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It’s electric?! Breaking down electric pressure cookers

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You may have heard the buzz about electric pressure cookers. Even if you don't follow kitchen trends, this piece of equipment may take some of the "pressure off" of preparing meals. From personal experience, I can say that they're also quite fun!

Dry beans cook up quickly into a healthful, inexpensive meals in electric pressure cookers. (Photo: Pixabay)

Pressure cooking vs. pressure canning

Pressure cooking uses trapped steam to create a pressurized environment for cooking food. This combined with heat can greatly decrease cooking times for many items. Foods like dried beans, meat roasts and rice can have a significantly shorter cooking time when they are pressure cooked. Some people may recognize the term pressure canning which uses pressure to preserve foods. While they are similar in the process, only equipment specifically labeled for pressure canning can be used safely for food preservation.

Why so popular?

Pressure cookers existed first as a stove top version that required manual monitoring of pressure. Electric pressure cookers arose to help streamline and simplify the process. They have digital settings and controls so are generally easy to use. The quick cooking time and ability to electronically set time and temperature also increase their consumer appeal. In addition, the cooker is a closed system which helps retain moisture, nutrients and flavor. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of scientific research on nutrient retention in pressure cooking. One study did find that pressure cooking retained more vitamin C in broccoli than compared to boiling or steaming.

Additionally, electric pressure cookers are more energy efficient than stove top or oven cooking. They are insulated which prevents energy from being lost in the cooking process.

Becky Hutchings, a family and consumer sciences educator for University of Idaho Extension, currently offers a very popular introduction to electric pressure cookers class in her community. She feels electric pressure cookers can help people save money and time with cooking. Hutchings has said, “I think with pressure cookers, people are scared that it's going to blow up. Once they use their electric pressure cooker they will realize how easy and fast it is. They wonder how they ever lived without it.”

Safety concerns

As with any piece of equipment, there are safety concerns. Some models are considered “multi cookers” and may have a setting for slow cooking. This may be misleading as the slow cooker setting will not pressure cook. You cannot leave food in the cooker to be pressure cooked later because it will be in unsafe temperatures and will increase the risk for foodborne illness. For example, if you are planning to cook a pork roast in the electric pressure cooker, you cannot prepare it in the morning and leave it out on the counter until the evening. You will have to keep the food refrigerated until it is ready to be cooked.

Additionally, standard food safety practices should still be followed. Even if a roast looks done, check that temperature! Electric pressure cookers can be easily reset to cook for additional time if needed.

A third and significant concern is canning with electric pressure cookers. UC Cooperative Extension takes education on food preservation very seriously. We only support research-based and tested recipes for preservation. Many brands of electric pressure cookers provide recipes for canning. However, NONE of the brands have been able to supply their research or information supporting these recipes

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a great article explaining why this is a concern. In short, electric pressure cookers have not been studied to ensure the necessary requirements for safe canning. Therefore, UC Cooperative Extension does NOT support or encourage canning in electric pressure cookers.

Hutchings explains it quite simply as “You are putting your life at risk."

(Pressure canning is a whole other wonderful field of cooking and preservation. We have many resources and articles available to learn more about it.)

A typical electric pressure cooker. (Photo: Max Pixel)

Where to go from here:

While some models may be more “instantlyrecognizable than others, there are many brands available for purchase.  Just because a brand has popularity may not mean it is right for you. There are many online resources providing reviews and recipes for all the main brands of electric pressure cookers available. Prices of models range from $50 to $100. They are a more expensive piece of equipment, but savings could be seen in reduced cooking time and energy efficiency. In addition, there is a lot of money saved when cooking at home when compared to ordering delivery or eating at restaurants. An electric pressure cooker may be tool you need to making cooking at home easy and accessible.

If you are a new electric pressure cooker owner looking for support, Hutchings has a Facebook support group: Cooking Under Pressure - An Electric Pressure Cooking Community. She shares recipes, resources and occasionally hosts Facebook Live lessons.

Resources:

Posted on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 at 11:16 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food Health

Two UC graduate students chosen to assist UC ANR Global Food Initiative efforts

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Melanie Colvin
Two University of California graduate students have been selected by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) fellows for 2018-19. Graduate students Melanie Colvin at UC Berkeley and Maci Mueller at UC Davis will work with ANR academics and staff to conduct and communicate about UC research for improved food security and agricultural sustainability.

Melanie Colvin, a graduate student at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, focuses on addressing nutrition-related diseases through preventative measures. As a GFI fellow, Colvin will work with Nutrition Policy Institute researchers to conduct a secondary analysis of the Healthy Communities Study, a six-year observational study that included more than 5,000 children and their families from 130 communities in the United States. The native of Chapel Hill, NC, will analyze the relationship between household food insecurity and physical activity. Colvin plans to pursue a Ph.D. with a goal of a career in public health research.

