Kermit Talks Food Safety

Yes, even frogs must be concerned about food safety these days. So, let’s follow the Swedish Chef as he prepares his turkey for the holiday dinner.

UL & Muppet Safe Cooking

Have Your Burger and Slurp It, Too

“The wonderful thing about soup is that it’s easy to make, it tastes good and you can make a lot of it to last all week.” That was me talking to my friend the other night after we had a delicious dinner of soup and my homemade Southern style cornbread.cornbread_in_pan

I’ve talked about my cornbread recipe before. You’ll find it on our Recipes Page. I did make some alterations. Making little changes to meet your circumstances is part of the fun of cooking. This time, we had some leftover buttermilk in the refrigerator, so I used that for the milk in the recipe. It added a little, barely perceptible tang. And since we didn’t have any bacon, I just used olive oil. It worked just fine.

Also in the refrigerator, in the freezer section, was a package of ground beef that had been there for a month or so. Food in the freezer usually doesn’t last forever. Most things can stay in the freezer for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. But once you get over six months, you run the risk of most foods suffering from freezer burn and other problems. There are fluctuations in the temperature, power and content, all of which can affect the freezer’s conditions which affects the food stored there, even when you do all the right things to protect them.

As usual, we also had a few other basics in the pantry: potatoes, green pepper, celery, low-fat milk, flour, chicken broth and onions. So, with just a couple of things from the store, I had all the making of Cheeseburger Soup.

In addition to what I had on hand I had to pick up at the store a carrot, a block of cheddar cheese and a container of light sour cream. Here’s the total ingredient list:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 4 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups (about 6 of seven medium) potatoes, cubed
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups cubed cheddar cheese (3/4 of a 16 oz. chunk)
  • 1-1/2 cups low-fat milk
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream

Directions:

  1. After preparing all your ingredients, put a stock pot or other large pot on medium heat. Add a tablespoon of butter or olive oil. Stir in beef until it starts to brown then add in the onion, green pepper and carrot. Stir occasionally until vegetables are soft and beef is fully cooked.
  2. Add the broth, potatoes and spices (note that there’s no salt added, there’s plenty in the broth and cheese). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until potatoes are fork tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. In a separate bowl or a glass measuring cup, melt the 3 tablespoons butter or heat 3 tablespoons olive oil, then stir in the flour creating a roux. Stir in the milk and blend until smooth.
  4. Gradually add the milk mixture into the soup, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil then reduce heat again to a simmer. Once the soup settles down, stir in the cheese and keep stirring until it’s mostly melted into the soup. Add the sour cream and stir until smooth and heated through, do not allow it to boil.
  5. Serve with a green salad and maybe some crusty bread or corn bread.

Be sure you taste this before you serve it. As mentioned, my recipe doesn’t use any extra salt, but you may find it too bland. This produces at least 8 hearty bowls with about 28 grams of fat and 22 grams of carbohydrate. That’s why I like to pair it with just a little bread and a nice salad. Keep the fat content low by using the olive oil instead of butter, you won’t notice any taste difference.

This soup is good enough to eat all week long. Make plenty of salad. It makes for a very satisfying meal in The Bachelor’s Kitchen.

[smartads]

Even More Fish In The Sea

What is the responsible eater supposed to do? First we are told to eat more fish and seafood for better health. Then we are told that if we do the oceans will soon be empty. So which is it?

In reality, there remains a lot of fish in the sea. The problem is that many of our favorite species are being fished into extinction. Add mega-trawler fishing techniques and it is easy to see how many fish are no longer showing up on our dinner plates. Add to that the fact that mercury contamination and other pollutants are ruining many of the most popular fish stocks. It is enough to make a fish lover cry.

But, if you are willing to look at some ugly fish, you might discover a whole ocean of possibilities, most of them very sustainable.

So, why don’t we? According to chef Rick Moonen, we have a fear of fish. We often say we do not know how to cook it. We are afraid of overcooking it. We have bad experiences with smelly fish with lots of dangerous bones.

