Arsenic in rice–Four ways to protect ourselves and our families
Arsenic in rice–Four ways to protect ourselves and our families
Knives are such an important and often used part of kitchen equipment! Many times when you’re cooking for only one or two it’s much faster and easier to chop thing with a knife rather than use a food processor. At least that’s true if your knives are in good condition–that is sharp–and sharp knives are much safer, and easier to use than dull ones.
Most knife sets come with a steel–but the purpose of a steel is NOT sharpening truly dull knives. The steel is intended to even and straighten an edge–in other words, to keep a knife sharp.
Even knives that have been well cared for eventually need sharpening. It’s possible to sharpen with a stone–but most of us don’t truly have the necessary skill to do this–it’s time-consuming, tedious, and we likely won’t get the best results. So, you might want to have your knives professionally sharpened.
However, there are some alternatives to professional sharpening or using a stone; there are now very good manual and electric sharpeners that can be used successfully by anyone. That’s one possibility for a gift for the cook in your life, or for yourself. Cook’s Illustrated has tested both manual and electric sharpeners.
For manual sharpeners, the AccuSharp knife and tool sharpener (model AccuSharp 001) is an inexpensive, easy to use possibility. The Anolon Universal Knife Sharpener 3-Stage Whetstone (model number 52255) are possible options. I prefer the three-stage style. Chef’s Choice also has manual knife sharpeners which have had generally good reviews as well, and are reasonably priced.
Electric sharpeners are predictably more expensive, but somewhat easier to use. It’s a good investment for keeping knives in good repair, and it’s something that might not buy for herself, and that makes it an especially appreciated gift. The Chef’s Choice electric sharpening products seem to generally have good reviews.
A steel would also make a great gift for the cook–used every time you pick up a knife to cut, it evens and aligns the cutting edge. It won’t replace a sharpener, but will help keep knives in good condition at each use between sharpening.
To help those knives keep that sharp edge, some other kitchen accessories that your cook might welcome might be a knife block or perhaps a magnetic strip which affixes to the wall. If knives are kept in a drawer, knife protectors might be welcome, or in-the-drawer
Another important way of keeping your knives in good condition is to use an appropriate cutting board–one that is “soft”. Glass or ceramic boards will dull the knife edge so get plastic or wood/bamboo. This need not be expensive–The OXO Good Grips cutting and carving board is an excellent choice. The no-slip strips are great. If the cutting board does not have these, you can always put a damp kitchen towel under it to keep it from sliding.
For safe food preparation, flexible plastic cutting mats or chopping mats are also great to have in the kitchen (and they are inexpensive, too). Some come in different colors to make it easy to keep those used for meats, poultry, seafood/fish, and veggies to avoid bacterial cross-contamination. Another nice thing about these is that they can be easily used to transfer chopped ingredients to pan or bowl. Recommended by Cook’s Country is the set of four chopping mats by Progressive International Food Safety Chopping Mat set of four for around $10, but you don’t need to find that specific brand.
Both the cutting board and the chopping mats will eventually show wear and tear and will need to be replaced, but it’s a small investment to keep your costly knives sharp so that cooking is easier and more enjoyable.
Not an instance of absolutely great planning, but here I am as the thermometer hits the 90s making pork stock. Well…I never said that I was the greatest planner in the world–strawberry ice cream and stock-making in the kitchen all at one time. My favorite meat supplier (Meadow Lane Farm, Louisburg NC) had great meaty pork neck-bones at the market this past Saturday so I had to bring some home–so despite the heat it’s stock-making time.
These are very meaty bones, so I’ll have some meat to use after the stock is finished. Since there is so much meat on these bones, and I want to use it, I’m not doing the quick stock–but rather the stove-top method (now you’re sure I’m not great at planning, right?). But when you have the opportunity to get pork neck-bones, you take it. Meadow Lane farms is doing more pork (as well as beef) so next time I can plan to do this is cold weather. (I’m glad I’ll have more access to pork…love that “other white meat”.)
Basic Stove-top Pork (or Meat) Stock
There was a bit of cursing in the kitchen as I removed the meat from the bones because I tried to do it before they had cooled quite enough, but for my efforts (sweaty through they were) I have bit over a gallon of pork stock that is cooling in the refrigerator to be de-fatted.
I have about a pound of very tender, succulent pork to use for another purpose, maybe a chili verde since the garden is rife with green chili peppers. The meat recovered after making stock is not as flavorful as it would be had I cooked it primarily to use just the meat, but it’s certainly great for a dish that is supplemented with herbs and spices like that. I could also use it in hot and sour soup, or posole.
My active cooking time was about 45 minutes from setting the stockpot on the stove to washing the stock pot. That includes the time to remove the meat from the neck bones! Although not the ideal time of the year to make stock–it’s well worth the effort. (Have to have some priorities–right?) In the winter, I’d have put the pot in the oven for the cooking time, but I thought that, perhaps, the stove-top (very low simmer) would be a bit cooler way to do this. (No, I’m NOT planning to check that out any time soon!)
For some of us it’s thunderstorm season–and that can mean occasional power outages. Have you ever wondered about how long things are “safe” in your refrigerator or freezer? I suspect that many of us don’t have that information, but we really should.
It’s also the season for picnics and outdoor eating, vacations where we’ll take along food for travel; here are some links that relate to summertime food safety as well.
