Freeze and Reheat Prepared Meals

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The freezer is truly the best meal prep assistant you have.

Freezing entire pre-made meals is a time-honored tradition, stretching back as long as busy cooks have been in a crunch to put homemade meals on the table AKA, since the dawn of freezer technology.

Using your freezer as a kitchen assistant will not only bring some peace of mind to your meal prep but will help foster healthier eating habits by making nutritious, homemade meals readily available during times you’re tempted to swing through the drive-thru for an easy dinner option.

Whether you’re freezing prepared meals for convenience, time, or the health benefits, these tips will help you get the most flavor and quality out of your reheated pre-prepped dishes and ingredients.

Plan Ahead

When embarking on your meal prep experience, pick a dedicated day of the week to hunker down in the kitchen and spend some quality time preparing your dishes to be frozen and consumed later. Whether it’s a lazy weekend afternoon or a free weekday evening, by committing a chunk of time to putting together your make-ahead dishes you’ll have plenty of options ready to go when you’re in need of a quick, easy meal.

Choose Your Ingredients Wisely

Not all ingredients are created equal when it comes to freezing, and certain foods won’t fare as well once thawed. Some cream-based products like half-and-half, cream cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese, and ricotta are less likely to be a success when reheated, as separation naturally occurs during freezing, resulting in a grainy texture once it’s thawed and cooked.

Raw potatoes shouldn’t be frozen, as they will oxidize and turn black, and leafy greens and lettuces will be unsuccessful in the freezer if frozen raw due to their high water content. Instead, these ingredients should be pre-cooked and incorporated into a dish before heading to the freezer.

Ingredients that are meant to add extra texture to a dish, such as a crumble topping, crushed nuts, or fried onions, should always be added after the dish is thawed. Freezing them with the dish will result in a soggy texture, rendering the crunchy addition pointless.

Nail the Technique

Before slipping your dish into the freezer, it’s essential to allow pre-cooked foods to cool, as placing a piping-hot dish in your icebox will lower the overall freezer temperature, which could result in foods around it thawing and spoiling. If you’re in a rush, rather than using the refrigerator to cool dishes down quickly which will lead to the same issue, give them an ice bath in the sink. For this technique, fill your sink with a shallow layer of water and ice, and lower your hot dishes into it for a few minutes, making sure the water only comes halfway up the sides of your dish.

While your dishes are cooling, make sure your freezer temperature is set low enough, as all prepared foods should be stored in a freezer that is 0 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.

As a rule, when freezing food you want the containers to be as airtight as possible. Individually-sized meals should be frozen in airtight lidded plastic containers to limit the amount of outside oxygen flowing into the dish. It’s wise to double-wrap your plastic containers in a layer of freezer-proof plastic wrap if you’re planning on storing the dish for more than a week.

When storing larger dishes and casseroles, make sure to thoroughly wrap the entire container to limit the oxygen flow. Start by completely covering the top of the dish with freezer-proof foil, and then wrap the entirety of the dish in plastic wrap. Depending on the length of time you’re planning on storing, adding a second layer of plastic wrap will result in fresher flavors with no risk of freezer burn.

When freezing casseroles, it’s always best to opt for a shallow casserole dish, which will make for a faster-reheating process, as well as better distribution of heat through the entire dish.

All frozen foods should be marked with the name of the meal, the date it was prepared, and detailed instructions for reheating before being stowed away. This will ensure the food is eaten within a safe time period, and that other family members will be able to reheat the dish properly if you’re not around to lend a hand.

When freezing prepared meats, vegetables, grains, and pasta, it’s wise to slightly undercook to just tender before freezing. Each of these ingredients will cook slightly more when reheated, so they can easily become overcooked if stored well-done.  For tips on how to freeze and reheat premade soups and stews, check out our guide here.

The Size is Right

The size of the dishes you’re freezing will be flexible depending on your personal needs. If you’re prepping food for a whole family, large format meals like casseroles will work in your favor. However, if you’re looking for easy lunches or solo dinners, meal prepping individual portions is a great option.

For individual meals, freezing fundamental pre-cooked ingredients like brown rice, pasta, proteins, and cooked vegetables can make for easy lunches and individually portioned dinners down the line. These ingredients can be stored in separate containers and combined after the reheating process, or portioned out into smaller servings for easy access and portability. These ingredients will keep well in airtight freezer bags or plastic containers, which can be stacked for easy storage.

Casseroles make for the ultimate pre-made, family-sized frozen meal, as most will keep well in the freezer for up to 2 months, and are easy to prep and reheat. Plus, most casseroles can be frozen and stored before or after they’ve been baked.

If you’d prefer to not freeze your casserole in the dish putting that kitchen tool out of use until the dish has been reheated another option is to flash freeze your casserole before removing from the pan and storing separately. To do so, prior to preparing the casserole, line the casserole dish with a layer of aluminum foil and plastic wrap that hangs over the edges. Prepare your casserole and place in the freezer until completely frozen. Then, use the excess plastic wrap to pull the frozen dish out of the pan, and wrap the dish thoroughly in freezer-proof plastic. When you’re ready to reheat, unwrap the food and place it back in the pan for reheating in the oven. Another option is to stock up on inexpensive disposable foil pans that can easily be tossed after use.

Reheating 

In order to make sure your food is as safe as possible for consumption, food should always be thawed in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature. Once initially thawed, foods shouldn’t be refrozen, unless they’re completely cooked before heading back into the freezer.

For those in a rush, the microwave can be an easy method of thawing and reheating (if the portion size is right). If using a microwave or high-capacity toaster oven it’s wise to use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the center of the dish from time-to-time to guarantee it’s reached a safe 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

In order to safely thaw a prepped casserole, transfer the dish to the fridge for 24 hours before cooking. Then, cook the casserole at the same temperature as the recipe originally called for, adding an extra 15-20 minutes to the time and checking the temperature of the dish occasionally.

