One of the biggest uses we made of plastic was bagging up veggies and fruit that had been partially used and thereafter needed to be refrigerated. We assumed, (erroneously it turns out), that there wouldn’t be a cheap, non-plastic alternative that took proper care of such things – As in, kept them relatively fresh, didn’t let them dry out, rot, mold, etc. We were wrong indeed.
We bought a box of these relatively heavy duty wax paper sheets, which were something like $9 for 500 sheets – Lo and behold, they do a great job with everything we used to trust to plastic – Veggies, fruit, protein leftovers, basically anything that’ll fit the sheet, which naturally leads us to get a roll or two of full sized waxed paper as a backup.
Problem solved, without loss of food quality or safety – A fine win-win.
We made a dried apricot tart this weekend, which we tweaked to our liking, (or so we thought). It cam from a recipe M found online. I’ll bet you’re expecting to see that tweaked recipe down at the end of this post too, yeah? Well, truth be told, there will be a recipe at the end, but it won’t be this one -we need to talk about recipe development.
The recipe came from what we shall call a Very Established And Respected Public Source for writing about food. Whether it’s Monica or me that gets an itch to make something and turn it into our own, we both do our due diligence – AKA, research. I work in the food biz, she does not, but the roots of the process are similar regardless of whether it’s her, me, or us doing the work. If it’s me doing the lion’s share, I tend to use resources like The Flavor Bible, Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and various other regional or genre experts for thoughts on ingredients, technique, and the like. Monica tends to go for a mainstream recipe, which she studies and then alters to achieve what she is after.
Fact is, both routes are just fine and work pretty much equally well. Granted, I have more arcane food knowledge in my noggin, and as such, I tend to model on or alter recipes less than she does – But that doesn’t mean my method is better – it may take fewer tries to get where we want to go, but that’s really neither here nor there when it comes to the end result. It would be disingenuous to say I create more recipes than she does because of differences in method – I create more because I do the majority of the cooking and developing – There’s really nothing more operative in that regard.
My point with that last paragraph is this – I hear a lot of folks who seem almost embarrassed to say that they made something their own, when ‘all I did was tweak a recipe.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. Fact is, even great chefs, legendary chefs, do exactly that. That is why, almost every post here includes some variation on the phrase, make it yours – Because when you put your stamp on it, and then repeat it, and it becomes a beloved standard for you, then my friend, that recipe is 100%, no doubt about it, yours.
So, what about this recipe would warrant me stating that it definitely needed further development? Well, frankly, it’s because the finished tart sucked. Bad. Now, that said – the caveats – Yes, it’s possible we screwed it up, (we didn’t), or that our ingredients were sub-par, (they weren’t), but the fact is, that recipe just was not designed or explained well at all. I knew it, truth be told, and so did M – But this was again, from a very reputable source, so we thought, what the hell, we’ll give it a spin – You have to do that sometimes, because there may well be magic where you least expect it, and if you don’t try it, you’ll never know. I gotta say though, in this case, it used some ingredients that are not cheap, so springing for that stuff and ending up with sub par results should not make a consumer happy.
We really tried with this thing. Again, we added a couple twists of our own, but nothing earthshaking – We didn’t have mascarpone in house, so we subbed cream cheese, heavy cream, and sour cream – That’s a certified, A-OK cheat, by the way, (but again? I knew better, and we did it anyway – My bad…) We also added a few dried cranberries, because they go nicely with apricots, and well, why not? And… It sucked. We ate a piece each, and the rest went to the squirrels and jays, (sorry, fellas). So why did that happen?
The answer to that requires digging in a bit deeper. First off, reading all 30+ of the review comments left by folks who made the recipe, (which supposedly received a 4 out of 5 star rating), it became immediately evident that almost no one said outright that this was a great tart recipe. In fact, overwhelmingly, people had trouble interpreting it, and said so – It was too vague, didn’t speak thoroughly to method, ingredient handling, or proper bakeware. Another healthy chunk said, in so many words, that it didn’t taste good – it was dry, had too much crust, the apricots shouldn’t have been left whole as shown, and so on. Several folks complained about the custard.So how did this thing score so highly? Good question.
