step 3: Cook. Ribs are best cooked long and slow whether it be the oven, grill, slow cooker, or electric programmable pressure cooker. According to the USDA, ribs are done when they reach 145⁰F.  At this temperature, however, they will still be tough so taking them up to 190 to 200⁰F allows the collagen and fats to melt and make the meat more tender and juicy.  Find a favorite recipe and follow guidelines.  Baby back ribs will cook more quickly.

Now what about those ‘other ribs’ – rib tips and country-style ribs? 

Rib tips are derived from the triangular, cartilage-dotted slab of meat attached to the lower end of the sparerib. When preparing St. Louis cut ribs, this section of meat is removed in order to square up the slab of ribs. They are not usually readily available as they are often ground for sausage.  However, when cut into bite-sized pieces they make a great snack, appetizer, or even main course. Fans suggest the ultimate rib tip experience is derived by navigating and nibbling your way around the small pieces of cartilage and bone! 

Country-style ribs are not ribs at all.  They come from the shoulder area of the pig. They are meatier than ribs and may have one or two bones embedded in their meat. When country-style ribs have a bone in them, it is not rib bone but the scapula or shoulder blade.  They can be prepared in much the same way as true ribs but can also be sliced thin and cooked in a stir-fry.

Regardless of the rib style, be prepared. You are most likely going to eat ribs with your hands and you are going to enjoy every bite as well as the mess!

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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Taking the ‘Myths’ Out of Cooking Dried Beans

Last spring we decided to plant beans—beans, as in eventual dried beans—for a new garden experience, health benefits, and future use in cooking, or as a meat substitute.  Beans are a rich source of fiber and B vitamins and help reduce cholesterol, decrease blood sugar levels, and increase healthy gut bacteria.

My husband chose five different varieties—Amish Knuttle, Black Turtle, Tigers Eye, Peregion, and Garbanzo (chick peas) to plant.  It was fun to watch them grow, set and fill their pods.  The foliage of the first four looked very much like any other kind of bean or soybean (edamame).  The garbanzo foliage was very different; the lacey, delicate leaves looked more like they belonged in a flower garden than a vegetable garden. 

As fall dawned, the leaves began to yellow exposing the pods which would eventually dry and need to be picked.  Enter the human harvester–me. As I spent long hours picking bean pods and later removing the beans from their pods, I had more appreciation than ever for the dried beans that I so nonchalantly pick up at the grocery store and grateful that bean farmers had mechanical harvesting equipment.  Once my harvest was complete, I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful jars of beans as if they were a work of art! 

Since I had such a high regard for my beans, I felt they were worthy of being cooked properly to show their unique texture and flavor.  In the past, I hadn’t taken much stock in how I cooked beans; my method or lack thereof probably stemmed from a combination of whatever I haphazardly learned from my mother years ago, heard from other advisors in my life, or simply what I had time for.  I soon learned there are as many ways to cook beans as there are people who cook them and many of the methods stem from ‘myths’—soak or no soak, fresh water or not, salt or no salt, lid or no lid, oven or stove top.

I was intrigued by an Epicurious article:  How to Cook Beans: The Epicurious Myth-Busting Guide.  The Epicurious kitchen staff experimented with pinto beans to determine the best method for cooking dried beans, debunking many of the myths surrounding bean cooking.  I repeated their experiment using each of my bean varieties to determine what was best for each; in the end, regardless of variety, I had to agree with their recommendations.  Quick-soaking the beans, cooking in their own water, salting them at the beginning of cooking, and cooking in a pot without a lid on the stove top resulted in beans with great texture and flavor.  (Use the Epicurious link above to read more about the Epi method.)

Once the beans are cooked, they are ready for whatever comes their way.  I usually cook a quantity of beans and freeze in portion containers what will not be used in 2-3 days.  Frozen cooked beans can be used like a drained can of beans.  Thawing is not necessary when they are used in soup or baked beans. If used in a salad, side dish, or baking, they need to be defrosted prior.  Beans keep well in the freezer for about 6 months.  Dried beans will generally stay at best quality for about 2 to 3 years at normal room temperature; they will remain safe to use after that but may take longer to cook and have less flavor. 

How do you cook your beans?

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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What’s Under Your Kitchen Sink?

Is your ‘stash it’ place the cabinet under your kitchen sink?  If you’re like me and so many people, it ends up being the place that this-that-and-the-other gets stuffed for lack of a better location or simply to get it out of sight.  When this happens, it’s hard to keep this area tidy and ready for the unexpected leak.

Along with the maze of pipes that live under my sink, we have a RO (reverse osmosis) system which adds a holding tank and filters in addition to a garbage disposal and slide-out waste basket.  With all of that, it would seem that there would be little space for clutter and junk.  NOT!  I’m always amazed what I find in the ‘cave of castoffs’ scattered among the needed and regularly used dish-washing and kitchen cleaning supplies.