We often rely on familiar fish that are more forgiving when we cook them. Salmon and codGadus_morhua_Cod are the two favorites in America, because up until a few decades ago they were very plentiful. Salmon is an oily fish that can stand a little overcooking without drying out or turning into fish leather. Mild, flaky cod is easy to cook and was once so abundant you could just stick a net in the sea and wait for it to fill up with cod fish.

But Atlantic Cod and Salmon are all but gone, except in fish farms. The farms can be polluting and the fish are fed an unnatural diet that affects the taste compared to wild Pacific varieties.

So what can you eat? Some varieties of fish are hard to find in the stores because they lack demand. Others are popular in Asia and Europe, but not in North America. If you have the chance, try some of these lesser-known fish.

For example, haddockhaddock is a great alternative to cod. In England, home of fish and chips, the spiny dogfish is another cod alternative that’s being used throughout Europe. But don’t look for dogfish at your seafood counter yet. Nearly all of the U.S. catch goes overseas.

Barramundibig-barramundi is another great choice, one that can be farmed easily. This South Pacific fish, well known in Australia, can be raised in indoor tanks and fed a vegetarian diet which prevents the “swampy” taste many people have expressed about the wild caught fish.

Let’s explore the world of fish over the next few days so you can explore healthy and sustainable options at the seafood counter.

Thanksgiving Plans?

If you’re planning on making a Thanksgiving dinner, whether for yourself, your family or friends, or for a special someone, the first thing you have to do is plan your dinner. That means making a menu. It doesn’t have to be complicated, even if you are having a gang of people for dinner. All you need is a main dish, usually a protein; a starch, which can be bread, potatoes, beans, corn or rice; and at least one green vegetable or salad. That’s a classic bachelor menu: meat and two veggies.

You can, of course, get a lot more elaborate, even if you’re only cooking for yourself. Additions can include an appetizer, a second starch (try not to go too heavy on the starches), a dessert, soup or cheese. If you spread the courses out over several hours, it won’t get too hard on your gut or your blood sugar.

Recipes. Once you have your menu, it’s time to get together your recipes. These can be formal ones, or you can just wing it. In any case, you need to figure out what you’ll need from the store and the timing of when things need to be prepared and/or cooked. If you figure out what things can be made ahead of time, you can save a lot of hassle on the big day. These rules apply to any feast, or even a weekly dinner. Make sure you create a grocery shopping list to make sure you don’t leave anything out.Convenience stores do a lot of business on holiday mornings when the other stores are closed. You’ll pay through the nose for little things you forgot.

Shopping. Try very, very hard to not go anywhere near a store or farmers market on the Saturday before Thanksgiving (or any other holiday, for that matter). The crowds will be ridiculous. This is another good reason to plan ahead. Perishable items can be bought at some other time, like Monday or Tuesday of that week. Remember, the freezer is your friend. If you can buy your ingredients early and stash them in the freezer, you’ll be a lot better off.

And so it begins. If you have a frozen turkey and a more elaborate menu for a group of people, you’ll want to begin your preparations on the Saturday before. Frozen turkeys take at least two to three days to defrost in the refrigerator, depending on size. Then you’ll want to brine your turkey for a day or two. That way, on Thanksgiving morning, your bird is ready to go. Bread, desserts and some side dishes can be put together in advance so all they have to do is heat up before serving. Also, ingredients can be prepared by getting the washing, trimming and cutting out of the way and then storing them in a tightly sealed container or storage bag in the refrigerator. This doesn’t apply to all ingredients, some of which will oxidize, like potatoes and apples. But you’d be surprised how many things can be done in the evenings leading up to the big event.

In future posts, we’ll look at the various components of a Thanksgiving dinner and share some ideas on ways to do things that will make your harvest feast a pleasure rather than a chore.

Chili con Curry, An International Twist

There must be thousands of chili recipes. Nearly everyone has one, even me. Some start with an already made chili base and build from there. Others use all scratch ingredients including chunks of roast beef. Some use things like dark chocolate or coffee. Others use chicken and white beans.

Here’s another idea to try, especially if you like things with an African or South Asian kick. Add curry powder to your chili.

Curry powder is an interesting spice. It is a blend of many spices. There are nearly as many recipes for this as there are for chili. The most common ingredients are  coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek and red pepper. Some blends also use garlic, ginger, fennel seed, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper.

