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Saturday, 21 January 2012


Food Safety

Food safety is the most important factor in cooking. It doesn't matter how delicious or complicated your recipe is: if the food makes people sick because of improper cooking or handling, all your efforts will be wasted. You can't tell if a food is safe to eat by how it looks or tastes. Proper storage, cooking and handling are the only ways to ensure safe food.
Food Safety Information
The USDA uses four simple words to help you remember food safety rules. They are Cook, Separate, Clean, Chill. Let's learn about each term.
·         Cook food to a safe internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria. The safety of ground meat has been receiving lots of attention lately, and with good reason. When meat is ground, the bacteria present on the surface is mixed all through the ground mixture. If this ground meat is not cooked to at least 160 to 165 degrees, bacteria will not be destroyed and there's a good chance you will get sick.
The interior of solid pieces of meat like steaks and chops don't contain dangerous bacteria, so they can be cooked medium rare. Still, any beef cut should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees (medium rare). The safe temperature for poultry is 180 degrees. And solid cuts of pork should be cooked to 160 degrees. Eggs should be thoroughly cooked too. (Sorry - eggs over easy aren't good for you any more!) If you are making a meringue or other recipe that uses uncooked eggs, buy specially pasteurized eggs or use prepared meringue powder.
I just learned from a few of my professors at the University of Minnesota, why chicken can't be treated the same as red meat. Chicken must be cooked thoroughly, all the way through, with no pinkness, and an internal temperature of at least 170 degrees F. Chicken meat is less dense than beef or pork, and it's much easier for bacteria to travel through the flesh. Also, processing chickens is a much more invasive process than processing beef or pork, and bacteria usually are spread throughout the whole bird. So remember, chickens are always cooked to well done.
Here's information from the USDA: "Consumers with food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. The hotline can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday, and recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day."
·         Separate cooked and uncooked foods, as well as foods eaten raw and those cooked before eating. Cross-contamination occurs when raw meats or eggs come in contact with foods that will be eaten uncooked. This is a major source of food poisoning. I always double-wrap raw meats and place them on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator so there is no way juices can drip on fresh produce. Use the raw meats within 1-2 days of purchase, or freeze for longer storage.
When grilling or cooking raw meats or fish, make sure to use a clean platter to hold the foods after cooking. Don't use the same platter you used to carry the raw food out to the grill! I also wash the tongs used in grilling after the food is turned for the last time on the grill, as well as spatulas and spoons used for stir-frying or turning meat as it cooks.
Be sure to wash your hands after handling raw meats or raw eggs. When I see a chef or presenter on a TV cooking show handling raw meat or raw eggs, then wiping his or her hands on a towel before preparing a salad or fresh fruit, I just shudder. It is crucial to wash your hands with soap and water or a remoistened antibacterial towelette after you have touched raw meat or raw eggs to avoid cross-contamination.
Now that you understand about cooking food properly and separating cooked and uncooked items both before and after cooking, it's time to move on to the last two points.
·         Cleaning is a crucial part of food safety. Wash your hands and work surfaces frequently when you are cooking and after you have blown your nose, been to the bathroom, touched a pet, or changed a diaper. Plain old soap and water are very effective. If you slowly sing a verse of "Happy Birthday To You" while washing your hands, you will have washed them for the proper length of time. If you are cooking for someone who is pregnant, is very young or old, has a chronic illness, or a compromised immune system, choose a soap with more sophisticated antibacterial qualities.
I wash my hands 20-30 times while I am cooking, and my work surfaces are cleaned that often too. I wash tongs, spoons, and spatulas after they have touched uncooked meats or eggs. I prefer using paper towels for drying my hands and my countertops. They are easily discarded and don't carry bacteria to another surface. That habit may be environmentally incorrect, but I still do it - and no one has ever had food poisoning eating at my house.
One easy way to avoid cross-contamination is to use a large platter to cut raw meats. After the meat is prepared and is cooking, just put the platter directly into the dishwasher, along with any utensils used to prepare the meat.