Since the RO system requires annual maintenance, my cabinet undergoes purging and cleaning before service and organizing after. The annual review is scheduled so I must move forward with pulling everything out, inventorying, and cleaning to remove dust and crumbs. This is also a good time to note any water stains on the cabinet floor or suspicious signs with any of the pipes, water lines, or faucets inside the cabinet.  (Anything suspicious should be checked out to prevent a plumbing disaster.)

With everything out and an open space to fill, I do something a little different each year to make the space work a little bit better using tips from various organizing experts on what to put back and what to find a new home for—a saga of Store This, Not That.

Not That
(What Not to Store under the Kitchen Sink)

Unused, old, broken or no-long suitable cleaners, sponges, scrub brushes and other castoffs that have accumulated behind closed doors should be discarded. If they might have a life in another capacity, place them with the anticipated activity. I like to keep worn nylon scrubbers and brushes around to wash the mud from garden produce, particularly pumpkins and squash, when they are harvested so I move these item to a container in the garage for this purpose.

Overstock, Refills, or Extra Supplies.  Quantity or bought-ahead, unopened products should go to another storage area.  Several years ago, I established a shelf in our basement for this purpose.  Here I store paper towels, dishwasher tablets, boxes of trash bags, and other like items.  To remind myself of what I have on hand, I leave myself sticky notes.  For example, I only have space for a small container of dishwashing tablets under the sink.  On the lid of the container, I have a sticky note that says “more tabs downstairs.”  As the container empties, I refill from the stash in the basement until the quantity is exhausted; at which time, I pull the sticky note and place the need on the shopping list.

Towels, rags, paper towels, paper bags. All of these items absorb water and odors.  While absorbing water in the event of a leak may be a good thing, it will ruin them.  These items are also prone to odor absorption from other stored items or the waste basket combined with heat and humidity coming from the sink and/or dishwasher.  If the only storage space available for these items is under the sink, they should be stored in closed plastic containers.

Metal items.  With one exception*, tools, pots and pans, metal cookware, or anything else that is prone to rusting does not belong.  This also includes small appliances and light bulbs.  (*Exception will be discussed in Save This.)

Produce, food items, pet food/treats.   Produce and dry foods may mold under the sink. 

Harsh chemicals, flammable products, insecticides.  Bleach, insecticides, solvents, thinners, paints, polishes, and household cleaners have no place under the kitchen sink.  These items need to be stored in the basement, garage, or utility area and away from small children.  Occasionally the containers of these items spring a leak or emit fumes—all of which we do not want in our living areas and especially not in our kitchen.  Further, often a dishwasher sits next to the sink cabinet; heat or an electrical spark and flammable fumes could cause a sudden explosion or fire.

Store This
(What to Store under the Kitchen Sink)

Before putting anything back in the cabinet, consider an absorbent mat for the bottom of the cabinet to absorb a bit of water from a dripping sponge or leaking from a pipe or a stored product.  These mats protect the cabinetry and prevent the formation of mold.  One may also want to consider purchasing clear plastic containers for organizing or protecting items or even installing tiered under-sink organizers to make use of the available vertical space or pull-out racks to keep items from getting lost in the back of the cabinet and bring them forward for easy access. Home improvement and container stores have any number of these items designed to work around the pipes and garbage disposal. The inside of the cabinet doors are an ideal place to mount a towel rack or racks made for storing everything from trash bags to paper towels and sponges.

Cleaning products.  Keep the essentials such as vinegar, dish soap, dishwasher products, cleansers, scrubbers, sponges, brushes, kitchen gloves, and cleansing agents—all of the items needed daily to maintain a clean and healthy kitchen. (If young children are in the home, the doors to the cabinet should be secured with child-proof locks to prevent accidental poisoning from any of these products.) A pull-out rack or a lazy susan is a great way to corral these items and make them easy to access.

Small fire extinguisher.  One should always have a serviceable fire extinguisher in the kitchen in the event of a grease fire.  Under the sink within quick and easy reach is one of the best locations for it.  Before storing, the viability date should be checked and replaced if out of date. Consider mounting the extinguisher to a side wall of the cabinet.

Garbage disposal tool.  The one and only tool that should be stored under the sink is the garbage disposal tool used for unjamming the garbage disposal.  Inevitably this tool gets lost.  Some disposals come with a pocket for storing the tool on the side of the disposal.  If not, consider placing the tool in a ziplock bag and thumb tacking the bag to a cabinet wall making it easy to see and locate when a jam occurs.

Others.  Depending upon space, items such as a vase or two, trash bags, dish towels in plastic containers, small dust pan and brush, and bags for recycling (contained in some manner) may find a home under the sink.

By reclaiming and organizing our under sink space, we make our home safer and more efficient with the added benefit of having just what we need under our sink!  