As we can see, there’s a bit of heat to this mixture, mostly from the peppers. But you’ll also notice that it has a lot of aromatic spices, which is common not only in South Asia but in Eastern Africa. There may be a connection there.

I like to add a little curry to my rice when I’m cooking it. But only just a little. It adds some wonderful color. But more than anything, it adds a perfume to the rice that’s very enticing. It goes great with beans or chicken.

While we associate curry powder most with Indian cuisine, it goes great with Mexican, African or even Southern European dishes. If you have some more ideas for using this spice blend, let us know in the comments. If you haven’t tried it lately, maybe now is a good time to experiment.

Keep A Healthy, Affordable Pantry

Many people think eating healthy means spending more money. But that doesn’t have to be true. You can stock some very affordable items in your pantry without turning to cheap processed food. Here are some ideas.

Canned fish. Most of us have canned tuna in our cupboard. It’s the most eaten fish in America. But if you look around that same section of the canned food aisle, you’ll see more options than just chunk white or Albacore. Canned salmon is almost as versatile as tuna. It’s great for salads, including as a replacement for tuna salad. You can also add some to scrambled eggs or sautéed with olive oil and fresh or frozen vegetables. Sardines are very nutritious and very affordable. Buy the kind packed in olive oil or mustard sauce for a great snack or something to go on crackers with a soup or a salad. Because you can eat the bones, it’s high in calcium. Kippers are a well known English breakfast dish. Canned versions of this dried, smoked fish are available which you can use instead of bacon or sausage in your usual morning meal.

Brown Rice. Rice is one of the world’s most widely consumed grain. It is produced in more countries than any other grain except corn. It is a staple from Latin America, The Middle East, South and Eastern Asia. That’s almost all the way around the world. Most rice is hulled, meaning the outer layer is removed. The same is done to wheat. The reason for this is to remove the germ, the part of the seed that contains the embryo for a new plant. This part also contains fat, which can spoil over time. Brown rice has only had the chaff, or outer covering of the seed pod, removed but still has the rest of the hull, including the bran, on it. Brown rice doesn’t keep as long as white rice but has more nutrients. Cooking brown rice requires a bit more water and a little more time than cooking white rice. But the same procedure is used. It has a slightly nutty taste and a rougher texture than white rice. But that outer hull contains a lot of fiber. Inside rice, regardless of type, is a high level of carbohydrate (the highest of all cereal grains) and a fair amount of protein. Parboiled rice (Minute Rice) has been partially cooked and thus takes less time. It’s a little easier to deal with for less experienced cooks. Instant rice has been completely cooked and then dried. The biggest drawback is the addition of salt and other substances that you don’t need. But instant rice is better than no rice at all. Just stay away from the microwave pouches which are filled with crap you don’t need.

Frozen Vegetables. I’m a big advocate of frozen vegetables. Most of the time, these have been allowed to stay in the field a little longer than those transported to grocery stores around the country or world. That means they are usually a little riper than the others. Usually, they are transported only a short distance to processing plants where they are washed, trimmed, cut up and individually frozen (so they don’t stick together) before being bagged and shipped frozen to the stores. The quality of these are often better than the so-called fresh produce elsewhere in the store, depending on the season. Not all vegetables freeze as well as others. But I really like the bags of mixed vegetables and combinations. These are very affordable. But beware of the vegetables in sauce. They contain lots of additives. Also, I don’t like the steamable, microwavable bags of veggies. Not only do they have salt and other stuff added, but they are ridiculously expensive. Considering cooking frozen vegetables in the microwave is extremely easy and fast, I think the cost far outweighs the convenience. Just watch the ingredients list for just the vegetables and nothing else.

Sweet Potatoes. Scientists call this version of potato a nutritional powerhouse. It is one of the most complete foods you can buy. Like other potatoes, they will keep in a cool, dark, dry place for months. These are not the same as yams, which are root vegetables grown mostly in Africa. It’s believed that slaves called sweet potatoes yams because they look a lot alike. But true yams are much larger and darker. While things like marshmallows and maple syrup will enhance the natural sweetness of these vegetables, they certainly aren’t necessary. A little butter on baked or roasted sweet potato pieces are divine. There are many ways to fix these, just like white, red or gold potatoes.

