Most conscientious cooks use common sense when preparing or storing food. But common sense in food preparation doesn't just happen -it is learned. This learning happens and when we forget where we learned it, we call it common sense.
Here are just a few pointers to refresh and reinforce your common sense as you are preparing your current meal or storing it for future use.
- Food safety actually starts with your excursion to the supermarket. Pick up the packaged or canned foods. Do the cans have dents? Don't buy them. Is the jar cracked? Leave it. Does the lid seem loose or bulging? Pick up another. Look for any expiration dates on the labels -they are there for a reason. Never buy outdated food. Check the "use by" or "sell by" date on dairy products and pick the ones that will stay fresh the longest.
- After grocery shopping, put food into the refrigerator or freezer right away. Make sure to set the refrigerator temperature is set to 40 deg F and the freezer is set to 0 F. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods, and leftovers within 2 hours. Raw meat, poultry, and seafood should be placed in containers to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods. Raw juices could possibly harbor harmful bacteria. Eggs always go in the refrigerator.
- Always cook food thoroughly until it is done. Red meat should turn brown inside. Chicken, when poked with a fork, should have clear juices. Fish, on the other hand, when poked with a fork, should flake. Cooked egg whites and yolks should be firm and not run. Be sure to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperatures of your poultry, meat, and other foods. Leave it in long enough to ensure an accurate reading.
- Wash your hands and cooking surfaces frequently. Bacteria can be spread quickly so this will ensure that it will not take hold and grow onto your food. A solution of one teaspoon of bleach in one quart of water is all that is needed to sanitize washed surfaces and utensils.
- Cooked foods should definitely not be left standing in the kitchen counter or table for more than two hours. Bacteria tends to grow in temperatures between 40 and 140 deg F.
- Foods that have been cooked ahead and cooled should be reheated to at least 165 deg F. (This just so happens to be one of the most overlooked areas in food prep).
- Chill Leftover Food Promptly. Place food in the refrigerator and don't overfill. The cold air needs to circulate freely to keep food safe. Divide the food and place in shallow containers. Think about labeling some of these containers so you don't lose track of how long they've been refrigerating.
These are just a few pointers that you already know, but need to keep remembering. If you follow these basics you will avoid most of the 'disasters in waiting'!
Since Americans in the South began roasting pigs publicly, Barbecues have been a staple of North American living. For many, grilling becomes a routine mealtime activity, while for the most devoted grillers, summer is ruled by massive barbecue parties. But grillers do not have to choose between boring repetition and outrageous get-togethers: every barbecue can and should be an exciting family event. Here are 5 ways to make your routine evening barbecue a more unique experience:
1) Who said you have to stick to meat? Much can be done with bread and fruits over an open flame. To make this into a fun activity with your kids, use cookie cutters to make the bread and fruit into shapes. You can decide on themes like “animals” and “letters” or ask that each shape be different from the others! Then, let your kids decide which toppings they would like to put on. Add cheese, onion and various spices to bread and cinnamon and honey to fruit.
2) Try foil-wrapped surprise meals. Place different combinations of chicken, fish and vegetables with sauces and spices in foil packets. These cook in less than 20 minutes and lead to no-mess, lip-smacking results. Children will love the surprise element and can easily switch packets. You can even ask your family for combo suggestions before the barbecue, or draw ingredient names out of a hat to create new meal ideas.
3) A little variety goes a long way. If you tend to stick to the same old beef burgers and pork wieners, why not try grilled pizza or salmon steaks? Similarly, try to mix it up with condiments and seasoning. Sick of ketchup? Try salsa instead. Look online where you’ll find hundreds of easy recipes for barbecue rubs. These give your food that extra pizzazz and prevent the mess and drip that comes with barbecue sauces.
4) Barbecues don’t have to be rushed. In fact, barbecue devotees will tell you that today’s quick broiling is an insult to the term, which should represent a process of slow cooking on low heat. You can find many slow cooker recipes online, and the wait is a great opportunity to pass some quality time with your family and friends. Entertaining backyard activities include creating an outdoor canvas to paint on or playing backyard bowling with household items.
5) Mom said not to play with your food, but there’s always an exception! Barbecue games are great fun and tasty at the same time. In the game Glutton, each player gets a certain amount of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese or any other side dish. Various kitchen utensils are put in a box and the players blindly pick a few. On the go, they begin to eat their dish with the items that they took out. The first to finish his or her food wins the prize!