I noted the following. The ‘custard’ was, in fact, mascarpone, eggs, sugar, and almond extract – Which is not custard. The recipe never stated how thick the crust should end up, and frankly, the mix they used was more of a pie crust than a tart crust, and yes, there’s a difference. It called for bringing 2/3 cup of whiskey and 30 dried apricots ‘to a simmer and then set aside’, which is insufficient to soften dried fruits, or to burn off the alcohol. It listed an egg yolk in ingredients that didn’t make it to procedure, and a couple of tablespoons of water showed up in procedure that were not in the ingredient list.
This was not from a home blogger, gang. This was from a major publication with over 100 years of experience – And they screwed it up. I’m not saying that to make them look bad – I’m really not – I’m saying it because it illustrates how tough it can be to create and share a good recipe, what can happen if you don’t, and why there’s a big time caveat emptor consideration for home cooks with damn near any recipe.
So, what did it actually take to fix this thing? A little more work, a few less sort cuts, and a little better narrative. First off, we made a real tart crust, (and for the record, for a 9” to 10” tart, that should be around 1/4” thick, and thinner yet if you’re doing tartlets). Secondly, softening dried fruit in booze is costly, especially if you use the proper amount, which means enough to completely cover and submerge 30 some odd apricots – You can see from our image that the proscribed amount wasn’t even close in that regard. And in any event, doing that is simply not as effective as hot water – If you want the taste of whisky or whatever, a quarter cup in a sauce pan over medium heat, simmered until the raw booze smell dissipates and the liquid thickens slightly, then cooled and added to the custard, will do the trick much better. And finally, custard is custard, gang. That’s milk heated gently and mixed with eggs, which act as a thickener – again, mascarpone doth not a custard make – That stuff is basically cream cheese that is already quite stiff. Adding eggs and sugar and flavoring to that will not make a custard – It’ll make an eggy, sweet cream cheese, which is not, repeat not, what we’re after here. So – All that said, here’s what we did for the one we ate all of.
Dried Apricot and Cranberry Tart
For the Tart
1 Cup Pastry Flour
1/2 Cup Almond Flour
1/4 Cup Bakers Sugar
1/2 Cup Cold Unsalted Butter
1 Large Egg
Pinch Sea Salt
You can do the tart by hand, which is my preferred method, or you can do it in a food processor, which is M’s preferred method – Either is just fine.
In a large mixing bowl, (or the processor), add flours, sugar, and salt and combine thoroughly.
Cut butter into roughly 1/4” cubes. Add that to the dry mix and combine by hand or process until the mixture looks like coarse corn meal.
Add the egg and incorporate thoroughly, but don’t go overboard – you don’t want the dough forming a ball on its own – You can check for done by squishing a hunk between your thumb and dialing finger – It should stick together, but not feel dry, or fall apart, (it also should not be sticky).
Pull the dough and form it into a roughly 1” disk. Wrap that in waxed paper and refrigerate for an hour, at least, (and longer is fine – Even up to a couple days – You can also freeze it, so long as you refrigerator thaw overnight prior to use).
When you’re ready to go, preheat your oven to 375° F and place a rack in a middle position.
You’ll want either a tart pan or a pie pan to bake in – Either really is fine.
Lightly grease the pan with butter.
Place the dough between sheets of waxed paper or parchment, and roll it out to about 1/4” thickness.
Carefully peel one sheet of paper off the dough and place it onto your chosen pan.
Use a fork and liberally and evenly prick the crust.
Cover the tart with a shaped piece of parchment, then use pie weights, beans, or rice to weigh down the tart.
Bake at 375° F for about 20-25 minutes, until the tart looks firm and is beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
For the Filling/Custard
About 40 dried Apricots
1/4 Cup dried, sweetened Cranberries
1 small Lemon
1 Cup heavy Cream
2 Large Eggs
1 Egg Yolk
1/2 Cup Bakers Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Set aside about a dozen apricots and 6-8 cranberries.
Place the rest of the dried fruit into a mixing bowl.