"The GFI fellowship allows me to experience many facets of developing meaningful research questions that I will address on my own one day as a principal investigator," Colvin said.

Maci Mueller
Maci Mueller, a doctoral student in animal biology at UC Davis, is interested in a career at the interface of agricultural science and policy, particularly related to the problems that might be solved using innovative breeding tools, such as gene editing. Using a variety of communication tools, the Princeton, Neb., native will work with UC ANR's Strategic Communications team to inform the public about UC ANR's contributions to agricultural, food and nutrition research and related policies.

“I am excited to learn from the UC ANR's Strategic Communications team and for the opportunity as a GFI fellow to gain hands-on agricultural research communication experience,” Mueller said.

In addition to their individual projects, the 2018-19 GFI fellows are invited to participate in systemwide activities designed to enhance their leadership skills and enrich their understanding of the food system in California.

The UC Global Food Initiative was launched by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2014 with the aim of putting UC, California and the world on a pathway to sustainability. The GFI fellows are part of a group of approximately 50 UC graduate and undergraduate students working on food-related projects at all 10 UC campuses, UC Office of the President, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC ANR. Each participant receives a $4,000 award to help fund student-generated research, projects or internships that support the initiative's efforts to address the issue of how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion by 2025.

 

 

Melanie Colvin, left, and Maci Mueller.
Melanie Colvin, left, and Maci Mueller.

Posted on Thursday, October 11, 2018 at 3:43 PM
Focus Area Tags: Food

Tips to prepare, plant, and grow a fall vegetable garden

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The transition of fall is upon us and gardeners are busy tending to late summer harvests, pruning back perennials, prepping for slower plant growth and more. But fall doesn't have to be all about wrapping up the growing season. In fact, life is sprouting and new garden plants are growing with the promise of fall, winter and early spring harvests. 

Are you looking to join the cool-season gardening craze? The UC Master Gardener Program has engaging workshops to  inform and inspire this fall. Bay Area residents can check out Growing Garlic and Onions in San Jose or Top 10 Vegetables for your Winter Garden in Campbell, both hosted by the UC Master Gardener Program of Santa Clara County. Another great resource is Saving the Harvest, a gardening and preserving guide and 2019 calendar created by the UC Master Gardener and UC Master Food Preserver Programs in Sacramento County. Check out the local offerings in your area at UC Master Gardener Program events.

An alternative from planting from seeds is to buy vegetables that have already been started at a local nursery.

Wherever you are in your gardening journey, here is a checklist of September activities for your garden:

Early September                 

  • Maintain your warm-season garden with regular checks and harvesting. Prune new growth, flowers and any small or very immature fruits from tomatoes, eggplants and peppers. This practice encourages the plants to put energy into ripening fruit that has already set.
  • Harvest and store seeds for next year's warm-season garden. To save and use seeds in the future, make sure you have a dry, cool location for seed storage. Don't forget to label and organize seeds to make preparation and planting easier in the spring.
  • Remove and compost plants that have reached the natural end of lives or fruitfulness. 
  • Enjoy regular harvest of late-season-bearing cane berries like raspberries and blackberries. Check vines regularly for ripe fruit and pick before the birds steal away the fruit.
  • Check and harvest edible landscape plants as well. Pineapple guava, Acca sellowiana, is a fantastic landscape shrub that has the added bonus of producing a tropical fruit. When pineapple guava fruit fall to the ground they are ripe, collect the fruits and wash, slice and eat the white fruit on the inside (like you would eat a kiwi).  

Late September

By the end of the month it's time to start planting a cool-season garden. Try radishes and lettuces for harvest in late fall. They mature quickly and pair beautifully with roasted vegetables, cheese and nuts for a harvest-themed dinner salad.  Broccoli and cauliflower are a great addition to your garden for winter harvest. Try roasting or making a creamy soup for a warm dinner on a cold night. Finally, onions and shallots are a must for your cool-season garden. They are slower to mature and will be ready for harvest in early spring to brighten your dishes and usher in a change in the seasons.

  • Plant radishes, turnips, beets, onions and kale from seed.
  • Pick up vegetable starts for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuces at your local garden center.  
  • Keep soil moist while young plants send roots out into your garden bed. 
  • Provide shade to cool-season vegetables if needed to protect them from hot afternoon sun.  
The UC Master Gardener Program has classes and events across the state to teach communities about about how to grow and harvest food from their home gardens and landscapes.

