Friday, March 28, 2008

Food Safety And You

Just for the heck of it, I wanted to post a little something about food safety for your reading pleasure (or displeasure).

First some statistics gleaned from wikipedia.

In the United States, there are approximately 76 million foodborne illnesses annually.
325,000 are hospitalized.
5,000 people die.
Major pathogens from food borne illness in the United States cost upwards of US $35 billion dollars in medical costs and lost productivity.

Most of these cases it is believed come not from restaurant food, but from home cooked meals. That last bit was quoted from Alton Brown not from wikipedia.

If I were to break that down by state that is 100 deaths per state annually on average. Obviously some states are more populated than others, but I am making a point. That equates to 100 deaths per year per state on average. I have 102 counties in my state so that pretty much equates to 1 death per county annually from foodborne illness.

If I do the same math with the number of hospitilized people, it equates to about 64 people per county.

OK, enough of my rant and the importance of food safety. If that doesn't get you to realise the importance then nothing will.

I am going to go over a few basics and rest assured this is not a complete list of food safety rules and regs by any means. The best thing you can do if wanting to SELL food is contact your local health department and sign up for a class. This is just some basic stuff for the home owner to provide a relatively safe food invironment for their family.

First thing to cover is the danger zone. The danger zone is temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F. Cold foods need to be stored below 40 while hot foods need to be held above 140.

Meat needs to be cooked to a proper INTERNAL temperature. Not the outside surface, but a reading from the center of the object in question. A basic chart is as follows, but there are still degrees of variance from state to state on what some of these should be.
Fish 140
Whole pork 150
Ground beef 155
Ground pork 160
Poultry, game birds, stuffed meats 165
Ground turkey 170

About that holding over 140. If you are reheating an item it needs to be reheated to 165 and THEN held over 140.

Proper cooling is important as well. You need to get that temperature from 140 down to 70 within 2 hours and the rest of the way to below forty in another 4 hours.

Proper hand washing is a must. A good scrubbing with hot soapy water for 20 seconds while paying attention to areas between the fingers and around the finger nails. It also helps if you have a faucet that you can turn of with your elbow because, guess what? If you washed your hands and then turned the faucet off with those same hands you just contaminated them.

Disposable gloves go a long with with sanitation as well as ease of cleanup. I recommend them for every home kitchen.

Have a sponge in the sink? Throw it out! Get something that can be sanitized or use disposable items for cleaning. That sponge is full of cooties. The university of Arizona researchers tested household sponges that were being used in homes around the country and found that about two thirds of them contained salmonella, E. Colli, stapholycoccus AND other bacteria that can make a person extremely ill. Notice the word AND, and not the word OR. Go throw it away now. Seriously, stop reading and go throw it away. I'll wait for you to come back.

......................................................OK, now don't you feel better about throwing that nasty sponge away?

A spray bottle with a mixture of 1/4 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water is another execellent tool. Label it as sanitizer and use it all the time. One more thing that is important to mention here. It is fairly easy to poison someone by over contaminating them with sanitizer. Higher concentrations do not equate to better in this case.

Well those are some bare basics, but in my mind the two most important things about food safety is proper temperatures and cleanliness. To find out more I am sure there is a ton of on line infromation as well as from your county health department.

Oh, one last thing. You know that 5 second rule thing about dropping food on the floor or the ground and it being safe for 5 seconds? Forget it. Throw it away unless you JUST bleached the floor.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book Review: Alton Brown's Gear For the Kitchen

By none other than Alton Brown

Sorry for another book review so close to the last one, but I just finished reading it today and It's pretty darn good.

If you don't know who he is, Alton Brown is a food network personality. His show entitled Good Eats is geared toward the scientific side of cooking. The great part about it is, he makes it interesting. I distinctly remember one episode when he was talking about thermoses, and spent a good few minutes explaining how they worked and why crappy ones were crappy and good ones were good and what to look for if you want true functionality in a thermos. He further goes on to actually explain why things are done a certain way scientifically and creates neat cooking gadgets that actually work, like a smoker made out of clay pots and a hot plate.

The book pretty much follows those lines dealing with all of the items that you have (or shouldn't have) in your kitchen. It is an excellent resource for someone starting out building their kitchen equipment as well as plenty of good information for the seasoned veteran. If your kitchen is a little (or a lot) cluttered, then this book is the place to start.
One of the big things that he warns about is buying "sets" of things (knives, storage containers, etc.). You may pay a little more buying them individually, but when you buy the set, chances are that you are buying pieces that you don't need. It makes perfect sense to me. I have a nice set of henckel knives in the kitchen. I think there are 7 of them. Guess what? I only use 4 of them. There are 3 knives that I pretty much have no use for, or the specific use that they do have only pops up once in a blue moon and can typically be performed by another knife.
He is also big on substitute items such as a mortar trowel that he bought at the hardware store that is cheaper and just as good as any pie server that he has used.
Functionality and cleanability are two keys in most of his items. If it doen't clean easy, don't use it. If something else does the job better than what you are using, then use the something else. Even if it wasn't designed for that purpose.
He has a strong aversion (and reasonably so) to uni-taskers. Items that have but one function and one function only. He sticks to that fairly strongly unless of course you go to his website and buy a salt cellar. I must admit that I bought one from him a couple of years ago, but it just looks so good setting next to the stove. Right next to the big granite mortar and pestle that I have but rarely use, but it looks cool as well so both are staying. I don't care what Alton says.
He even throws a few oddball recipes in there that sound pretty good. Another plus is a short chapter toward the end dealing with food safety and handling that should be at the top of the list of everyone that likes working in a kitchen.
I didn't even realise that I had this and ran across it going through a cabinet looking for something else. There is a price tag on the back that says $27.50. I am pretty sure that I got it off of a clearance rack or a garage sale. But it can be purchased at Amazon for $18.15.
Over all rating? Great book no matter how much you think you know about your kitchen gear. Chock full of good information. I highly recommend it as a good read.
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pork! The other white meat?

