Saturday, January 28, 2012

Proper doneness for meat

Do you have someone that insists that all meat be cooked for hours until it is a dull grey color? Want the most flavor from a steak, or roast? We all know that raw meat is not good for you with all the pathogens and what not, but for beef the worst culprit is e. coli, and found mostly in ground beef (it remains on the surface of the meat, and grinding mixes it). Beef cooked to medium or beyond (140 degrees and up) will start to dry out and get tougher. I know "grandma's roast was always tender and falling apart" that's because there is little connective tissue in a roast, and cooking it long enough to cook it out makes it fall apart, but those stringy strands are always tough. We also tend to overcook pork due to fears of all kinds of stuff, but the fact is the diseases we fear have been bred out of hogs since the '50s. I cook my pork until it is just slightly pink, and have never been sick from it. Chicken, and ground meat I cook to about 160 degrees, and keep in mind that when you pull the meat from the heat source you get what they call carry over, and the temperature will rise about 5 degrees. There are also some studies that suggest eating overcooked meats can be detrimental to your health, it changes them on the molecular level, and they have seen increased risk of cancer from it. It is also harder for your body to digest, and the nutrients get cooked out. This chart is great for what temps are best for each meat:  if you want to make your tough meat tender, cook at a lower temp for a longer time (like the best bar b que places do) If your pork is too tough brine it (I like to brine anything that isn't beef personally). Now wild game is different (that's where most of the average 40 cases of Trichinosis in the US a year come from) but even trichinosis is killed at 138 degrees, so why cook the life out of it? Invest in a good digital meat thermometer, and use it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Myth about cooking with alcohol

We've all been told that it's ok to serve kids rumballs, or what have you because the alcohol burns off in cooking. Well that's not entirely true. The USDA had a couple colleges (the University of Idaho, and Washington State University) study it, and what they found was there will always be some alcohol as long as their is liquid (alcohol bonds to water) how much depends on the dish, and cooking time.
  • The highest rates of retention were with alcohol added to boiling liquid and then shortly after removed from heat.  In this case, the alcohol retention rate was around 85%.
  • The second highest alcohol retention rate came when using the flaming method of cooking, which resulted in around a 75% retention level.
  • When using no heat and storing overnight, about 70% of the alcohol was retained.
  • When baked for 25 minutes with the mixture not being stirred, the retention rate was 45%.
  • When baked/simmered where the mixture is stirred, produced the following results:
    • 15 minutes 40%
    • 30 minutes 35%
    • 1 hour 25%
    • 1.5 hours 20%
    • 2 hours 10%
    • 2.5 hours 5%
    Now you can see in a cake nobody will get drunk (well maybe if they eat the whole cake), but since alcohol is a toxin (that's what makes you feel drunk) do you really want your kids eating it? A little food for thought. There are substitutes for most alcohol, apple juice, grape juice, and orange juice are all popular, and vinegar will substitute for some wines.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Blue cheese dressing

Ok my kids absolutely love salad, and both want blue cheese dressing on it, so when I got an email with this recipe today I had to save it (don't have the yogurt to make it today). Can't wait to try it. The recipe calls for low fat buttermilk, and fat free yogurt, neither of which do I use (growing up on a dairy farm we had more fat in milk than whole milk so fat free stuff tastes funny, plus is WAY too processed). Comes from Ellie Krieger at food network

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Fold a full sheet of paper towel into quarters and put it into a small bowl. Spoon the yogurt onto the paper towel and place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to drain and thicken. In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk and thickened yogurt into the mayonnaise until smooth. Add the vinegar and sugar and continue to whisk until all the ingredients are well combined. Stir in the blue cheese and season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year

I figure since it's Chinese New Year, I should have Chinese food, and my favorite is General Tso's chicken. I've never made it myself, but found a recipe I want to try. It's hard to find one without alcohol for some reason, and I really want to avoid the alcohol if possible (it doesn't cook off no matter what you've been told). We shall see how it is.