When reheating a pre-cooked casserole, you can go directly from freezer to oven. Cook the dish at the same temperature you would if cooking it fresh but give the dish an extra 20 minutes, checking the progress of the dish intermittently to make sure it’s heating properly, but not overcooking.

When reheating a casserole dish in the oven, leave the foil layer in place, folding back the corner or cutting a few slits in the top to allow steam to release from the dish. Rotate the dish occasionally during reheating to allow for even reheating.

Once you’ve gotten into the freezing groove, your meal prep is all but guaranteed to be a breeze even on your busiest of days.

Freeze and Reheat Prepared Meals

How To Cook Chicken Like a Pro 

This is an article from Hello Fresh about how to cook chicken.  I thought it had some good ideas, so am sharing it here. 

 

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Chicken is an extremely versatile and popular type of protein, and Americans consume about 92 pounds of it a year. But despite its popularity, people still struggle with basic cooking techniques. Whether you prefer boneless skinless breasts, bone-in skin-on parts, or even the whole bird, the challenge is the same. How do you cook it evenly, lock in flavor, and keep it juicy and moist? And if you’re a skin lover how do you get the skin perfectly crisp?

No two parts of the bird are the same, and I’m sure you’ve found yourself overwhelmed in the meat aisle at your grocery store wondering which part is best. But don’t panic! We’re breaking it down and dishing out all the tips and tricks to help you cook chicken like a pro.

Whole Chicken

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Few dishes are as quintessentially comforting as a whole roasted chicken. The aroma alone screams Sunday supper! And while you only need a few simple ingredients like salt, pepper, and perhaps some fresh garlic and herbs, the trick to a perfectly roasted chicken is all in the technique. Additionally, buying and roasting a whole chicken is really affordable, and leftovers make a perfect second meal. Of course, you can default to a rotisserie chicken, but mastering the art of roasting a whole chicken is a lot easier than you may think.

Tip #1: Dry = Crispy

Start with a 4-5 pound broiling or frying chicken. Dry the chicken well (inside and out) with paper towels. For best results, open it from the package in the morning or even the night before and leave it on a rack in a roasting pan uncovered in the fridge.

Tip #2: Salt is essential

Season generously all over (inside and out) with salt and pepper. A good rule of thumb is about 1 Tablespoon salt for an average 4-5 pound bird, and I prefer a Kosher-style salt, like Diamond. Plus the salt acts as a brine and will keep the chicken very moist.

Tip #3: Season beyond salt

If you are seasoning it with more than salt and pepper, combine your spice mixture (I love the simplicity of freshly minced garlic and a mix of herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme) in a bowl, then rub all over. Again, don’t forget about the inside of the bird! Feel free to season in advance to boost flavor.

Tip#4: Don’t forget the cavity

To add some extra moisture and flavor, cut a lemon, onion, or even an apple in chunks and place in the cavity along with a sprig or two of herbs/bay leaves. As the chicken roasts, these aromatics will release moisture and flavor — just remember to remove before carving.

Tip #5: Truss and tuck

Truss (tie) the legs and tuck the wings. Not only does this make for a prettier presentation, but it also helps keep the breasts from drying out while cooking.

Tip #6To baste or not to baste?

There are some people who love to dot their chicken with butter or brush it with oil before cooking, and then baste while it’s roasting. However, if you like the skin crispy, I’d advise against this since brushing and basting tends to reduce the crispiness factor.  Every time you open the oven, the temperature drops, so it’s best to keep the chicken at an even temperature and let the oven do the work.

Tip #6: Slow and steady

I’m a fan of 350º F all the way unless you’re in a hurry. On average, you’ll want to cook your chicken about 15 -20 minutes per pound to keep the white meat moist and ensure the dark meat is cooked through.

Tip #7: Roasting pan, sheet pan, and more

A traditional roasting pan that you line with a rack is sufficient since it will keep the bird elevated and allow the bottom to crisp. However, a shallow sheet pan will also allow the sides to crisp up more. I’m also a fan of roasting the chicken in a large cast iron skillet, which retains heat very well.

Tip #8: Check for doneness

Don’t poke your chicken too often while it’s cooking. Instead, set your timer for the estimated time, then insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (avoiding the bone). If it registers 165º F, it’s good to go. If you don’t have a thermometer, insert a sharp knife into the thickest part of the thigh (also avoiding the bone), and if the juices run clear, the chicken is ready.

Tip #9: Be patient and let it rest

Don’t rush to carve that chicken right after you’ve taken it out of the oven. Not only is it too hot to handle, but letting it rest for about 15 minutes will allow the juices time to redistribute.

Chicken Breasts

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Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are perhaps one of the hardest working proteins around.  They’re high in protein, low in fat, and cook relatively quickly. But perhaps the best part about this cut of chicken is its versatility since chicken breasts can be marinated, grilled, pan seared, sautéed, roasted, sliced and diced for simple stir-fries, threaded onto kabobs, or even shallow fried as cutlets when stuffed or pounded.

Despite their popularity, chicken breasts can be challenging to cook — especially when there is a significant difference between the thick and thin part. And unfortunately, it’s easy for this cut to become tough and rubbery when overcooked. But with these basic tips, you’ll be well on your way to moist and delicious chicken breasts in no time.

Tip #1: Smaller is best

Look for smaller size breasts, if possible, 6-7 oz is best. If you end up with ones that are extra large (between 8-12 oz), cut them in half horizontally for more even cooking, pound them out for cutlets, or slice and dice ‘em into small chunks for stir-fries.

Tip #2: Pat dry

Always make sure you pat the chicken with paper towels and season well with salt and pepper. If you’ve marinated chicken, make sure the marinade is shaken off and chicken is dry. Most marinades have salt so you can skip salting if you’re starting with a marinated chicken breast.