Quarter the lemon, squeeze out the juice and add it to the rest of the fruit.
Cover the fruit with boiling water and allow it to steep for 15 minutes.
When the fruit is hydrated, pour off the liquid through a single mesh strainer, reserve the fruit.
Chop the reserved dozen apricots and the cranberries, set aside.
Preheat oven to 350° F and make sure there’s still a rack in the middle position.
In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and sugar. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate – You want to get some air into this mix, so take your time – 2 to 3 minutes or so.
In a sauce pan over medium heat, scald the cream – That is, heat it until small bubbles start to form at the edges of the liquid.
Remove the cream from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Slowly add the cream to the egg and sugar mixture, whisking steadily but gently – Don’t put too much of the hot cream in at a time – You want to temper the egg mix slowly, so that it doesn’t curdle.
Place whole apricots and cherries evenly across the tart, then carefully pour the custard onto the fruit.
Top tart with the chopped apricots around the rim of the tart, and the cranberries in the middle.
Bake at 350° F for 35 to 45 minutes, until custard is firm but still jiggles a bit in the middle, and fruit is slightly browned.
Remove from heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
Garnish with mint, if you like. You certainly may add whipped cream or crème fraiche as well.
Antiplasticestablishmentarianism – There, I said it – In fact, I think I just invented it, (the word, anyhoo…) The word today is plastic, and as my tongue in cheek neologism is meant toimply, it’s a thing deeply entrenched in our world, and that’s not good – We need to do something about all the plastic in our kitchens.
The root word I bastardized means, in essence, that the user finds, ‘a nation’s policy or attitude corrupt and exploitative,’ among other diatribes. Frankly, I can’t think of a thing more demonstrative of that than our massive use and abuse of plastic – Not even politics. There’s zero doubt in my mind that this abuse focuses more around food than any other aspect of modern life.
Look through your kitchen as we have ours, and chances are, it’s a plastic rich environment, indeed. Granted, some of that is reasonable, to a degree – The large plastic storage jars with wide lids that we’ve had for years, for example, don’t seem all that bad, nor might the other, smaller storage boxes that get daily use. We bought all those because they were cheap, light, and they worked, of course. Plastic wrap? Got it, albeit it doesn’t get used much at all. Plastic bags? Oh my, yes, in everything from snack to gallon. Hmmm… The garbage and trash bags have been biodegradable versions for a while now, but all that other stuff – Hmmm.
We could probably assuage our growing guilt if we considered that we recycle diligently – Well, M does, anyway – She’s the recycle Nazi in our house. That doesn’t mean I cheat purposefully, but it does mean she has to remind me that wine corks and metal foil don’t go in recycling, and anyway, I haul the bins out to the curb each week – That aughta be worth some kinda dispensation, shouldn’t it?
All in all, according to a recent National Geographic piece, ‘The world generates at least 3.5 million tons of plastic and other solid waste a day, 10 times the amount a century ago, according to World Bank researchers. The U.S. is the king of trash, producing a world-leading 250 million tons a year—roughly 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day.’ To not know that plastic is choking our oceans, landfills, land in general, everything, you’d have to be living in a cave, under a rock. So the question is, what can we do about it, us little folk? That answer has to be formed with our kitchens in mind, because the lion’s share of the overall waste we produce, and especially plastic, lives there. The answer is, surprisingly, quite a bit.
One of the easiest things to do is get rid of plastic wrap and plastic bags, because that’s where most of the kitchen use comes from. There are reusable silicone zip lock bags and sheets out there, but they’re expensive, and frankly, that doesn’t seem like a very smart answer in a busy kitchen. Nobody that I could find makes recyclable zip lock or food grade plastic bags, yet, but I’ll bet it’s coming. In any event, it seems a lot smarter to just eliminate that crap.
