Tips from Culinary School

Found this article online by “my recipes” and thought the information was quite valuable.  I am always looking for ways to make things taste better in simple ways.

Good Stock Changes the Game:

This is probably something you’ve heard before, homemade stock is always going to be superior to the stuff you can buy in boxes, cans, or cubes at the grocery store. We use stock in almost everything. In classic French cuisine, so of course, There are all kinds of distinct schools that go about culinary training differently, but in French cooking, the sauces are everything. And the sauces are all built with great stock. Restaurants, of course, have the advantage of having many, many carcasses and scraps of mirepoix to put into huge vats of stock. It’s hard to get stock like that at home, without the industrial quantities that restaurants work with. But even just making quick stock in your Instant Pot will make your sauces and soups taste much, much better.

Watch the Bits at the Bottom of the Pan

When you’re searing meat or chicken on a pan, you’re, of course, watching the piece of meat so that it browns nicely and doesn’t burn. But it’s equally important to watch the browned bits at the bottom of the pan as they’re a good indicator of whether your pan is running too hot. Plus, those browned bits,  are incredibly dense in flavor. When you have them, you should always try to use them by degreasing and then deglazing the pan after you’re done cooking your meat. That just means pouring out any excess fat and then pouring wine, stock, or another liquid to help scrape up all the delicious bits. That’s an easy way to make a pan sauce, a great addition to your meal.

The Pan Cooks the Food, the Flame Doesn’t

You want to pay attention to how hot the surface of the pan is and how high your burner is turned up. Pans hold heat to varying degrees, and it’s important to keep that in mind when figuring out which one to use for what application. For very delicate things like fish, you often want to turn off the flame when the dish gets to a certain point of cooking, and the heat from the pan will continue to cook it. Pay more attention not just to how big the flame was under the pan, but how hot the pan was getting.

Weighing versus Measuring Cups

In applications where absolute precision isn’t necessary, eyeball amounts, and when precision was necessary, use kitchen scales. Bakers swear by using scales, and digital kitchen scales are a pretty cheap addition to the kitchen, and much better measuring by weight is than relying on measuring spoons and cups. Different flours and sugars weigh different amounts.

Reduce for Flavor, Thicken Later

When you’re making soup or stew, one of the steps is always to reduce a component. You reduce wine to syrup or cream to double cream, and on and on. Part of the point of reducing the liquid is to thicken it. But thickening really shouldn’t be a top priority when you’re reducing down a liquid. You can always use a roux or a quick beurre manie to thicken a liquid later. The point of reducing is to build flavor. You reduce it to the point where you like the flavor, season it, and then thicken it.

Rest Your Meat, Then Reheat

Resting meat is important. When you don’t let it rest after you cook it, whether its steak or roast chicken, the juices spill out over your cutting board and the meat gets dry. But It’s better to let the piece of meat rest even to the point of getting colder than you’d like, and then just put it in a very hot oven for a minute or two to reheat. That lets the juices reincorporate into the meat, then reheats it without cooking it further.

Reheating and Cooling Things Properly Is Crucial

Lots of things in restaurants are made beforehand and reheated because making things a la minute for hundreds of people is a good way to become very overwhelmed. You can bring up most things to the temperature they were when you were cooking them without cooking them further. That means that you cooked, say, a piece of chicken until its internal temperature is 165 degrees. As long as you cool that chicken properly, you can reheat it up to that internal temperature again without it getting overcooked. You don’t want to do that too many times, because the meat will dry out, but you won’t ever overcook your meat by reheating it if you keep that in mind. Similarly, with cooling things down, the danger zone for bacteria is when meat is in between piping hot and refrigerator cold. To get things cold quickly, it’s way more effective to put them in a bowl over a bowl of ice water than throwing them right into the fridge.

Depend on your Senses, Not the Directions

The throughline between very famous chefs of haute cuisine and my grandmother is that they don’t rely on recipes by the letter, they rely on their senses. Pay more attention to how the meat looks and smells and feels to tell when its done (and yeah, a thermometer too!) than what a recipe estimates. After all, recipes are great guidelines, but everyone’s kitchen equipment and conditions are totally different. You cook things until they’re done, and determine that doneness by visual and other cues.

Size Matters

This sort of cheeky mantra but it’s true so choose the right pot, pan, or bowl for the job and it makes all the difference. Too big of a pan means your meat won’t cook properly. Too small of a bowl, and whisking will be a huge chore. It matters not just because of convenience, but because your results will be different if you don’t pay attention.

