Love For Leftovers

As many of us plan on what to eat this holiday season, it can be good to have the end in mind — leftovers!

Eating leftovers is an economical choice that reduces food waste and keeps the holiday memory alive for a few more days. However, there are a few tips to share to make sure your leftovers are safe for all to enjoy.

How long can I keep leftovers in the refrigerator and freezer?

You have the option to refrigerate leftovers or freeze them. If you keep your leftovers in the refrigerator, you want to consume them within 3 to 4 days. If you choose to freeze your leftovers, for quality we recommend keeping them in the freezer for 3 to 4 months. Again, you can keep leftovers in the freezer longer, but the quality may decrease — think freezer burn.

Temperatures to remember:

  • Refrigerator: Keep at 32°F to 40°F, buy an appliance thermometer.
    • Why: Temperatures at this range will prevent the growth of most foodborne pathogens.
  • Freezer: Keep at -20°F to 0°F, buy an appliance thermometer.
    • Why: Temperatures at 0°F will prevent bacteria growth. However, freezing doesn’t kill all bacteria. 
  • Reheating leftovers: Reheat leftovers to 165°F, buy an appliance thermometer
    • Why: This temperature will prevent growth of most foodborne pathogens

How do I store leftovers? Cool the foods quickly!

Have food storage containers in mind. Use shallow containers that are 4” or less in height to store leftovers. Shallow containers will help cool foods to 40°F and below faster.

Why: Temperatures at 40°F and below will reduce the risk of bacteria growing quickly (one bacteria can grow to over 16 million bacteria in 8 hours under the right conditions).

How: Slice large cuts into smaller portions to be refrigerated or frozen. Hot foods can be placed directly into the refrigerator or placed in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating.

Gifts are not the only thing that should be wrapped well!

Wrapping leftovers so they are airtight will help keep moisture, absorbing funky odors and help keep bacteria out.

Though this infographic shows how to thaw a frozen turkey, the same methods can be used for other frozen foods.

Thawing: Thaw frozen leftovers in the microwave, refrigerator, cold water method or cook frozen. The best method is thawing in the refrigerator because the food can always be refrozen if using a refrigerator thaw.

Why: These methods do not encourage bacteria growth.

Reheating leftovers: Whether you use the oven, stovetop or microwave, you will want to reheat leftovers until they reach a safe internal temperature of 165°F. If you use the microwave, cover the bowl or plate, and make sure you stir the food to prevent cold spots, where food many not heat up.

Helpful resources:

  1. Your local Extension office: Find here
  2. Free FoodKeeper App: Here
  3. USDA: Leftovers and food safety

This post written by Extension food safety specialist Shauna Henley, PhD.

Resources for Personal Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Risk Management Solution Crisis Identity Planning ConceptIt was March 12 when we found out that offices were closed, and the following day that schools would be closed in our state.  At that time, it was supposed to be for a two-week period, but now we have moved beyond that. While many are still working, others are laid off or furloughed. Even if you are still working, you may experience fluctuations in your income or even unexpected bills. Since the beginning, I have been keeping a list of resources shared by my friends and colleagues during this difficult time. 

Now is the time to share them with you.

Several government agencies have pulled together resources for consumers. The list is not comprehensive and focuses primarily on finance related topics. An important note is that the federal tax filing deadline is extended from April 15 until July 15. Now if you are expecting a refund, you probably should not wait to file your taxes. You should also check the filing requirements for your state. Maryland residents have a filing date of July 15.  Click on the links below for government resources in response to COVID-19.

Cooperative Extension has responded with resources available for food preservation, nutrition, mindfulness, and finance. Most of the links provided will focus on finances, as that is the role I serve with Extension. The most important item to remember is that you need a plan. Figure out your current situation and develop a plan in case your situation changes. Always seek credible resources for information. There are people out there that are trying to take advantage of you in this challenging environment. The Cooperative Extension resources listed below are credible. You should also check the Extension resources available in your state.