Most community recycling programs don’t accept plastic bags in your curbside bins, albeit you can recycle a lot of that stuff at many grocery stores – The list of what’s OK to drop off there looks something like this –
plastic shopping bags (from any store — remove receipts, etc.)
food packaging (Ziploc-type bags)
plastic liners from cereal boxes (do not include if they tear like paper)
product wrapping (such as covers a case of water bottles, etc.)
bubble wrap and air pillows (popped)
plastic shipping envelopes (remove labeling)
And you should make sure that what you drop off is clean and dry – Stuff with food waste on it is gross and unsanitary, no matter where you drop it off, and it’ll contaminate the clean stuff other folks left.
What they generally will not take includes,
frozen food bags
cereal box liners that tear like paper
pre-washed salad bags
candy bar wrappers
There are makers of many things turning to non-plastic containers, and they’re worth pursuing if you can – Our laundry detergent even comes in what is, basically, paper packaging and is biodegradable – It’s found in the ‘natural’ stuff, which most mainstream grocery stores have at least some of these days. Those biodegradable trash bags are very decent by the way – Not super expensive, and they don’t fall apart with stuff in them, either.
The best route to go in your kitchen is to eliminate plastic wrap and bags, and that’s what we’re going to do – We’re transitioning to solid food containers across the board – Yes some of those are plastic, but a lot are glass – they last for many years, and as such, really can change the waste equation to a significant degree. The other side of that equation is to not collect a whole shitload of plastic when you hit the store. There are string and mesh bags designed for produce that you can bring with you, along with your reusable grocery bags – And if you bring those, you can get by without further plastic just fine. Stuff like lettuce, cabbage, cilantro, and so on does not need to sit in a plastic bag to last in your fridge. Moist paper towel, or clean kitchen towels work fine – Your crisper bins probably work better without an additional layer of plastic anyway, truth be told. If you get your meat, fish, poultry and such from the butcher counter, you get paper wrappers instead of plastic and foam, and that’s very good indeed. And frankly, not buying stuff like pre-whatevered produce is not only better for the plastic count, it’s better food as well. Better yet, find your local farmer’s market and buy there instead of the big name grocery stores. And frankly, if ever there was a plug for shopping as many parts of the world still do – What you need for a few days every few days – This strategy would be it.
The big picture view of all this is changing radically – China and various other countries don’t want our trash any more, because they’re all generating a hell of a lot more of their own – That makes our first world problems 100% ours, and we really can’t afford to be callous and clueless any more. We’re taking some significant strides to clean up our act, and we invite y’all to do the same – If every household does what they can, it’s a firm step in the right direction.
if you’re here often, you know I’ll occassionally address things other than food and cooking, and today is such a day – It’s May Day, and that used to mean more than it seems to now.
It’s serendipitous that the night before my Sis wrote the piece that follows herein, Monica was reminiscing about how her Gramma would have her cut flowers and take them ‘to the older neighborhood ladies,’ on May Day as well. As my Mom did with me, though I’d forgotten it until now.
The world is kind of a mess these days, especially here in the U.S.. It’s at times like this that simple, forgotten gestures of community and humanity can and do have far greater weight. Give a read and a think to Annie’s words, and maybe cut a few flowers of your own today. It’s a good day to feed our souls.
Making May Day Memorable
CHelping Community Blossom
Growing up in Massachusetts, May Day was definitely a day to celebrate. If it fell on a school day, we made paper cones or little baskets to take home. If not, we made them at home, filling them with simple flowers for our neighbors. These days, neighborliness seems like a quaint, outdated concept in far too many places. Programs like Welcome Wagon used to greet newcomers with baskets of homemade cookies, packets of tea, and gift certificates from local businesses. The practice was still going strong when we moved to our island home back in the mid 80s but like so many remnants of the old island community culture, it’s long gone. Now you get a few coupons from big box stores along with your postal change of address forms.
Since WWII, our national culture has made some profound shifts, moving steadily to the political right. We increasingly seem to prize privacy and individual rights over community and connection. Sadly, the erosion of community and connection underlies the enormous wave of addictions and violence that are wreaking havoc all over our country. There are compelling studies that indicate that the root cause of addictions, opioid or social, and of social terrorism, is not weakness of character but a disphoric sense of disconnection that can be exacerbated by trauma and major losses. When we are most in need of connection, we are apt to end up in a hospital or mental facility, usually with a constantly changing cast of caregivers.