1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 1/2 cups hot chicken broth
3 lbs. uncooked, chicken breast, cut in chunks
 1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon pepper
1 egg
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup salad oil
2 cups green onions, chopped
16 small, dried hot peppers

Mix 1/2 cup cornstarch with water, add garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce  vinegar, and broth. Stir until sugar dissolves, and set aside.
In a separate bowl mix the chicken, soy sauce, and pepper. Stir in egg, then add cornstarch mixing until coated, add oil to help separate pieces. Deep fry until crispy, and drain well.
In a wok stir fry onions, and peppers in a little oil. Stir in sauce, and chicken. Stir to coat. Serve on fried rice (recipe hopefully coming soon)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Shredded pork tacos

Making this tonight to use some pork roast we have. Use your favorite taco seasoning (I'm still working on perfecting my homemade one so I use ortega for now) Does take a little bit since you really need to brine the roast for best flavor, and tenderness. To brine you need a gallon of water, 1/3 cup salt, a couple bay leaves, 2 tablespoons cumin, 2 tablespoons garlic powder, and a ziptop bag. Let the roast sit in the brine overnight. Rinse before cooking

1-2 pound brined pork roast
water (enough to cover roast in a large pot)
2 packages of taco powder
1 jar salsa
shredded cheese (I use cheddar, and shred my own)
sour cream

put roast in large pot, and cover with water. Boil until fork tender (about 2 hours) be sure to keep water level above roast. Remove from water, and shred with 2 forks. Mix in seasoning, warm tortillas, and serve with sour cream, and cheese.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Homemade hamburger helper

Decided we needed to use some of the ground beef that we had, and everyone asked for hamburger helper. Of course we don't have any, so I looked for some ideas. I found a recipe that worked great with a little modification.


1 pound ground beef
1 1/4 cup hot water
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Brown the meat, and drain. Add spices water (original recipe was only 1 cup water, but was a bit dry), milk, and noodles. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cover. Cook about 10 minutes, and stir in cheese. Cook additional 2 minutes or until pasta is tender, and cheese is melted. Allow to sit for 5 minutes to thicken. You can add more cheese when serving.

Monday, January 16, 2012

real corned beef

I have been dying for some real corned beef, like you get in a real deli. I can't get it around here (at least not that doesn't taste horrid) Now the stuff in a can is not corned beef, it tastes like dogfood, and typically comes from South America, where it was illegal to import beef from due to health concerns (although the ban was lifted last year in order for us to import cotton, the health concerns such as hoof and mouth, and mad cow are still present there) This is not a fast process, and you need a place to keep a large hunk of beef for a couple of days submerged in the brine (in a zip top bag, but in a waterproof container to catch any leaks). For that pink color you use either saltpeter (potassium nitrite) or pink curing salt (sodium nitrite) the saltpeter seems to be more  available (check the pharmacy). Notice too no corn in corned beef, corning is just another term for pickling

1 package  pickling spices
1 gallon water
2 cups kosher salt
2 tablespoons saltpeter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick cinnamon
1 5 lb beef brisket
boil the water,3 tablespoons of the pickling spices, salt, saltpeter, and brown sugar until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool completely (refrigerate overnight)
Add brisket to ziptop bag, and pour in brine. Refrigerate for 10 days, turning daily.
Rinse under cool water, place in a pot just large enough for the meat. Cover with water, and add a teaspoon pickling spice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook 3-4 hours, or until tender. Slice thin

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Vegetable storage

Since I did a big spiel about buying produce, I figure we need to also say something about storing it. Some things are fine stored on the counter, apples, bananas,citrus, pears are all fine on the counter for a while, putting them in the frige does extend their shelf life some also.  Fresh herbs should be stored in the frige wrapped in a damp paper towel, and put in a zip top bag. Lettuce should be refrigerated before washing (wash it just before you use it). Potatoes should be kept in a dark cool spot, but not with onions (onions will quicken the rot because of offgassing). Tomatoes should never be refrigerated, as it causes them to lose flavor. Onions also need a cool dark place, but not with other veggies. Mushrooms should be removed from the plastic wrap, and have a damp paper towel placed over them in the frige. Nothing should be stored wet (as a matter of fact that spray they do at the store actually hurts the veggies, not help, but it makes you think they are fresher yay marketing) there are a bunch of others, but this hits the highlights. I know I for one was storing potatoes and onions together, but we go through a ton of onions and potatoes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It's Mardi Gras time, so time for king cake