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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Yeast Bread Baking – A Kitchen Science ‘Drama’

Does anything in the world ever smell quite so good as a just-baked loaf of bread? If you’ve never made yeast bread before, an adventure awaits!  And prepare yourself for one of the great “dramas” of kitchen science!

Every ‘drama’ is made up of various parts—cast, script, and various acts.  Bread baking is no exception. The cast of ingredients that go into a loaf of bread are simple—flour, yeast, liquid, sweetener (sugar), salt, and fat. Other ingredients can be added for flavor, texture, and nutritional value.  It is the nature of the ingredients and the way they are combined that create “drama!”

Meet the DRAMA Cast–Ingredients

Flour.  In most recipes, the flour used is either all-purpose flour or bread flour.  Both flours, derived from wheat, contain two proteins important to yeast breads—glutenin and gliadin.  When combined with liquid and manipulated, these proteins produced gluten, an elastic web that traps the gas released by the yeast.    All-purpose flours are a blend of hard and soft wheat in proportions to give satisfactory results for most baking, including bread.  Bread flour contains more hard wheat that soft wheat; with slightly more protein that all-purpose flour, bread flour is ideal for hearty breads because it allows for more structure.  Because the blend of hard and soft wheat used in all-purpose or bread flour may vary by manufacturer and flour gains or loses moisture depending on the weather or storage, most yeast bread recipes call for an approximate measure of flour rather than an exact amount.   Other flours or grains can be used in combination with all-purpose or bread flour to create breads with different textures, flavors, and nutrient value.

Want to see gluten and how it works? Science: What is Gluten? Here’s How to See and Feel Gluten by America’s Test Kitchen will answer those questions.

Gluten is formed when flour and water are combined.  Proteins in the flour react with the liquid to form gluten.  Beating and kneading the dough develops the gluten. 

Yeast.  Yeast is a living organism (actually a single-celled fungus).  Yeast ‘drama’ happens when the yeast granules awake in warm water, search out food (sugar), break it down, become active and release carbon dioxide—a gas!  It is the gas, trapped within the elastic web of gluten strands which cause dough to rise. 

To see yeast work, try this Scientific American experiment: Yeast Alive! Watch Yeast Live and Breathe.

Yeast is particular about temperature to thrive; lukewarm temperatures of 105-115 degrees F are perfect. It works slowly in cooler temperatures and dies when the temperature is too hot.

Yeast is available most commonly in the dry form as active dry or instant/quick-rise/fast-rise granules.  Compressed or cake yeast is less common and requires refrigeration.  Active or compressed yeast must be awakened prior to use in warm water (proofing).  Instant yeast is a modern variety which does not need to be proofed in the same way that active yeast does; it can be blended directly with the other dry ingredients.  However, there is no harm in proofing instant yeast.

Liquid.  Water and milk are the typical liquids used in making yeast bread.  Juice and vegetable water can also be used. The kind of liquid used plays a role in the bread’s outcome:  bread made with water has a crusty top and chewy texture; milk slightly weakens the gluten strands creating a bread with more tenderness and browner crust.   Even the kind of water—hard, soft, chlorinated—will bring about different characteristics.  Yeast is reluctant to dissolve in milk so is best dissolved in water.

An important step in making yeast bread is combining the flour and liquid in just the right proportion to yield a good dough.  Too much liquid weakens the gluten and too little makes the gluten tough so that it does not stretch sufficiently. 

Sweeteners/sugar and Salt.  Sweeteners, such as sugar or honey, and salt add flavor.  Salt also slows yeast growth but is not necessary to make bread.  Sugar furnishes food for the yeast.  Yeast can feed on the natural sugars in the flour by breaking down the carbohydrates but the break down takes time.  Since sugar or another sweetener is a readily available food, it speeds up the growth and rising action.  Sweeteners also add tenderness, moisture, and browning.

Fat.  Fat is an optional ingredient and is not necessary to make bread.  Fat, when used, adds flavor and tenderness and keeps the bread fresher for a longer time.

Eggs.  Eggs are also an optional ingredient and are more commonly used in rolls.  When used, eggs add flavor, color, nutrition, and improve the keeping quality and texture of the finished product.

The Script – A Good Recipe

Every drama needs a good script or in this case, a good recipe.  Like any other adventure in life, it is best to start with the basics and practice, practice, practice until one becomes proficient or skilled enough to branch out.  Bread can be made by hand, mixer, food processor, bread machine or some combination.  The best way to really learn bread is to use the hand method as it allows one to see and feel the ‘drama’ as it takes place which is great preparation for using any machine.

This basic or standard bread recipe makes two loaves and is the perfect starter recipe.

