4 Tips for Food Dehydrating

Food DehydratingNow that summer is in full swing and gardens are producing in abundance, you may be wondering what to do with all you have harvested. Maybe you’ve tried freezing, or even even canning, but what about dehydrating? Try these tips for dehydrating, and preserve some of that summer harvest for later use.


Dehydrating foods is a great way to save foods that you have in surplus, such as fruits and vegetables, for later use. If you preserve your own food regularly, you may already be familiar with how dehydrating works. But if you’re like me, you’re only experience with dehydrated foods might be store bought banana chips from your childhood! If this is the case, dehydrating might seem a little daunting. But have no fear! Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Simple and Easy

I had zero experience with dehydrating food when I set out to use the dehydrator. I was a little nervous that I’d ruin the food. But here’s a secret- it’s not hard! There isn’t much you can do to ruin the food you are dehydrating. If it’s not dry enough, simply leave it in longer. If you accidently dried it too long, add it to a little water to gain a small amount of moisture back.

Dehydrators are easy to use and set up. Following the instructions that come with the dehydrator will help you to get started. The machine will take up little space, has a quick set up and a quick clean up. Once you have prepped your food and placed it in the dehydrator, all you really need to do is wait. Most foods dry at 140º F, but you can visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation website or read So Easy to Preserve from The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension to find different charts showing temperatures and times for dehydrating foods.  USU Extension also has an old– but great!–handout on dehydrating, Home Drying of Foods.

 

2. Proper Preparation

 

Fruits and vegetables should be washed, cored and sometimes peeled before dehydrating. Almost all vegetables need to blanched to inactivate the enzymes that break down color and flavor during dehydrating. Fruits can be sliced or halved; some can even be left whole to dry. If you slice or cut your food up, remember to cut as evenly as possible. If the pieces are different sizes it could prevent them from drying at the same rate. Food that is cut into thin, uniform pieces will take less time to dry. Blanching is another way to speed up the drying time. When you blanch a fruit or vegetable, it can soften the outer layer which will allow the moisture to escape faster. After blanching grapes, I was a little concerned to see some of the grapes had changed color. But this is normal. So, if there is some color loss after you have blanched your food, don’t panic!

Some fruits, such as apples or bananas, brown when exposed to oxygen. This can be prevented by using a pre-treatment, such as dipping the pieces in lemon juice or an ascorbic acid mixture, to stop the enzyme that causes this reaction. Pre-treatments are not required because this browning does not affect the flavor of the final product, however it can change the look of your final product.

It is important to arrange the food on the drying tray properly. Make sure the pieces do not overlap or touch, as this could cause them to dry unevenly and stick together. There also needs to be room for air circulation, so make sure not to overfill the drying tray. The amount of food you can put on a tray will vary. I fit about two sliced bananas per tray, but this could differ depending on the size of the tray or even the slices.  

3. More Than Just Fruit

 

veggie leather

Vegetables prepped for vegetable leather.

Don’t limit yourself! While fruit is the most common food associated with dehydrating, you can dehydrate much more than fruit. Both fruits and vegetables can be dehydrated to be used for snacking on or cooking with. They can also be used to make fruit leathers, as well as vegetable leathers. You can find simple recipes to make these, or even get creative and experiment to make your own…whatever you are most comfortable with! Meats can be dehydrated as jerky. This can be done by following a jerky recipe or could simply be done by using pre-cut salami to make ‘chips’ for snacking on. Even herbs, such as basil or oregano, can be dried out, packaged and stored.

 

4. Patience is a Virtue

Remember to be patient. Different foods will take different amounts of time to be completely dried; some might take a few hours, while others may take a few days. Allowing the food to take as long as it needs is important to ensure it can be stored safely. The time will be well worth it once you have your delicious food, whether you choose to eat it right away or save it for later.    


This article was written by Kelsey Chappell, Family and Consumer Sciences Intern, and Melanie Jewkes, Utah State University Extension associate professor, Salt Lake County




Six Tips to Rekindle the Spark in Your Relationship

rekindleYou don’t have to wait for February 14 to roll around to think about how to strengthen your relationship. Check out these six tips for rekindling the spark in your relationship. 


1. Find and make time to spend one-on-one with your partner.

Put distractions (i.e. cell phones) aside and enjoy the time and conversation with each other. Go on favorite dates and mix in new activities to explore new interests.