·         Chilling food is very important. The danger zone where bacteria multiply is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Your refrigerator should be set to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below; your freezer should be 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Here's a simple rule: serve hot foods hot, cold foods cold. Use chafing dishes or hot plates to keep food hot while serving. Use ice water baths to keep cold foods cold. Never let any food sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours - 1 hour if the ambient temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or above.
When packing for a picnic, make sure the foods are already chilled when they go in the insulated hamper. The hamper won't chill food - it keeps food cold when properly packed with ice. Hot cooked foods should be placed in shallow containers, covered, and immediately refrigerated so they cool rapidly.
What About Power Outages?
If the power goes out at your house, follow basic food safety rules. Perishable food is safe at room temperature for 2 hours when the temperature is below 80 degrees F. Above that temperature, you only have one hour before bacteria start to grow in unrefrigerated food.
Keep your refrigerator and freezer closed. Open the doors as little as possible. An unopened refrigerator should keep foods cold for up to four hours; you will still have to evaluate each item individually when the power comes back on. A freezer that is half full should keep foods frozen for 24 hours; a full freezer should keep foods frozen for 48 hours. You can cover your fridge and freezer with thick blankets to try to insulate them and keep them as cool as possible. For longer outages, you can try to find dry ice to pack into your freezer, but you must take special precautions handling it.
If the power outages lasts longer than 4 hours, remove milk, meat, and dairy products from the fridge and pack them into a cooler with lots of ice.
Having an instant read food thermometer is crucial to determining food safety after the power comes back on. If refrigerated products are still below 40 degrees, they should be safe. Check to see if frozen foods still have ice crystals visible and that their temperature is below 40 degrees. You can then refreeze these foods, but there will probably be some loss of quality.
And remember the most basic rule: When in doubt, throw it out. Any cost savings you may gain by keeping questionable food will cost you much more in terms of doctor and hospital bills if someone gets sick.
Remember that cooking outside during a power outage on your charcoal or gas grill is a great way to keep the temperature inside your house as cool as possible.
Here's more crucial information: check sell-by dates when shopping and tell the grocery store manager if you see any expired foods on the shelf. Don't dawdle between the grocery store and your freezer or refrigerator at home. Never use food in cans that are bulging, leaking, rusted or dented. Thaw foods in the refrigerator. Bring all canned soups and gravies to a rolling boil before serving.
Do not serve food in non-food containers!! Things like flower pots and litter pans (for the Kitty Litter Cake (and even then I'd still use a large roasting pan myself) can only be used if the container is first well-lined with food-safe material, either another container, or a couple of layers of plastic wrap. Not only are many containers made with lead, but they could be sprayed with pesticides while in the warehouse. Just be safe and choose containers and serving dishes made for food.
If you study this information, safe food handling will become an ingrained part of your kitchen habits. They are second nature to me! And I enjoy cooking and entertaining more because I know I have done everything I can to ensure that the foods I serve family and friends is safe.

The microwave oven is now an essential part of most kitchens. During the summer or other hot times of the year, it's an excellent appliance to use because it won't heat up your kitchen the way an oven will. Unfortunately, most people still use the microwave to heat coffee, melt butter or make popcorn. That's just fine - but the appliance can do so much more!
How the Oven Works
The microwave works when the high voltage is converted to waves of electromagnetic energy, which is a combination of electrical and magnetic energy. This energy is in the frequency band of radio waves, not x-rays. A wave guide and stirrer blade work together to make sure the energy reaches all areas of the oven interior. When the door is opened or the timer reaches zero, the energy automatically stops, so no microwave radiation leaves the oven. All ovens also have two independent systems that ensure the electrical activity stops as soon as the door is opened.
The microwaves make the water molecules contained in food vibrate and 'wiggle', which produces heat. This is what cooks the food, and also why the oven itself doesn't heat up. That's why foods that have a lot of water, like fruits and vegetables, cook more quickly. Foods high in fat and sugar also cook more quickly. Metal reflects the microwaves, and the energy passes through glass, plastic and paper. As soon as the microwave energy is absorbed by the food, it is converted to heat - so the microwave energy can't 'contaminate' the food.
Although heat is produced directly in the food, microwave energy doesn't cook food from the inside out. More dense foods like meat are cooked primarily by conduction of heat from the outer layers, which are heated by microwaves.