BASIC WHITE BREAD
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons shortening or butter
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt (optional)
1 package active, instant, or cake yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm (105-115F) water
6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour

Act 1.  The Plot Thickens – Making the Dough

Heat the milk on low heat. Stir in shortening, sugar, and salt and heat until all ingredients are dissolved; do not heat beyond scalding. Cool to lukewarm.

It is important to proof the yeast to ensure the yeast is alive and ready to create carbon dioxide.  To do so, dissolve the yeast in a large warm bowl with ¼ cup lukewarm water and ½ teaspoon sugar.  Stir and allow the mixture to stand for 5-10 minutes.  When the yeast mixture starts to bubble and foam, it is alive and ready for the bread.

Add the lukewarm milk mixture to the dissolved yeast. Stir in 3 cups of the flour; beat until smooth with an electric mixer or wooden spoon. Mix in enough of the remaining flour to cause the dough to form an irregular ball, come away from the sides of bowl and is easy to handle. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes for easier handling. 

Act 2.  Conflict – Kneading

Kneading is the process of working the dough by pushing, pulling and stretching to develop gluten and elasticity.  Kneading will develop muscle in the bread as well as the bread maker!  Prepare to have fun!

Turn the rested dough out on to a lightly floured surface for kneading.  To knead, take the heel of your hand and push the dough forward and stretch it. Then fold it in on itself, give it a quarter turn and repeat. Continue kneading until the bread dough is smooth, elastic, satiny, and air blisters appear just under the surface. The dough should no longer stick to the work surface or your hands. Kneading times vary, but generally it takes about 8-10 minutes of work. Don’t worry about over-kneading by hand—you will be tired long before you overwork the dough.  Shape the dough into a ball and place the dough ball back into the mixing bowl which has been lightly greased; turn the dough once to grease the surface.  Cover the dough with a clean towel or lightly greased plastic wrap for proofing. 

Act 3. Rising Action – Proofing

Proofing is the rest period during which yeast ferments the dough and produces gas or the time when the yeast and gluten do their magic work!  Proofing is best when the dough is set in a warm place (above 75ºF).  It will take about 45 to 60 minutes until the dough doubles its size.

When the bread is doubled in size, punch it down. This means plunging your fist into the center of the dough to press out some of the air inside the dough. Fold the dough over and form into a ball. Allow to rise a second time if possible. (A second rise allows yeast more time to work thereby giving the bread more texture and flavor.)   

Act 4. The Climax – Dough Becomes Loaf

After the first or second punching, divide the dough into two equal portions. Let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes to make the dough easier to handle.  Place the dough on a hard surface and roll or push out the dough to remove the air bubbles and shape each loaf by rolling and pinching.  Seal the edges by pinching the seam and place into two greased 9×5-inch loaf pans; cover and let proof again until doubled. This should take about 60 to 90 minutes.

When the bread has doubled in size, pop it into a 375ºF oven and bake for 30-45 minutes until golden brown and the internal temperature reads 195-210ºF on an instant read thermometer. Remove the baked loaves from the pans as they come out of the oven; cool the loaves on wire racks. Brush the top crust of the hot, baked loaves with butter or margarine, if desired, to keep the crust from becoming tough.

Act 5.  The Review – Enjoying the Results

Admire! Hold the temptation and allow the loaves to cool completely before cutting into them.  Use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to slice the bread. Enjoy!

For visual help with the bread making process, check out Basic White Bread (Hand Kneaded) a YouTube by Kevin Lee Jacobs of Delicious Living. 

If you want to evaluate your bread, consider appearance,
crumb, flavor, and aroma.

APPEARANCECRUMBFLAVOR and AROMA
Symmetrical shapeMoistPleasing
Smooth rounded topFine, uniform grainSlightly sweet
Golden brown colorNo large holesNut-like flavor
Tender crustElastic or springy textureMild yeast overtones
Correct sizeNo dough streaks 
Light in weightCreamy color 
Small, defined break and shred (space
between top and sides)
  

When you have mastered basic yeast bread, you are ready to try variations using other ingredients and other techniques.  While the outcome may look or taste different, all yeast breads share a common ‘drama’.  The variety is endless and all are delicious rewards for the effort.  Your yeast bread adventure awaits!  Let the ‘drama’ begin!

[Note: this blog is geared toward 4-H youth in response for educational materials to include in a ‘box unit’ on yeast bread encouraging basic skills in the Food and Nutrition area.]

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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A New Year, a New Start, New Resolutions = Goal Setting

2020 is gone and it is time to start anew.  After a chaotic year, we eagerly welcome 2021 and a ‘fresh start’—anticipation that every new year brings—new hope of what can be and better things to come. For many, this leads to the tradition of making New Year resolutions for self improvement of one kind or another.

A big part of making resolutions is goal setting. Goal setting?  Yes, goal setting.  Having goals in life is essential and especially so when things are chaotic. Just having good intentions alone changes nothing. Resolutions without a plan is only wishful thinking. As 2021 begins anew with unlimited opportunities to change, perhaps it’s time to rethink goal setting as well.