Connect with us

The UC Master Gardener volunteers are eager to help with all of your gardening needs. The UC Master Gardener Program can work with teachers and community volunteers to provide gardening information and consultation in the support of school gardens. With local programs based in more than 50 counties across California, there is sure to be a workshop or class near you. Visit our website to find your local UC Master Gardener Program, mg.ucanr.edu.

Missy Gable, Director of the UC Master Gardener Program shares tips for keeping a fall vegetable garden producing.
Missy Gable, Director of the UC Master Gardener Program shares tips for keeping a fall vegetable garden producing.

Missy Gable, Director of the UC Master Gardener Program shares tips for keeping a fall vegetable garden producing.

Posted on Friday, September 14, 2018 at 1:19 PM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Let them eat cherries: Planning a U-Pick operation on your farm

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Farmers work long hours under the open sky, struggling to finish each day's planting, cultivating, pruning or picking before the sun sets. It's hard sometimes to imagine, while engaged in this day-to-day pressure, but city people often welcome the chance to pay for an hour or two on that farm, especially if they can pick their own fresh fruit or vegetables. For many urban people, just getting out of town to a farm is a delicious pleasure.

Strawberries! - Pacific Star Gardens
The University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), a statewide program of UC ANR, has just published online a useful guide for farmers considering starting a U-Pick operation on a California farm. Planning a U-Pick Operation on Your California Farm can be downloaded free. The guide is part of a larger project, funded by the USDA's Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE), called "Growing California Agritourism Communities." 

U-Pick farming has a long tradition. Fifty years ago it was common for families to spend an afternoon picking bushels of produce to take home for canning or drying or storing for use in the winter. As more women joined the workforce full-time, the practice of preserving food became less common and U-Pick farms shifted their focus.

Visiting a farm became an enjoyable family experience, designed to build lasting memories, often with an underlying goal for farm visitors of teaching children where their food comes from. With the current popularity of local food and culinary adventures, U-Pick farming operations are growing in popularity and attracting new customers.

Full sack of fresh beans - R. Kelley Farm
When customers pick their own, the farmer does not have to pick or pay someone else to pick, and doesn't have to sort, pack or truck the produce to market. They get retail price (or close to it), and get to see the happy faces of satisfied customers heading home from "their" farm.

However, U-Pick farming comes with risks. Customers need welcoming and caring for, and they tend to break branches, wander where they are asked not to, and not show up when the weather is bad, even if the crops are ripe and ready. Farmers considering a U-Pick operation need to understand their liability and food safety responsibilities, budget and set prices carefully, and train staff in customer service skills.

UC SAREP staff developed the guide with the help of several California U-Pick farm operators who were willing to share their experience and advice with other farmers. The guide also includes advice provided by farmers and Extension educators from other states. Topics include:

  • Crop Diversity and Packaging
  • Location and Layout
  • Communications and Promotion
  • Permitting and regulatory compliance
  • Financial Planning and Budgeting
  • Staffing considerations
  • Food safety & Risk Management
  • Pricing
  • Complementary products & attractions

After careful consideration, farmers may decide that a U-Pick operation is not for them, or they may decide to move forward with building lifelong connections with a community of grateful customers.

To find a farm to visit (including U-Pick farms) visit the UC Agritourism Directory and Calendar, www.calagtour.org.

For more agritourism resources for farmers, visit the UC SAREP website, or contact Penny Leff, agritourism coordinator, paleff@ucdavis.edu

Posted on Wednesday, August 29, 2018 at 11:20 AM
Tags: agritourism (15)

Why 'AA' is for Avocado Addict

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Avocado addicts know the avocado as a veritable green goddess that never disappoints, never deceives, never dissatisfies. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

If you're like most of us, you “go bananas” for a banana for breakfast.

It's healthy, nutritious and packed with potassium.

But wait! You should probably go bananas for another fruit--that pear-shaped avocado. Did you know the avocado provides more potassium than a banana?

It does. A medium-sized banana yields 422 milligrams of potassium, while a medium-sized avocado, a whopping 708 milligrams.

Dietitian Linda W. Adams
Dietitian Linda W. Adams of UC Davis Occupational Health Services (among her responsibilities: teaching a 52-week UC Davis Diabetes Prevention Program) says “I think my favorite part about avocados, in addition to their wonderful flavor, is that they are full of monounsaturated, heart-healthy fat AND have more potassium than bananas! These two nutrients are lacking in many Americans' diets.”

“Eating more unsaturated fats -- as opposed to saturated fats and processed carbohydrate -- is a delicious step we all can take to maximize cardiovascular health,” Adams says. “Avocados are such a delicious way to do that!"