Hot Plates for Hot Food

The quickest way you can give your at-home meals a restaurant touch is remembering to heat your plates before putting food on them that are meant to be eaten hot. All it takes is sticking them in the oven for a couple minutes before plating your meal. It means the food won’t cool down as fast, and you can enjoy it longer. Try it!

You Can Use Almost Every Scrap

Whether it’s egg whites or garlic skins, restaurant kitchens are geniuses at repurposing what would be food waste in most home kitchens. For them, it’s an economic concern as much as an environmental one, but it’s a practice that’s useful to adapt at home. You can use many of the things that you might otherwise scrap to make your food even better.

Tips from Culinary School

18 Bad Baking Habits You Need to Stop

I found this article online and made a few corrections and additions, but it has great information.

These baking mistakes threaten your beautiful bundts, bread, and bar cookies. Here’s what you should do instead…

In cooking, you’re encouraged to riff: Edamame in your stir-fry? Sure! A splash of rice wine vinegar in your pan sauce? Why not! Curious about herbes de Provence in your chicken rub? Give it a whirl!

In baking, however, creativity should be directed toward what you decide to make and how you decorate it—not how you cook it. That’s because baking is a science; cooking is an art. Science has rules. Art? Not so much.

You don’t read the recipe.

As you do with any IKEA furniture, you should read through the steps and gather your tools before you start mixing and whipping. Otherwise, you might get started and realize you’re one short a cup of cocoa powder of what your recipe needs. Or worse, you’ll start mixing up the dough for the birthday party you’re going to tonight and then realize it’s supposed to chill overnight. Oops!

The fix: Pull your recipe up on your phone, or get it from your cookbook. Read the ingredient list, and assemble everything that’s listed. Then, read the directions. You can even go so far as to “pretend” each step. This way, you can double check you have every ingredient and every appliance or tool you need.

You decide to wing it instead of measuring the ingredients.

The “a little of this, a little of that” mentality may suit you well in cooking, but in baking, it could backfire. After all, consider this: cookies, cakes, and bread contain many of the same ingredients: eggs, flour, sugar, butter, for example. In the right ratios, they make a specific type of baked good. In the wrong ratios, they could be a disaster. That’s why it’s vital to measure every ingredient, from the flour to the tiniest bit of cinnamon.

The fix: Use your measuring spoons and cups. You need the right ratios to get the best results. Save the winging it for your salad dressing.

You don’t respect the comma.

Has the comma in “1 cup flour, sifted” ever confused you? What about the comma in “1/2 cup pecans, chopped”? The comma is telling you something very important. Do you know what?

The fix: The comma is telling you to first measure the ingredient and then perform the task. Measure the cup of flour, then sift it. Or measure the half cup of pecans, then chop them. There’s a big difference between half a cup of chopped pecans and half a cup of pecans that were measured, then chopped. It can dramatically affect your final result.

You use liquid measuring cups for dry ingredients (or vice versa).

Liquid measuring cups and dry measuring cups measure things differently. Though it’s not a significant amount, it’s enough that it could affect the texture of your final product.

The fix: Use wet measuring cups (typically, the glass type you pour from) for everything liquid: water, oil, honey, milk, molasses, corn syrup, etc. Use dry cups for everything else, from flour and sugar to chocolate chips and yogurt. With the dry cups, be sure to use a flat surface, like the back of a knife, to swipe across the top of the cup to remove excess before adding to the batter.

You dip your measuring cup into the flour.

Dipping a measuring cup into a bag or jar of flour packs the flour into the well of the measuring cup. It may seem like the easiest way to scoop flour, but you’re actually getting more flour than you really need. Too much flour will turn into dense bread, hard cookies, and stiff cakes.

The fix: You need the same amount of flour each time to get consistent results, and you can do this in two ways: The less accurate option is to use a spoon to lightly scoop flour into a dry measuring cup, then use a flat edge (like a knife) to level off the flour. The most accurate way to measure flour is with a digital scale. A cup of all-purpose flour should be 130 grams.

You don’t preheat your oven.

We’ve all been there: You’ve just finished rolling out a tray full of cookie dough only to realize your oven is cool as a cucumber. So to save time, you turn the oven on and just stick the pan in any way. Bad idea. The quick and sudden heat is an important part of the baking process. If the dough heats slowly, you may have a mess on your hands.