Goal setting during a pandemic may seem silly when we’ve all learned that the best of plans or perhaps even goals can go awry.  The pandemic has also made the path going forward uncharted.  As many pundits are noting, a “return to normal” or life exactly as it was before COVID-19 entered our vocabulary, is highly unlikely. Therefore, perhaps it is best to set short-term goals for 2021 as we navigate the upcoming months of vaccinations and make our way back into a more social world.

For many years, 4-H members and their families have learned and practiced life skills: among them, setting and writing goals for their individual projects or a fair exhibit.  Surely the tips for 4-H projects apply to life and would appropriately be used to write our personal goals for 2021. 

So what makes a goal different from a resolution. A goal is the road map or navigator one uses to plan and reach a destination. A resolution is only a decision; there is no destination. From Tips for Writing 4-H Goals, goals include the following:

  • Goals must have three parts—ACTION (what one wants to do)—RESULT (what one is going to do)—TIMETABLE (when one plans to do it or have it done).
  • Goals must pass the “control test.”  Do YOU have control over the outcome of the goal or does someone else have that control?  Is the goal yours or that of someone else?
  • Goals must be S.M.A.R.T—SPECIFIC – MEASURABLE – ATTAINABLE – REALISTIC or RELEVANT – TIMELY.  For goals to be powerful, they should be designed to be SMART.

SMART goals are . . .

SPECIFIC.  What do you want to accomplish? Get down to the nitty-gritty. Saying you want to lose weight won’t cut it. Instead try, “I will lose 10 pounds and work out 20 minutes every day.”  Goals must be something that motivate you or gives you a reason to achieve them.  “By losing 10 pounds, I will feel better and fit into my slacks.”

MEASURABLE.  Consider the time necessary to reach your goal and break your goal into bite-sized chunks. Include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. Simply saying, “I will pay off by VISA card” will not get the job done unless you have a stash of cash.  Instead, consider the debt and give yourself daily, weekly or monthly steps to reach the goal by realistically determining how much you can set aside for payment OR reach out to a debt counselor to help you reach your goal step by step.  Without a way to measure your goal, you have no way of knowing whether you achieved success and have reason to celebrate “I did it”.

ATTAINABLE.  The idea is to set a goal that ‘raises the bar’ by realistically challenging you. It makes no sense to set a goal that you have no hope of achieving or setting yourself up for failure.  Perhaps you’d like to climb one of the Colorado 14ners but presently don’t have the stamina to do so.  Rather than don your boots and attempt Pikes Peak, set a goal to find and follow through with a training program to develop cardio stamina, strength, and flexibility for the adventure when you are ready.

REALISTIC or RELEVANT.  Goals are personal and must be yours—not that of another family member or your boss.  The goal needs to come from within you so you have reason to achieve it for your own personal gain or direction you want to take your life, career, hobby, health, retirement, etc.  You must be the one to control the outcome.  A goal to get a pay raise or promotion is not within your control but to perform at or prepare yourself for the next level is.

TIMELY.  Set a time limit to cross the ‘finish line’ (the third part of a goal)—a time to evaluate whether you did or did not reach your goal—what was the outcome, were you pleased, what could have been done better.  From the onset, you need to define a plan of action or a realistic step-by-step approach, which can also be set in time increments, enabling one to get to the finish line.  For example, you might say, “I will learn how to use my new camera so well that using it is second nature to me by May 31.” To make that happen, calculate and schedule daily or weekly time and steps needed to learn the various aspects of the camera and practice shooting photos using what you learn.  Then do what you can to hit that goal by your target date.

Lastly, but equally important, goals must be written down along with the steps needed to get there. The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible, holds you accountable, and tracks your progress. As you write, use action words like “will” or “shall”.   It’s also a good idea to include the reasons why you want to attain this goal. Success is achieved when you clearly define exactly what you want and understand why you want it in the first place.

As already pointed out, goals are personal and therefore may come from any or all of the meaningful aspects of our lives:  spiritual, fitness, health, educational, family, career, social, or financial.  Living through the months of pandemic uncertainty and restrictions has likely given many of us a pretty good idea of our personal vulnerabilities and a desire to be or do more or “. . . put ego away and really evaluate and try to figure out how do you chart a course to become the best version of yourself you can be.” (Matt Campbell, Iowa State University Head Football Coach, November 27, 2020)

Life happens and goals may go off track; 2020 was filled with one surprise or mishap after another. In real life, pandemic or not, there are speed bumps and roadblocks in our journey. As long as we stay the course, focusing on the end goal and taking small steps toward getting there, we will be on our way to attaining our goals and becoming the best version of ourselves.   Let’s get going!  2021 is 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.