Finally, don’t fret! Far too many people get lost in the details of planning the perfect barbecue party and forget to enjoy the social atmosphere and delicious food. So kick back, bask in the relaxing sun and prepare for a summer of unforgettable barbecues!
Organic food is food that is free from all genetically modified organisms, produced without artificial pesticides and fertilizers and derived from an animal reared without the routine use of antibiotics, growth promoters or other drugs. Once only available in small stores or farmers' markets, organic foods are becoming much more widely available
Organic foods have been shown to improve your immune system, help you sleep better, shed the excess weight more easily, and improve your blood work just to name a few. Organic food can boast intense, realistic flavors, and a higher vitamin and mineral content.
And though logically it makes sense to consume a diet based on organic foods, some worry about the cost. But with careful planning and preparation, going organic is actually quite affordable. And, the peace of mind knowing you and your family are consuming foods that haven’t been treated with pesticides or genetically altered is worth the extra money spent.
The pesticides used by conventional farmers can have many negative influences on your health, including neurotoxicity, disruption of your endocrine system, carcinogenicity and immune system suppression. Pesticide exposure may also affect male reproductive function and has been linked to miscarriages in women. Additionally, conventional produce tends to have fewer nutrients than organic produce. On average, conventional produce has only 83 percent of the nutrients of organic produce. Studies have found significantly higher levels of nutrients such as vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, and significantly less nitrates (a toxin) in organic crops.
So it’s a smart idea to buy and eat organic produce and free-range organic foods as much as possible for maximum health benefits. In addition, the knowledge that you’re supporting the organic foods industry that is dedicated to protecting the environment by steering clear of harmful pesticides and chemicals that can result in the loss of topsoil, toxic runoff and resulting water pollution, soil contamination and poisoning and the death of insects, birds, critters and beneficial soil organisms should help you feel even better.
There’s no doubt that having the right tools for the job makes any task easier, and there’s no better place to illustrate this than in the kitchen, where having the right cooking utensils can be the difference between creating good meals and great meals.
Many cooks think about major appliances such as the stove and refrigerator when planning to equip their kitchens, but to be a success in the kitchen, you need to have a good selection of cooking utensils in addition to the bigger items. And don’t forget, cooking utensils means more than just spoons; there’s a host of small cooking utensils ranging from cutting devices, juicers, graters and more.
Think about what you do in a kitchen and about how different cooking utensils come into play for each task:
• Washing and drying fresh produce – always easy to accomplish with a strainer and salad spinner. A vegetable peeler is also an important addition to your cooking utensils closet.
• Slicing, chopping and dicing all kinds of food and garnishes – a food processor makes short work of vegetables, but mandolins, knives and graters are also helpful cooking utensils to have on hand.
• Measuring – cooking and baking can be a form of art and recipes should be followed as precisely as possible so measuring dishes, cups (both wet and dry measures) and measuring spoons are invaluable cooking utensils.
• Weighing – depending on what you like to cook, you may want to add a food scale to your shopping list of cooking utensils. Such a tool can be excellent for portioning meat and other products that have cooking times affected by weight.
• Temperature – as important as measures are temperatures, which can affect the success of your kitchen endeavors. An oven or meat thermometer is key to having properly cooked meat that is safe to eat, and should be included in your pantry of cooking utensils.
• Mixing – no kitchen would be complete without a cadre of mixing bowls in its cooking utensils cupboard. Having a selection of bowls in assorted sizes is essential to fast, efficient cooking.
• Manipulating, poking, prodding, lifting and stirring – perhaps what most often comes to mind when you think of cooking utensils are implements used to move food: spoons, forks, knives, spatulas, wire whisks, pastry blenders, tongs, salad lifters, slotted spoons, wooden spoons, serving spoons and more.
By imagining the tasks you do every day in the kitchen, you will get a better idea of the cooking utensils you should consider purchasing. Think about every stage of the food preparation process, from storage and cleaning, to cooking and presenting.
Other useful cooking utensils: pastry brush, kitchen shears, rolling pin, salt shaker, pepper mill, cutting board, ramekins, flour sifter, rotary beater, ladles, juicer and a can opener. Cooking utensils come in a range of prices, quality and materials such as wood, metal, rubber and silicone. Regardless of how much you pay, always make sure any cooking utensils that have multiple pieces, fit together securely.
When it comes to barbecuing, there are two main schools of thought for the techniques that you can use.