The fix: If you realize the oven isn’t pre-heated when you’re ready to bake, just let the dough or batter sit while the oven heats up. Most ovens can be heated in about 10 minutes time. If you’re working with a temperature-sensitive dough, pop it in the fridge until the oven is ready.

You’ve never measured your oven’s temperature.

I have some bad news: Your oven could be lying to you. Just because it says 350°F doesn’t mean it really is. That means your brownies or pastries may not bake properly because your oven could be too hot, or even too cool. And 25°F in one direction can make a big difference in the final product.

The fix: Invest in an oven thermometer. Hang it from the grates in your oven the next time you turn it on. Let the oven pre-heat fully, and then see what the thermometer says. That will give you an idea of how correct your oven is—and how you need to adjust the oven when you bake in it.

You substitute baking powder for baking soda.

They might share a similar name, and they even look similar out of the box. But baking soda and baking powder are quite different. Baking soda must have an accompanying acid (lemon juice, vinegar, buttermilk, for example) to activate it; baking powder, on the other hand, has that acid already. If you use the wrong one, your baked goods will take a hit.

18 Bad Baking Habits You Need to Stop

50 ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

Your ideal pantry should feel like a wonderland of endless recipe options. Are those shelves currently looking a little bare? These are the 50 essential staples you should always keep on hand

Dried or Canned Beans

DRIED OR CANNED BEANS

Pound-for-pound, dried beans are one of the best values on the shelf. No time to soak? Canned beans ain’t bad either. If you’re craving a cool dip for chips, a bowl of spicy chili or stick-to-your-ribs comfort, beans are your new best buddy:

Dried Pasta

DRIED PASTA

Whether long, twisted or tied in a bow, pasta is the ultimate vessel for homemade sauces. Tired of spaghetti with sweetened, canned ragu? The opportunities for combination and customization are endless. Try south-of-the-border flavors, a cool pasta salad or an umami-rich red sauce:

 

Canned Tuna

CANNED TUNA

Fancy sushi-grade ahi ain’t got nothing on this last-minute lunch staple. Whether we’re craving salad or melty cheese sandwiches, we’re not ashamed to open a can, mix it with mayo and enjoy for any meal of the day:

 

Olive Oil

OLIVE OIL

Olive oil is available in all prices. Use the cheap bottles for cooking and the more expensive oils for fresh sauces, dressings, and infusions. Real extra-virgin olive oil will burn slightly at the back of your throat, and will be smooth, not viscous or sticky on the tongue:

Tortillas

TORTILLAS

Taco Tuesday is over and you have leftover tortillas. Yes, you could use them to wrap up a burrito or some sliced turkey. But did you consider a macaroni and cheese quesadilla? Or that you could fry them up and make your own chips? Go forth and tortilla:

Chicken Stock

CHICKEN STOCK

Every kitchen should include some good stock, especially since it can replace water in almost any savory recipe and add a ton of flavor (ever tried boiling pasta in it?). It’s ideal for soups and stews and can turn any pan drippings into a sauce in no time.  I make my own and store it in the extra freezer in my garage.

Peanut Butter

PEANUT BUTTER

Yes, you can slather some peanut butter and jelly on bread and call it a day. But why not try your hand at Chinese-takeout-style peanut butter noodles or sweet-and-savory desserts? But for some reason, I always keep mine in the refrigerator.

Rice

RICE

You’ll find rice on the plates of the majority of human beings around the world. Whether you boil it, steam it, simmer it or fry it, rice is a staple food worth experimenting.  The question is: “How many types of rice do you keep in your pantry?”

 

Milk

MILK

If the gallon is on its last few days, don’t toss it! You can use the last of it in sauces and gravies, as well as to make fresh mozzarella and milkshakes. Ok, so this in the frig, not the pantry, unless you have a refrigerated pantry.

Lemons

LEMONS

You should have lemons on hand for both a beautiful kitchen centerpiece and to brighten up dishes like fish and chicken. Try them in this Greek lemon soup, rice or any yellow baked good.

Eggs

EGGS

Having eggs in the fridge is a no-brainer. They’re essential if you’re baking or making breakfast at home, but can also be utilized for easy sandwiches, quiche and more.

Tomato Sauce & Paste

TOMATO SAUCE & PASTE

You might look at a can of tomato sauce and only see pasta, but don’t sell its potential short! Sure, it’s necessary for staples like chicken parm and pizza, but what about as a topping for stuffed vegetables or as a base for your sloppy Joes?