Basic Community Building
Humans need to be in community yet we are rapidly losing critical social skills. Maybe screen time is part of the problem, but it can also be community building in some ways. Certainly international news travels at light speed these days, and social media makes international connections easy and effortless. I used to scorn Facebook, but I admit that I love checking in with various horticulture groups, seeing what’s growing in Juneau or Arizona or closer to home on Vashon Island or Portland; following international plant identification groups; getting glimpses of wildflowers in places I can’t get to in person; experiencing virtual garden tours around the world. I love being able to post a picture of a plant I’m not sure about and getting an almost immediate confirmation or clarification. Brilliant!
I also feel enriched when I’m gardening in public places and can meet people face to face. Real time interactions allow us to answer questions, explain how to grow this or that, demonstrate a pruning technique, or share a plant division. It also offers the chance to look someone in the eye, to hear their thanks or their ideas, and to engage in an actual conversation. Imagine! I especially love talking with our oldies, listening to their stories about gardens long gone, and learning more about this beautiful place where we both live.
Tomorrow I’m offering a workshop at the Senior Center, featuring May Day baskets as well as tips on container gardening and anything else people want to talk about. I’m making little paper cones and tussy mussies to hand out, hoping to spark some happy memories and hear some great stories. Our local Senior Center is a thriving, busy place, despite the fact that, these days, nobody wants to be identified as a senior. Actually, the older oldies don’t mind a bit, but a lot of Boomers really resent the label. It’s not just an island thing; when the long standing ElderHostel program was failing, the directors renamed it Road Scholars and today it’s a very successful, revitalized program with many younger members.
I’ve heard suggestions that we rename our Senior Center and I know that other communities are having similar conversations. Having long looked forward to crone status myself, I’m a little baffled. What happened to honoring our elders? Who wouldn’t want to earn that status? Maybe I’m especially blessed to know so many wise, compassionate, thoughtful, imaginative and adaptable elders but I doubt it. However, I do think that my good fortune might be increased because a few years ago I realized that I was going to a lot of memorial services and finding out that way too many people I “knew’ had fascinating lives I knew nothing about. As a result, I started spending a little more time asking questions and actually listening to the stories they sparked. It turns out that you can simply approach someone you know a little and say, “I’d love to know more about you. Please tell me some of your life experiences,” and get not rebuffs but rich and sometimes astonishing answers.
Listening With Intent
Maybe we Boomers can make peace with maturity if we explore the experiences of our oldies with open ears and minds. Perhaps it’s best to start building such refreshing relationships with people we enjoy but don’t know well. Family can be tricky: When the parent/child relationship shifts into caregiving, such opportunities may be increased, but depending on the personalities involved, they may also diminish. I was delighted to find that my daughter-in-law could get stories from my mom that my brothers and I had never heard (and never would have, for sure!). As a friend, I’ve in turn heard sometimes painful stories that weren’t to be shared with birth family folks.
I’ve heard some of the most eye-opening stories from church family. I belong to a free-spirited, open and affirming UCC church that’s full of marvelous people old and young with intriguing lives and lively minds. In that group, the deeper you dig, the richer the golden veins of viewpoints, stories and ideas. I’m finding the Senior Center to be another great place to connect with elders with wide perspectives and unusual lives. Ever since I moved to this island community, I’ve loved seeking out long time islanders and exploring the past by conversing with people who are still present. After thirty some years here, so many are gone and those who remain seem more precious than ever. So tomorrow I’ll hand out flowers and treasure the stories I glean in sweet return.
I post this a couple times a year, and for very, very good reason. Several times a year, either a contracted private outfit, or the local health department, shows up unannounced in my cafe, and takes a very serious, in depth look at at what we do and how we do it – It’s all about food safety.
That might sound scary, and it sure would be, if you didn’t run a clean restaurant. Me, I welcome it, because frankly, this is Job #1, and I don’t ever want to be anything but stellar in our efforts to assure that folks who eat with us are absolutely safe in doing so.