So, keeping a healthy pantry doesn’t have to cost a lot. And the better your pantry, the more possibilities you have for making tasty, healthy meals at home without spending a lot of time.

Build a Better Cheeseburger, Make Soup

This is one of the favorite soups in The Bachelor’s Kitchen. After all, what bachelor doesn’t like a cheeseburger?

This soup is rich, with lots of vegetables and cheese.

Cheeseburger-Soup_5910This recipe works best in a dutch oven, but any large pot will do. Preparation work begins with cutting up your vegetables. Chop into small pieces an onion, two or three carrots (depending on size, you want about 3/4 cup), a rib or two of celery and four cups of cubed potatoes. This might be a good time to cube about 2 cups of cheddar cheese. We like sharp cheddar, but select what’s best for your tastes.

Other ingredients are a half-pound of ground beef, 3 cups chicken broth, one and a half cups of milk, a quarter cup of sour cream, a quarter cup flour, four tablespoons butter and a teaspoon each of dried basil and dried parsley.

With your ingredients lined up, it’s time to put a large pot on medium heat. Add one tablespoon of butter. When melted, add the vegetables and beef and cook until the beef is browned. Stir in the dried herbs, broth and potatoes. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer on medium low heat until the potatoes are tender. That should take about 12 minutes.

In a microwable bowl, melt the remainder of the butter (because of the wide variance for microwaves, we aren’t recommending a particular time or power). Stir in the flour. Add the milk and stir until the mixture is smooth.

While you stir the soup pot, slowly add the milk mixture. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat back to a simmer. Stir in the cheese. When that is fully incorporated, add the sour cream and let that get heated through. Be careful not to let this come to a boil.

This is not a low fat soup. But it tastes good and goes well with some warm, crusty bread.

Don’t Waste Food, Make New Eats

Americans throw away an astonishing amount of food. Some of that comes from the fact that of all the world’s developed countries, the U.S. has one of the most abundant and affordable food supplies. It also has one of the worst in terms of nutrition and quality. But that’s another story for another day.

foodwasteLet’s talk about all that food we throw away. Some of it is because the food has spoiled. It happens.  Sometimes they are leftovers that didn’t appeal to me later or didn’t turn out quite right. Whatever the reason, they have to go into the garbage. Then that garbage has to go immediately out to the dumpster before the smell fills the kitchen.

We need to be greener, have a smaller carbon footprint and send less to the landfills. So, here are a few tips to help you waste less and save money.

Expiration dates are not absolute. That doesn’t mean you should ignore them either. If the food has been stored correctly, it’s often still usable after the expiration date, especially if it’s going to be cooked. Use your eyes, nose and other senses to tell if things are still good. Almost always, bad food will make it clear, usually with a bad smell, to let you know if it might be dangerous to consume. But if there’s doubt, you’re safer to go ahead and throw it out.

Compost if you can. The less you send to the landfill the better. The key to having a greener home and world is to follow the motto: “Reuse.” Not everyone can have a compost heap in their backyard. However, technology has greatly improved these natural recycling bins to have a minimum of smell. But if you live in an apartment, you’re pretty much stuck with what you have. That’s okay. You can still make better use of food and the containers it comes in. There are more tips for using food below. You can wash and reuse most plastic containers and find all sorts of uses for them.

Save sauces, drippings and other liquids to add flavor to dishes later. Got just a little steak sauce left in the bottle? Maybe some leftover pasta sauce? Some dipping sauce from take-out? Combine them together for a new flavorful sauce to add to lots of other dishes. Add meat drippings and stick it in a sealed container in the fridge and you’ve got lots of flavor ready to be used in creative ways.

Don’t throw away old rice or pasta. Dried out leftover rice is perfect for stir-fries or fried rice. You know how pasta can get hard and stiff? Saute it in a little olive oil and it will revive to very near its original state, ready for sauce.

Save trimmings and scraps for stock. When you trim your vegetables, don’t throw it all away. Most of those things can be used to make a flavorful vegetable stock or even a really tasty chicken, pork or beef stock. Do the same when you trim your meat, poultry or seafood. Shrimp shells make a rich seafood stock. Pork trimmings can be used for stock, too. Just freeze them if you’re not going to use them right away. In other words, use everything if you can. Potato peelings we know can’t go down the garbage disposal without creating a gluey mess. But they can be used to thicken soup, stock or stew.