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Happy Holidays from AnswerLine

2020 has been a year that none of us will forget! As it ends, we thought we would share with you some of the things that have been happening at AnswerLine. We have had the privilege of answering calls and emails from Iowa for the last 45 years and Minnesota for almost 20 years. That amounts to over 18,000 calls and emails received over the last year alone! In addition to the calls we normally receive, this year we dealt with questions on how to keep safe and sanitize with COVID-19, preserving food since so many people were home from work and were growing their own foods, and also helping with the preservation of food when canning supplies ran short all across the country. In Iowa we also were dealt with the deracho and we helped callers with the loss of electricity and all of the food safety questions! It was quite a year!

Our current staff of four home economists have a blend of different backgrounds and interests. We have all worked in professional careers before coming to AnswerLine. We are able to share our knowledge and ability to find research based answers to callers questions. Our specialty area is answering home and family questions but we are proud to be a part of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the University of Minnesota Extension service where we have a wealth of experts whom we can call upon when a question is out of our expertise area. These specialists help us answer questions regarding horticulture, entomology, wildlife, agriculture, farming and child care, just to name a few areas. We are also proud of our other Extension and Outreach hotline Iowa Concern. They are a wonderful resource to help with legal, financial, crisis, disaster and teen issues.

It has been a joy to talk personally with numerous people across Iowa and Minnesota, to help them resolve problems, issues, and concerns that affect their daily lives with research based information. Many people are thrilled that our phones are answered by live people, since so many calls are now answered by computers. Further, we have had the opportunity to share similar information with people around the world through email and Ask An Expert questions that come to our inbox daily. Many of our callers are friends we’ve never met; they call frequently and in doing so we’ve learned something about them and they about us. We love talking to people and NO question is silly or foolish. While there is great satisfaction in helping each individual find a solution that works for them, the greatest satisfaction comes when a caller calls back or there is an email response, saying “you made my day.”

If you would like additional ways to contact us, try using our email at answer@iastate.edu. We also have a blog that we post weekly and Facebook posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week.


Thank you to the many consumers, past and present, who have challenged us daily with questions. We hope consumers will continue to challenge us with both calls and emails and that they share with their family and friends that AnswerLine is ready and willing to help should they need us. Our phone lines are available from 9-12 and 1-4 M-F.

We wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season!


Your friends at AnswerLine,
Beth, Marcia, Marlene and Carol

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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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Whipped Cream – Tips for Perfecting by Stabilizing

Light and airy, there’s nothing quite like a dollop of freshly whipped cream topping a bowl of cut fruit, strawberry shortcake, pumpkin pie, hot chocolate, or  . . . (dream on) to turn ordinary into extraordinary!   Whipped cream simply makes every dessert special!

Once you learn how to whip cream, you’ll never have to resort to that store-bought, non-dairy, who-knows-what, frozen topping again. Further, you can flavor it with vanilla, cocoa, cinnamon, liquor, strawberry, or anything else that sparks imagination.

In a scientific nutshell, whipped cream is a foam created by incorporating tiny air bubbles into a fatty liquid where the fat molecules line up around the air bubbles and cling to each other.  Cream must have a fat content of at least 30 percent to hold a stable, unseparated foam when whipped. Dairy products sold as ‘heavy cream’ or ‘heavy whipping cream’ contain between 30-36 percent fat.  The higher the fat content, the denser the whipped cream.

The King Arthur Baking Company has a great tutorial on how to whip cream beginning with a cold bowl (preferably stainless steel), beaters, and cream to keep the fat in the cream in a microscopically solid state.  Ordinarily, it takes a very short time to whip cream and it’s very easy to go from a soft, billowy foam to butter! And even perfectly whipped cream can be close to butter by the time it is stirred, spread, or piped as any additional manipulation has the same result as whipping.  Therefore, it is best to slightly under whip cream to be used as a frosting, filling, or piped decoration.

Whipped cream topped desserts, frosted or filled cakes, or desserts made with whipped cream, are best served the day made.  If the whipped cream needs to stand up longer, the whipped cream needs to be stabilized by adding ingredients containing protein or carbohydrate to give the foam more structure enabling the whipped cream to stay fluffier longer. Stabilized whipped cream adds 24-48 hours of additional life and holds up better at room temperature. This gives one the ability to prepare a day in advance without loss of loft or body, or releasing any of its liquid when stored in the fridge like standard whipped cream will.

Here are 7 common ways to stabilize whipped cream.  Each has its own merits or weakness.