2. Share acts of love and kindness.

Valentine’s Day is coming up, but find ways all year long to share acts of love and kindness. Leave notes under pillows or in lunch boxes. Drop by each other’s work with a treat. Come home with a fun surprise or take your partner on a quick surprise outing for a drink or ice cream.

3. Think before you speak.

When it comes to arguments and differences of opinions, take a step back and reflect on how important the point of argument is. Is it really worth putting your foot down? Is there room for compromise?

4. Be a good listener.

When discussing matters, be a good listener. Don’t interrupt— wait for your turn to speak. When speaking, repeat what you heard to summarize what you understand that you heard. Then use “I” statements by saying “I feel [what feeling?] when [this happens] because [why you feel that way]. Even better when you can follow up with a request. For example, “I feel frustrated when you leave for the gym before you help clean the kitchen, because I am left to do all the work on my own and it takes the rest of my evening. Next time can you please help me quickly right after we are done eating?”

5. Make each other smile.

Capitalize on inside jokes to make special moments of connection. Replay the inside jokes occasionally during conversations, or in texts or emails. This should be sure to make you both smile.

6. Keep traditions alive— or create new ones.

Remember anniversaries and special dates with a date, a gift, or a note. Consider re-creating favorite activities yearly, such as an evening out to a Jazz game or a concert.

Find Out More

Looking for more ways to strengthen your relationship? Plan a date night and attend the Marriage Celebration on February 3 at Weber State University, or the Date Your Mate Celebration on February 10 at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan.


This article was written by Melanie Jewkes, Utah State University Extension associate professor, Salt Lake County




What’s App with That? 7 Apps to Help You Save Money and Eat Better

What's App.jpg
Have you used a food, grocery or coupon app? We’ve got the lowdown on of some of the top apps in these categories to help you decide whether or not they are worth a download.


Grocery and Coupons

FavadoThis app is pretty awesome. You start off by entering your zip code or allowing location access so that the app can search for stores near you. From there, you pick stores of your choice. You can either view the ads for those stores, or better yet, compare the prices for the stores you picked. For instance: I chose Smith’s, Winco, and Costco. I could compare their ads in their entirety, or search for a specific item like broccoli. Smith’s broccoli was $0.79 per pound, while WinCo broccoli was $0.98. By doing this with all my grocery list items I could see where to get the most bang for my buck. You can also add the items you searched for or saw in coupons to a list by store.

Walmart– This app has a great feature: Savings Catcher. You can scan your Walmart receipt and the app will search prices of competitors in the area for advertised deals on the items you purchased. If a lower advertised price is found, Walmart give you the difference on an eGift card. This app also lists the weekly ad and current prices in store. You can order non-grocery items from this app and pick them up at the store, and refill prescriptions from this app. To order groceries, use the Walmart Grocery app, where you are able to select non-perishable foods to be delivered to your front door or complete all of your shopping and have it hand delivered to your car in the parking lot.

*Note: other stores also have their own apps to help with grocery shopping lists, couponing, etc. Smith’s grocery store app allows you to add coupons directly to your Fresh Values card, which eliminates the hassle of cutting and turning in paper coupons. Target’s Cartwheel app allows you to scan items in the store to see if there is a coupon or sale in addition to weekly ad prices. Check to see if the stores at which you typically shop have apps, and then see what they have to offer.

Grocery IQ or Grocery Pal – The best feature on these apps is that you can scan a barcode or use a voice search to find coupons. When you scan a barcode or search for an item, coupons from stores around you will pop up, then you can add the coupons and items you want to your list. This could be handy if you are in a store and want to quickly check prices elsewhere.  You can also view the weekly ads for stores in your area.

Nutrition Tracking

MyNetDiary –  This easy-to-use app is a classic nutrition tracker. You enter your personal information and select if you want to gain, lose or maintain weight. The app then tells you how many calories you should eat each day to achieve your goal. It tracks the amount of the fat, carbs and protein in the foods you enter, and calculates your allowed amount remaining in each category for the day. Perhaps the best part is that you can enter in your own recipes. With many other nutrition trackers, there are preset meals to choose from. With this app, you can select the ingredients that actually made up your lunch for the day, and it will calculate the nutritional information. You can also log exercise, water intake and add personal notes in the app. Using an activity monitor like a Fitbit, you can also track your steps and how many calories burned in the app.