Soy Sauce

SOY SAUCE

Sure, soy sauce is an obvious choice on top of your Chinese takeout, but what about as part of a sweet and salty glaze for chicken? Keep it in the pantry to use in any number of sauces, or just to flavor steamed rice whenever you forget to order fried:

Brown Sugar

BROWN SUGAR

Plain granulated ain’t got nothing on brown. An essential for baked goods, you can also sprinkle it on bacon for a sweet-savory-bacony twist on breakfast or dessert. Your box is hard as a rock? Microwave to soften.

Parmesan Cheese

PARMESAN CHEESE

It’s salty, it’s nutty, it’s cheese a trifecta of deliciousness! Consider keeping extra in the fridge so you can transform almost protein into a parm. Plus, if you don’t have it, what are you putting on top of your pasta? I buy Reggiano Parmesano and freeze it when there is a sale.

Breadcrumbs

BREADCRUMBS

Breadcrumbs provide an unreal softness and lightness when mixed into meatballs, and Japanese-style panko is best for adding a crispy crunch to baked or fried foods.

Onions

ONIONS

Keep your onions in a dry, cool and dark place (away from the potatoes!) and they’ll last for months. Months during which you can caramelize them, fry them or serve them fresh:

Honey

HONEY

Great for sauces or as a sweetener for tea, oatmeal, yogurt, lemonade and more, this buzz-worthy liquid is the bee’s knees.

Vanilla Extract

VANILLA EXTRACT

There’s no knowing why vanilla became synonymous with bland. The extract from this ancient Mesoamerican bean is complex and fragrant, and is perfect when baked into creme brulee or broiled on grapefruits.

Balsamic Vinegar

BALSAMIC VINEGAR

If you’ve ever made your own salad dressing, you’re probably familiar with this Italian condiment. Balsamic vinegar is a perfect complement to fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, works magic in marinades and can be reduced to a syrup and used as a garnish.

Lentils

LENTILS

Is that box of lentils languishing in the back of your cabinet? Time to pull it out. Lentils are the perfect legumes for making protein-rich soups, salads and cookies.

Barbecue Sauce

BARBECUE SAUCE

In addition to being the one condiment you must have for grilling season, barbecue sauce is an easy out when you need lots of flavor without lots of work. Some of our favorite things to slather it on include pizza, chicken wings, and even savory muffins.

Greek Yogurt

GREEK YOGURT

Besides being a healthy staple for breakfast or a snack, Greek yogurt can also be used up in a marinade for chicken, as a creamy addition in soup or even in pancake batter. And don’t forget about tzatziki!

Cocoa Powder

COCOA POWDER

Cocoa powder might be the perfect chocolate boost for brownies and cakes, but try it in Mexican food to bring it back to its roots. Mole sauces and spicy Mexican hot chocolate are some traditional options.

Maple Syrup

MAPLE SYRUP

Don’t have a maple tree tapped in your backyard? Good thing you’ve got Canada (and Vermont) to pick up the slack. Use this sweet nectar to flavor everything from scones to French fries to roasted meats.

Potatoes

POTATOES

This humble Peruvian tuber is a staple in most all of the world’s cuisines. It can be prepared in every way imaginable and will last for months if stored in a dark, cool place (away from the onions!).

 

CURRY PASTE & POWDER

Whether you’re using paste or powder, curry is a great flavoring agent for sauces, soups and marinades. Looking for the ultimate quick fix? Curry + coconut milk = instant awesome:

FROZEN PEAS

Finish off almost any pasta with frozen peas, add them into a pot pie, or toss them into a salad. Any way you slice it, your freezer should definitely have a few bags of these at all times.

CANNED SALSA

Unlock the potential of salsa by piling it on top of your burgers, adding it in with slow-cooked meats and even mixing it into your rice. Bonus: it doesn’t take up fridge space until you’ve opened it.

WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE

Not many ingredients are as versatile as Worcestershire. It adds a salty, garlicky flavor to meat, so it’s ideal for marinades and sauces.

FROZEN SHRIMP

Shrimp is one of the quickest-cooking proteins out there, so when you’re short on time, tap into its amazingness by sauteeing it and serving over rice. And don’t forget about shrimp when you’re entertaining—they’re often at their best when served cold.

PIZZA DOUGH

Pizza dough is just for pizza, right? Wrong. You can use it to make cinnamon rolls, one-bite appetizers or just some cheesy breadsticks. Plus, it keeps in the freezer for at least a few months.