That said, what about at the ol’ home front? While it’s a must in the business, it’s all too often lacking at home, so I thought we’d better revisit the ground rules and spell ‘em out in big letters. In this day and age when more and more foods are making folks sick and even killing some, you simply must take matters into your own hands.
You can and should print this one out and stick it to your fridge with one of those goofy magnets.
The Golden Rules
Understand and Respect the Food Temperature Danger Zone.
Bacteria love temperatures between 40º F and 140º F, so naturally, we want to strictly limit food from hanging out in that range. The mantra is ‘Keep cold food cold and hot food hot,’ and yes, it is that simple. Couple temperature with time, and you’re ahead of the curve. Don’t let anything hang in the zone for longer than 60 minutes, and that’s a total running time. Think about this: Between shopping, prep, and finally cooking, how much time has elapsed with food in the temperature danger zone? You buy a steak first thing at the store, and you’re doing a good sized shopping, comparing, saving, all that proper stuff. By the time you get that steak home and in the fridge, how long has it been in the danger zone? For most of us, I’ll bet you’re real close to an hour, and you haven’t even started prepping and cooking yet. Before we fix that issue, let’s look a bit closer at the spectrum itself.
Cooking, Prep, & Storage Temperature Ranges
165°F+ – Most bacteria die within seconds
141°F to 164°F – Safe range for holding hot foods. Bacteria aren’t killed, but don’t multiply.
40°F to 140°F – Food Temperature Danger Zone: Bacteria thrive and multiply. Perishable foods spend NO MORE than one hour here, period.
33°F to 39°F – Fridge range. Bacteria aren’t killed, but they multiply relatively slowly. Food is safe here for a limited time.
32°F – Freezer zone. Bacteria aren’t killed but don’t multiply. Note that, gang; freezing does not kill bacteria, it just puts them into suspended animation. If ever there was a reason to follow safe food handling practices at home, this is it, since this is the long-term food storage method the vast majority of us use.
Here are the specific methods you need to adopt.
1. Prep potentially hazardous food like the professionals do, which is ice to ice.
When you pull potentially hazardous foods out to prep, place them in a double pan or bowl, with a thin bed of ice beneath the one holding your food. Do the same with the plate, pot, or bowl you’re prepping into. This simple process will truly help keep you and yours much safer.
2. Cook smarter, not harder.
Use a thermometer when you cook, so you’re cooking to temperature, not to time. If you’re not using a thermometer and you’re not a seasoned cooking pro, how do you know what temperature you’re cooking something to? Fact is, you probably don’t, and that’s not good for food safety or quality. The top end of the Food Temperature Danger Zone, 140º F is not the temp at which bacteria die, it’s just the point at which they more or less stop multiplying. You need 165º F to kill most things that can hurt you, like salmonella and e. coli, and that’s 165º F internal temperature. No thermometer equals not sure, and not sure equals not good, so fix that. You’ll want a thermometer that allows recalibration, and you’ll need to read the directions on how to do so. Here’s a link to the model I use at home and at work; it’s the fastest, most accurate, reasonably priced model for home use I’ve found.
3. Get cooked food out of the danger zone ASAP.
Within the food safety danger zone, the temperature range between 125° and 70°F allows for the most rapid growth of microorganisms. As such, you’ve got to get leftovers that have been cooked out of that range as quickly as possible. The 2-stage cooling method is what we use in professional kitchens. That means you want to,
Cool from 140°F to 70°F with two hours, and then
Cool from 70°F to 41°F or below within four hours.
That initial two hour cool is the most critical time period, since that’s when the food is passing through the most dangerous temperature range. Here’s the hard and fast secondary rule you’ve got to strictly abide by: If food has not reached 70°F within two hours, it must be reheated to an internal temperature of 165°F for 15 seconds and then properly cooled again, or thrown away.
Keep in mind the unassailable fact that food needs help cooling down quickly; it can’t do it on its own. Critical factors that affect how quickly foods will cool down include,
Size of the food item being cooled, (thickness, or distance to its center, plays the biggest part in how fast a food cools).
Density of the food, (the denser the food, the slower it cools).
