|September 05, 2013||Food Safety||no comments|
|July 17, 2013||“What’s for Dinner?”||no comments|
|July 03, 2013||“Anyone can cook”||1 comments|
|June 11, 2013||Nice to meet you - Have a seat -- and some pimento cheese?||2 comments|
When I worked in my college’s catering department as a part-time line cook, one thing was made clear that, above all else, the kitchen would be clean. The food would be prepared according to proper food handling guidelines. Taking shortcuts around health and safety guidelines was simply not an option. Close enough was, by no means, close enough.
Cooking for people is, in many ways, a sign of trust. They trust that you know what you are doing and that you always have their best interests at heart. Thankfully that is true 99% of the time. However, I’m not satisfied that we talk about and teach food safety like we should. As more people are eating out more often and spending less time in their own kitchens, there are fewer chances for people to pass on to successive generations the supposed “common-sense” knowledge of how to properly handle raw ingredients, prevent cross contamination, cook different food items to proper temperatures and keep kitchens scrupulously clean.
Simply put, there are two ways that foodborne illnesses can come about in today’s mass-market retail operations. The first is that ingredients, most commonly meats, eggs or pre-packaged produce, can be improperly handled by producers and packagers resulting in parasites tagging along for the ride as it has done recently in pre-packaged salad greens resulting in Cyclospora-related illnesses. As my Mother says, pre-packaged or not, always wash your salad greens when you get them home!
The other is that food, either in a restaurant or at home, can be improperly prepared or handled. The most egregious example of this sort of mishandling came to light when the CDC visited Silversea Cruises’ Silver Shadow and found trays of meat and cheeses stored at room temperature in crew cabins to avoid inspection. Such activity is not only unsafe – it borders on unforgiveable.
Given these examples, I ask and encourage you to take three simple steps to ensure that you and your family enjoy safe and healthy meals.
To the extent possible, know where the ingredients for you food come from and how they are handled from the point of production to the point they reach your table. Only purchase from reputable suppliers!
When preparing food at home, follow basic food safety steps and techniques. It may seem common-sense but you’d be amazed how often people forget the simple stuff.
When dining out, pay attention to the required restaurant inspection scores which must be posted in a conspicuous location. As long as the score is 90 or above, I don’t give it a second thought. If the score is below 90, I read through the report and see exactly why the establishment was docked points before taking a seat at the table.
If you weren’t fortunate enough to have someone, who happened to also be wielding a large chef’s knife, standing over you and teaching you proper food safety techniques, I encourage you to check out the federal government’s food safety information website at http://www.foodsafety.gov. It has easy to understand tips and some great videos that remind us of how to properly handle food. Now, do what I’m going to do and go clean your kitchen just to be safe!
As a single guy, I eat dinner out more often than I really should. While I love to cook, time on weeknights is a precious commodity as I’m sure it is for you as well.
As such, I am resolved to pass along to you with some regularity dishes that can be easily made on a weeknight and enjoyed with as little work contributed, dishes dirtied and time wasted as possible.
The first of my go-to weeknight dishes is one of my favorites: chili.
When it comes to my chili, I start by dicing half a large sweet (Vidalia, if available) onion and adding it to my largest (6 quart) sauté pan which has already been heated over medium heat with two tablespoons of olive oil. I then add a 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt and sauté for two to three minutes. I then add approximately a pound of lean ground beef (mine is a 93/7 lean to fat ratio) to brown. I say approximately a pound because I rarely find an exact pound of ground beef in my grocer’s meat case. I have made this dish with as little as 3/4 pound to 1 1/4 pound of ground beef and have never really noticed a difference in the end.
As the ground beef browns, I add my other seasonings besides the salt:
- 1/2 teaspoon of red chili flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon of granulated garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
As you add each seasoning, stir the ground beef to keep it moving and help incorporate each addition.
Once the beef is browned (it generally takes 10-12 minutes), I then add my other ingredients:
- 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
- 15 ounce can of reduced-sodium black beans (this recipe has plenty of sodium – no need for more)
- 16 ounce can of chili beans in mild sauce
- 8 ounce can of tomato sauce
- 1/3 cup of chili sauce (the “spicy cousin” to ketchup)
- 8 ounces of water
As with the spices, I stir the mixture after adding each additional ingredient. So you know what to expect and how to plan on a busy weeknight, at this point it had taken me 27 minutes from the time I started dicing the onion at the beginning of this recipe.
Once all the ingredients are in the pan and you have stirred it well, leave it to cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. You’ll want to stir it at least once while cooking.
After those 20 minutes, taste the chili (careful – it will be hotter temperature-wise than it looks). If you have small children or those who are sensitive to spicy dishes, you may wish to remove their servings at this point. If you enjoy things a little spicier you can add some more heat by adding an additional 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder, red chili flakes and/or your favorite hot sauce. If you have made any additions, let the chili cook an additional 5 minutes before serving.
This dish will easily serve three or four adults. You can garnish each serving with sour cream, grated cheese, diced fresh onion, jalapenos, crackers or tortilla chips to your liking. My favorite way to serve it is with freshly-baked corn bread crumbled on top.
Any leftovers will keep in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to three days. It also freezes well.
I hope this gives you one more recipe for your weeknight arsenal. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.