Gelatin. Gelatin is commonly used and works very well but is the most complicated of stabilizers and is also not vegetarian. It does offer the option of making a non-sweet whipped cream.  To use gelatin, pour 1 tablespoon of cold water into a heatproof cup.  Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin.  Let it soften without stirring for 5 minutes.  Place the cup in simmering water until the gelatin is melted and the liquid is clear.  Let cool to room temperature.  Add to the whipped cream as the cream begins to thicken.1 When stabilized with gelatin, the whipped cream needs to be used right away as it sets from the gelatin. It will not be smooth again unfortunately. During refrigeration, the gelatin may form small lumps in the cream resulting in a marshmallow-like consistency.

Dry milk powder.  Dry milk powder is a great stabilizer and adds no change in flavor or texture to the whipped cream.  To 1 cup of heavy cream, add 1 tablespoon of dry milk powder2 at the same time that sugar would be added.  Dry milk powder and powdered sugar make a great combination.

Instant Clearjel. Instant Clearjel is a modified food starch made from corn that thickens instantly when it comes into contact with liquid.  Instant clear gel powder imparts no flavor and leaves no granular feeling. Mix 1 teaspoon Instant ClearJel with the sugar (2 Tablespoons) and add to the whipping cream (1 cup) 2 when the whisk or beaters start to leave trails in the bowl.  It is recommended that Instant Clear Jel be thoroughly blended with sugar before it is added to liquids in order to prevent lumping and to insure smoothness. The presence of sugar acts to control the rate of the hydration of the starch. Instant Clearjel is not readily available but can be purchased from online sources.

Cornstarch.  Cornstarch is an easy way to thicken and stabilize whipped cream.  To one cup of heavy cream, add 1 teaspoon cornstarch3 mixed with the sugar.  The cornstarch can leave a slightly gritty texture to the whipped cream and a bit of a starchy taste.

Confectioners or powdered sugar. Replace the granulated sugar with powdered sugar to take advantage of the starch (usually cornstarch) in the confectioners sugar.

Instant pudding mix.  Instant pudding, made with modified starches, adds strength, flavor, and sweetener.  Additional sugar may or may not be needed.  To one pint of cream, add 1 tablespoon of INSTANT pudding mix4 Pudding mix is added to the cream at the beginning of the whipping processes. 

Cream of Tartar.   Cream of Tartar is an acid commonly used to stabilize egg whites for whipping. It also helps to thicken and stabilize whipping cream but also adds a slightly sour taste to the cream.  Add a 1/4 teaspoon of Cream of Tartar to a cup of cream.5 

Last but not least, remember that cream is perishable and stabilizing whipped cream does not prevent it from becoming a food safety hazard if left at room temperature for too long. TWO HOURS is the max at room temperature!

Once whipped cream is mastered and the preferred method of stabilizing is found, that artificial non-dairy whipped topping will never again be a ‘go to’. Over time, I have experimented with all of these methods. For everyday toppings, I like stabilizing with powdered milk and powdered sugar. For cream cake fillings and cake frosting, I prefer using the Instant ClearJel. Cooks Illustrated also experimented and, over all, chose gelatin. No matter the method, homemade whipped cream is always worth the effort. Enjoy!

Recipe sources:
1 Joy of Cooking, 2019 edition
2
Stabilized Whipped Cream, University of Wyoming
3 Tip: Stabilized Whipped Cream, theKitchen.com
4 Easier Stabilized Whipped Cream, Food.com
5 Decorator’s Never-Fail Whipped Cream, FineCooking.com

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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Holiday Simmer Pots

Simmer pots or simmering potpourri are one of my favorite ways to make our home smell cozy and warm throughout the year, but especially so during the holidays.  They truly bring out the best of the season with very simple natural ingredients such as spices, rinds, sliced fruit or fruit skins and water.  Simmer pots are affordable, sustainable, and an easy way to make your home smell like something good is cooking!

I prefer simmer pots over the many scented candles available on almost every store shelf because most of them are petroleum-based paraffin with dubious artificial scents.  Since it is my preference to steer clear of petroleum-based products in my house as much as possible, I turn to what my grandmother did: simmer a pot of spices. 

Grandma used her stove; I use a small crockette originally designed for warm dips as there is little chance of me getting distracted and ‘boiling the pot dry.’ Because the crockette does not boil, I start the processes by bring the mixture to a boil on the stove and then pour it into the crockette to simmer as long as desired.  To simmer on the stovetop, bring the ingredients and water to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer. Water should be added about every 30 minutes to prevent ‘boiling the pot dry.’ A slow cooker can also be used to create a simmer pot.  To do so, fill the crock with water to at least half full, add the ingredients, put on the lid, and heat on high. When steam rolls off the lid, take the lid off and set the slow cooker to a low or simmer setting. Add water as needed to keep it at least halfway full.

Simmer pots are also a great way to recycle rather than compost or throw away orange rinds, lemon and lime peels, and apple and pear skins.  They can be used fresh or dried. (And, it is also possible to refrigerate the ingredients for a few days and reuse for simmering a 2nd time.)