What the storage container you use is made of. Glass and stainless steel transfer heat from foods faster than plastic. If you’re using plastic wrap, leave it loose at first, to allow cold air to freely circulate around the food; once it’s cooled, tighten up the wrapping to keep air away and avoid drying out and cross-contamination.
Size of the container. Shallow pans, (depth less than two inches), allow heat from food to dissipate faster than deeper ones.
And here is a concept you absolutely must embrace wholeheartedly – Food will not move through the temperature danger zone fast enough if it is still hot when placed in the fridge or freezer. In fact, sticking hot food straight into the fridge can actually raise the temperature of everything in there, putting a whole lot of your food into the temperature danger zone. Sound crazy? Ever put a big pot of soup or stew into the fridge, including the steel pot? I rest my case… Here’s how to properly handle things.
* Reduce the size. Cut large hunks of food into smaller pieces for storage. Take that soup out of the pot and transfer it to smaller containers.
* Use an ice-water bath, (50% each, ice and water), and stir foods that are stirrable for fast, even cooling. NOTE: The only way to accurately know that time and temperature requirements are being met is by actively monitoring the process. That means that you need to use your thermometer for cooling as well, (Look closely at your favorite cooking show; I’ll bet you’ll see that the real chefs all have pocket thermometers). Get used to regularly check temperatures and monitoring the time.
4. Keep it all clean.
Wash your hands with hot, soapy water, actively, for at least 20 seconds. Do it before and after you work with food that has greater potential for bacteria, like meat, poultry and fish, and do it again before you move on to prepping something else. Wash and sanitize your cutting boards (Use a mild bleach solution on those; they’re semi-porous, so you really need to pay attention to cleaning them), knives, and anything else that touched potentially high risk foods before you prep something else with them. Does your sponge stink? If it’s not dirty and worn out, toss it into your microwave for 30 seconds; it’ll come out smelling much better, because you’ve offed some bacteria. If it is worn out and dirty, toss it and use a fresh one; same goes for kitchen towels.
5. Don’t defrost or marinate at room temperature.
Best practice is to defrost in the fridge. If you must defrost quickly, fill a bowl big enough to hold what you’re working with the coldest water you can get from your tap, immerse the food in the water and let it run as low as you can get it until it’s ready. NOTE: If you cannot get water colder than 70º F, do NOT use this method, period!
6. Use your senses and resources.
When food spoils, is it dangerous? The answer is, not always but quite possibly, so err to the side of caution, (Making cheese is basically controlled spoilage, as is fermentation). Bacteria like the same things we do, from food to comfy conditions, so always keep that in mind. When food spoils, rots, etc, it looks, smells, tastes and feels off; respect your senses and let it go if it ain’t right. I can guarantee you won’t get sick if you don’t eat it. Bacteria need pretty specific conditions to thrive, involving the temperature, moisture and PH level of the things they live on, AKA, our food. Know the attributes of the food you’re cooking and storing and act accordingly. Use the section of your fridge meant for butter, cheese, eggs, veggies and fruit; modern fridges really can help control moisture levels as well as temp, so allow them to do their thing.
7. Reheat properly.
When reheating hot food, get it back up above 165º F internal temperature before you serve it. Sad as it may seem, you only get one shot at it – No second reheats – So plan, portion and cook accordingly.
Follow these rules religiously. Take care when you buy; always look for quality and freshness, get to know your purveyors, buy locally whenever possible. Make it at home whenever possible.
This coming weekend, we leap out of Daylight Whatever Time. Smart folks recommend that we use that marker to change the batteries on all the smoke alarms in our houses, which is brilliant. Annually, I piggy back on that stacked logic to remind y’all of another somewhat onerous but necessary task – So here we go again – it’s spring cleaning time.
Question – Got a freezer? Of course you do. And even if it’s part of a fridge/freezer combo, wanna bet it has a tendency to act kinda like a junk drawer? S’truth. Next question – How often do you clean and organize that fridge and freezer? Typical answer – ummmmmmmm…. Thought so. In that case, my friends, it’s time to seriously clean your freezers.
