The Gift of Pears

My crazy friend Joanie gave us a remarkable gift of pears. I was immediately struck at their shapes and colors. Since they were a bit firm, the pears were placed into a bowl to ripen.

While they were still firm, I shaved on onto a salad, as they ripened, they became more sliced. One of our favorite salads now days is pear, Roquefort and arugula salad, which is a post soon to follow this one.

We have enjoyed the pears, both as a centerpiece and as tasty delights. I’ll even wager there is a pear tart in the near future.

This is how we enjoy the pears in the early evening while we sip our wine and watch the sun go down.

Sliced pears, Roquefort, walnuts, cashews, local honey, cut from the comb and berries or dried fruits like apricots or cranberries.

Enjoy!

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4 Safe Methods for Thawing Food

Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph sh...

Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Food safety is a serious subject. I am passionate about preventing food borne illness. I have been teaching the subject to restaurants, hospitals, schools, dietary managers, nursing homes and at the college level since 1991. I am a Food Safety expert.

This is the launch of a series of food safety articles.

The first subject is on 4 Safe Methods of Thawing Foods.

There are 4 safe methods for thawing food. Following one of these methods can help prevent making your family and friends sick with a food borne illness.

1. Thaw under refrigeration.

This takes some planning. Sort out  your refrigerator so you have a designated drawer on the bottom of your fridge to hold raw meats.

If you want to defrost a whole 3 pound chicken, it will take about 4 days to thaw. You need to plan a place where it can do so safely. All thawing meats should be positioned so they are not dripping onto any foods below them. Place them in containers to catch thawing juices.

In My Fridge

In A Fridge (Photo credit: Nikita Kashner)

Store food according to:”Swim, Walk, Fly”

  • Ready to eat foods on top
  • Things that swim (Including oysters, clams etc. If it comes from the water, it is considered a “swimming thing.”
  • Things that walk around (On hooves and feet and have fur or hair like pork, lamb, beef, or Ostrich.)
  • Things that walk around but are ground up, like ground pork or ground veal or hamburger. These get cooked to a higher temperature than steaks, chops or roasts.
  • Things that fly ( Chickens, ducks, squab, quail, and even though turkeys don’t fly, they also fall into this category)
  • This is based upon internal cooking temperatures which will be explained in another post. For now remember and practice
  • “Swim, Walk, (Ground-up Walk),Fly”

So what happens when you don’t have the time?

2. Thaw under clean drinkable water that is 70°F or less, and either running or changed frequently.

A bowl in the sink with cold water, but not hot, is fine for thawing a package of chicken for dinner. As long as you change the water about every half hour. If water logging is a concern, place the item in a zip lock bag and place that in the water.

The water should be changed every 30 minutes.

This is not a method to use while you are at work. Why? Because the water needs to be changed every 30 minutes or lightly running so the water is exchanged as thawing occurs.

Never thaw in the sink for longer than 4 hours! That is the amount of time it takes any bacterial colonies to grow to dangerous levels.

Never, ever thaw on the counter or just left in the sink. This is a very bad and risky practice.

Keep you eye on the product, it will thaw faster than you think it will.

3. In a microwave as long as the item will be cooked immediately after thawing.

My concern here would be the quality of the item. I can’t think of anything that benefits from a run in the microwave.

But, as long as you cook the item as soon as you finish nuking it to thaw, this is considered a safe method.

Be sure to clean and sanitize the inside of the microwave after you finish thawing.

4. You can thaw food as part of the cooking process.

day fifty three | a piece of meat

(Photo credit: I Are Rowell)

The best examples here are frozen vegetables into soup stock, frozen french fries into the oven or fryer oil and frozen burgers going directly onto the grill.

Again, your call on the quality issue of cooking meats from frozen. I find the texture isn’t as nice than if you thawed it under refrigeration which is my thawing method of choice.

So there you have it. 4 Safe methods to thaw foods.

This information is from ServSafe® an educational division of The National Restaurant Association (NRA). These are the best practices that are used to train food handlers in  all restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, schools and dietitians.

I have a dual role with the NRA to both teach and administer the exam for ServSafe®. Food safety is a passion of mine. No one should ever suffer an illness from food you eat.

