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Cooking Tips

Food Safety Tips

For those who like to wash their raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb or veal before cooking, this habit is not recommended in the latest United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety Information sheet. "Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces." (USDA Food Safety Information: Washing Food: Does it Promote Food Safety?) They further note that cooking to the right temperature kills bacteria, so washing food "is not necessary." For safe temperatures in cooking foods, see FDA: Food Safety at Home. Cleanliness is also a major factor in preventing foodborne illness according to the USDA, including thoroughly washing all surfaces that come in contact with red meat, poultry, fish and eggs before moving on to the next step in food preparation. (USDA Food Safety Information: Cleanliness Helps Prevent Foodborne Illness.) These information sheets can be found by entering in your search engine the words "USDA Food Safety Information" plus the title of the article you want to view.

Cooking Dried Beans

Cooking your own dried beans usually cuts the cost and the sodium content. I have always used the single day method as opposed to the soaking overnight method, so have summarized it below. Overnight soaking methods can be found online from many sources.

You will need a stockpot and a pound of beans. One pound makes about 5 to 6 cups of cooked beans. I freeze any leftover beans by placing them in a glass freezer jar, covering the jar with the lid, and placing the jar in my freezer. They taste fine when defrosted.

Follow these steps with a pound of dried beans:

1. Rinse raw beans in a colander to get rid of any dust or dirt that might be on them. Pick through beans to sort out any stones or shriveled or discolored beans.

2. Place beans in a stockpot. Completely cover the beans with water. Bring beans to a boil. Boil them for 2 minutes. Cover the pot and remove from heat. Let beans soak, covered, for 2 hours. (Note: For garbanzo beans, it is recommended that for this first step, the beans should be boiled for 5 minutes; then remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let sit for only 1 hour. Then follow the regular instructions below.)

3. Drain and thoroughly rinse the beans in the colander. Put beans back into the stockpot. Cover beans again with water, making sure the beans are covered completely with several inches of water over the top of the beans (the beans will expand when cooking; you want them covered with water at all times).

4. Bring water to a boil. Turn heat down to simmer and simmer gently, uncovered, for at least 60 minutes, until beans are tender but not mushy. (Add additional water, if necessary, to keep the beans covered, making sure the water is hot enough to keep simmering after extra water is added. If necessary, turn heat up until water is boiling again, then turn heat down again to simmer.) Skim off any foam that might form.

5. Check beans after 60 minutes for tenderness by mashing a bean with a fork or with two fingers (be sure to cool the bean before squeezing). If not tender, allow to cook at 10 minute intervals until the beans are tender. (Garbanzo beans can take from 1-1/2 to 2 hours to become tender.)

6. Drain tender beans in the colander. Cool in cold water. Drain well. Cooked beans can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. They can then be frozen.
Note: Several articles I have read warn that red kidney beans must be well cooked because they contain a toxin that can cause symptoms of food poisoning. (See http://www.vegancoach.com/eating-uncooked-kidney-beans.html) The suggested cooking time for red kidney beans is 90 to 120 minutes.

Cooking Pork

The latest recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture note that it is safe to cook pork to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F, and that for safety and quality, the meat should be allowed to rest for at least 3 minutes before carving or consuming. A higher temperature would be appropriate for reasons of personal preference, such as preferring well done pork. This recommendation does not apply to ground pork, which, like all ground meat, should be cooked to 160 degrees F. A digital cooking thermometer is recommended to ensure an accurate final temperature.

Cooking Gadgets

As the years go by, people tend to be less willing to chop, mince and shred, by hand, the various ingredients called for in recipes. I have turned to the electronic helpers that line the shelves of kitchen supply stores. These gadgets can save time and effort for people who no longer thrill over the physical challenge of cooking. Cooking gadgets include small electric choppers (1 cup capacity); small food processors (can chop, grind, puree, emulsify and blend smaller amounts of food); and salad shooters (great for shredding carrots, potatoes and cheese). The back of a spoon or the bottom of a coffee cup can serve to loosen those pesky garlic skins that stick to garlic cloves. Just firmly tap the clove with the spoon or cup (or any flat object), and the skin should pop loose.

Advanced Preparation

I have found that preparing and measuring all ingredients in advance makes cooking easier. I combine ingredients in advance in separate bowls under “Prep. Instructions” as if I was doing a stir-fry that requires all ingredients to be on hand. This removes the stress factor involved when you suddenly realize that you forgot to measure the spices and they have to be added to the dish right now!