Tip #3: Don’t overcrowd

Start with a wide frying/sauté pan that helps keep splattering to a minimum (nonstick is okay but not essential). If you crowd the pan, the breasts won’t brown as nicely and leave enough room for turning. Consider if you’re going to be adding other ingredients like veggies or pasta.

Tip #3: Choose cooking fats wisely

Heat about two teaspoons of oil (regular olive oil is fine, but extra-virgin is not the best choice here due to its low smoke point). I like adding a knob (tablespoon) of butter at the end, which adds a nice flavor and color. In most cases, medium-high heat is best and will create a good sear. However, if it’s getting dark too quickly, you’ll want to adjust your heat slightly.

Tip #4: Leave it alone

If you want a nice sear, try not to move the chicken for about 5-7 minutes once in the pan. If the chicken is sticking, it’s probably not ready and won’t be golden brown.  Try to avoid over-flipping. Turn it once and don’t touch again for an additional 5-7 minutes. Again, the goal is golden brown color on each side.

Tip #5: Be patient and let it rest

Let the chicken rest for a few minutes before slicing or serving to allow for carry-over cooking and time for juices to redistribute. You’ll want to look for an internal temperature of 165°F, but if you don’t have a thermometer, pay attention to the following: Has the chicken shrunk while cooking? Is it somewhat firm to the touch? If you don’t have a thermometer, make a small cut into the thickest part and check that the juices run clear and flesh is no longer pink.

Bone-In Chicken Parts/Boneless Chicken Thighs

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Chicken legs, thighs, and wings are known as dark meat. These parts are naturally fattier than chicken breast, but also get fat and flavor from the skin. Some people prefer the dark meat because it tends to be more flavorful, but it will take a little longer to cook.

Bone-in, skin-on pieces (even breasts) are best for longer braises, deep-frying, and roasting. They are great marinated and grilled, and certainly less expensive than boneless.

Boneless chicken thighs have a lot of flavor and are just as versatile as the breast. They’re perfect for dicing in stir-fries or quick tacos and take to marinades very well. They can be pan seared and then transferred to the oven to finish cooking, roasted the entire way through, grilled, or lightly breaded and shallow fried. They work well in dishes like chicken chili’s, pot pies, and braises. Just like all poultry, you’ll want to get the internal temp to 165ºF.

Tip #1: Pat dry

Just like the whole chicken and breast, you want to pat the dark meat pieces dry with paper towel. This helps to avoid splatter and increase crisp.

Tip #2: Render the fat

Melting and clarifying animal fat (aka rendering) helps to tenderize the connective tissues. Roasting at high heat or slow braising are the best techniques for this. It’s best to sear in a hot pan first to render excess fat and add flavor. Next, transfer to an oven or add sauce/wine/veggies to the pan and let simmer while chicken cooks.

Eat and enjoy!

How To Cook Chicken Like a Pro 

Worst Generation of Cooks in the Kitchen

I found this article interesting, as all three of my sons and my daughter-in-law love to cook and have made some wonderful meals.  My sons would make me breakfast in bed for my birthday and for Valentines Day, starting when they were eight or nine.  They are all excellent cooks and they definitely know what and where to put a butter knife.  We sat down and ate with candles and cloth napkins whenever we could at home.  I thought it was important that they have good manners and know the basics in the kitchen. I always wanted them to be comfortable with any and all dining situations!  And, you what!  It worked.

According to Tasting Table, Millennials Are the worst generation of cooks in the kitchen

Only 60 percent can confidently identify a butter knife
Millennials Don't Know How to Cook

They might be able to apply Snapchat filters better than you can, but if there’s one thing millennials can’t do, is find their way around the kitchen.

According to a study from Porch, between millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers, millennials rate themselves as the worst kitchen cooks of all, with only 5 percent of twenty- to thirtysomethings considering themselves “very good” at home cooking. They rate themselves last in being able to tackle (very) basic dishes like fried eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, and lasagna. (Though, they do feel more confident than baby boomers at baking store-bought plop-and-drop cookie dough.)

And while many baby boomers aren’t so great at identifying a salad spinner, Thrillist notes it’s not so bad once you consider about 40 percent of millennials can’t even recognize a butter knife.

The one thing they are good at? According to the study, millennials are the top generation investing in meal delivery services and utilizing internet videos for cooking advice. Hey, at least they’re trying.

 

Worst Generation of Cooks in the Kitchen

10 Bite-Size Spring Appetizers

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Spring is in full swing, and if you haven’t yet jumped into the depths of all of the great seasonal produce, we’re thrilled to let you know some great ways to enjoy it all. These bite-sized spring appetizers are perfect for that backyard party you’ve been waiting to have all winter. Check out the roundup of our ten favorites that have truly given us Spring Fever.

1.) Radish and Arugula Crostini with Brie

One word: radishes.  It simply wouldn’t be spring without a heaping helping of radishes on our plates and of course, in our appetizers. These crostini bites pair radishes, brie, and arugula leaves on toast for a crunchy and bright flavor experience.

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2.)  Savory Carrot Ribbon Tart

You know it’s spring when suddenly carrots are everywhere. Easter is this Sunday (can you believe it?) and a tart like this makes for a perfect pick-me-up before dinner is served. Serve up a hearty and clean appetizer like this that fits in all of the festive carrot flavors of the season on one pan. Using rainbow carrots is a great tip that incorporates all different kinds of colors into this festive spring tart.

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3.) Buttery Deviled Eggs

What kind of meal would it be without deviled eggs around Easter? Keep in mind that deviled eggs (or any recipe requiring hard-cooked eggs) are great.

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4.) “Spring Roll” Pot Stickers

Turns out you can get the fabulous flavors of takeout from your very own kitchen with these awesome pot stickers. The extra crispy-ness of this classic takeout item is enough in itself, but when you factor in all of the homemade goodness packed inside, they become out-of-this-world good.