Learn how to prevent such things from happening.  Become advocates for your own food safety. If you see a bad practice, speak up!

Implement good food handling practices every time you touch food.

It really is that important.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

None - This image is in the public domain and ...

The “Whole Foods” Attitude

Whole Foods Market

Recently a new Whole Foods Market opened here in Charlotte. While I was initially looking forward to going there, I have changed my mind by attempting to shop at Whole Foods.

The store is quite nice with a nice variety of things to choose to fill your pantry. While prices are a bit high on most things, if you look and study the shelves, you will discover some bargains.

My biggest issue with the store is something they can do nothing about. The attitude of some of the people who shop there is one of a self-absorbed, selfish and horribly rude individual. Unfortunately those with this nasty attitude spoil the entire shopping experience.

Yesterday, while attempting to shop, I was checking out the hot food lunch bar. My cart was literally one side against the counter and there were boxes stacked for some kind of display on the other side. I was walking forward, looking at the lunch offerings, when a nasty attitude woman rammed her cart into the front of mine in an attempt to push me backwards so she could get by.

Another time someone smashed my fingers between the carts while trying to pass a really tight spot that was already full of people trying to go in one direction or another.

English: Customers waiting in line to check ou...

English: Customers waiting in line to check out at the Whole Foods on Houston Street in New York City’s East Village. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) These folks look as if they know how to behave in a crowded shop. Charlotte shoppers, take note!

Each time I exclaimed “There is no need for this kind of behavior! For Christ sake, you are not the only one trying to get through.”

How I would have loved to punctuate the ending with “BITCH.”

So rather than finishing the shopping I had just started, I left the madness behind.

I went to Earth Fare instead. They have better prices on the same products with the same kind of earth/health awareness we like in a grocery store.

There is plenty of parking which is another nightmare at Whole Foods. When it opened, I couldn’t get in for an entire week. The roads leading into the lot were backed up with people just waiting to drive around the lot, let alone find a spot.

Parking is such a nightmare, it inspired a You Tube Video from Los Angeles.

I will not be back. Shopping for food should be an enjoyable experience, not one where you get bashed up, run over, or yelled at for shopping for food. Whole Foods in Charlotte is the most unpleasant place to shop for food.

It would be nice to be able to enjoy some of the specialty bars they offer but I can’t stand the attitude of the shoppers.

They should sample chill pills for the shoppers as most of them need it.

I’ll be going to Earth Fare instead and sipping ounce glasses of wine at home.

In My Kitchen this September

 

September already?!

My kitchen has been busy, my life busy and bustling.

School has started which is consuming me from early to late hours. Thankfully my evening class is now over. Grades have been posted and it is time to move on to other projects such as the upcoming shoot for my TV show, Charlotte Cooks.

September heralds changing weather; last night a blue moon!Full Moon HDR

I hope you all got to catch a glimpse of the second full moon in a month. The next blue moon will occur in 2015.

August life caught me in between my parents in California and the earthquake tremors (news reported over 400 in one day; they said it was ‘down below from them’) and my son being slapped around by TS Issac in Florida. I must say he holds his cool much better than I do. For anyone keeping track, his apartment renovations have been extended for an additional 4 weeks due to “discoveries” during the current re-model. They need to replace all duct work, pipes and ventilation, carpeting, appliances etc before they get to move back in.

So his cooking skills are on hold as are the “How To Cook” posts until he gets back into his apartment.

Some gifts to my kitchen this month are:

Anaida returned and brought me a wonderful carving kit from The Carving Academy in Moscow so this is new in my kitchen this month.

About a hundred German chocolate cupcakes marched through my kitchen last weekend. I am writing a post on baking from a box that will be out in a few days. A friend bought an expensive mix and wanted to know if it was worth the money.

We delivered the cupcakes and mini-cakes  all over the neighborhood to the delight of lots of children.

The most delightful Thank-You for German Chocolate came from our neighbor Suzanne. I found this hanging on our door.

What a delightful bunch of fresh herbs! They smell so good!

This August has my garlic chives in bloom. Every time I cut any of my fresh herbs, I always say thank you. Bumblebees visit the flowers every day, I like this photo. It was one of those surprises when I downloaded the photos to my computer.