Know your stove and oven

Every stove is different. On my stove, the “medium-low” settings serve to allow food to cook gently without burning. Other stoves may require a higher or lower setting to get the “gentle simmering” heat that my recipes recommend. Use the “listening” test to determine the right heat: a soft sizzling sound is what you want to hear. Low heat is usually sufficient for long-term simmering. Ovens also can differ in the heat they generate. An oven can run “hot” in that it has to be set it at 340 degrees to prevent burning when a recipe calls for 350 degrees. An oven can also run “cold,” and have to be set at 360 degrees to ensure thorough cooking when the recipe calls for 350 degrees. If you have found that your oven-cooked items are either too over or underdone when cooked as directed by the recipe, experiment with the heat element of your oven.

Save those leftovers

Several recipes call for more servings than might be necessary for a single meal. These leftovers can be frozen in single portions and used later in quick casseroles or stir-fries. The "Leftover" sections of this website give several ideas for using those extra servings. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, all cooked food and leftovers should be refrigerated at 40 degrees F or below within two hours. FDA: Food Safety at Home

Our government agencies advise that to prevent spoilage, freeze cooked meats and poultry leftovers within 3 to 4 days. (www.foodsafety.gov/keep/basics/chill/index.html).

Defrost in refrigerator or microwave.

Use "healthy" oils

The recipes in this website call for "healthy" oils. These are oils, such a olive and canola, that are low in saturated fat. Saturated fats are linked to high blood cholesterol and increased risk of clogged arteries and heart disease. Read the Nutrition Facts label on the bottle of oil, and select those lowest in saturated fat. Whatever oil you use, make sure that the "smoke point" of the oil, when visible gaseous vapor from the heating of oil becomes evident, is not reached when you cook. Reduced flavor and nutritional value, as well as the creation of harmful compounds, will occur.

Freeze in One Tablespoon Portions

Several recipes call for “1 Tablespoon” of various ingredients. There foods can be frozen in 1 tablespoon portions by using ice cube trays. Store these portions in the freezer using freezer bags, and defrost as needed.

How to Freeze Fresh Strawberries

Freezing strawberries is a wonderful way to preserve the joys of summer well into the winter months. Frozen strawberries can be used in many dishes, including smoothies and, once defrosted, as the main ingredient in Strawberry Pie. Just follow these simple instructions.

1. Remove stem and caps. Sort and carefully wash the strawberries in a colander. (Do not soak in water, or the strawberries will lose flavor and nutrients. Do not add sugar.)

2. Let strawberries drain for 10 minutes. Dry gently and completely with a paper towel. (Wet strawberries will not freeze well.)

3. Place strawberries individually in a single layer on cookie sheets that have been lined with waxed paper (waxed side up). Put in freezer. After the strawberries are completely frozen (about 2 to 3 hours), place them into freezer containers or flexible freezer bags and return to freezer. (Remove air from bags to prevent freezer burn.)
Estimates for how long strawberries can be frozen before losing quality vary from 2 months to 12 months.

How to Freeze Tofu

Freezing tofu changes its texture from smooth to crumbly and chewier. Once frozen and then defrosted, tofu can be used in any vegetable recipe where a bit of protein is desired – simply crumble it into the dish in question toward the end of the cooking time; add a tablespoon or so of low sodium vegetable, chicken or beef broth if needed, heat through and enjoy. It can also be used as a sandwich ingredient in recipes such as Open Face Tofu Sandwich. Since frozen tofu is very bland in flavor, make sure the dish you add it to has been well spiced. Use extra firm or firm tofu when freezing.

First, purchase 1 package (14 to 16 ounce) extra firm or firm tofu. Then follow these instructions:

1. Remove tofu from its container, draining the liquid from the container without pressing the liquid out of the tofu itself.

2. Cut tofu chunk into 4 equal parts. This will give you 4 (3-1/2 to 4 oz.) servings.

3. Place tofu pieces into a freezer bag, making sure they are not touching each other. Place carefully into freezer, keeping pieces separated.

4. Before using, first defrost serving/servings on the counter for a few hours, or in the refrigerator overnight. (It can be microwaved for several minutes, but I prefer the counter or refrigerator. If microwaved, handle with care because it can be hot.)

5. Once defrosted, press liquid out of the tofu, making it firm, by wrapping it in a towel and gently pressing excess liquid out with either two plates, or with your hands. (Using several parts of the towel might be necessary to get the liquid out.) It is now ready to be added to a recipe of your choice.

Modify the Recipe

The recipes in this website are often old family recipes that have been modified to please my taste buds as I have limited my sodium intake. My recipes are a starting point for you to try finding substitutes for salt in cooking, and can be modified to fit your tastes. Do you adore garlic? Try adding more than called for in the recipe. Do you like lime better than lemon juice? Try substituting lime juice. Once you start thinking in terms of alternatives to salt, you can modify your own family recipes. Your cooking options will become as broad as your own recipe files and taste buds.

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