I am a member of the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS).  The organization has pulled together a list of resources around emergency preparedness, cleaning, hand washing, and food safety, family resources, and financial wellness resources.  Click here for its COVID-19 resources.

Some parents are looking for free resources to teach your children at home. 

Colleagues have sent me other resources as pdf files.  If you are interested in them, please email me at

It is important to keep in mind that this situation is temporary. Stay positive as this will pass. During difficult times, you need to take care of your mental and physical well-being. Take time to unplug and stop reading all of the negative coverage.  

Stay healthy.

Pressure/ Low Acid Canning


Beginning in the late ‘90s, low acid food canning began making headlines when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) received reports of botulism outbreaks associated with home canned vegetables. Those outbreaks resulted from home canners who did not follow proper safety and preservation guidelines for canning vegetables and low acid foods.

Considering the severity of the botulism, it is pertinent to follow safe preservation guidelines which starts with using a pressure canner and not a water bath canner. In my profession, I regularly have to guide people away from water bath canners and explain the necessity of a pressure canner.

So let us look at safe preservation guidelines before you start canning low acid foods.

What are low acid foods?

Low acid foods are vegetables, broth, stews, soups, meat-based recipes, spaghetti sauce, mixed dishes, and dairy products.

What equipment do I need?

A pressure canner is the only specialized equipment used to home can low acid foods. Pressure canners are thin-walled kettles that have screw-on lid with a fitted gasket. They also come with removable racks, an automatic vent/cover lock, a vent pipe, and safety fuse. It is important to buy pressure canner with Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) approval to ensure safety.

The pressure canners come with either a dial gauge or a weighted gauge to regulate pressure within the canner. You should conduct a trial run to get familiar with the new equipment. A very important thing to remember is that PRESSURE COOKERS and INSTANT POTS ARE NOT RECOMMENDED TO CAN LOW ACID FOODS – these can lead to botulism.

Store your pressure canner in dry and airtight packaging. If using dial gauge, make sure to check and recalibrate the dial every few uses. Read your manufacturer’s guidelines while learning to use and store pressure canner.

You will also need mason jars that contains two lids – A metal lid with sealing compound and a metal screwband. The jars are manufactured in different sizes such as half pint, pint, quart, gallon, or with wide mouth.

Canning toolkits are also very helpful in handling your jar while pouring your prepared fruit product and placing it in the canner. It usually contains lid magnet (lifting metal lids), funnel, tongs, bubble wand (for removing air bubbles and measuring headspace), and a jar lifter (to lift and handle hot jars).


General steps to pressure can low acid foods

  • Sterilize your jars:
    • Wash glass jars and metal screwbands in hot soapy water (if reusing jars). Sterilize it in boiling water for 10 minutes. This step can be skipped if the processing time for canning is longer than 10 minutes.
    • Metal lids with sealing compound: Sterilize sealing lids in a simmering water bath (ONLY FOR ONE USE)
  • Recipe preparation:
    • Prep your ingredients indicated in the recipe. Cut pieces of food items as evenly as possible.
    • Follow tested recipe guidelines without altering the ingredient amount.
  • Preparing the canner:
    • Gas cooktops are recommended for this canning method.
    • If using a dial gauge, make sure it is recalibrated and inspect all parts of the canner such as vent, gauge, gasket etc.
    • Place rack at the bottom of the canner and add about 2-4 inches of water.
    • Start the burner when the recipe is almost prepared and ready to be poured. Leave weight off the vent port/petcock. Once jars are placed inside the canner, you can adjust the water level if needed.
  • Processing:
    • Drain sterilized jars. Use funnel to pour prepared recipe in the jar.
    • Remove the air bubbles using bubble wand and measure and/or adjust the headspace as indicated in the tested recipe. Wipe the jar rim with clean towel without touching the food.
    • Use lid magnet to lift metal lid and place it on the jar. Place metal screwband and finger-tip tighten the lid.
    • Place prepared jars in the canner using jar lifter and cover the canner with the lid.
    • Wait for the steady steam coming from the vent port.
    • Place pressure regulator on the port and let the pressure build. Once the recommended pressure is reached, start recording processing time. Tested recipes will include the processing time based on jar size and altitude.
    • Regulate heat when the pressure fluctuates from the recommended pressure.
    • Once processing time is complete, turn off the burner and let it cool down at least till the canner is completely depressurized and vent lock falls down to its starting position.
    • Wait 10 minutes after depressurizing and then remove the lid away from your face.
    • Remove jars and let it rest the jar on the counter for at least 12 hours.
    • Clean the jars and label it with recipe name and production and expiration date.