I don't think think so. If it hasn't been said before, I grew up on a small farm where we did lots of our own butchering. There was also a period in time while I was in 4-H that we participated in meat judging. From both of these experiences, I was always tought that beef and pork was red meat. Needless to say, I was a little curious as to how the pork board was getting away with this. I checked some dictionaries back around that time and sure enough, the definition of red meat is meat that is red before it is cooked. Same went for the definition of white meat as well. I knew that pork was red before it was cooked and also that it was a bit lighter in color because of an increased amount of fat in the muscle tissue.

Fast forward to now. Being tired of repeatedly running into this everywhere, I decided to put some cold hard facts here in my blog and straigten this out once and for all.

My first stop was a couple of online dictionaries. It would seem that they are on the fence about the subject. The ones that I looked at gave the basic definition as I stated above and cited examples of both white and red meat. However, none of them placed pork under either definition.

Need to move on further I guess. Time for my favorite resource of all. You guessed it,

There seems to ba a little bit of "on the fence" type difinitions there as well. It vaguely calls young pork white, but further says the following, and in my opinion is the most accurate of descriptions.

Red meat does not refer to how well a piece of meat is cooked or its coloration after cooking. A steak or hamburger is a red meat whether it is served rare, or cooked until it is well-done; pork is also red, though it turns to a whitish color when cooked. According to the USDA all meats obtained from "livestock" are "red meats" because they contain more myoglobin than chicken or fish.

By definition, the USDA says that pork is red meat based on scientific criteria. That must be the truth. After all no government entity would ever think of lying to us right?

My work is done here and the pork board should be ashamed of themselves for trying to tell the country that pork is as healthy as chicken. While there may be some cuts that are leaner than chicken, as a whole it is probably a less healthy alternative than chicken. Did I just say that? Yep.

Now I want to see the chicken council sue the pork board and make them stop using that slogan. Or better yet, let's see their CEO's dish it out in a pig slop mud wrestling match and let the winner take all.

Don't get me wrong. I think pork fat rules as much as the next guy, so eat up and enjoy, just don't fall into the hype.

I think I will go and get me some peppered pork sticks right now. YUMMS!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Some of my favorite BBQ side dishes

Hash Brown Casserole

This is one of my favorite side dishes. It goes great with BBQ and is suitable for any meal of the day. In a pinch you can add some chopped up ham or other meat and call it a meal.

It is a very close variation to the hashbrown casserole that you get at the cracker barrel restaurant. YUMMS!

1 cup onion, diced. I keep dehydrated onion chips around the house and use these for most of my onion cooking needs. They rehydrate very easy by just setting in a bowl with water. A definate no tears solution
1/4 lb. of butter thinly sliced. The BUTTER CUTTER is nice for this. Available at our store.
1 can of condensed cream of chicken soup
1 8 ounce container of sour cream
8 oz. of shreddad cheddar cheese Colby probably fits this the best
2 pounds of frozen hash browns thawed
1 cup of crushed corn flakes. Other toppings go nice as well such as potato chips, cheetos, pork rinds, etc.

Mix the whole mess up well and pour into a 9 x 13 casserole dish reserving the crushed corn flakes to spread on the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about an hour or until done.

Deep fried corn on the cob

This is more of a procedure than a recipe. When I was traveling to St. Loius for work on a regular basis, there was a BBQ joint there called bandana's. They put out some good que and I ate there frequently. They were the first place that I ever saw deep fried corn on the cob. It is excellent stuff and I have made it now for several occasions where we are feeding lots of people and it is always a huge hit.

Get yourself some good sweet corn. Preferably at the peak of sweet corn season when it is the best. Clean all husk and hairs from the corn. We use a turkey fryer and deep fry it in peanut oil. Preheat the oil to about 360-375. It is safest to use a basket that you can lower into the oil and a hook to retrieve the contents. It takes about 3 minutes or so to fry the corn. The kernels will get a nice golden brown coloring to them when it is ready. Basically, when it looks done, it is done.

Allow to cool just a little bit as they are piping hot when they come out. Salt and pepper to taste and enjoy. No butter needed.

We have tried in oil other than peanut oil and the result is not as good. I have also since seen recipes using batter or breading, but don't see the need.

Pineapple Rice

This is just a regular white rice. I always use broth to make my rice. Chicken broth with a chicken dish, beef with a beef dish. Take your choice. Either way, it will be a much more flavorful dish than just boiling it in water. Add a small can of crushed pineapple to this when you throw the rice into the boiling broth.

When finished, you can add a small amount of soy sauce and terriyaki if you care to as well as a small amount of whatever rub that you used on your main BBQ dish.