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5.) Spinach-and-Green-Pea Empanadas

While these empanadas are a little heartier than the average appetizer and can definitely be served as an entree if desired, their fun hand-sized nature makes them a great grab-and-go food for backyard parties or get-togethers. Not only are they a delicious golden-brown, but they’re chock full of great spring veggies.

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6.) Blackberry-Brie Pizzettas

It’s true, blackberries reach their prime in the summer months, but if you’re lucky enough to be able to snag some blackberries from your local market right now, they go wonderfully with brie on these golden-brown personal sized pizzas. Not only do these colorful appetizer pizzas bring out even more of that Spring Fever, but they’ll get you all excited for the vast array of yummy produce still to come in the summer months.

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7.) Grits-and-Gumbo Tarts

All of the iconic flavors of this southern stew come together in perfect bite-sized portions with these tarts. Shrimp, okra, and polenta rounds pair perfectly in one bite and would make a great accompaniment to this warm spring weather.

These bright and colorful crostini appetizers are reminiscent of spring with their bright green colors and fresh flavor. Appetizers like this are a great way to combine multiple seasonal flavors in one bite. Fava beans get the spotlight here, but the goat cheese balances out the overall flavor.

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9.) Cucumber-Tomato Skewers with Dill Sauce

It doesn’t get much easier than these super simple veggie skewers. If you’re planning on serving a heavy meal, these light and fresh appetizers are the perfect pairings to round out the flavor palate, and the creamy dill sauce is a great accompaniment.

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10.) Fresh Spring Rolls with Pork, Mango, and Mesclun

This great appetizer comes with an essential peanut sauce, which lends a sweet and spicy flavor to these bright and fresh spring rolls. These rolls are held together with clear rice-paper wrappers, which allow for tons of great flavor to be packed into one edible snack.

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10 Bite-Size Spring Appetizers

What Is Salmonella, Anyway? 

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What you need to know about the bug that caused 206 million eggs to be recalled

A moment of silence for the unspeakable number of eggs that were likely cast aside in the trash this week. That’s because last Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that Indiana-based company Rose Acre Farms recalled over 200 million eggs after tracing a salmonella outbreak to one of its North Carolina farms.

The eggs, which were distributed to nine total states, “were likely connected to 22 reported cases of salmonella infections” according to The New York Times.

Rose Acre Farms calls itself second-largest egg producer in the United States, with three million hens that produce 2.3 million eggs a day, so the whole concept is a little dizzying. But before you forsake eggs for good, let’s take a moment to go over the facts.

While we read frantic headlines about salmonella thinking of an illness, it’s actually the name of the bacteria that causes salmonellosis (or salmonella infection). Both terms get their namesake from an American scientist named (get this) Dr. Daniel E. Salmon, who discovered the bacteria with research assistant Theobald Smith.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.2 million Americans a year contract salmonellosis. Though it can happen from contact with pets, about 1 million of those cases are caused by food.

The mere mention of foodborne illnesses may make you jump and your stomach turn, and you’re not the only one. There’s a reason why any food-tainted headlines seem both frequent and panicky—the concept of unknowingly ingesting something dangerous seems overwhelming when you think about the fact that you eat three meals a day. And the reason you hear extra buzz about salmonella infections is because it’s one of the most common foodborne illnesses.

Not only that, but the number of salmonellosis outbreaks has been increasing over the years. Many people think that salmonella is primarily a risk arising from undercooked chicken, while that is one source of infection, there are many others.

Those sources include other kinds of uncooked meat, contaminated water, raw milk, fresh produce, and, of course, raw eggs.

Luckily, when salmonella infection is caught, it’s typically very treatable—and most people only need fluids to recover, often in just a few days. Others, however, need antibiotics, and the CDC says that 23,000 Americans are hospitalized for salmonella with 450 deaths annually, so it’s still something to watch out for.

If you’ve been reading the headlines and suddenly realizing you’ve been feeling iffy for a few weeks now, don’t worry—it’s not because you ate some kind of gross chicken last month. “Whereas other foodborne germs, such as E. coli and listeria, may take days or even weeks for symptoms to show, salmonella symptoms may appear after only a few hours and may last for several days,” explained Kronenberg.

The symptoms include nausea, chills, fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, and diarrhea, for starters. Fun, huh? However, with a little prep, it’s not too hard to prevent. While it’s undeniable that some things happen in life from pure bad luck, many cases of salmonella infection can be avoided by introducing a few precautionary routines. Kronenberg advises washing your hands.  We’ve all been told to wash our hands practically since we were born but when you’re handling something like raw produce, it’s hard to remember that something as innocuous as an apple can be laden with bacteria.

Be careful while you’re cooking. Don’t handle raw and cooked foods with the same cookware. Washing fresh produce with cold water may reduce the risk of illness.

Use a food thermometer if you want to be extra careful in light of the arguably unsettling egg news.

Cooking eggs to temperatures of 160 degrees or above or until the yolk is firm or fully cooked will kill salmonella and reduce the risk of food poisoning.

What Is Salmonella, Anyway? 

Always wash these fruits & veggies

In the latest report about pesticide residues, the Environmental Working Group says that 70% of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables contain up to 230 different pesticides or their breakdown products.

The analysis, based on produce samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found that strawberries and spinach contained the highest amounts of pesticide residues. One sample of strawberries, for example, tested positive for 20 different pesticides, and spinach contained nearly twice the pesticide residue by weight than any other fruit or vegetable.

The two types of produce topped the EWG ranking of the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest concentrations of pesticides the so-called “Dirty Dozen.” After strawberries and spinach come nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers. More than 98% of peaches, cherries, and apples contained at least one pesticide.

This year’s list nearly mirrors the one from last year, suggesting that little has changed in how these crops are grown. (The analysis applied only to produce that wasn’t grown organically.)