What are tested/reliable recipes?

These recipes are lab-tested for time, temperature, and pH to ensure safety of the product if followed diligently. These recipes can be found on USDA’s website, state Extension websites, So Easy to Preserve Book, and the Ball Book on Preserving. You can also participate in University of Maryland Extension’s Statewide Food preservation program to gain hands-on experience. Have Fun Canning!

Water Bath Canning


Preserving foods at home, especially canning, is becoming more popular and there are a number of recipes, blogs, and canning guidelines available on internet. As exciting as it is, some of these sources are not research-based and give unsafe food handling advice.

We here at Breathing Room want to make sure your homemade products are safe, healthy and delicious. Considering the food safety issues associated with home preserved foods, I will be providing instruction and advice on canning methods in this, and upcoming, blogs.

Let’s start with canning fruits and pickles. Most beginners tend to start canning fruits, jams, jellies, and pickles over other food items because it utilizes water bath canning – a method recommended for canning high acid foods – as opposed to pressure canning.

What Equipment Do I Need?

Water bath canner – a large aluminum or porcelain pot with a lid. It also comes with a wire rack that fits inside to hold canning jars.

Mason jars with two lids – a metal lid with sealing compound, and a metal screwband. They come in different sizes such as half-pint, pint, etc., or with a wide mouth (for pickles or whole fruits).

Canning toolkit – contains a lid magnet (for lifting metal lids), a funnel, tongs, a bubble wand (for removing air bubbles and measuring headspace), and jar lifter (to lift and handle hot jars).


What Products Will I Need?

Most jam and jelly recipes will include the following general items:

Produce: Use almost-ripe fruits for products with better taste and texture. Support local agriculture by using produce grown at home, from local farm stands, or by participating in Community Supported Agriculture.

Pectin/Gelatin: Pectin helps to form gel by holding moisture present, and is sold as a powder and a liquid. IMPORTANT: Use the form indicated in the recipe, do not substitute.

Acid: Acid content in fruit varies. Some jellied products may not need added acid, whereas others may use lemon juice (commercial juice with 5% acidity) or citric acid.

Sugar: Sugar enhances taste, acts as a preservative, and works with pectin and acid to stabilize the gel. To limit sugar, use a tested and reliable recipe that uses modified pectin. You can also use recipes with artificial sweeteners however, it will not provide preservative properties and can alter the taste of the product. Note: do not swap sweeteners in recipes calling for sugar.

General Steps for Canning Jams and Jellies

  • Sterilize your jars:
    • Wash glass jars and metal screwbands in hot soapy water (if reusing jars). Sterilize in boiling water for 10 minutes. This step can be skipped if the processing time for canning is longer than 10 minutes.
    • Sterilize new metal lids with sealing compound in simmering water. NOTE – These should NOT be reused.
  • Recipe preparation:
    • Thoroughly wash produce. Trim, cut, and prep your fruit as indicated in the recipe. Cut pieces as evenly as possible.
    • Follow tested recipe guidelines without altering the ingredient amount.
  • Processing:
    • Use a funnel to pour the prepared recipe in the sterilized jars.
    • Remove air bubbles using the bubble wand and measure and/or adjust the headspace as indicated in the recipe.
    • Wipe the jar rim with clean towel without touching the food.
    • Use the lid magnet to lift metal lid and place it on the jar. Place metal screwband and finger-tip tighten the lid.
    • Place prepared jars in the canner and cover with the lid. Wait for the water to come to a rolling boil.
    • Start timer for the processing.
    • Turn off the burner and let it rest for 10 minutes.
    • Remove the jars with the jar lifter, and remove the lids. Rest the jars on the counter for at least 12 hours.
    • Clean the jars and label with recipe name, production and expiration date. 