One of the perennial problems with liking to improvise, and wanting to have a well-stocked pantry is that one person uses things more slowly than you would cooking for a family of four. I think that it’s important to store supplies carefully in closed containers rather than bags or boxes which can let some interesting beasties into your staple supplies. For years, I carefully cleaned and saved glass jars and their lids. Great solution? Well–until the lid loses its seal.
Then what do you do? My solution was to buy some Mason canning jars (Ball or Kerr) with wide mouths, in the pint and quart sizes. They are inexpensive, and lids are no longer a problem. The same lids fit all the jars, so I’m not standing around with a jar full of something and trying to find a lid to fit. The rings last, and last–a bit like the Energizer bunny–and you can replace the seals as needed! I think that my kitchen shelves even look rather nice…but then I kind of like a homey look.
If your pantry space is cramped, the wide-mouth jars stack well! Another advantage of the wide-mouth jars is that a 1/4-cup dry measuring cup will fit through the mouth of the jar easily–so you can dip and measure from the easily. Got to store that 10-pounds of rice that was such a great price? Well the same lids will fit the half-gallon jars.
With some minimal additional equipment you can even put food by in these same jars–just be sure that you have new lids if you’re going to use them for long-term preserving of foods.
Cleaning out the is refrigerator is such a drag! For those of us cooking for one, it is often triggered by that appalling smell that greets us when we open the door of the refrigerator to get the milk for morning coffee. It is the harbinger of the lost leftover or the bunch of beautiful leafy green stuff (now transformed into juicy, olive-drab color in the crisper because it was simply too much to use? How do we avoid this kind of waste?
I’ve always disliked wasting food; I’ve also always had a dislike of most leftovers—they usually taste leftover! Admittedly there are thing better on the second day—but that does not make them leftovers that I dislike. It’s true leftover leftovers that I dislike so I’ve always looked for ways not to have them. Frequently, that involves sharing the pot of soup with a friend and putting some in the freezer, because I am constitutionally incapable of making a small pot of soup! Most of my neighbors understand about my “food crises”.
The implications of my dislike of leftovers and having too large a quantity of something was brought home to me recently when I was reading about sustainable agriculture. In Just Food by James E. McWilliams was a discussion of the carbon footprint of food. We typically think in “food-miles”, but he introduced the concept of “life-cycle assessment” which looked at the energy consumption of food production from seed to its appearance on the table. There were some startling statistics there—the greatest energy consumption, according the studies cited by this author, is in production, not transportation. What really hit me was the studies on food waste: 1.28 pounds per day per typical household (p. 28). So? I know I’m not a typical household, just me and the cat, but I had to wonder about the amount of waste from my food use. (Admittedly, the cat usually leaves the bits of carrot and onion from her tiny part of the beef stew, but let’s not get too picky here.) I am interested in environmental responsibility, carbon footprint; so I need to waste less food. How can I do that?
Assuming that I cannot buy smaller quantities, I obviously must be more efficient in my use of whatever quantity I purchase. So I need to do some “prep”, not just put what I don’t use into a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator. There are two primary causes of spoilage (changes in texture and flavor that make food inedible): microbial action, and the plant’s own enzymes (On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee, p. 166). Obviously just simple refrigeration is not enough for my rate of usage–in order to prolong the viability, I need to protect against microbial action and against the action of enzymes. That would suggest at least blanching the extra green stuff (or any other color veggies) before I refrigerate or freeze them. Not anything too time consuming in that.
Blanching is a simple technique: In this process, food is simply immersed in boiling water for a short period (depending on thickness) and then plunged into ice water. This is enough to kill surface microbes and to inactivate enzymes, so my green stuff should stay edible longer. The down side of that is it may be an extra step–I certainly don’t want that. Cooking also achieves these ends–so maybe I can sauté my greens in some basic way that will allow me multiple uses and eliminate the extra step (and energy expenditure) and still preserve them; however, despite the cooking, the food still needs to be treated as a “leftover” (not eaten within two hours of cooking) and safety precautions for “leftovers” observed. The rule of thumb seems to be 4 days for things like cooked meats, chicken, et cetera; if it smells off, don’t eat it even if it’s less than four days. Lots of additional information is available from some of the links above.
Toscano kale, or other greens can be sautéed quickly with some basic seasonings, for example, a mild olive oil, a bit of salt and then have additional seasonings added as needed for other uses. I’ve done this basic thing and use the prepped greens in pasta sauce, filling for an omelette, as a side dish with some red pepper flakes and garlic added…very flexible and the entire batch of greens got used! Planned, flexible leftovers!
That raises the question of how long can I store something like the cooked greens in my refrigerator and still not lose taste or have a health hazard. First the refrigerator should be set to hold a temperature of 40 ° F or less (USDA) or less. You should keep a refrigerator thermometer (inexpensive and available at the grocery store) to monitor the temperature of the refrigerator. If it is within that range, you can find suggested time for refrigeration of meats, poultry, seafood at FoodSafety.gov. But remember that the safety of refrigerated leftovers depends on their proper cooling and storage. Don’t leave your hot food to cool on the counter. Put it in the refrigerator right away–that’s what refrigerators are for–to cool things and keep them cold. See the food safety links for instructions on how to cool foods properly and how to store and use leftovers safely.