How dangerous is the exposure to the chemicals? Since federal laws in 1996 mandated that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study and regulate pesticide use for its potential to harm human health, many toxic chemicals have been removed from crop growing. But studies continue to find potential effects of exposure to the pesticides still in use. A recent study, for instance, indicated a possible link between exposure to pesticides in produce and lower fertility.

More studies are needed to solidify the relationship between current pesticide exposures from produce and long-term health effects. In the meantime, researchers say that organic produce generally contains fewer pesticide residues, and people concerned about their exposure can also focus on fruits and vegetables that tend to contain fewer pesticides. Here is the EWG’s list of the fruits and vegetables lowest in pesticide residue, the so-called Clean 15:

Avocados

Sweet corn

Pineapples

Cabbage

Onions

Frozen sweet peas

Papayas

Asparagus

Mangoes

Eggplants

Honeydews

Kiwis

Cantaloupes

Cauliflower

Broccoli

Always wash these fruits & veggies

How to Completely Ruin a Recipe

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Because at least we can learn something from all this.

KAYLEE HAMMONDS ~Author

This year, for the first (and hopefully last) time, my father volunteered to cook Easter dinner. I was a bit wary.

But hey—basically all he had to do was follow one recipe. Why? Because convenience is pretty much the only deal in the Hammonds household. That means the fewer home-cooked items, the better: This year’s dinner consisted of a Costco ham, Sister Schubert’s rolls, and a salad kit still in its bag.

That meant there wasn’t much left to tackle except for potato salad. (My Southern mother cannot conceive of ham served without potato salad.) We figured dad could handle it.

The recipe he chose involved grilled potatoes dressed with a pesto vinaigrette. I want to say he chose it because it sounded delicious and fresh, and something that his family would like to eat, but I’m pretty sure it’s because it was on the back of the bag of potatoes he’d picked up on the same Costco run that bore home our Easter ham.

Note: I love my parents. But cooking is not…how do I put this? It’s not their thing. My mother has been known to boil canned asparagus ahead of time, then freeze it, then thaw it out and serve it, in order to “save time.” Forget about the sad specter of tortured stalks that may at this moment be interred in the morgue of my mother’s freezer: I still don’t know what the H-word kind of time-saver that is.

Don’t even get me started on their rather cavalier attitude toward food safety and spoilage.

 There was much banging, messing about the kitchen, and my dad yelling at my mom (“Where are the pine nuts?! What are pine nuts?!”), while somehow managing to use pretty much ALL of the dishes.

Even so, I was excited about the salad: an easy pesto topping, something mild and springy to complement the nice, waxy bite of new potatoes. The recipe called for cooking the potatoes twice (first in the microwave, then on the grill), which I knew was intended to create a delicious crunchy/soft texture to hold the basil and olive oil, with nice ridges for rich, fat curls of Parmesan to land on.

A shower of toasted pine nuts would finish this deconstructed beauty of a spring celebration dish with an aromatic crunch and a not-small amount of panache.

Here is what her father served:

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Let’s just take a look, shall we? This is a very brown, very soupy, somehow almost wilted pesto potato salad. My dad plopped a serving on my plate (I could hear the noise, but also sort of see it, like an onomatopoeia set off in a funny font in a comic book).

I picked up a forkful, and the first thing that hit me was the cheap, shambolic twinge of cut-price vinegar. Placing it in my mouth and chewing, I learned that some of the potatoes were slightly overcooked, while others were ice-cold, and the whole mouthful wore so many dried spices it reminded me, unkindly, of a girl I used to know in high school who preferred having makeup caked upon her face.

The texture was somehow both dry and mushy, while that vinegar taste hung over everything. This dish managed to defy any and all of the kitchen logic that I have come to know in my time working with food. It felt like laws of actual physics had been broken.

“Don’t blame me,” My dad said. “I followed the recipe.”

This, by the way, was the recipe:

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Not terribly simple, but not terribly complicated either.

So what went wrong? How did we get from a relatively innocuous, and tasty-looking potato salad dressed in a mild vinegary pesto, to a bowl of half raw, half mushy tubers lurking like stones in a swampy pile of desperation?

I decided to sit with my dad and try to go over how this thing had occurred, what we could learn from it, so we would never, ever, ever, ever have to do it again.

As we went over his culinary choices, it soon became clear that no decision he made was terribly unreasonable especially if taken one by one but put them all together and you get a pretty unholy mess. So here are the choices that my father made when following this recipe, how they went wrong, and the things that we can learn from them.

He halved the recipe

In itself, that seems perfectly reasonable, but he only cut out half of the potatoes, forgetting to reduce all of the other ingredients.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but once you’re in the kitchen and ingredients are flying, it can be easy to forget—especially if you’re making a recipe you’ve made before or often. This is a big one! If the ratio of ingredients is off, the whole dish can be thrown askew. You really have to make sure to alter the ENTIRE recipe to avert disaster.

He substituted dried herbs for fresh

Often, it’s just fine to use dried herbs where fresh is called for fresh herbs can be expensive and if you don’t cook a lot, it doesn’t make sense to spend the money.

The problem here is that Dad used a 1:1 quantity. If you’re going to sub in for fresh, you need to reduce the amount a three to one ratio is recommended.

Not only that, he subbed out the finely-minced basil that was called for, for a dried basil-oregano mixture sold to “flavor dipping oil for bread.” And he had dug it out of the back of the spice cabinet. Problems: it was the wrong combo of spices, the ratio was off, and given how old those spices probably were, just, like, ew! Clean out your spice cabinets!

He followed some directions exactly

This seems perfectly reasonable, but here we can blame the recipe, at least in part. The directions said to “halve or quarter” the potatoes, however, they varied wildly in size, so naturally, they cooked at different rates.

Uneven cooking resulted in a mix of raw and over-cooked potatoes not pleasant. Cutting them into like sizes would have helped them to cook more evenly. And saved at least a few tears.