What are Tested/Reliable Recipes?

These recipes are lab-tested for time, temperature, and pH to ensure safety of the product if followed diligently. These recipes can be found on USDA’s website, state extension websites, So Easy to Preserve Book, and the Ball Book on Preserving. You can also participate in the University of Maryland Extension’s statewide Food preservation program to gain hands-on experience.

Have fun canning!






A Brief History of Food Preservation

During the first agricultural revolution, preserving foods ensured long-term supply of food, reduced the burden to hunt, and prevented spoilage of excess agricultural produce. Today, food preservation is a reemerging skill in Maryland. If you fondly recall making strawberry jam with your grandmother, then join me and my colleagues at our food preservation classes, where we teach you how to safely preserve foods through the following techniques. To whet your appetite, today’s post will introduce you to how these methods came into existence.

Humans learned the first principle of preservation—drying—around 12,000 years ago, when temperatures from a previous ice age began to warm and naturally dry excess agricultural produce. These natural conditions, together with fire, enabled humans to practice drying on variety of food items such as fish, wild game, grains, vegetables, and fruits. During the middle ages, drying evolved by using “stillhouses”, which were made specifically to dry foods.

Most methods of preservation kills or prevents the growth of microorganisms, except for fermentation. Dating back to 6,000 B.C., fermentation utilizes good bacteria to preserve food and provide health benefits. Nearly every civilization has fermented foods: kimchi from Korea, chutney from India, and cheese from Europe. Fermentation not only helped to preserve foods but also created some of the most profitable and globalized commodities, such as wine and beer.

Humans residing in cooler parts of the world naturally gravitated towards freezing foods. By the end of the early middle ages, most areas of Europe used underground rooms and cellars to store foods with or without ice. Given the labor required to transport ice in those days, it wasn’t the most popular method of preserving food. However, in the 1800s, Clarence Birdseye revealed that quick-freezing at very low temperatures developed better tasting meats and vegetables. This discovery was the first of many to mechanize the freezing process.

Pickling produce started in India around 4,000 years ago. The Greeks pickled fruits in honey and syrup, and considered it a food for the wealthy. Pickling practices in the United States started during the 16th century.

Canning is the newest method of preservation, established in the 1790’s by French confectioner Nicholas Appert. He discovered that sealing food in a glass jar, then heating it, will preserve the food. In 1851, Raymond Chevalier Appert patented the pressure retort to can at temperatures higher than 212°F. Since then, canning has been identified as a factor of causing botulism. The USDA and other research entities continue to research this potential source of food poisoning, however, there are safe ways to can.

In my next few blog posts, I will go into more detail about food preservation and the importance of proper techniques to prevent foodborne illness. If you’re interested in getting started right away, you can register for one of our food preservation classes or contact the educator in your area. We provide you with the latest, research-based techniques to ensure that you preserve your foods safely and deliciously.

Tips For Holiday Cookie Success

If you’re already stressed about baking holiday cookies, then follow these tips to avoid common cookie failures!

First-rate cookies start with fresh, quality ingredients, which should be brought to room temperature, unless indicated otherwise in the recipe. Check for expiration dates on ingredients like eggs, baking powder, and baking soda.

Don’t measure liquid and dry ingredients with the same tools. Measure liquid ingredients, such as water, milk, and oils, with a glass or plastic liquid measuring cup. The cup has measurements marked on the side so you can read the measurement at eye level. Flour, sugar, and other dry ingredients should be spooned into dry measuring cups and then leveled off with a knife or spatula. Brown sugar should be packed into the spoon and leveled off.