We love our avocados, our veritable green goddess that never disappoints, never deceives, never dissatisfies, whether we “butter” them on toast in the morning for breakfast, or slice or chunk or cube them for our salads at lunch and dinner. Health-conscious folks call them a superfood, and even mash and freeze them to ensure a steady supply in the winter. There's even a website on “50 Things to Love About Fresh Avocados.” 

This year, California's 2000 avocado growers anticipate a yield of 374.6 million pounds. That crop forecast, according to Tom Bellamore, president of the California Avocado Commission, is nearly double the yield of the 2017 crop and “despite the ravages of Mother Nature in California's avocado growing regions.”

UC Cooperative Extension adviser and avocado researcher Ben Faber of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, points out that the avocado is really a fruit, not a vegetable. “The Supreme Court classified the tomato in 1920 or so as a vegetable because that's the way people think of it and it was taxed differently for tariffs. Politics or botany separates a lot of things in our lives.”

“The avocado is an amazing fruit,” Faber says. “It grows on a tree and comes to maturity, reaches certain oil content and a stage at which it will ripen, but it does not ripen on the tree. It needs to be removed from the tree before it will soften. If the fruit is removed before it has reached maturity it will not soften, and will remain rubbery and inedible.”

“One of the problems is that the fruit will hang on the tree for an extended period of time and it is hard to know when they are mature,” Faber points out. “Avocados are not like apricots where you have about two weeks to get the fruit off before it falls off. As the fruit stays on the tree, it gradually develops more and more oil content and has a richer flavor.”

What if the fruit stays on the tree too long? “It can develop an almost rancid flavor,” Faber says. “So it is good to know when the best, acceptable flavor is. Avocado varieties fall into general seasonal periods when they are mature, such as ‘Fuerte' and ‘Bacon' in winter, ‘Hass' in spring/summer, ‘Lamb-Hass' in summer/fall.”

An avocado must be removed from the tree before it will soften, says UC Cooperative Extension advisor Ben Faber. (UC ANR Photo)
We've all had our share of rock-hard avocados that seem as if they will never ripen. Sometimes they're as hard as the pits within! “Given time, they all soften,” Faber says. “But they all don't soften evenly, which is a reflection of their maturity or how they were handled in the food chain, stored at the wrong temperature or with too many bananas.”

The fruit will typically be ripe in seven to ten days, Faber advises. “If you want to speed things along a bit you can take three or four avocados and place them in a loosely closed paper bag with two or three Red or Golden Delicious apples or ripe kiwifruit. The purpose of the apples or kiwifruit is that these fruit produce a natural plant hormone, ethylene, that will help stimulate the avocado to produce its own ethylene. Apples and kiwifruit are known to produce lots of ethylene. The Delicious apples are varieties that produce more ethylene than other apple varieties. You can keep them even after they are shriveled and they will be producing ethylene.”

Never place your avocados in a plastic bag “unless you keep it open since the fruit needs to breathe during this process,” he says. “Just keep the fruit on your kitchen counter or in a warm place; 68F is the ideal temperature. Lower and higher temperatures both actually slow the process.”

Plant scientists trace the origin of the avocado (Persea americana) to south central Mexico. The avocado belongs to the flowering plant family, Lauraceae. Growers and gardeners glean tips on pest management from the industry and from the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program.

Of the many known varieties, avocados fall into three broad categories based on whether they are of the Mexican, Guatemalan or West Indian races of Persea americana, the avocado species and the crosses that occur between these races. Generally speaking, California varieties have been the result of crossing between the Mexican and Guatemalan races. West Indian race varieties are not common here because of their generally lower cold tolerance.”

Ben Faber, like Linda W. Adams, enjoys avocados. He usually buys them “whenever they are reasonably priced.”

“One of the reasons I do research is that all the downed fruit is not salable because it is against food safety restrictions to introduce it into the food chain and all that fruit either gets eaten by coyotes or me,” he quips, adding “The tree is too big to fit into my backyard.”

The avocado, often thought of as a vegetable, is really a fruit and it's packed with potassium. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Looking for a great recipe? The California Avocado Commission offers many recipes, including what it calls “The Best Guacamole Ever."  

Dietitian Adams shares one of her favorites at https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/a19872947/avocado-tomato-salad-recipe/.

Avocado Tomato Salad
Ingredients

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp. cumin
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3  avocados, cubed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1  small cucumber, sliced into half moons
1/3 cup corn
1  jalepeño, minced (optional)
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro

Directions
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. 

In a large serving bowl, combine avocados, tomatoes, cucumber, corn, jalapeño, and cilantro. Gently toss with dressing and serve immediately. 

Enjoy! The avocado keeps good company!

Posted on Wednesday, August 15, 2018 at 8:22 AM

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