Simmer pot combinations are more of an art than a science.  There are lots of potpourri combinations but really it boils down to personal preference or what you have on hand to work with.  Experimenting with combinations is fun. Some of my favorite holiday combinations include apple skins, orange rinds, cinnamon sticks, and whole cloves along with bay leaves, whole nutmeg, fresh or dried rosemary, and fresh or dried ginger.  Sometimes I use a drop or two of pure vanilla or an essential oil and even a little apple cider if there is some on hand. 

A simmer pot recipe can also be great when someone is sick as long as the smell does not upset their stomach. The combinations of citrus, rosemary, clove, cinnamon and eucalyptus are germ-fighting as well as comforting, soothing, and healing to the body as the vapors are breathed in.

Simmer pot ingredients make wonderful hostesses gifts, gifts for a teacher, friend, or neighbor, and lovely party favors for guests, too.  They are cost effective and everyone can use it.  To gift, start with dried ingredients.  Simply add the chosen ingredients to a clear treat bag or Mason jar, tie with a bow, add a gift tag and you’re ready to give a little a bit of the holidays to that special someone. 

There’s nothing like the smells of the holiday to create a warm and welcoming home.  With a simmer pot ingredient gift, you can give beautiful gifts that will help friends and family deck their halls, too.

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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Safe Homemade Food Gifts

Homemade food gifts are thoughtful holiday (or anytime) gifts. But how do you know if the food gift you are giving or receiving is safe to eat? Not everything that is made commercially can be made at home safely.  This is especially true when it comes to canned food gifts—jams and jellies, butters, soups, pickles, salsa, pesto, barbecue sauce, flavored vinegars or oils, and more. 

The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers these guidelines to evaluate the safety of home-canned gifts:

LOW RISK.  Fruit jams and jellies, fruit spreads, and whole fruits like peaches and pears are low-risk because their natural acidity and high sugar content provide an extra measure of safety.  Jams or jellies made with artificial sweeteners or with gelatin would be exceptions.  Those made with artificial sweeteners must be made with an appropriate gelling agent and stored per directions; gelatin based products must be refrigerated or frozen.

HIGH RISK.  Low-acid meats, vegetables and mixtures pose a higher risk because these products can support the growth of the botulism bacteria if improperly prepared and/or processed.  These products must be prepared with a tested recipe and processed in a pressure canner.

HIGHEST RISK.  Mixtures of acidic and low-acid foods such as salsas, some pickled products, pesto, soups, sauces, herb and oil mixes, and cream-based soups are of highest risk for potential botulism if they are not prepared with a tested recipe and properly processed in a jar of proper size. There are NO tested recipes for canning vegetable based butters, such as Pumpkin Butter, pesto, fudge/chocolate sauce, cream soups, or herb/vegetable oils. 

For any home canned product to be unquestionably safe, the product must be prepared using a USDA approved and TESTED RECIPE explicitly followed without exception.  Further, gifts canned in decorative, untested, jars or with unconventional lids should also be suspect. A sealed lid doesn’t mean a canned product is safe.

Another NO in the world of canned gifts are the so called ‘canned breads and cakes.  Referring to a previous blog, ‘Home-Canned’ Cakes and Breads for Gift Giving – A Big NO, these products involve no canning per say and are not safe in any way.  “Many cake and quick bread recipes often have little or no acid resulting in a pH range above 4.6, a pH level that will support the growth of pathogenic organisms that cause foodborne illnesses. Of greatest concern is the microorganism Clostridium botulinum (botulism) growing in the jars. Conditions inside the jar are ripe for hazardous bacterium given that cake and bread recipes may include fruits, liquids, or vegetables which increase moisture content AND the practice does not remove all the oxygen from the jar. The two factors create a rich environment for microorganisms to thrive.”

If you are the recipient of a food gift, be gracious and thankful for the gift as it is the thought that counts.  If you are comfortable, it is appropriate to ask a few kind questions if you know the giver well; it may seem ungrateful to ask the same of a lesser known acquaintance.  If there is any doubt, throw it out and don’t bring up the issue again. 

If you are the giver of a homemade food gift, particularly a home canned food, know without a doubt that the gift you are giving is explicitly safe—it has been prepared with a USDA approved and tested recipe and processed appropriately.  Jarred gifts should also include a clean, rust-free ring to avoid accidental loosening of the flat lid.

Handmade gifts are the best kind, particularly when they’re edible. They are very personal and truly an act of love.  Besides canned products, consider frozen or dehydrated foods, dry mixes in a jar or bag, sweet or savory nut mixes, candy, flavored popcorn, fresh breads or rolls, cookies, crackers, granola, gingerbread anything, or chocolate bark combinations just to name a few and, all of which, would be without the potential of harmful microorganisms to cause a foodborne illness or worse.  

Here’s to keeping the holidays ‘jolly’ with safe food gifts!

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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