In combination microwave/convention ovens, you'll notice that the interior is metal. A convection oven's special feature is a fan that constantly circulates hot air around the food, so it cooks more quickly and browns very evenly. Follow the cooking instructions to the letter if you have one of these appliances.
Never try to repair your own microwave. It is a complex appliance that includes a magnetron, high voltage transformer, thermal protectors, and complicated circuits.
A few words about microwave safety:
·         The foods will be very hot when removed from the oven, so use oven pads and be careful.
·         If the food is covered during cooking, make sure to leave a small portion vented, or uncovered, so steam doesn't build up and burn you when the covering is removed.
·         The foods should sit as directed in the recipe after being removed from the oven so the heat can continue to spread and dissipate. This is called 'standing time', but it is actually more cooking time.
·         Most ovens have hot spots, and if you eat the food directly from the oven, a few areas could be superheated and will burn.
·         On the flip side, there can also be cold spots where the food doesn't get hot enough to kill bacteria. Follow stirring and rotating instructions carefully.
·         Don't use metal containers unless the recipe specifically directs you to: as stated above, microwaves bounce off metal, which can cause arcing and a fire inside the oven. Some recipes may call for shielding parts of the food, especially meats, with small amounts of foil. This is perfect acceptable as long as the directions are carefully followed.
·         Make sure any glass, plastic containers, and plastic wrap you use are labeled 'microwave safe'. You can also test containers, as directed on the next page.
·         Don't heat water or other liquids beyond the time recommended by the manufacturer or any recipe. Superheating can occur when plain water is heated in a clean cup for an excessive amount of time. The water will look innocuous, but when moved it can literally erupt out of the cup. Don't heat the water twice - that adds to the superheating risk. Adding sugar or coffee granules to the water will reduce the risk of superheating.
·         Never operate a microwave if the door is damaged or doesn't close securely.
·         Don't operate the oven while it is empty. This can also cause arcing and start a fire.
·         It's also a good idea to stand 3-4 feet away from the microwave when it is operating - just to be on the safe side!
·         When using the microwave to defrost meat, the foods must be completely cooked right away. The microwave may have partially cooked part of the meat, and bacteria may grow if the food isn't thoroughly cooked. Arrange food evenly in the pans and follow directions for stirring, rotating and standing time.
·         Most recipes are developed for use in a 700 watt oven. If yours is a different wattage, here is a great chart that will convert cooking times for you: Conversion Chart.
·         Check the food at the shortest time in the specified cooking range. Let the food stand as directed, then test using an instant read thermometer to be super safe, or test according to the recipe's doneness tests. You can easily cook it longer if the food isn't done.
·         If you're wondering if a dish you own is microwave safe, there's an easy way to test it. Place a cup full of water and the dish you want to test in the microwave. Cook at 100% power for one minute. If the water gets hot and the dish you're testing stays cool, it is safe to use in the microwave. If the dish gets hot, it contains lead or metals and shouldn't be used in the microwave.
·         Onions and other vegetables are easily sauteed in the microwave. Just chop as directed in the recipe, place in a safe container, add 1 Tbsp. of water and cook on HIGH for 1-2 minutes until soft. This is a great way to cook quickly with no added fat.
·         In general, the outside sections of the food will cook more quickly. So arrange fish fillets, for example, so the thinner parts are toward the center.
·         When cooking on any other power level than HIGH, the oven cooks by cycling power on and off, so the energy has a chance to move through the food without overcooking. MEDIUM and LOW power are generally used to soften, melt, and defrost foods, while HIGH is usually used for cooking. Follow the recipe!
·         Remember to use microwave safe plastic wrap to cover the food while cooking if the recipe says to. Leave one corner uncovered to vent steam so it doesn't build up to dangerous levels.
·         Pay careful attention to arranging the food, stirring, rotating, and standing instructions in the recipes.
·         To easily clean the microwave, place 2 Tbsp. of lemon juice in 1 cup of water in a 2 cup liquid measuring cup. Microwave on HIGH for 2-3 minutes, until the liquid is boiling. Let the liquid remain in the microwave, without opening the door, for 5 minutes. Remove the measuring cup. The microwave will easily wipe clean with a paper towel.