Just as we spring forward and fall back, it’s a great time to throw in a genuine cleaning of your primary cold food storage vessels.
Grab a cooler or two, pull everything out of said freezer and fridge, and get crackin’. If you’ve got ice build up in your freezer, unplug it. Don’t use any kind of sharp tool to break ice loose – That’s a busted appliance waiting to happen, or a hand injury. Very hot water, drizzled over the build up will loosen the ice and let you remove it by hand. Then move on to hot, soapy water, and give everything a good scrub. Use a clean kitchen towel to remove any detritus and toss that into the trash. In the fridge, remove the shelves, baskets, etc and clean everything thoroughly. Next comes more hot water with a capful of bleach – give every surface a good wipe down with that, then dry everything off with another clean towel. Let the appliances air dry for about 10 minutes. If you’ve unplugged to clean, plug it back in.
While your appliances are air drying, go through the stuff in the freezer. Take a look at this handy guide from the FDA – fresh meat and poultry, properly wrapped and sealed, can be safely stored for up to a year, while raw ground meat and sausage is more in the 3 to 4 months max range. Lean or cooked fish, properly packaged can last for 6 months, fatty fish more like 3 months. Cooked meat, soups and stews are 3 months or less. Frozen veggies and fruit will depend on how well their packaged and sealed, but 4 to 6 months is about the longest they’re still gonna taste good. Pretty much of anything that’s over a year old should probably be tossed – Remember that freezing radically slows bacterial growth, but does not stop it, so better to be safe than sorry. And yes, it does need to be said – If you can’t identify it, chuck it.
Once you’re ready to reload, it’s time to think about FIFO – That’s First In First Out, and it’s what we do every day in the cafe. It’s how you organize your stuff so that things don’t go to waste. Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘OK, but I’m not a restaurant, so why would I need this?’ Lemme answer it with a few questions of my own.
Do you throw out what could and should be good leftovers out ’cause they didn’t get used in time?
When you did that cleaning of your your fridge and freezer, did you have to chuck a bunch of stuff that didn’t get used in time?
Can you afford all that waste?
If you answered too yup, yeah, and no, then it’s FIFO time in your house. A little discipline will go a long way toward correcting those problems.
In restaurants, every time we prep, open, use or otherwise handle food, we slap a label on them that says what it is, when we opened or made it, and how long it’s good for. If you have a food waste problem, here’s a big part of the solution. This simple manifestation of FIFO at home is so often not done, it’s scary; how often have you looked at a leftover and asked ‘When did we make that; is it three days or seven?’ Sound familiar?
The easy fix is to label it every time and it’s problem solved. Use a non-permanent marker on storage containers in the fridge. Use a permanent marker in the freezer and in your shelves. Get some little stick on labels for anything else. Do it with spices, herbs, and stuff from your dry storage that tend so last a long time.
The next manifestation is to physically FIFO your fridge, freezer and cabinets; oldest stuff goes to the top or the front and gets used first, before it goes bad and before anything newer is opened or bought. You spend a bunch of money, time and effort on food and cooking; spend a little more an incorporate FIFO practices in to your menu planning. If you don’t menu plan, start. There’s simple, easy, smart food management. Get your family involved so the effort isn’t wasted.
Do you buy stuff in bulk like we do? Do you sometimes cook a bunch more of something than you need for than next meal, to save time and energy? Does it always get used in time when you do that? If not, think about it and start FIFOing your leftovers. If you did a bunch of chicken and it needs to be used in three days or so, stack that container front and center where it can’t be missed. If you don’t want to eat chicken for three days straight, portion and freeze what won’t get used right away. Food and money not wasted = good practice.
Again, we do this in the cafe every day without fail; it’s how we keep you well fed and safe. Do the same at home and you’ll save money and eat better.
My friend Kevin Rosinbum, a seriously talented photographer, cook, and renaissance guy, turned me on to this page at Traditional Oven – Initially, I was impressed with the versatility of the yeast conversions they had cookin’ there – Then I started poking around on the myriad of other stuff on that right hand column, and my impressed became a seriously wowed.