Since I live in the town where Mardi Gras originated (nope New Orleans didn't create it) I figure I better do something about a king cake. There are a few different ones depending on who you ask, but traditionally it's a roll similar to brioche, and covered with colored sugar, with a plastic baby inside. It is served from 12th night (Epiphany)and goes through Mardi Gras day (Fat Tuesday). It is to represent the 3 wise men, with the baby being Baby Jesus. My favorite is made using a simple cinnamon roll twisted (they say braid it, but everyone that sells them here just twists them) with the icing topped with the 3 colored sugars. To make it easy I use the store bought tube rolls (the ones I make don't taste that much better, especially for the time it takes) to make the sugar just add purple, green and yellow food coloring to some sugar. I do make my own powdered sugar icing

3 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon melted butter
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract.
3-6 tablespoons of milk

add sugar, butter and vanilla to a mixing bowl, add milk and stir to desired consistency.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cheese crackers

Ok the ex found a recipe to try for some cheese crackers, and made me make some. They are actually in the oven now, and I will update with flavor opinion tomorrow.


1/2 cup BUTTER (margarine doesn't work well) at room temperature
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups ap flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

Preheat oven to 325
Place all ingredients in food processor, and pulse until well mixed
On lightly floured surface form into a ball of dough
Roll out to very thin layer, about 1/8 inch thick
Use pizza cutter to cut into cracker sized pieces
place onto foil lined cookie sheet, and bake for 11 minutes, or until edges get golden
cool on cooling rack

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cooking vegetables

We all know veggies have lots of nutrients, but so many people cook all the good stuff out. Basically if your water changes color those are the nutrients. So how do we cook them, and not lose too many? Microwave is great, except cauliflower, steam, and then shock until just tender, roasting works well for many also, and adds some flavor. Boiling should be a last resort, but is really convenient. Remember most veggies when cooked should still be fairly crisp, and never limp. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Antibiotics in your food

Did you know that most of the meat you eat is treated with antibiotics from birth? It's in the feed, and doesn't matter if the animal is sick. What this does is makes the animal grow faster, but causes resistant bugs, the big one being staph. It has been banned by Europe and Canada. Studies are ongoing, but they are finding a higher rate of resistant bacteria in meats. I also have an issue because I am not sure if the drugs completely leave the meat after such high doses, other antibiotics have been found in the meat, and warnings given. I have loved ones who are allergic to antibiotics, so if there are even trace amounts it could be deadly, there is actually a tolerance level allowed, and the animals are supposed to be kept separate for a set amount of time to let the drugs leave the system, but doesn't always happen, especially with the way checking is done. Some more information can be found here

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mac and cheese

This is the simplest macaroni and cheese, and my kids devour it. You can use almost any cheese you like, but it has to be real cheese. It helps to let the cheese warm a little (I pull it from the fridge while I cook the noodles) I don't bake it, never saw a reason to, it just makes a crust of cheese, and I don't care much for that.
8 oz (about a half a box) elbow macaroni
water (enough to cook macaroni)
tablespoon butter
1 cup milk
1/2 pound cheddar cheese (I use block, but good shredded works ok, cheap stuff will separate and be oily)
boil water add a little salt, and macaroni. Cook until tender, and drain. Return to pot add milk, and butter, and stir in cheese slowly (add a little and stir until melted) add a little more milk to make creamier, salt to taste.

That's it, pretty easy, and takes about 30 minutes or so.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Honey that isn't honey

I read an article yesterday that talked about honey that had the pollen removed. Seems that in order to be called honey in the U.S. it has to have pollen. They got some from different places, and tested it, and quite a few came up without. The process they use to extract the pollen was started in China, where they also add antibiotics to the honey that isn't allowed here. The food safety divisions of the  World Health Organization, the European Commission and dozens of others also have ruled that without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources.The only reason to remove the pollen is to hide it's origin, so it is safe to say that the pollen free stuff came from China, and should be avoided."The FDA -- either because of lack of interest or resources -- devoted little effort to inspecting imported honey. Nevertheless, the agency had occasionally either been told of, or had stumbled upon, Chinese honey contaminated with chloramphenicol and other illegal animal antibiotics which are dangerous, even fatal, to a very small percentage of the population." Not to mention that it is subsidized by the Chinese government, and therefore is cheaper here than "homegrown" honey. It is subject to tariffs, but unscrupulous suppliers get around that by doing what is called transshipping which means it goes to a country without tariffs, and is then sold to our suppliers. Here is a list of the brands that failed so you can make a semi-educated buying choice. One thing to look for also is if the honey is really clear it probably isn't honey, and if it doesn't crystallize it sure isn't.

More info can be found here