Nutrition Education

Eat and Move -0- Matic – This is a great nutrition education app for families and children, produced by the National 4-H Council. Its designed to be like a game and is geared toward children. Your children may not find it the most exciting game to play on their own, but it is a good educational app for you to go through with your children. The app teaches how food and exercise work together. For example, it would take 27 minutes of jumping rope to burn the calories contained in an 8 ounce glass of chocolate milk.  It has dozens of food and exercise selections to choose from and lists the calories for each food. This is great for helping parents understand how much physical activity their children should be doing for the food they are eating, and it can teach children that they need to exercise to stay healthy and balance what they eat with physical activity.

Recipes and Cooking

Cooking Matters – This app’s focus is healthy, affordable and delicious meals. While it doesn’t have as many recipes as Pinterest, the recipes this app does have are healthy, simple and look very appealing. Many of the recipes use few ingredients. It also lists the serving size of each recipe and has a nice conversion feature to tell you how many ounces are in a pound or how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon, etc.

Do you use any of these apps? Are there any you love that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!


This article was written by Sarah Hepworth Warner, Food Sense nutrition program intern, Utah County, and Melanie Jewkes, Utah State University Extension associate professor, Salt Lake County




Ask an Expert // 7 Foods You Shouldn’t Can at Home

Canning Canning is a great way to preserve the bounty of summer, but beware! Not all foods are safe to can at home.


Did you know that the USDA has tested and approved many recipes to preserve foods at home? There are many foods you can bottle safely at home, as long as you follow USDA-endorsed recipes and procedures. Some unique foods include grapefruit and orange sections; cantaloupe pickles; pie fillings such as apple, mincemeat and green tomato; chicken, venison and fish; hot sauce and ketchup; a variety of soups and many more. See the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning for recipes and procedures.

Have fun trying out a new safe, USDA-endorsed safe recipe in your kitchen this season. But remember, the possibilities are not quite endless.

Be aware that there are many foods that cannot be bottle safely at home. Why is that? One reason is that home kitchens are limited. A boiling water canner or a steam pressure canner can only get so hot. Heat is one element that is needed to kill micro-organisms that could spoil your food. A higher temperature needed for low-acid foods (like vegetables, beans and meat) is only achieved at home through a steam pressure canner.

Some foods or recipes have not been tested, or have been tested and have not been found to be safe. In some instances, the lack of approved canning recipe is due to poor quality.  Here is a list of some common foods that are not safe to can and not safe to consume.

Canning: Mixed Race Young Adult Woman Preserving Homegrown Fruit

What Not to Can at Home

Butter

That’s right, butter. In some emergency preparedness sections of stores, you might see canned butter in a tuna-fish size can. But don’t get too excited to go home and melt butter into a jar just to stick it on your food storage shelves. For now, canning butter using any method is not recommended. Some methods are dangerous, at best; others are not backed up by science. Why can butter when it freezes so easily?

Hydrated Wheat Kernels (aka wheat berries)

Wheat is a low-acid food that is susceptible to botulism if trapped in a low-acid, low-oxygen, room-temperature environment. In addition, the starch in wheat may interfere with the heat penetration during canning. Insufficient processing can result in botulism food poisoning. Instead of canning, store wheat dry until used, or if hydrated, refrigerate up to several days. You may also hydrate a batch and freeze in usable portions.

Quick Breads (e.g. banana, zucchini, pumpkin)

This idea likely started when people started baking quick breads in canning jars to create a nice round loaf. However, placing a lid and ring on the jar to create a vacuum seal as it cools does not kill botulism-forming organisms that grow in warm, moist, anaerobic conditions. These items should be either baked fresh and served or frozen.  Read more here.

Dried Beans (pinto, kidney, etc.)

To safely can dried beans, they must be hydrated first (usually 12 to 18 hours) and then brought to a boil for 30 min. Hot beans are then placed into hot jars for processing. It is not safe to put dry beans covered with water into a steam pressure canner for processing.

Fresh Homemade Salsa

There are many delicious salsa recipes to enjoy with your fresh garden produce, but these are not formulated for canning. Remember that canning recipes are scientifically studied to account for enough acid and/or processing time to keep the food safe. Fresh salsas are not formulated for canning. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s Salsa bulletin, “Improperly canned salsas or other tomato-pepper combinations have been implicated in more than one outbreak of botulism poisoning.” Keep you and those consuming your salsas safe. Keep fresh salsas fresh, or freeze. Don’t experiment with canning your favorite fresh salsa. Find tips on canning salsas safely here.