 

In My Kitchen August 2012

Besides being hot in my kitchen this month, there are a few things I would like to share with you.

White Dinner Desserts Table

In honor of our kick off event for White Dinners in Charlotte, we did a White Dinner Dessert gathering.

So a friend of mine, Joanie, and I decided to make French Macarons and I think they turned out pretty good.

We made:

Vanilla Bean with Mango Curd Filling,

Blueberry with Lemon Curd Filling and

Lime green one with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling (We were playing with color)

We discovered the almond meal we used, which was made with almond skins on the nuts, made all the colors duller than we wanted.

They tasted great and our macarons had feet.

Pierre Hermes says to make and fill them, set in the refrigerator for 24 hours before serving. We did and Man-o-man.(Yup I said ‘man-o-man’)

Did they taste great; the mouth feel was so hard to describe! Love, love, love these tasty morsels.

I had heard each macaron had roughly 100 calories in it so you can guess they didn’t stay around here too long. I threw away what was still around this morning , easier than wearing them on your hips.

It was so much fun making them, I look forward to making more. The best part is giving them away before they get stale.

some Fresh Figs; shared bounty strikes again. I traded some pickles.

The first dish created with the figs was a chicken dish with rosemary, garlic and figs. The pan was de-glazed with red wine and finished with a splash of balsamic vinegar. It was delicious but no pictures, sigh.

The intention is to make an almond fig tart with the remaining figs but, as you can see from the bowl, they are disappearing fast.

I adore fresh figs.

A dwindling bowl of fresh figs, that tart better hurry up and get made!

Lastly, in my kitchen this month is a glimpse into my spice cabinet.

I try to use things up quickly so I can either make more or buy more. I keep dried, sliced and minced garlic on hand for emergency back up units when fresh garlic isn’t around.

Any lemons we use get zested with a fine microplane. The zest is dried to be used in shortbread, fish, pasta or soup dishes. Why just use the inside when the zest has so much flavor?

A standard unit of Montreal Steak Seasoning holds a permanent spot in the cabinet.

Those square jars are so wonderful, I use them over and over again. The brushed stainless steel tops make them perfect for storing spices and seasoning concoctions I create and often share.

The Spice Cabinet

So much food moves through my kitchen it is hard to believe we are only two. But I feed everyone who comes by. Even the UPS man gets cookies.

Hey, it makes me happy.

So that is what is in my kitchen this month. I can’t believe a month has gone by already.

A BIG thanks goes out to Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting this marvelous idea!

August? Really?

Guess that’s why this post is late!

Carrot, Cheddar Sandwich Rolls

 

These rolls are pretty straight forward to make and turn out wonderful.

They make a great roll for deli sandwiches, add a pickle and some crunchy chips and you have an amazing lunch.

Carrot Cheddar rolls

Carrot, Cheddar Sandwich Rolls

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 ounce dry yeast (2 packages of 1/4 ounce)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (non-iodized)
  • 1 cup finely shredded carrots
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup All vegetable shortening
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated orange peel
  • (The zest from 1/2 medium orange, use the  fine blade of a microplane)
  • 1 large egg
  • 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups bread flour

Method:

Heat the milk and water to 100 – 110°F. Add the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar.Whisk it together.

Allow to stand while you measure the remaining ingredients.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (Or do it all by hand for a great arm work-out!) add the rest of the sugar, salt, carrots, cheese, shortening, orange peel, and the egg .

Turn on the mixer and get this all mixed up.

Add the milk, water and yeast to the mixture. Mix well.

Add 1/2 of the flour and mix well; about 3 minutes.

Add the remaining flour. It may be necessary to finish the flour addition by hand. This depends upon how strong your machine is and if it can handle kneading dough.

Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Oil the inside of a bowl and place the dough ball in the bowl. Wipe it around to cover the ball with oil.

Cover with plastic wrap or linen cloth.

Allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This will take about 1 hour in a warm area.

When risen, punch the dough down and turn it out onto a floured board. Divide the dough into 18 equal pieces weighing about 3.5 ounces each. The same weight is important to ensure the same size roll and even baking time.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and dust with cornmeal.