This is an easy thing for a more experienced cook to figure out, but the recipe didn’t really explain how or why to avoid that. So it was part Dad-fail, part recipe-fail.

He made what seemed like a simple substitution

Pops assumed, perhaps understandably, that the inexpensive balsamic vinegar he had in the pantry could stand in for the golden balsamic in the recipe.

While you could probably replace the delicate flavor of a white balsamic with a mellow, aged balsamic, the cheap cooking swill he poured over the salad just wasn’t going to cut it.

Just as with potatoes, people, and buttercream frosting, all vinegars are not created equal. Take a minute to figure out what an ingredient brings to the recipe, in this case, a hint of acid without the mud-brown color.

He used Parmesan Cheese in a Can

We can maybe give him this one. After all, the recipe said “Parmesan” and the can said “Parmesan.” It’s been a years-long battle to get my parents to give up their can of powdered Parmesan. It ain’t happening. And, frankly, if all you’re trying to do is cut some of the acid in the jarred tomato sauce you just poured over spaghetti, it’s probably fine.

But putting shredded or shaved Parmesan over top of a salad is a lot different. And in a simple recipe like this, where every ingredient has to pull its weight, you can’t just dump cold, clumpy powder on and call it a day.

This resulted in an even more powdery potato texture (and it may have been in my head, but I swear I could taste the can). Real cheese is a whole different level of deliciousness. Use it sparingly, wisely, and you’ll find it’s well worth it.

He cut out a seemingly unimportant step to save time

The recipe called for tossing the warm potatoes in olive oil with vinegar, salt, and garlic and then putting the dish in the fridge to chill. Later, you were meant to add the fresh basil, pine nuts, and cheese.

This would have added a nice luxury finish to a simple side dish. But, because he didn’t give himself enough time, he did not chill the potatoes, which resulted in a warm, haphazardly-cooked heap soaking up the glop of powdered cheese, spice blend, and balsamic vinegar.

Sometimes there are extraneous steps to a recipe, sure. But not always. If you’ve got a recipe from a trusted source, examine the method carefully before you toss a step (or an ingredient) out the window. There’s probably a reason for it.

This is most likely why I don’t let my own husband in my kitchen.  If and when he goes shopping with me, he always thinks we should buy the cheapest of any said ingredient and that just does not work. 

How to Completely Ruin a Recipe

I want to make this soon!

Buttery German Apple Cake

8 servings

This gorgeous cake was unanimously crowned the best of the best from this year’s Readers’ Choice Week recipe submissions. We love the simple method to get that professional shingled look without having to layer each individual apple slice. Make sure the butter is truly room temperature, or it will be difficult to bring the dough together. Read more about the family story behind the cake (at the end of the article), which was passed down (in memory! Not written down!) through three generations, beginning with one resourceful German grandmother. It’s also known as Versunkener Apfelkuchen, meaning German apple cake.

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • ¼ cup plain fine breadcrumbs
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp. apricot preserves
  • 3 medium, firm apples, such as Pink Lady or Honeycrisp
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Unsweetened whipped cream (for serving)

Special Equipment

  • A 10″-diameter springform pan with removable bottom

RECIPE PREPARATION

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Grease bottom and sides of springform pan with butter, then coat with breadcrumbs, tapping out excess.

  • Whisk granulated sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, salt, and 1 cup flour in a large bowl. Create a well in the center and add egg, vanilla, and remaining ½ cup butter. Using a fork and working in a circular motion, stir until the dough starts to form large clumps. Using lightly floured hands, knead very gently in a bowl until dough comes together in one large, soft mass (you may need to add a little bit of flour to the dough to keep from sticking to your hands).

  • Still using lightly floured hands, press dough into the bottom of springform pan, then press into an even layer with the bottom of a dry measuring cup or mug, sprinkling a little flour over the dough if it starts to stick to measuring cup. Spread apricot preserves in a thin layer over the surface of dough with a small offset spatula.

  • Peel and quarter apples. Cut the core out of each quarter and arrange apples flat side down on cutting board. Make thin parallel crosswise slices in each quarter, taking care not to cut all the way through so apples stay in one shingled piece. Arrange apple quarters in concentric circles over the entire surface of the dough, trimming to fit if necessary (you may have a few extra pieces).

  • Bake cake, rotating the pan halfway through, until apples and crust are golden in color, 55–60 minutes (apples will not be completely tender, but that’s intentional). Let cool 15 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, place powdered sugar in a small bowl. Gradually pour in lemon juice, whisking constantly until a thick but pourable glaze forms.

  • Remove sides of springform pan. Lightly brush top and sides of cake with glaze. Let cool completely before transferring to a platter. Serve with whipped cream alongside.

    The best things in life are worth preserving, which is why Olaf Klutke knew he had to record the recipe for Buttery German Apple Cake, this year’s winning Reader Recipe. Out of the hundreds of recipe submissions we received, this one stood out. It’s creative in its construction, delicious, and, perhaps most of all, passes on a family tradition.

    Ilse is Klutke’s mother, and her famous apple cake recipe was based on one she learned from her mother-in-law, Marta. Newly married (and newly cooking) Ilse learned how to bake with Marta in a tiny, hand-built kitchen in Hamburg, Germany. In 1964, Ilse and her family, including three-year-old Klutke, immigrated to the United States, just outside of Chicago. She brought the memorized recipe for the cake with her, too.

    “Once she learned, it was always there,” Klutke says. “For special occasions, for Sunday night dinner. Even if she saw good-looking apples at the store, that was reason enough to make it.”

    It’s based on a traditional German apple cake, Versunkener Apfelkuchen, but what is usually a runnier batter is more dough-like in her version, yielding something between a cake, a tart, and a cookie. It’s moist and chewy, with a crisp, golden crust. The dough comes together in one bowl but makes two different textures through baking. First, it’s pressed into a buttered springform pan with a removable bottom that is sprinkled with breadcrumbs, which is where the cookie-like, crumbly quality comes from. Then the top of the crust is spread with apricot preserves, which seep into the dough and keep a layer of it soft like Oooey Gooey Butter Cake, even as the bottom crisps up. There are peeled and quartered apples on top displayed like the top of a beautiful tart. You can use any kind you prefer to bake with, like Pink Lady or Honeycrisp.