JAM & PRESERVES

Supplies for emergency PB&Js should always be in your pantry, but the buck doesn’t stop there when it comes to jams, jellies and preserves. You can easily amp-up any dessert with them, or even use them in a sweet and savory sauce for meatballs.

GRAINS

We all love our rices and our pastas, but sometimes we like to move into uncharted territory with starches. Have an adventure with farro, couscous, and quinoa in these grain salads.

MUSTARD

If you haven’t explored the mustard world lately, you’re really missing out. There are tons of different varieties and you can use them to add a tanginess to almost any meat, not to mention roasted veggie and sandwich possibilities.

DRIED FRUIT

Sucking the water out of fruit not only makes for highly concentrated flavors, it also renders fruits shelf-stable. Store them in the cupboard and use to sweeten baked goods, veggie dishes, grain salads, and stews.

CANNED TOMATOES

Odds are you’ve got your own ideas about what to do with a can of tomatoes. When it comes to using this pantry essential the options may be endless, but here are some of our favorites.

CORNBREAD MIX

Did you think cornbread mix was just for making cornbread? Silly goose. You’ve been missing out on some revelatory casseroles and biscuits! Oh, and don’t forget about the hot dogs and sausages you could have been dipping. I just keep cornmeal, as I make my own cornbread – so easy!

BACON

It’s a proven fact that bacon makes everything better (we’ve studied it), so you should definitely keep some in the fridge for testing that thesis. You can even add it to desserts for a salty twist, like this bacon brittle. I don’t use it often enough to keep in the refrigerator, so I freeze it.

CANNED ARTICHOKE HEARTS

Didn’t make as much artichoke dip as you expected? Try baking artichoke hearts into a casserole, spreading them over bread with some cheese or just sauteing them with chicken.

MAYO

Mayo is the base of so many delicious things that it’s almost impossible to not have some in the fridge. What would the world be without chipotle mayo or chicken salad?

PICKLES

Still, have the same jar of pickles from last summer’s barbecue season in the back of your fridge? Pull them out and get to work on some party snacks, dips or even just fried pickle chips.

HOT SAUCE

Firstly, if you can keep a bottle of hot sauce for more than a month without using it, congrats you’re stronger than we are. But if you do find that bottle lingering, fear not, because you can buffalo just about anything (chicken, pizza, fries, your whole life).

COCONUT MILK

You want to whip up a boxed cake but you want it to taste homemade good thing you’ve got coconut milk in the pantry. Use it in place of the liquids to give any baked good extra flavor, or to amp-up stir-fries and seafood.

FROZEN BERRIES

It’s impossible to keep yourself stocked with fresh berries all the time, so head for the frozen variety. Did you know freezing the fruit actually locks in its nutrients? Use berries for frozen drinks, pies and even homemade sorbet.

POPCORN

Goodbye, movie theater butter, you’re old news. Spice up your life with spiced popcorn or try something crazy and bake those fluffy popped kernels into cookies. I love grated parmesan cheese with my popcorn.

NUTS

Protein-packed and ready to eat, nuts are a staple in any pantry. If you’re not into them as a snack on their own, try crusting fish with them, or trying your hand at making peanut butter.  I store these in the freezer, so they do not go rancid.

OATS

Rich with essential nutrients, versatile in their uses and easy to prepare, oats make for an ideal breakfast. Eat them as a porridge, cooked into pancakes or blended into a smoothie:

PUFF PASTRY

Puff pastry is like the blank canvas of foods that you can transform completely with the addition of almost anything. Wrap it around chicken and asparagus for a new take on the chicken roll, or use it as a base for inventive pastries.

Most of all, have fun in the kitchen with what you can store in your pantry or refrigerator or in my case, your extra freezer.

 

50 ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

Save Your Soup?

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Don’t pour your too-salty soup, stew, or sauce down the drain fix it by trying these clever tricks instead.

Here’s a familiar scenario: You’re making a batch of homemade chicken soup for dinner. The recipe calls for two teaspoons of salt but all of a sudden, the salt shaker gets away from you. You realize you’ve added way more than the recipe actually needs. Crossing your fingers no one will notice, you give the soup a taste.

Yuck. Too salty.   

No! You don’t have to throw in the towel just yet. Luckily, there’s more than one way to fix a batch of too-salty soup, chili, chowder, stew, pasta sauce, and more. However, some methods work better than others and some don’t really work at all. Below, find several ways you may have heard for fixing over-salted food, and which ones work the best.

Increase the amount of non-salty ingredients.