The first of these techniques – and the most popular method for those who grill in their back yards – is the style where the food is cooked directly over the source of heat. This way, the food is rapidly cooked on a hot grill suspended directly over the charcoals, the wood, or the gas burners. Rarely is the lid ever closed. Any foods, including the most tender cuts, hamburgers, steaks, kabobs of all kinds, chicken, and even vegetables are quickly seared and cooked to perfection using this technique. If sauces are desired, they can be added before hand, during the cooking process, or even after the food comes off the grill. These choices will all create different and enjoyable tastes and flavors.
The second barbecue cooking technique uses heat indirectly. This is more appropriate when you’re cooking much larger or whole cuts of meat, such as especially thick steaks, roasts, a whole hog, or a pork shoulder. When you’re cooking using this method, the food is cooked away from the actual source of heat. This usually requires a water pan of some kind in order to maintain the moisture level of the food. The temperatures generally sit in around 250ºF. During this cooking method, the lid of the barbecue remains closed most of the time, and the length of the cooking is much longer than in the first method. When you’re using an indirect barbecue cooker, there is usually an additional fire box that allows you to combine charcoal and wooden logs for burning. This allows the heat and the smoke to rise through the cooking chamber where the meat is, so that it is heated perfectly. The rule of thumb of this technique is a low temperature for a long time.
No matter which method you use, it’s important not to cook your meat too quickly. If the internal temperature of your meat rises too quickly as you cook it, the water and the fat within it will be expelled before the collagen is able to melt. This means that your cut will be dry and tough. However, you cannot cook too slowly or you will risk a bacterial contamination. Though there is a fine line for barbecuing properly, it’s important to find that line and stick to it.
If you’re already dealing with a cut of meat that is tough, such as a brisket or a pork roast, consider cooking slowly as the collagen adds flavor to the meat. If you buy a less tough, more expensive cut, you can cook at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time. This is why ribs and steaks take such a short time to cook, while pork shoulders or beef brisket can run up to 20 hours.
As a final note, it’s important to have fun while you barbecue! Your pleasure will come through in your cooking as it will leave you motivated, and willing to try new and interesting things.
Because cooking takes so many nutrients and vitamins OUT of food, you automatically start feeding your body what it needs when you stop cooking food and start eating uncooked, nutrient-rich foods. A raw carrot has exponentially more nutrition than a cooked carrot.
Cooking also alters the chemistry of foods, often making them harder to digest. Why do we have so many digestive problems in this country? Because we’re putting foods into our bodies in a form that we weren't designed to absorb. High fiber, high water content fresh produce abolishes constipation of the bowels, cells and circulatory system. Obstructions are cleared and blood flow increases to each and every cell in the body. Enhanced blood flow is significant for two reasons: as mentioned above, blood delivers nutrients and oxygen to living cells, and carries away their toxic metabolites.
Obesity is endemic in this country. The diet industry is more profitable than the oil companies. Why? Because the way we eat and prepare our food practically guarantees that we’ll overeat. Psychologists tell us that we overeat because our souls are hungry. But in reality, our bodies are hungry, even though we may feel full. When you start giving your body the nutrients it craves, overeating will cease.
Eating raw foods is a boost to your metabolism as well. It takes a little more energy to digest raw foods, but it’s a healthy process. Rather than spending energy to rid itself of toxins produced by cooking food, the body uses its energy to feed every cell, sending vitamins, fluids, enzymes and oxygen to make your body the efficient machine it was intended to be.
You’ll naturally stop overeating, because your body and brain will no longer be starving for the nutrients they need. A starving brain will trigger the thoughts that make you overeat. The brain and the rest of your body don’t need quantity; they need quality.
Even if you don’t really follow football closely or at all - everyone celebrates the Superbowl. There is fun for everyone, like new and funny commercials, over the top pre-game and half time shows, and an excuse to have a party, eat and drink too much.
The foods that are most famously associated with this event are admittedly geared more towards men and carnivorous choices but, you can find a vegetable or legume on the list too. Some items on the list can be made as unhealthily or healthful as you like by the ingredients you use.
Most would agree that the Superbowl is all about food, friends and fun!
