Safety Tips for the Kitchen

April 10th, 2006

Don’t get burned:

1. Keep the oven and stove top clean.  Spilled grease and food can catch fire.

2. To reduce the risk of steam burns, puncture plastic pouches and plastic wrap before microwaving food.

3. Pierce potatoes and other large vegetables before microwaving so they don’t burst.

4. If a fire starts on the stove, cover the pan with a tight lid, sliding the lid on from the side.  Turn the stove off.  If a fire starts in the microwave, shut the door and unplug the unit.

Don’t get sick:

1. Wash cutting boards, knives, utensils and counter tops in hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.  Use plastic boards only for chicken.  Use wooden ones for vegetables.

2. Place cooked food on a clean plate, not one that held raw meat, poultry or seafood.  This is important to remember, as we are frequent bar-be-que users.

3. When cooking or reheating food in the microwave, rotate it frequently.  Make sure there are no cold spots before you eat it.

4. Discard food that looks or smells strange.

5. Don’t defrost food on the counter.  Use the refrigerator or the microwave, or run cold water over it.

6. Marinate foods in the fridge, not on the counter.

7. Cook meats to at least 160 degrees and poultry to at least 180 degrees.

8. Refrigerate leftovers of meat and other perishables within two hours after cooking.

9. Wash fruits and vegetables, including prepackaged ones, under cool, running water.  Refrigerate cut produce promptly.

Don’t get hurt:

1. If you drop a knife, don’t try to catch it.

2. If you spill something on the floor, clean it up right away so you don’t slip.

3. Don’t use any appliance near the sink.  If something falls in, you could be electrocuted.

Dining in France

April 6th, 2006

The spider vines ran up the French chateau walls with an authority earned over decades of sprawl. Grass was overgrowing the patio ground stones on which sat the sturdy family dining table.  My son Tyler and I were invited guests to this overseas cultural and culinary experience in the north of France.

The old idiom, “some things are better caught than taught”, proved more than true of our meal gatherings.  Mornings woke us up with a rich espresso, warm bread and a multi-colored fruit bowl.  It was the mid-day meal however, that drew the concerted effort of the family, where like a well orchestrated sonnet each course accentuated the next. The rose’ wine and garden flowers made me pause to soak in the moment, even as the savory dishes were being passed.  In a word,  life was being shared, as the voices of three generations were conversing over this family’s table.

We began gathering less formerly for an evening meal at 7:30.  Champagne was served with a scrumptious platter that had an assortment of nuts, fruit, bread and crackers.  Interestingly, our hosts father was proactive in mixing up the seating arrangement at each meal so as to ensure each guest would enjoy connecting.

An ideal setting, this French table was the center of this family’s palatial home. Beyond the authentic Monet, dark wood antiques and a quaint chateau that served as the guest quarters, I witnessed first hand how the culture of a family can be best served, and preserved, when we sit face-to-face over a shared dining experience.

We were not at a restaurant.  This was not a holiday.  This was extended family that makes it their routine to love each other over the most important table of this home. In some small way, this experience brought affirmation to 27 years of passion that have energized me to search out healthy food and make quality meals for my family.  Some experiences reach all the way to the soul, where the meal we share goes beyond food; this French family served up their heart and inspiration.

As a small taste of their French table, here are several tantalizing cuisines that were shared:

Sliced baguette with gruyere cheese broiled on top
Lamb chops with green beans and potato rounds (I think these were their rendition of tater tots)
Cheese platter with rose’ wine

Cold ham slice with green salad
Cheese platter, walnut bread and pickles

Veal, chicken and bacon rounds pie
Noodles with cream
Sauted mushrooms and hard boiled egg halves

Grilled veal
Baked potato casserole with gruyere cheese and fraiche cream
Green beans

Filet of Sole
Mashed potatoes
Sauted zucchini, yellow bell pepper, onions and tomatoes
Bread and tart for dessert

What a Well-Stocked Pantry Needs

April 6th, 2006

A few basics to keep on hand:

– Dried Pasta: all shapes and sizes made of duram semolina

– Spices and Flavorings: vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, cream of tarter, cumin and allspice.

– Seasoning Blends: onion and garlic salts,  Italian

– Oils: extra-virgin, olive and peanut

– Dried and Canned Beans: black, pinto, lentils and refried

– Vinegar: red wine, balsamic or white

– Sauces: low-sodium soy, hoison, Tabasco, Worcestershire, steak and barbecue

-Tomato products: tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatos, whole tomatos, salsas

– Broth or Bouillon: beef, chicken and vegetable

– Sweets: honey, brown sugar, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, pancake syrup and chocolate chips

– Salt and Pepper: kosher salt, white and whole peppercorns

– Flour: all-purpose,  oatmeal and cornmeal

– Dry Drinks: cocoa, instant coffee and tea

– Rice: white, wild, brown, basmati or jasmine

– Canned Fruits and Vegetables: pineapple, pears, corn, green beans and olives

– Nuts and Preserves: peanut butter, berry jam, almond slivers, walnuts, pecans and shredded coconut

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