Do you know the wattage of your microwave oven? If you're not sure, here's an easy way to find out, according to the University of Tennessee. Fill a glass measuring cup with exactly one cup of lukewarm tap water. Microwave the water, uncovered, on HIGH until water begins to boil. If boiling occurs in less than three minutes, the wattage of your microwave is 600 to 700; three to four minutes, the wattage is 500 to 600; more than four minutes, the oven wattage is less than 500 watts. Most microwave recipes are developed for ovens with more than 600 watts of power. If your oven's wattage is less than that, you will probably need to add more cooking time.
Many of these recipes cook entirely in the microwave oven. Be sure to follow cooking, rotating, stirring, and standing times carefully. Never try to taste or eat food as soon as it comes out of the oven, because the food is still cooking and increasing in temperature.
Now enjoy these recipes!
Microwave Recipes
·         Microwave Meatloaf
This classic meatloaf cooks to perfection in the microwave oven. I love the flavors and seasonings.
·         Microwave Salmon Pie
Yes, you can cook a quiche in the microwave! There's a trick to the crust; rub it with spices or Worcestershire sauce to give it a brown color.
·         Microwave Peanut Brittle
Peanut brittle is an excellent microwave recipe; it cooks much more quickly than making it on the top of the stove.
·         Microwave Shrimp Scampi
Shrimp Scampi is one of my favorite meals. This easy recipe has the most fabulous garlic and lemon flavor.
·         Microwave Scrambled Eggs
Light and fluffy scrambled eggs are easy to make when you use the microwave oven.
·         Microwave Tuna au Gratin
For a super quick, kid friendly meal, this recipe is a winner.
·         Mexican Chicken
This quick and easy recipe for two uses just five ingredients.
·         Curried Fish Fillets
A simple curry sauce elevates this fish dish into another realm; it's that good!
·         Tomato and Cheese Fish Fillets
Fish fillets cooked with tomatoes and topped with melted cheese is a healthy and simple dinner.
·         Red Snapper and Yellow Squash
This colorful dish, which uses only five ingredients, is fresh and easy to make.
·         Easiest Fudge in the World
Take two ingredients, add a few minutes and a microwave oven, and you have smooth, creamy fudge. Yum.
·         Microwave Meal Magic Recipes
·         Meal planning
·         Meal planning can be intimidating for beginning cooks. Take a few minutes to organize your recipes and read through this article to help you begin, and soon meal planning will be second nature.
·         On January 12, 2005, the FDA released a New Food Pyramid, with some changes. The changes aren't significant, except for stressing exercise and increasing the number of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that you should eat every day.
·         Plan meals to meet your family's nutrition needs. The old way of planning meals was the Basic Four: Meats, Vegetables and Fruit, Grains, and Dairy. After many nutrition studies, the USDA has created an updated Food Pyramid that should be used as a guideline. This graphic is courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The range helps the Pyramid fit into anyone's caloric needs. For serving sizes, see Thrifty Living.
·         Meals used to be planned around a chunk of protein, plus a starch like potatoes or rice, a vegetable like green beans, and a glass of milk. Today, meat is considered more of a condiment or flavoring, and diets should be based more on grains, fruits and vegetables. That doesn't mean you can't have a steak or fish fillet for dinner! It just means that you should add more whole grain breads, pastas, vegetables, fruits, rice, and cereals, and reduce the amount of meat served. To begin, here are three key words you should remember every time you plan a meal: color, temperature and texture. The meals you plan should be full of color, the recipes should vary in temperature, and include textures from smooth to crunchy.
·         First, go through your recipe box, files, cookbooks and other favorite sources and choose 10-20 recipes that you know you can make and that your family likes. Then consider texture, temperature, and color when visualizing your full dinner plate. Color is probably the most important consideration to think about in meal planning. Nutritionists advise making your plate look like a painter's palette. The more different colors on your plate, the more varied and healthy your diet will be. Temperature and texture should be varied to add interest and make the meal more pleasing to the palate. Choose some cold foods, some served at room temperature, and some hot. Crisp, crunchy, smooth, chunky, and tender are all textures you 
Here's a recipe I like to serve often. Let's plan a meal around it! Remember, your meals should be colorful, and include a variety of textures and temperatures.