Okay, Here is my list of the top ten Superbowl foods:
10. Chips, Dips, Salsa and Nuts
This is a big umbrella of general "snack food" or " junk food". Beer nuts or any kind of nuts are almost a pre-requisite for a Football party anyway. There are some really great appetizers that are now almost synonymous with Football. For example: Nachos - whether you just pour some melted cheese on them or go all out with salsa, guacamole, jalapenos, black olives, refried beans and spiced ground meat – these are always a crowd pleaser. There’s also the "old fashioned" Chex mix that is really quite a nice retro snack. Purchase, various Chex cereal flavors, add mini pretzels, some peanuts, melt some butter and honey with some kicked up seasonings – mix them all together and spread them out on a cookie sheet in the oven on 350 for 15-20 minutes. Great stuff.
9. BBQ Baked Beans
The classic baked bean recipe can take over 24 hours to prepare and serve. It involves soaking the dry beans which takes up most of the time, and marinating and baking the beans in a combination of Molasses, brown sugar and BBQ sauce. It normally has Pork in it too and that adds a really great flavor but, if that’s not your bag you can substitute ground turkey or have no meat at all.
8. Steak Tips
There are also Turkey, Swordfish and Chicken tips out there too now a days. Whichever you choose, marinating them in a good marinade first is a must. Steak will need the longest in a marinade but, all of them will be great once they are grilled on a nice hot grill. Pair tips with Salad and a mixed rice and you are all set!
I prefer the foot long Italian hoagie from the local deli cut up into 2 or 3 inch size sandwiches. Hot peppers are a necessity but should probably be "on the side" for the less inclined. Any kind of sandwiches will work really and Calzones which are not really considered sandwiches are a great choice because they are easy to eat while not sitting down and come in all kinds of yummy flavors.
Well, I had to put it on the list. It is really popular as a football food. It’s not truly my choice but, considering that watching football is a male oriented past time and most men are not into cooking, it makes sense that something you can pick up the phone and have delivered within 30 minutes (men are not normally planners either) would be on the list. PS: Anything that can be ordered, created and delivered within 30 minutes is not something I would recommend for adults – Children…okay.
5. BBQ Pork with all the fix’ins
This choice is really for a dedicated BBQ’er and will take some time to do right but, boy. It is well worth it. You really have to start this menu item the day before you want to enjoy it. It takes a smoker and a pork butt, some good dry rub, a mop sauce (this is important as far as I am concerned) and some good BBQ sauce along with a dedication to the low and slow way of cooking. In addition to the pulled pork, lay out some hamburger buns, home made cold slaw, and some chips and you have the perfect football party meal.
This is one of the most versatile and easy one-pan dishes you can make. You can prepare it for a whole crowd using a crockpot and it has so many variations there is bound to be one that’s to your liking. Just type in "Chili Recipes" in Google or your favorite browser and see all of the hits you get. Yep, you can’t go wrong with a good chili. Make sure to have extra hot sauce for the diehards that insist on kicking it up a notch!
Short ribs, Long ribs, Dry ribs, Wet ribs….There is a whole big debate about the best type of meat to use and the best way to cook ribs that is almost as hotly debated as who is going to win the big game. Two things I can tell you about ribs: 1. They are difficult to cook just right and, 2. When they are cooked correctly they are delicious! My suggestion to you is to purchase some ribs at your best local BBQ restaurant or grocery market and pop them in your oven before your friends arrive, set out your favorite BBQ sauce and pass them off as your own creation. See if anyone figures it out.
2. Sausages, Hot Dogs
These may not appeal to those of you that are on a health food kick but, really there have been vast improvements in the hot dog and sausage varieties and quite a few are now more healthy options than other choices. And really, what’s better than a sweet Italian Sausage smothered in sauted peppers and onions with gobs of mustard all wrapped up in a bun – mummm mummm. You can take a walk at half time to make up for it.
1. Chicken Wings
Okay, No surprise here. I don’t know exactly how Chicken Wings became the unofficial Football food but, I am cool with it. I have no complaints. Wings are pretty easy to make and you can make small batches at a time which is great if you are not sure how many people will be showing up demanding to be feed on the big day. The secret to great wings is the Wing sauce. There are almost as many brands of Wing sauce these days as BBQ sauce and mustard! That tells a little something about how popular these babies are.
Whether it's a small gathering of family members or an invitation extended to friends and neighbors, entertaining can take on a delightfully casual approach when it's done outdoors.
Add instant sophistication to a casual atmosphere with these entertaining and grilling tips guaranteed to impress every guest.
Be Courteous to Your Guests
Be sure to note any food restrictions or allergies and prepare alternate options.