Refrigerate your dough for 15-30 minutes to make it easier to handle. Then divide the dough and work with only half at a time—this is especially true for cut-out cookies to prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. Once rolled, remove the top sheet and cut out the shapes. When using plastic cookie cutters, dip them in warm vegetable oil while you are working to get a cleaner, more defined edge on the patterns.

Holiday Cookies_Pexels 271458
Use as little flour as possible when rolling. You could also roll the chilled dough between two sheets of parchment or wax paper.

Use cookie sheets that are at room temperature to prevent cookie dough from melting when placed on the sheet. To prevent cookies from sticking to the sheet:

  • Grease them with vegetable shortening or unsalted butter,
  • Line them with aluminum foil or parchment paper, or
  • Use reusable silicone baking mats as liners.

Flouring a cookie sheet after it is greased prevents the cookie dough from spreading out too much during baking and prevents chocolate chips from burning on the cookie sheet. Bake one pan of cookies at a time in the center of a pre-heated oven. Remove cookies from cookie sheet shortly after removing from oven so they do not continue baking, and place on cooling rack.

Cool cookies completely before storing in an airtight container. To keep cookies soft, add a slice of bread to the container. For longer storage, freeze baked cookies in airtight freezer containers.

Cookie dough can also be frozen as either a batch or individual cookies. To prevent odors from seeping in, store the batch by wrapping it twice in freezer-safe material. To store individual cookies, scoop out dough onto a cookie sheet and freeze the tray. Once frozen, place the cookie drops in a freezer bag. Label the bag with the cookie dough, date, baking time and temperature. Cookie dough can be stored in a freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost the dough in the refrigerator for several hours before baking. To bake frozen, individual cookies, add an additional minute to the original recipe instructions.


Keep the Taste of Summer All Year Long

Blueberry season has finally arrived and Pick-Your-Own (PYO) farms across the state are open for picking. I love fresh, local blueberries, so I was thrilled to wake up on a recent Sunday morning with comfortable temperatures in the high-70s. Mother Nature was giving my heat-sensitive kids at least 30 minutes to pick before they started melting into a sweaty, cranky chorus of “Carry meeeeee!!!!” and “Can we get some ice cream?” So the family headed to Butler’s Orchard for a morning of blueberry-picking.

I had dreams of coming home with quarts of blueberries to eat and freeze. I even had plans to use my berries in this blueberry French toast bake. But then, my kids saw this:

And they said, “What blueberries?”

Daphne_Blog_Blueberries_Butlers Orchard Slides
They also saw these massive slides, so you know…

Daphne_Blog_Blueberries_Butlers Orchard Pump Race
I could go on… but you get the idea. 

So, my plans to come home with insane amounts of blueberries resulted in lots of happy, smiley kids, but no blueberries (or pictures of blueberry picking for this post). #momwin #pyofail

If you are fortunate enough to actually reach the blueberry fields of your local PYO farm, look for plump and firm berries with a dusty-blue color. Jon Traunfeld, Director of the University of Maryland Extension Home and Garden Information Center, also warns against picking berries with a reddish tinge, “These berries are under-ripe and they will not improve after picking.”

And if you get home with as many berries as I had hoped to pick, make sure to freeze some. Karen Basinger, our Extension Educator in Howard County, says that “Freezing will retain more of the original flavor, color, texture and nutritional value of fruits than any other home food preservation method.” Freezing also happens to be the easiest way to preserve fruits and they can last up to a year in the freezer if processed correctly.

To get the best end-product, first discard soft, under-ripe or defective berries, and remove any stems. You do not need to wash the berries, as that can cause tougher skin. Lay the (completely dry) berries on a parchment lined cookie sheet, leaving space between them. Place the cookie sheet into the freezer. Once the berries are firm, you can remove the pan and store all the berries in a freezer container or bag.  Make sure to mark the container with the type of berry and the date frozen. And don’t forget to wash the berries before using them.

If you want to savor more of summer’s bounty, we have Educators who will teach you how to safely jam or jelly your berries, or preserve any other harvested goodies. Check out our calendar of workshops!