This solution is labor-intensive, but it’s also the most effective way to diminish an overly salty flavor from a dish. By increasing the quantity of your main non-salty ingredients, the concentration or flavor of the salt will diminish.

So you’re making a creamy Carrot-Ginger Soup, increasing the number of carrots and ginger should help tame all of that saltiness. However, keep in mind that you’re basically re-making the entire dish again, which is a bit of work.

Add salt-free stock or water.

If you’re dealing with a salty soup or sauce, adding salt-free stock or water is the quickest way to fix it. Make sure to choose an appropriately flavored stock (i.e. don’t use beef stock in a chicken soup) so you don’t completely alter the recipe.

Or, if it is a chunky soup, drain and discard about half of the salty broth, leaving the vegetables and meat. Replace the discarded broth with new stock or water. Additionally, you can further decrease the concentration of salt by adding more vegetables and/or meat to your doctored soup.

Mask the saltiness with an acidic or sweet ingredient.

Depending on how oversalted the dish actually is, you may be able to use other strong flavors to bring down the perception of the saltiness. Adding an acidic or sweet ingredient may help downplay the saltiness, but you’ll likely create a completely new dish in the process. Here are a few ideas:

Acidic: Lemon, vinegar, lemon or lime zest, tomatoes

Sweet: Fruit, carrots, honey, sugar

If you have the time and flexibility, this experiment is worth a try, but bear mind that it may or may not save you from tossing the entire thing.

Add a whole potato—or not.

Sorry when you want to fix a dish that’s too salty, adding a potato just won’t do the trick. Believe what you want, but potatoes are not magical‚ and certainly not capable of selectively sucking the salt out of your soup.

In his wonderful book on food science, What Einstein Told His Cook, Robert Wolke actually proves scientifically that adding a potato does not alter the concentration of salt in the water. (Give it a read it to find out exactly how he does it!) So save your precious potatoes and make the Perfect Baked Potato or these Silky-Smooth Mashed Potatoes instead.

 

Save Your Soup?

Romaine Could Be Hiding

1804w Romaine Lettuce

Americans are being told to avoid romaine lettuce at all costs for the second time this year, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new outbreak of E. coli associated with the leafy green in 11 different states. Earlier this spring, it took federal investigators upwards of six months to track down where a similar outbreak, which claimed the lives of five individuals and sickened more than 200. This latest announcement by the CDC, coming Thanksgiving week, is a blanket ban on all forms of the lettuce, and details have yet to emerge beyond the fact that it has caused 30 plus individuals to fall ill.

Currently, the CDC is advising that any romaine is disposed of or avoided, regardless of when or where it was harvested. Many of you seemed prepared to do so—Cooking Light readers shared their frustrations in the comments section of a Facebook post yesterday, with many expressing that they had already consumed romaine recently.

CDC Recommends Blanket Ban on ALL Romaine Lettuce, E. coli Discovered Once Again
Do not eat any form of romaine lettuce from any region, CDC warns.

With federal investigators unable to pinpoint an exact source of the outbreak yet, the risk of E. coli poisoning—and the chance of developing HUS, a rare form of kidney failure associated with a toxin in this viral E. coli strain—is particularly troublesome to many shoppers.

Some retailers have previously gone to great lengths to remove tainted romaine lettuce from their shelves, but romaine lettuce is a ubiquitous ingredient and can be found in many ready-to-eat products. In the coming weeks, as investigators work to discover what is causing illnesses in what’s sure to be more than just 11 states, taking the time to thoroughly check your meals for romaine could help you stay safe.

Salad Greens and Salad Bar

If you’re dining out, be sure to ask your server about any use of romaine in the food’s preparation (even if it’s not evident) and if the establishment has updated their menus. Pour over any ingredient list on pre-made or frozen food products to ensure that romaine isn’t a concern. And when you’re in the supermarket, check these eight products for romaine lettuce to be sure that all are safe for consumption:

1) Salad Bars

Whole Foods Salad Bar Tongs
Whole Foods

You may be anxious to visit a salad bar, and for good reason—E. coli bacteria can transfer on contact, so take good care when eating from any salad bar in the coming days. On the off chance that your supermarket has yet to dispose of romaine, do not buy ingredients in proximity to romaine, and remember that self-serve utensils can easily become cross contaminated. This is a good time to make romaine-free salads at home.

2) Bagged Salad Mixes

1808w Chopped Salads Aldi
The CDC was careful to include this in their bulletin: bagged mixes like Fresh Express’ “American” blend contains chopped romaine, which could be contaminated with E. coli.