    The apples are a brilliant move in and of themselves. Each peeled quarter is sliced like a fan at ⅛-inch thick almost to the bottom, but not fully, so that they still hold together, like a Hasselback squash or potato. Though Marta probably wasn’t thinking this, we’re happy to point out that this makes for a particularly ‘grammable cake. The real reason she did it? “When the cake bakes, those slivers separate and brown on their own,” Klutke says. “They get soft, but the center core stays firmer, so you have variety. When my mom was cutting, I took out a ruler to see how far apart the slits were.” He told the BAtest kitchen the apples should be “al dente” when we cross-tested the recipe. The baked result was pleasantly firm, unlike soft-bordering-mushy apple pie filling. It almost made the cake taste healthy.

    In the original recipe, Klukte notes that his grandmother Marta, or omi, served it with a dollop of whipped cream, or schlagsahne, as we do here. “The more American version would be with a scoop of ice cream,” he writes, “which omi would certainly approve of!”

    Because she knew what it meant to adapt. During World War II, Klutke’s grandparents had to escape Germany. They fled to Poland, and then eventually to the small town of Schruns, Austria, where they lived in a hotel for about five years. In exchange for their stay, Marta worked in the hotel kitchen, baking her cake for its visitors, who were often American and French soldiers. Once the war was over and it was safe to return, his grandparents made their way back to Hamburg, where they found their city, and house, in ruins. Klutke’s grandfather re-built the structure from the ground up, but Marta’s memorized recipes were always at-hand, and then passed down to her daughter-in-law, Ilse.

    Klutke has been recording his family recipes for the past year, trying to make a written record of dishes in his mom’s head—things like beef Rouladen and goulash. For the cake, he even printed photos and made diagrams of how to slice the apples to go along with it. “I have to stand next to her and grab ingredients and actually measure them as she’s working,” he says. “I have a whole cookbook like this that I’ve done.”

I want to make this soon!

GENIUS SOUS-VIDE COOKING HACKS

These tips will turn you into a sous-vide superstar
Genius Ways to Use Your Sous-Vide Circulator

The Instant Pot might be the most powerful kitchen gadget since the microwave, but for home cooks everywhere, there’s one thing that talented little pressure cooker just can’t replace: the almighty sous-vide machine.

There’s a special place in our heart for a tool that can effortlessly cook steak too a perfect medium rare then turn around and make the smoothest crème brûlée. In fact, an immersion circulator is probably one of the most versatile pieces of kitchen equipment on the market.

New to the world of sous vide? Or perhaps you’re looking for a little help mastering your latest holiday score? Follow these six innovative hacks, and you’ll be a sous-vide superstar in no time.

① Poach Eggs with PrecisionNobody ever said whipping up eggs Benedict was easy, but add an immersion circulator to the mix and achieving perfect, yolk-y gooeyness is painless. Just dump your eggs directly from the carton into an awaiting water bath, no vacuum bag needed. Their shells will protect them from cracking, and the consistent, well-circulated heat will keep them from overcooking. In less than an hour, they’ll be done and ready to top your English muffins, creamy risotto or spaghetti carbonara.

② Temper Chocolate like Jacques Torres

If there was ever a more hair-pulling task, it’d be the tricky art of tempering melted chocolate. But, frustrating as it may be, there’s just no better way to give your homemade candies the snappy, illustrious and markedly professional shine. Though this method usually involves carefully raising and lowering temperatures at specific intervals,

③ Infuse Spirits, Oils and Extracts in an Instant

We’re all for DIY-ing infused spirits and extracts, but waiting weeks for them to age? Not so much. Thankfully, using your sous vide to warm tasty concoctions at a low, steady heat shortens this painful waiting period to just under a few hours, and the method is gentle enough to infuse all those same complex flavors the lengthy aging process produces. You can also employ this hack when making rich homemade tinctures like red pepper and fresh herb extracts.

④ Create Smooth, Foolproof Custards

Making silky pots de crème or sleek lemon curd presents quite the conundrum: You need to heat your eggs for maximum thickness, but raise the temperature a few degrees too high, and you’ll wind up with scrambled yolks. With a sous-vide machine, however, you can kiss curdled custard goodbye. Just seal the ingredients, drop them into the water bath for an hour, then transfer them to a blender for a quick spin. The next thing you know, you’re looking at a custard more akin to a creamy ice cream base than a stringy breakfast dish.

⑤ Pickle Vegetables on the Double

Pickle fiends, it’s time to celebrate: Brining your beloved veggies has never been easier. Rather than waiting weeks for your cukes to ferment, a sous-vide machine’s steady temperatures can cut the process down to a mere few hours. And if you prefer quick chilled pickles, a half hour in a vacuum-sealed bag with just a fraction of the brine is all you need.

⑥ Get Icy-Cold Drinks in Minutes

Say sayonara to that college-era, ice-filled bathtub. If you happen to have a Nomiku-brand machine, its minimum temperature can activate the motor without turning on the heating element. Fill a bucket with your favorite Super Bowl beverages, and the machine will churn icy water to chill them right in time for kickoff.

GENIUS SOUS-VIDE COOKING HACKS

A Local’s Guide to Eating in Rome

The Tasting Table has some of the best articles.  Now I just need to go back to Italy again.  Bypass the tourist traps and get the inside track on the Eternal City’s best trattorias, pizza spots, and gelato joints

Where to Eat in Rome like a Local

Rome is a city of classic fare and ancient flavors, of cacio e pepe and carbonara, artichokes and wild greens, fire-crisped pizzas and silky gelato—and, of course, divine wine. But Rome is also a city of tourists, which means that an unforgettable meal isn’t always guaranteed in the Eternal City.