If you want to know my feelings on cooking, I can sum them up quite simply as “anyone can cook.” I borrow this phrase from Disney Pixar’s 2007 film “Ratatouille” in which a loveable French chef publishes a cookbook entitled “Anyone Can Cook” to attempt to encourage others to get into the kitchen.
I honestly believe that anyone with some basic training, a few necessary tools and some practice can produce amazing meals. Now don’t get me wrong, very few people will ever become world-renowned chefs. The amount of work required to rise through the ranks of the culinary world in the best kitchens takes years of dedication. But that doesn’t mean that every great meal you will ever eat needs to come from a restaurant – or cooked by someone else for that matter.
While I love the Food Network, Cooking Channel and the bustling online world of food-centric websites, one of the things I think that is often overlooked is that you won’t get every recipe and technique right on the first try. Even if you follow recipes step by step, some techniques take a failed attempt or two to perfect. Even after years, I’m still trying to get the family biscuit recipe to come out perfectly every time. You’ll see the photo of one of my first unsupervised attempts at the recipe from several years ago at the left. I think it is important to document your failures in the kitchen – it makes celebrating the eventual success all the sweeter.
At other times, you’ll make silly mistakes that you only realize after the fact. If you’re like me you might accidentally add cinnamon to a tomato sauce rather than the cayenne pepper you had thought you were adding. It is only when you taste the finished product that you realize the mistake. The operative lesson for me in that instance was to taste and smell as I go!
As we journey along this culinary voyage, you’ll learn a bit more about my food philosophies. I’ll discuss some of the dishes, people and places that merit celebrating. I’ll do my best to blend easy-to-make dishes with some more adventurous fare so no matter your skill level in the kitchen you’ll find something useful in this forum. Throughout it all though you’ll find that I truly believe that anyone can, indeed, cook. Moreover, I hope this forum inspires you to take a few chances in the kitchen and know that if you make a misstep along the way, you’ll find yourself among friends.
So I’m curious, what dishes have you had to work at to perfect? What mistakes have you made in the kitchen? What techniques have you practiced several times in order to master? If there’s something you’re still having difficulty with, let me know and I’ll see what I can do to offer some helpful tips.
Like most people, my understanding of food and the care it takes to lovingly prepare it came from my Mother. I don’t think there is another two-word phrase that prompts faster action on her part than when one of her children or grandchildren utter the words, “I’m hungry.”
I’ve been cooking since I could crawl. Mom would tell me what she was making and I, still not tall enough to reach the kitchen counter, would reach into the lower cabinets to hand her the appropriate pot or pan for the dish.
Fast forward three or so decades and I’m proud to say that I worked in my college’s catering department. That job reinforced the truth that few professions know people who are harder working or are more generous than those who grow or prepare food. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the greatest chefs and food producers in the world and eating around the globe. However, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the food prepared on family tables or the recipes given to me by family and dear friends.
My goal in this blog is to invite you to join in my exploration of food and the world surrounding it one dish at a time. As the pace of our world grows ever quicker, I want to ensure that we take time and that you have a resource to explore food. If anything, I hope it allows you to share some new dishes with your family and friends. I am convinced there is no greater gift we can give to one another than a lovingly prepared dish of this or that.
It is in that spirit of generosity that I invite you to share in my first offering. Though pimento cheese is by no means complicated, just ask the good folks at the Augusta National Golf Club if pimento cheese matters. While discussion of Tiger Woods’ penalty may have dominated this year’s Masters on the fairways, much of the gallery talked about the “new” pimento cheese recipe (ESPN gave a full account of the sandwich “scandal” here).
For me, there is no dip or spread that is more quintessentially southern than pimento cheese. Like my Mother, I make it for any gathering of friends. It is wonderful as a dip for crackers or vegetables at a wedding or housewarming party. It also makes a fantastic sandwich spread on its own on fresh bread or as a topping for a backyard burger.
Preparation takes only minutes. In a stainless steel bowl (which helps chill the end product thoroughly), begin with four cups of shredded cheese. I use two cups of sharp cheddar and two cups of a mild cheddar and Monterey Jack blend to arrive at the total of four cups. Add to the cheese 6 ounces of well-drained, diced pimentos. For seasoning add 1/8 teaspoon (about 3 good dashes) of each cayenne pepper and granulated garlic. Also add a dash of salt and ground black pepper. Resist the urge to over salt as both the cheese and pimentos are salty on their own. Mix these ingredients.
Finish the pimento cheese by adding a half cup of good quality mayonnaise and mixing thoroughly. The final product will take on a creamy texture. Cover with plastic wrap and then place in the refrigerator for a minimum of two hours to let the flavors meld. If possible, refrigerate overnight before enjoying for the best flavor. If you do not use the entire batch immediately, store any remaining pimento cheese in an airtight plastic container. I’m told it will keep in the refrigerator for three days, though it has never lasted that long in mine.
For a completely different, but equally tasty take on this southern staple, I recommend visiting Rosebud Restaurant in the Morningside neighborhood of Atlanta for brunch. Owner and chef Ron Eyester uses his foamy, creamy pimento cheese as a key ingredient in his homefry casserole – a delicious, indulgent treat.
Your feedback is always welcome, so let me know if you enjoy the recipe or if you have a favorite pimento cheese recipe of your own.