Garlic, Vegetable or Herb-Flavored Oils

While these make beautiful gifts, infused oils have the potential to support the growth of C. botulinum bacteria, which grows into botulism food poisoning. These are best made fresh for use and not left at room temperature.

Pickled Eggs

There are NO home canning directions for pickled eggs. There are some recipes for storage in the refrigerator, but in order to avoid botulism, do not leave at room temperature, except for serving time, and do not attempt to bottle for food storage.


This article was written by Melanie Jewkes, Utah State University Extension associate professor, Salt Lake County

Source: https://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/FN_Food_Preservation_2009-01.pdf




4 Simple End of Summer Ways to Connect with Your Kids

Connect with Kids

Summer is winding down, but it isn’t over yet. These last few weeks of summer are the perfect time to have fun and connect with the kids in your life.


 

The Four E’s of Summer

Summer is almost over, which means kids still need activities to keep them busy, and school isn’t too far in the future. Consider the following steps to help you to create healthy, productive and, above all, fun activities for your children.

1. Encourage Proper Nutrition

The risk of childhood obesity and other health factors can be combated with proper eating habits. Give your children plenty of encouragement to stay healthy this summer. One activity that is great for encouraging proper nutrition (and it also helps build strong relationships by working side-by-side on a task) is gardening. Take your children to a local garden nursery and choose fruits and vegetables to plant in your garden. As you describe how the plant will look and how the fruit of the plant will taste, allow your child to pick the fruit or vegetable. When children are involved in the planting, growing and harvesting process their knowledge of healthy eating habits are greatly increased. Another great activity is preparing healthy foods and meals. Include your children in menu planning, grocery shopping, as well as food preparation for making delicious meals. Check out eatwellutah.org and extension.usu.edu/foodsense for more healthy eating ideas.

2. Enhance Creativity

Creativity is a very important process that helps a child gain powerful problem solving skills as well as exploring different ideas. Creativity can also lead to discovering hidden talents. A perfect activity to enhance your child’s creativity are crafts or DIY activities such as home and yard décor. Create different types of décor alongside your child, such as painting stepping stones or miniature figurines that can be placed in the home, flower beds, or gardens.

Remember an important part of creativity is allowing children to explore and play in a safe environment without restraints or distractions, with minimal guidance (i.e., let them get dirty and make a mess!). Use positivity as you accept and praise their creative projects, and limiting rejecting unusual ideas. Allow sufficient time for your child to explore all possibilities, moving from popular to more original ideas.

3. Encourage Mathematics and Literacy

Math and literacy don’t need to wait for school. Did you know students can lose up to a 1/3 of the knowledge they gained during the school year? Help you student retain all that hard-earned knowledge. Encourage your child to participate in as much mathematics or literacy activities as they can without overwhelming them. These activities can be anything that involve numbers, reading or writing, such as scavenger hunts, read-a-thons, cooking with recipes, library trips, or reading with your child for at least 20 minutes a day. Most local libraries provide lists of great read-aloud books for any ages, which can be a great source of entertainment for you and your children. By engaging your child in these activities, you are helping them to retain the knowledge they gained during the previous school year.

4. Extra Time with Your Child

To some adults, packing a picnic or going to the park may not seem like the most exciting way to spend their afternoon, but to a child it can bring so much joy and excitement to their day as well as make them feel special. Spending extra time with their child can make all the difference in the social, mental and emotional health of your child.

If you’re unsure about what activity your child would like to participate in with you, simply ask them. Commit to your child and set aside time to participate in that activity. By spending a few extra minutes or hours, you’re guaranteeing a stronger and prolonged relationship with your child.


This article was written by Whitney Trapp, former Family and Consumer Sciences summer intern and Mealanie D. Jewkes, Extension Associate Professor, Utah State University Salt Lake County Extension. Republished from 2015.

 


References

1. http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/05/30/12-free-or-low-cost-summer-activities-for-your-kids
2. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/nutrition/facts.htm
3. http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Creativity_Young/
4. http://pdk.sagepub.com/content/92/7/64.extract





Steam Canning Uncovered

Steam Canning Uncovered Graphic

Grandma used a steam canner all summer long, but you’ve heard they are not safe. Read up on what the latest research has to say about steam canning.