“Round” each dough ball into a nice round ball, flatten slightly and place on the parchment lined baking sheet dusted with cornmeal.

Cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes or until the rolls double in size.

Bake at 375° for 14-20 minutes or until the rolls are golden brown.

Immediately transfer the rolls to a wire rack to cool; brush the top of each roll with melted butter. Cool completely before using.

 

How to Boil Pasta

Cooking spaghetti. Photo by Eloquence.

See how the oil sits on top? Do not put oil in pasta water, it just goes down the drain. Oil pasta after cooking.

Dear Tyler,

Here is another assumption I made. Since your father is Italian, and you grew up eating pasta, I assumed you knew how to cook it.

Boiling pasta is really quite simple.

You need to use a pot big enough to hold enough water to cook the amount of pasta you need. Err on too much water rather than not enough water.

English: Boling water in colour

Bring the water to a boil. A boil is when the bubbles actively break the surface. A boil measures 212°F (100°C) on a thermometer. A lid on the pot will help water boil faster. If you live in a high altitude (like the mountain house) water won’t boil without a lid, and the boiling point decreases 1° every 500 feet in elevation (or 1° C every 285 meters). it has everything to do with atmospheric pressure. Actually, boiling point is quite a science subject.

Always salt the water AFTER it reaches an active boil. In the science community, adding a solute to the water creates a solution that raises the temperature of the boiling point. Scientists will argue that it is not necessary to add salt because the amount of increased temperature isn’t worth it to ‘cook faster’. This is not why we add salt.

We add salt for flavor.

We add salt after a boil is reached so the salt does not pit our pots over a lifetime of poor cooking habits.

Most of all, we add salt to things we boil for flavor. Boiled potatoes are ever so bland when salt is left out. The amount required isn’t much, just enough to lightly flavor the water.

Be aware, when you add salt to boiling water, the water will flare up momentarily. Be ready for it to avoid getting burned.

Choose your favorite pasta and read the package it comes in. Look for cooking directions for the time it takes to cook the pasta to “Al-dente“. Each pasta will have different cooking times.

Place the pasta in the pot, stir it up so it does not stick together. If using a long pasta, don’t break it so it fits in the pot! Short strands are hard to twirl onto the fork.

Lean the noodles up against the side of the pot and using tongs, as the pasta under the water softens, fold the rest of the pasta under the water. Be sure to stir it all around so nothing gets stuck either to other pasta strands or the bottom or sides of the pot.

This is especially true of fettuccine or linguine and other flat pasta.

Comparison between different types of long Ita...

Comparison between different types of long Italian pasta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Set a timer fort the required time.

If cooking fresh pasta, the time will be very short, dried pasta takes longer.

Drain the pasta in a colander and try to save about a cup of the pasta water.

Boiling pasta

Boiling pasta. Fold the ends under the water as the pasta softens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you notice there was never a mention to put oil in the water while boiling?

Ha! That is because the oil sits on the top of the water while the pasta is below the water. It does nothing to keep the pasta from sticking together.

Stirring the pasta after you first put it in the water does.

After draining, put the pasta into a serving bowl and drizzle with a great olive oil.

Serve as you like.

If you are going to use the pasta in a salad or need it cold, rinse the pasta in cold water after draining to stop the cooking process. Drizzle with olive oil to prevent sticking.

If the pasta gets dry or you need more moisture in your sauce, add a small bit of the pasta water. This is why you do not want to over salt the water. Only salt it enough to make it taste good.

If you want to re-heat pasta that has been refrigerated, simple bring water to a boil and dip the pasta in for a minute or so, just to warm it, not cook it. This can be done in a small amount of water.

Drain and serve as desired.

This works for all kinds of pasta, semolina, whole wheat, rice, artichoke, quinoa etc. Read the package for length of cooking time.

Short pasta

Short pasta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Short pasta

Short pasta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pasta is a great budget stretcher so learn to cook it correctly.

The basic technique:

Boil the water – use lots of water!

Salt after water boils

Stir the pasta after adding to boiling water to prevent sticking

Drain

Drizzle with olive oil and serve

OR

Drain, rinse  in cold water to cool and drizzle with oil.

Enjoy!

Love, Mom

Pasta again!

Pasta again! (Photo credit: HatM)