“Four million Romans live in Rome, while tourists crowd in the center,” says Count Giovanni Bonmartini Fini, a Roman local and winemaker with a 500-year family history making and exporting Italian Pinot Grigio. “For the best food experiences, get out of the center and experience what we eat in our many neighborhoods.”

Rome is a sprawling tangle of ever-expanding neighborhoods, but despite its growth, there’s still a simple, old-world mentality when it comes to culinary culture.

“Our foundation is [we eat] what’s in season, what’s nearby. We’ve never left that,” Bonmartini Fini says. He’s a locavore without trying; seasonality dictates dinner. “People talk about the local food movement, and that’s [a mindset] that has always been here. When it’s artichoke season, everyone is eating artichoke. Pizza with artichoke, salad with artichoke, pasta with artichoke, meat with artichoke.”

Go to one of Rome’s famed open-air markets, and you can tell the time of year by what’s in stock. “My absolute favorite market is one of the ugliest, but it has incredible options: Il Mercato di Via Riano near Ponte Milvio [a 2,000-year-old Roman pedestrian bridge]. Some of my favorite stands are the fresh seafood caught by brothers and wild mushrooms harvested by a little old lady,” Bonmartini Fini says.

Bonmartini Fini insists on being properly caffeinated before food shopping—and what Italian would disagree? He’s devoted to his neighborhood espresso bar in the leafy residential area of Parioli. “Il Cigno is a five-minute walk from my home and run by my friends. It has the best macchiato and pastries. My absolute favorites are the cornetto integrale con miele, a whole-wheat, honey-filled croissant, or the decadently amazing cornetto alle mandorle, a marzipan-filled croissant.”

Besides mainlining shots of espresso (always drunk standing up at the counter), Romans stay hydrated via the city’s many ice-cold, spring-fresh drinking fountains nicknamed nasoni, or “big noses.”

But back to stuffing our faces: There’s always an Italianate locality to Rome’s dining-out culture: “When we go out to dinner in Rome, it’s not like, ‘Are we going to get Japanese, Indian, Chinese?’ No. The question is: ‘Are we going to eat Tuscan, Sardinian, Piedmontese, Umbrian, Roman?'” Bonmartini Fini says.

More often than not, the answer is Roman. Some of the very best Cucina Romana is casual. For the city’s famous thin-crust pizzas, Bonmartini Fini lets his two teenage boys choose: “Al Gallo Rosso is packed with Roman teens and has a paper-thin crust, wood-oven pizzas. You can’t spend more than 15 bucks there.

“If my wife, Scilla, decides, it’s La Sagrestia, located on the side of the Pantheon, a non-touristy pick in a tourist-dominated area.”

For special occasions, the choice is usually seafood, since the fish is shockingly fresh—and even more shockingly expensive. (It’s often charged by weight at a restaurant.) “Scilla and I love to celebrate down the street from our home at Ai Piani, a wonderful Sardinian fish restaurant.”

There are plenty of spots for native dishes like Rome’s classic carbonara, which gets its velvety texture from farm-fresh, raw egg yolks cooked into the still-hot pasta. (Unlike in America, there’s no cream in sight.) “If you ask 10 Romans where to get the best carbonara, you will get 10 different answers. The dish is always made with just eggs and bacon, but every carbonara is different because we have six different ways of saying ‘bacon’ in Italian.

“My favorite is always Trattoria Perilli in Testaccio,” Bonmartini Fini says. Set in a working-class neighborhood, the often-packed Perilli’s is where the owner—a gentleman well into his 90s—can still be found bringing out dishes of carbonara and bottles of wine. Most of the wine Bonmartini Fini makes under his Barone Fini brand is exported to the U.S., but Perilli’s serves Barone Fini Valdadige Pinot Grigio alongside its legendary rigatoni alla carbonara.

Since 1497, the Bonmartini Fini family has been producing Pinot Grigio high in the Italian Alps, where the grapes grow natively and superiorly. Because of this and the naturalist cultivation methods, Barone Fini Pinot Grigio has a DOC designation, a stamp of integrity and authenticity stipulated by the Italian government. DOC regulations preserve the quality of traditional gastronomic products all across Italy “It’s not an opinion; this is a government distinction,” Bonmartini Fini explains.

In Rome, wine is drunk to complement food—its intention isn’t to dominate the meal, but instead to improve it. Coupling heavy pasta with a refreshingly acidic grape varietal is one move you’ll see replicated night after night in Rome. “You need acid and crispness to cut and clean your palate. And the Pinot Grigios from this area [Trentino-Alto Adige]—even though they’re naturally balanced with minerality—they still have the strength to clean your palate.”

Another debate among Romans is the superlative gelato shop. “Every Roman has their own version of the best. The most famous is Giolitti, which is over a hundred years old.” This less-than-secret, old-world gelateria is worth the hype with an array of flavors including Italian wedding cake, Champagne, and stracciatella (a more serious version of chocolate chip). Bonmartini Fini has his own trick: “I always get three different chocolates on a cone.”

A dinner out in Rome is bookended by a classic aperitivo and digestivo. For an aperitivo, Bonmartini Fini drinks a spritz or a glass of bubbly Franciacorta (a sparkling wine from Italy’s Lake District) at the Hotel Eden’s rooftop bar (“the best view of Rome”) or, if he’s in the mood for something buzzy, at Ciampini in Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina. As for a post-dinner digestivo, he turns to a bittersweet amaro, a dark, herbal liqueur that’s increasingly popular stateside.
The one thing Bonmartini Fini can’t help you within Rome? Wine bars. “Listen, I make my own wine, so I’m not so good at going to enotecas.”

Fair enough.

A Local’s Guide to Eating in Rome