In recent decades, atmospheric steam canning has not been recommended for home food preservation. However, recent studies have been published that no longer condemn steam canners. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has published research confirming that atmospheric steam canners are acceptable to use for preserving naturally acidic foods, or acidified-foods such as salsas or pickle varieties. The research comes with assurances that this tool can be used, with conditions that need to be controlled first, such as the following:

High Acid

Foods must register at a pH of 4.6 or below. This includes fruits such as peaches, pears and apples. This method is not suitable for vegetables or meats that generally fall into lower-acid categories. It is not recommended to use a steam canner for tomatoes. The exception is for products such as salsa where additional acid is used.

Approved Recipe Use

A research-tested recipe must be used with the atmospheric steam canner. Approved recipes can be found on websites such as the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, and the National Center for Home Food Processing and Preservation: nchfp.uga.edu. Standard canning jars and two-piece lids are required. An atmospheric steam canner is approved for use with recipes approved for half-pint, pint or quart jars.  

Pure Steam at 212°F

Prior to processing, canners must be vented until a full plume of steam appears. A plume of steam approx. 8 inches coming from the sides of the canner should be visible throughout the entire processing time. When purchasing a steam canner, be aware of features such as a built-in temperature sensor in the lid. The canner should remain at a steady 212°F temperature.

Time is of the Essence

Processing time needs to be adjusted for elevation as required by a tested recipe. The USDA guide is a reliable resource to determine the amount of added processing time needed. With this in mind, processing times must be limited to 45 minutes or less. This includes time modifications for elevation. Time is limited due to the amount of water in the base of the canner. While food is processing, water should not be added. If the heat temperature is too high, water can boil dry before processing is complete, and this is deemed unsafe.

Jar Care

Jars must be heated before adding product or processing. It is important not to let much cooling occur prior to processing. After processing, jars should be placed on a rack or towel away from drafts and not force-cooled.


This article was written by Erin Floyd, Intern with USU Extension, and Mealanie D. Jewkes, Extension Associate Professor, Utah State University Salt Lake County Extension.

Source: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/factsheets/steam_canners.html




Summer Food Safety

Food Safety

Summer is the time for barbecues and picnics. The biggest party crasher at summer buffets is foodborne bacteria. You can’t see them, you can’t taste them — but you sure can feel them if illness occurs hours or days later.


Year after year, we offer the same advice: handle foods carefully in the summer because foodborne illness — also known as food poisoning — is more prevalent in warmer weather.

Foodborne illnesses increase during the summer, generally for two reasons.

First, there are natural causes. Bacteria are present throughout the environment in soil, air, water and in the bodies of people and animals. These microorganisms grow faster in the warm summer months. Most foodborne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures from 90 to 110 °F. Bacteria also need moisture to flourish, and summer weather is often hot and humid.

Given the right circumstances, harmful bacteria can quickly multiply on food to large numbers. When this happens, someone eating the food can get sick.

Second, there are the people causes for the upswing in summertime foodborne illnesses. Outside activities increase. More people are cooking outside at picnics, barbecues and on camping trips. The safety controls that a kitchen provides, such as thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration and washing facilities, are usually not available.

Fortunately, people seldom get sick from contaminated food because most people have a healthy immune system that protects them not only from harmful bacteria on food, but from other harmful organisms in the environment. We know foodborne illness increases in warm weather. We also know that consumers can Fight BAC!™ by following these four simple steps to safer food in the summertime.

WASH – Unwashed hands are a prime cause of foodborne illness.  Keep hands and surfaces clean. Rinse all fruits and vegetables before cutting or eating. When unable to wash, be sure to bring substitutes, such as washcloths and moist towels or paper towels to clean hands and surfaces with.

SEPARATE – Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling and serving food
is a prime cause of foodborne illness.
Keep raw and cooked foods separate, and wash surfaces before using them.

CHILL – Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness.
Keep cold food cold. 
Keeping food cold is the number one concern when eating and cooking outdoors.  Bacteria will multiply quickly. Never leave foods out for more than 1 hour in temperatures over 90 degrees. Store your ice chest in the shade and pack it with plenty of ice.  You may need to discard leftovers. When in doubt, throw it out!

HEAT- Food safety experts agree that food is properly cooked when it is heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.  Take your thermometer along and cook to proper temperatures.

  • Ground beef – 160 degrees
  • Whole steaks and roasts -145 degrees
  • Poultry – 180 degrees

You can enjoy summer picnics and parties, just remember to have safe and healthy food, not food that can cause foodborne illness. Always prepare and store food properly.


This article was written by Erin Floyd and Mealanie D. Jewkes, Extension Associate Professor, Utah State University Salt Lake County Extension.