3) Ready-to-Eat Salads

mcdonalds-salad

Many supermarkets, as well as fast-casual chains and other food retailers, sell pre-made salads that have been massed produced in the last month. Double check the ingredient list before enjoying pre-made salads, even if you can’t see romaine in the container upon first glance.

4) Ready-to-Eat Sandwiches and Wraps

Lettuce is in nearly all pre-made sandwiches, and so it goes without saying to check these before buying. Lettuce wraps, as well as tortilla-based wraps, are of concern.

5) Grain Bowls and Noodle Bowls

Retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offer a full selection of ready-to-eat entreés in their deli selections, including noodle bowls and grain bowls that contain lettuce.

6) Green Juice and Blended Beverages

lean and green smoothie

You should take time to inspect all smoothies and blended beverages for romaine—while V8 juice contains an ambiguous “lettuce” callout on the ingredient list, some ready-to-drink beverages—especially green juices—contain romaine alongside servings of kale and spinach. This might also be a good time to make blended green juice at home, where you can swap romaine for other hearty greens.

7) Soup

This is rarer than other items on this list, but blended, chilled soups, including items like packaged gazpacho, could contain romaine lettuce.

8) Refrigerated and Frozen Prepared Entreés and Appetizers

Romaine may not be the first ingredient that comes to mind in the frozen section, but it could be of concern in prepared foods that are available for purchase in your supermarket. Take the time to double check the ingredient list, and when in doubt, ask an employee for help.

Romaine Could Be Hiding

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

soup.jpg I love making and eating soup when the weather turns cold.  Every year I just keep trying new ones.  When I am at the grocery store, I just look at all the different ingredients, grab a few and always find a recipe online that works.  It is kind of a fun challenge.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter ( I only had peanut butter with nuts, but just put it in the blender with the soup and it was great)
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt to taste
  • 1 large Roma (plum) tomato, seeded and diced  (I only had cherry, so chopped fine and deseeded by wiping with a paper towel)

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and lime zest. Set aside in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend.
  2. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add sweet potatoes, and chicken stock. Season with cumin, chili flakes, and ginger. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
  3. Puree the soup using an immersion blender or regular blender. If using a countertop blender, puree in small batches, filling the blender just a bit past halfway to avoid spillage. Whisk peanut butter into the soup, (I added in the blender) and heat through. Stir in lime juice, and salt.
  4. Ladle into warm bowls, and top with a dollop of the reserved sour cream, a few pieces of diced tomato, and a sprinkle of cilantro.

Serve with a salad or nice piece of French Bread and it is a lunch or dinner for kings. Oh, and don’t forget to add a nice glass of wine.

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

Yummies from my garden

Cauliflower Soup and Caprese Salad for dinner the other night was perfect, although I think either one would have been enough for dinner with a little delicious bread.

IMG_8459

 

Creamy Cauliflower Soup (Vegan)
serves 6 as a starter, 4 as a main

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped garlic (about 2 cloves), plus more to taste
2 cups (200g) chopped leeks (white parts only, from 2 or 3 leeks)
Natural salt
1 head cauliflower, chopped
7 cups (1.65l) vegetable broth
1/4 cup (35g) raw unsalted cashews or 1/4 cup (35g) blanched slivered raw almonds, soaked
3 tablespoons chopped chives or a grating of nutmeg (optional; choose one, not both), to garnish

Directions:

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the garlic, leeks, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt for about 3 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the cauliflower and saute for another minute. Add the vegetable broth, increase the heat to high, and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is completely tender. Stir the mix periodically and mash the cauliflower with a wooden spoon.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the soup to cool slightly; stir in the nuts. Pour the soup into your blender in batches and puree on high for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth and creamy. (Remember to remove the plastic cap in the blender top and cover the opening with a kitchen towel so steam can escape while you blend.) Return the soup to the saucepan and warm it over low heat. Stir in salt to taste. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with either chopped chives or grated nutmeg.

Caprese Salad

This is a simple salad that I often make for dinner or for friends.  I do make my own pesto and this one was pesto from my garden.  Grab a handful of Basil (a few stems are ok), some toasted pine nuts, good EVOO, a few heads of garlic, Reggiano Parmesano to taste and throw it all in your blender.  Add a little salt and/or pepper to taste.  Just sample till it tastes great to you.  Couldn’t be simpler.  I had to laugh a few years ago on a Rick Steve’s trip to Italy that people thought the demo on how to make Pesto was impressive.  I thought it was runny and not particularly tasteful.