Got odds and ends? Use eggs to make something new. Quiche was originally a way to use up leftovers. You can do the same with a frittata. Whip up some eggs, add in some leftover veggies, meat or grains with a little cheese and you’ve got a great dish. Just cook slowly over low heat then finish it off under the broiler.

The freezer is your friend. There aren’t that many things that can’t be frozen. Some things do need special handling. For example, cut vegetables need to be individually frozen then bagged. I always double wrap meat to keep freezer burn at bay. But soup and lots of other things can be frozen easily. My freezer regularly holds various proteins, bread, beans and vegetables. Did you know you can freeze milk? It’s true. With all liquids, remember to leave room for expansion so they don’t burst out of their containers.

Stale bread still has uses. If your bread gets dried out and stale, it’s still useful. Moldy bread is not useful, just throw that away or feed to birds and squirrels. But stale bread makes great croutons, bread crumbs and more. Like French toast? Well, it was invented to soften up and use stale bread. Stale bread gives you a chewier dish. For croutons, just cut the bread into cubes and put into a 350 degree oven to toast. Keep an eye on it because once they start turning brown they can burn in just a few seconds. To make bread crumbs, you can take those toasted cubes and put them in a food processor or a sealable plastic bag. In a food processor, carefully pulse it so you don’t get dust. The plastic bag can be smashed with a pan or pot or a mallet until you get the consistency you want.

Do you have any tips for saving money by not wasting food? Share them with a comment/reply.

Base Menus On Grocery Sale Items

You might have noticed we talk a lot about cooking meals based on what’s on sale that week. That’s a very smart tactic in The Bachelor’s Kitchen. Not only is this money-saving, but it gives you a chance to stock up on things to fill you pantry and your freezer. Often, when it comes to fruit and vegetables, sale items are at their peak of freshness, especially if it comes from local sources.

groceryflierWe don’t know of any grocery store, no matter the size, independent or chain, that doesn’t publish in some way a flier of their sale items that week. Sometimes it’s in the mail along with coupons and other sales fliers. Sometimes these lists are only online or in the stores. But no matter how this information is available, it’s worth the effort to find them and use them to make your grocery list. This will save time and money when you get to the store.

Everyone can come up with their own strategy. Here’s mine, developed over several years of experience. Remember, I’m a bachelor. If you have a family to feed, you’ll probably have to make some adjustments to this plan.

A great strategy for using your time and your budget most effectively is to do the bulk of your cooking just one day a week. You can make meals and meal components all at once and be able to eat through most of the week. What do I mean by components? I like to make a pot of rice, enough to last for several meals. Or I might make a pot of beans which makes a good, nutritious side dish for several meals. I don’t just make a single loaf of bread, but several to last not just through the week, but for a week or two to come. Using these methods, you can maximize your fun without cutting in to your time during the work week.

A part of this strategy is to figure out, at least in a rough way, what you’re going to eat that week. For me, this is a two step process, both before and after I go to the store.

I keep a list in the kitchen of staples that I need as they get used up or low. There’s also a list at my desk of regular items to buy like milk, bread, cheese and the like. Then I look at the sales fliers from the stores I go to most often. One store has overall lower prices but limited selection. The other has wider selection, but higher prices. So, I usually alternate between them. I look for good deals on all the things I usually buy, and occasionally at things I might want to try. Using all these lists, I create my shopping list, organized by store section. Sounds like too much work? Guess what? There are websites that can help you with that. Most even will add all the ingredients from selected recipes to the list. The day before I go shopping, the list is printed out and I’m armed and ready to shop.

Then I look at my recipes for things to make using both the ingredients I have on hand and what I plan to buy. I look at both the ingredient list and the directions to make sure I have everything I need to make it.

Don’t look at your shopping list as inflexible. Sometimes you might find the goods in the store don’t look so good, so you may decide on something else that does look good. For example, one time the store advertised a pork tenderloin on sale. But when I got the store, I found it was this processed thing sitting in a liquid of chemicals and preservatives. Pass. No pork for me that week.