Prepare ahead. Cut meats and vegetables, set the table, and toss the salad before the guests arrive. This will give you more time to relax and enjoy your company.
Create an Ambiance
White dinnerware always looks appropriate and pairs nicely with casual double-duty prep and serving pieces, such as rustic wood cutting boards for an outdoor meal.
Add instant elegance to your casual get-together with flowers. Just trim a few stems from the garden and arrange them in glasses or bowls.
Offer a few different bottles of wine at the table for a great conversation starter. The best wines to serve are ones that pair well with all types of food and do not require additional aging once purchased. For example, Rioja, one of Spain's oldest and most renowned wines, includes reds, whites and rose at all price ranges, aged to be ready to drink at purchase and complement meat, fish and vegetables.
Efficiency Is Key
To speed up grilling time, partially precook chicken, red meat, potatoes, carrots and other slow-cooking food in the oven or microwave. When grilling, if you need more than one cooking temperature, mound some coals on one side to create a hot section and spread coals out on the other side for a cooler section.
When grilling food on skewers, cut pieces into chunks that are too large to fall through the grate. Or for easy cleanup, consider using foil packets to grill onion rings, slices of zucchini and squash or even pineapple rings.
When basting, use two brushes - one green and one red. Use the green brush to baste raw meat. Once the meat has begun to cook, switch to the red brush to continue the process. This will help to avoid contamination.
Living for a year in Siberia was bound to results in a few laughs. There was no funnier time than my effort to celebrate Thanksgiving.
As an American male, my idea of cooking was dropping by the local Chinese restaurant on my way home from work. We are talking about a person who considers cooking rice a culinary challenge of the highest order. This lack of skill came to the forefront while spending a year teaching at a university in the Siberian city of Chita.
Experiencing the Russian culture was one of my primary reasons for moving to Siberia. Experiencing the American culture was apparently one of the prime reasons the University hired me. These conflicting view points resulted in every Russian and American holiday being celebrated, even if it wouldn't have been otherwise.
As the end of November approached, I started getting questions about Thanksgiving. My Russian peers and students were particularly interested in the concept of Thanksgiving dinner. In turn, I started asking seemingly innocent food related questions and was pleased to learn most of the necessary food items were not available in the local market. This included turkeys, cranberries and so on. Then I made my mistake.
Since the ingredients weren't available, I began to mouth off about the injustice of missing Thanksgiving dinner. Oh, how I could cook a turkey. To bad everyone would miss out on it. The moral trifecta of justice, fate and karma rose up to put me in my place.
The uncle of someone’s brother was flying in from Moscow. If I created a list, he would buy everything and bring it on the flight.
I was in deep, deep trouble.
Reverting to the times of my youthful indiscretions, I immediately did what anyone in my situation would. I emailed my mother for help. The first response was, “Very funny. You’re going to cook?” After explaining the situation, I received a very long list of instructions written at a third grade level. “This is a knife” and so on…
Well, the magic day came and everything went shockingly well. The turkey tasted like turkey. The stuffing tasted like stuffing. Heck, the cranberries even came out red. Then it was time for the gravy.
In Siberia, you do not buy ingredients in pre-packaged bags. Instead, you buy everything in a clear plastic bag with no label. In theory, you should arrange everything at home so you know what it is when it comes time to cook. Thus did the flour adventures again.
Cooking instructions were read. Turkey juices went into the pan. Instructions were read. Flour went into the pan. Instructions were read. Constant stirring was undertaken. Instructions were read. Water was added.
Feeling cocky, I then did a tasting sample and nearly choked. The gravy was incredibly salty and exceedingly chunky. I added more water, but there was no change. For the next 20 minutes, I kept adding water and stirring. The gravy just kept getting chunkier, tasted horrible and actually began to smoke!
After a while, one of my female students came into the kitchen to find out what was going on. She blanched as she tasted the gravy. We went through the instructions and I made a passing reference to my suspicion the flour might be bad.
She took one look at the flour and started laughing. Hysterically. She was laughing so hard she couldn’t tell me the reason in English and my Russian was pretty bad. She recovered after a few minutes and gave me the English translation.
I had grabbed the stuff used to paste over holes in the wall, not the flour. Put another way, I was making turkey drywall.
No wonder it was so chunky!
After the crowd left, I repaired a door knob hole in my bathroom. Thanksgiving lasted for months!
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