Now, you’ve mastered making your own pesto, put it in layers with the Heirloom tomato (sliced 1/4″) with Burrato mozzarella (the good kind with the runny middle – YUM) and drizzle a little Balsamic Reduction over the top.  Not only is it pretty, but it tastes delicious!

Pair it with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio and you have the perfect summer dinner with hardly any cooking.

IMG_8461

Yummies from my garden

Beware this with your Slow Cooker

Slow cookers are beloved for their set-it-and-forget-it style. The best slow cooker recipes require very little hands-on time and make the machine do all the heavy lifting. Naturally, most of us don’t think twice when a recipe tells us to start with frozen chicken. After all, that’s the point—to let the slow cooker do the work of thawing and cooking the meat. Right?

Not so fast, says the USDA. According to their Slow Cookers and Food Safety guidelines, you should always thaw meat or poultry before putting it in a slow cooker. They recommend storing the thawed meat in the refrigerator before adding it in. “The slow cooker may take several hours to reach a safe, bacteria-killing temperature,” the guidelines read. “Constant refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, won’t get a ‘head start’ during the first few hours of cooking.”

The primary concern is that putting frozen meat in the slow cooker increases its chances of entering the “danger zone,” the temperature range between 40° and 140°F where harmful bacteria grow exponentially. Slow cookers operate at temperatures between 170°F and 300°F—well above this zone—but it takes longer for frozen meat or poultry to reach those temperatures than thawed meat, giving it more opportunity to sit in the danger zone.

Here’s where things get a little murky. The guidelines for the Instant Pot, which can function as a slow cooker, say there’s “no need to defrost the food in the microwave prior to preparing.” They recommend increasing the cook time if beginning with frozen food but do not address any potential hazards. This is perfectly fine advice if using the pressure-cooker function because a pressure cooker can cook frozen chicken or meat fast enough to avoid the “danger zone.” But the Instant Pot’s website doesn’t specify which function the guidelines are referencing.

Crock Pot, one of the most popular brands of slow cookers, also gives a thumbs up to the practice. “You can cook frozen meat in a Crock-Pot Slow Cooker, but suggested cook time may need to be increased.” They recommend using a meat thermometer to ensure meat is well above 165°F. What they fail to address is the time it takes to reach that temperature.

Today Food took a deep dive into the topic and found that food experts have differing options. Ultimately, they recommend following the USDA guidelines to help reduce the possibility of the development of harmful bacteria. And, because it’s better to be safe than sorry, we agree. Additionally, if you’re gone during the day while your slow cooker is on, it’s a good idea to cook on low rather than set the timer to shut it down in the early afternoon. Food shouldn’t sit in a turned-off slow cooker for more than four hours, or it runs the risk of entering the danger zone again.

Written by GRACE ELKUS for Real Simple Magazine

Beware this with your Slow Cooker

Use Those Cilantro Stems

Cilantro is one of my favorite herbs to use in cooking, but one thing we don’t think about are cilantro stems. Crunchy yet tender and not at all stringy or woody, cilantro stems taste just like the leaves with a little extra zip. If you eat the stems you more than doubling the number of edible parts of the herb, getting way more bang for your buck, and cutting back on waste.

Whereas parsley stems are bitter and you really want to avoid using them, cilantro stems taste wonderful.  Use them, do waste them.  Use parsley stems in your stock, so you don’t waste them either.

oh3915p222-cilantro-x

.

Cilantro stems are easy prep-wise. The stems can be attached to roots when purchased, so they tend to come in contact with a bit more dirt and may need to be washed more thoroughly. You should always wash your herbs before using them, so this is not really adding anything. I throw mine in a small colander and run them under the faucet then dry them well.

Here are just a few ideas for using cilantro stems:

Puree them into a sauce: Blend cilantro stems and leaves with a few tablespoons of tahini, a spoonful of miso paste, lemon or lime juice, and lots of black pepper for an addicting sauce you’ll want to spoon on everything from fried eggs to kale salad.

Use them in a salad: Tear off a handful of cilantro leaves, then finely chop stems and toss with your salad greens. This will work with any lettuce, but I think pairs especially well with peppery arugula.

Blend into smoothies and juice: Cilantro is bright and citrusy, so it works well in fruit smoothies and juices without adding sweetness. Try it in a pineapple coconut smoothie or in ginger-carrot juice.

Use Those Cilantro Stems