Chicken with Fruit Salsa
·         1/2 cup chopped peeled mango
·         1 orange, peeled, seeded and chopped
·         1 pear, unpeeled, chopped
·         1 8-oz. can pineapple tidbits, drained
·         2 Tbsp. apple jelly
·         1 Tbsp. minced jalapeno pepper
·         2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
·         1/4 cup honey
·         2 Tbsp. apple jelly
·         1 Tbsp. lemon juice
·         4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Combine mango, orange, pear, pineapple, 2 Tbsp. apple jelly, jalapeno and cilantro. Mix well and set aside.
Combine honey, 2 Tbsp. apple jelly and lemon juice. Microwave on high until melted, 10-20 seconds and stir well. Brush half of glaze on chicken.
Broil or grill chicken 4-6" from heat for 6 minutes. Turn chicken and brush with remaining glaze. Broil or grill 4-6 minutes longer or until chicken is tender, thoroughly cooked, and juices run clearwhen pricked with knife. Spoon salsa over chicken to serve.
This recipe already helps meet your daily nutritional needs because there are lots of fruits in proportion to the chicken. To balance this meal, go back to our key words and think about temperature, texture, and color. I would add a fresh green lettuce salad (cool temperature, crunchy texture, additional different color), some whole grain rolls (crunchy texture, room temperature), and sparkling water or milk.
As long as you make your dinner plate colorful you can generally be assured that you are eating enough fruits and vegetables and your meals are balanced. Vary texture by adding chewy breads, crunchy grains, and smooth, tender pasta and rice to help add the essential servings of grains. And vary temperatures to help stimulate appetite and make your meals more interesting.
When choosing recipes for your everyday meals, pay attention to nutrients listed as percentage of Daily Values. The Daily Values are set by the USDA to meet the nutritional requirements of the average American. These Values are set for protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, sodium and fiber.
Here are a few more things to consider when planning meals.
·         Grocery Ads
Check what is on sale in your grocery store and plan meals around those items. You can also stock up on good buys and freeze them, well wrapped with the date marked, to help you plan future meals.
·         What's in Your Pantry?
The foods you store are those you know your family likes. Find new recipes that use these ingredients and you will be able to gradually introduce different foods and flavors and expand their tastes.
·         Family Favorites
If your family loves meat and potatoes, find ways to get more fruits and vegetables into their diet. Serve a smaller portion of meat and make up the difference with a big salad, toasted rolls, or rice pilaf. Begin with a favorite recipe, serve smaller portions of it, and add other nutritious foods to fill the dinner plate.
·         Seasonal Produce
Not only is seasonal produce a better buy, but fruits and vegetables taste better when in season. Local produce may also retain more nutrients because they aren't shipped over long distances. Patronizefarmer's markets
 and produce stands when possible for great value, taste, and nutrition.
·         Shake Things Up
Have fun with meal planning!
 Have breakfast for dinner, get your children involved, let other family members have turns planning meals, and even make a game out of planning a meal just with what's on hand. Don't be too concerned with perfectly balancing each day's nutrients. Try instead to balance nutrients, calories, and fat intake over several days.
·         Use Color as Key
The more color on your plate, the better balanced your meal. Plus a colorful plate is a treat for the eyes!
·         Balance Temperature
Hot foods, cold foods, and room temperature foods not only ensure that you are serving a variety of foods, but also make a more interesting meal.
·         Balance Texture
No one likes a meal made of all soft foods or all crunchy ones. Thinking about different texture also automatically helps you include different kinds of foods according to the Food Pyramid.
·         Variety!
Here's the most important meal planning tip of all: eat a variety of foods. For instance, don't plan meals with chicken four days in a row. The USDA calculates safe limits on pesticide and herbicide residue consumption based on a certain consumption level of foods. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, and dairy products to help reduce your risk of exposure to chemicals, and to ensure the most balanced diet. Scientists are discovering new chemicals and nutrients in foods every day that are necessary to good health. Eating a good variety of whole foods is the best way to have a healthy diet and a long life.

The more meal planning you do, the easier it will be. Have fun with the process, get your children involved, and enjoy watching how your eating habits change and improve with the seasons!

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