That brings me to the second phase, after I return from the store. After I put all the groceries away, I take my receipt and look at what I actually bought, making note of ingredients that will need to get used up during the next few days, like fresh produce and meat. I want to make sure I don’t waste my money or time by letting things go bad in the refrigerator. I want to make sure things that won’t get used right away are added to the freezer and that I have a plan to use up food that won’t keep very long.

Now, I’m ready to cook with a meal plan for the week already worked out. It doesn’t mean I will always stick to that plan. But at least I have some ideas about what I’m going to make and when.

With a little planning, you can make the most of your time in The Bachelor’s Kitchen.

Engage Your Mind And Your Mouth When Eating

We all know diets do not work. Diets usually mean depriving yourself of something you like. Usually, they are temporary. Those are only the biggest problems. We at The Bachelor’s Kitchen recommend coming up with an eating plan, something you can live with for the rest of your life.

There is a lot of advise about eating: what you should eat, what you should stay away from, how often you should eat, where you should eat, when, what to do while eating, and so on. Usually, that means changing bad habits or forcing yourself to eat foods you might not enjoy very much. That just doesn’t work for most people.

So, what should you do? A new movement in eating may help. It’s called Mindful Eating. What does that mean? It means listening to your own body. Our bodies give us lots of clues about when we are hungry, when we’ve eaten enough and sometimes even what we need to eat. You probably have heard that you shouldn’t be watching television or other things while eating. Doing other things when eating distracts you from hearing what your body is saying, such as, “That’s enough!” Eating mindfully probably will slow you down, giving your body time to register that food has been received, which is one cue to stop eating. Many dietitians point to portion control as a big issue in overeating. Mindful eating can help reduce our quickly gobbling up everything in sight.

PrintOne of the great benefits of mindful eating is that nothing is a forbidden food. That overcomes one of the big drawbacks to dieting. The phrase all things in moderation is key here. Food does not come with a moral rating. Even foods that are thought to be bad for you are okay in small amounts as occasional treats. That means you will be more satisfied and less likely to binge. Eating mindfully means thinking of food as a way to take care of yourself, not a command to eat this or that way.

However, just as no food is forbidden, it’s a good idea to keep problem foods out of the house. When you sit down with a snack, make a plate, don’t take the whole bag. And know the difference between a snack and a treat. A snack is something to deal with hunger between meals or before bed, like crackers, cheese, nuts or fruit. A treat is something to reward yourself, something you like but have avoided.

Listening to your body will improve your timing, too. If you wait to eat when your body says it is hungry, you will avoid emotional eating. Just don’t get to the point where you are starving which could lead to overeating. Part of that timing means saving the sweets until the end of the meal. If you’re already full, you probably won’t eat a big dessert.

Eating breakfast is another technique in mindful eating. It gets your metabolism going, meaning you burn more calories. It makes you less hungry at lunch. It helps you think more clearly. Just go light on the sugar, which will not just make you fat, it will make you sluggish within a few hours. Experts recommend a balanced breakfast heavy on complex carbohydrates and protein.

Americans are notorious for having too many things to do in too little time. That means many of us bolt our food. But mindful eating means taking the time to enjoy our food. Not only should we take more time to enjoy our meals, we should not attempt to skip meals because we overindulged in a previous meal or plan to overeat later. Having a smaller meal when you overdo it is a better choice.

Mindful eating means not being afraid of being hungry or eating just to lose weight. If you’re hungry, have a snack. It will prevent you from eating too much at mealtime. Eating to lose weight simply doesn’t work. Changing your eating patterns, foods and proportions does work. The proper eating plan will cause your body to land at the right weight for you, even if that’s not what the tables or others say you should weigh.

As we said before, all things should be in moderation. While we should take time to cook and eat right, we should not become too rigid in our plan. Take time to enjoy friends, family and all the great things in life. Be flexible enough to enjoy it. And don’t punish yourself if you fall off the wagon. Everyone does at one time or another. Just get back on the plan as soon as you can and get on with it. Mindful eating means putting food and eating in its proper place in your life. It must be neither a punishment nor a substitute for something missing in your life.