Commentary: Food Handling Tips
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There have been a lot of news reports about the safety of our foods.  

I want to help you keep your kitchen food prep areas safe, clean and uncontaminated.  Some of the following tips just make like easier in the kitchen. 

One of the kitchen rules that we follow in my kitchen is to wash and dry hands thoroughly before handling food and donning a clean apron to keep the food off of us  and whatever may be on our clothes out of the food.  

Raw meat handling tips: 

When preparing a meal that requires the handling of raw meat, fish, and poultry, I like to cup up all of the other food items, such as veggies, breads, potatoes, etc. before cutting up the raw meat.  This is an efficient way to keep raw meats from coming into contact with other foods and makes clean up easier, since you only have to clean up once.  When done with the food preparation, make sure to thoroughly wash, hands, utensils, cutting boards, knives and surfaces.

Remember to serve the cooked food on a clean plate and not onto a plate which has previously held raw foods until it has been thoroughly washed.

Do not use the same utensil to stir or serve a cooked meal that was used to prepare the raw ingredients.

Meat Cut in Strips or Cubes: If a recipe calls for raw meat that is to be cut into strips or cubes, place the meat in the freezer for approximately 1 hr., just long enough for it to be partially frozen, or if it is already frozen, do not allow it to completely thaw. Cutting the raw meat into strips or cubes while it is still partially frozen will make the cutting a lot easier.

Miscellaneous food handling/preparation tips:

Root vegetables such as potatoes, leeks and carrots often have traces of soil on them which can contain harmful bacteria, so wash them thoroughly before use. Don't forget to wash other fruit and veggies too, especially if they are going to be eaten raw.

When cooking an item that is frozen, such as a steak or hamburger patty, remember that the cooking time will be different than when cooking the same item when it isn’t frozen.  The meat has a tendency to be a bit dryer when cooked from the frozen state, also.

Allow food enough time to thaw. Never re-freeze food once it has started to thaw. Thaw food by placing it in the ‘frig in a container to catch any juices. These juices can be contaminated so wash dishes and hands thoroughly after handling. 

Only thaw food in a microwave oven if it is to be cooked immediately.

In order for dressing to stick well to lettuce, the lettuce needs to by dry.  If you have a salad spinner, this works well. Another option is to roll the washed lettuce up in a large, clean dish towel and let sit a few minutes for the towel to absorb the moisture before preparing the salad.  You can also stash the towel wrapped lettuce in a large bag in the ‘frig for a couple of hours until ready to use.

If the recipe calls for softened butter or cream cheese, remove it from the refrigerator at least an hour ahead of time to allow sufficient time for it to soften properly.  If softened butter or cream cheese is needed right away, soften in the microwave, using a low setting (30% power) and microwaving just 10-15 seconds.  Allowing the butter to melt may affect the texture of the end product.  

Butter or margarine is softened properly if it gives slightly when pressed but does not crack or separate. You can also check softness by bending a stick of butter or margarine. It should give slightly without cracking. 

Butter can be melted on the stovetop or in the microwave. In a small saucepan, on the stovetop, heat the butter or margarine over medium heat until melted. Watch carefully so that it does not burn. To melt in the microwave, cut the butter or margarine into tablespoon size slices and place in a microwave save bowl. Microwave on high for approximately 30 seconds for 2 to 3 tablespoons and 40 to 45 seconds for ¼ cup.  

Dotting Butter - Butter is sometimes required to be used when it is cold to allow it to be applied properly, such as in dotting butter on a pie filling or fillings for other foods. When dotting butter, the cold butter is rubbed over a coarse grater and distributed evenly over the top of the filling. 

Caramels: Remove wrappers and place in a heavy saucepan. Melt caramels over low heat, stirring constantly as they are melting. Many recipes have other ingredients, such as evaporated milk, milk, butter, or margarine, added to the caramels as they are melting. These ingredients will give the melted caramels a slightly thinner consistency.

To melt caramels in the microwave, place the unwrapped caramels in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 30-second intervals. Check and stir the caramels after 30 seconds, if not thoroughly melted, continue to microwave at 30-second intervals until all the caramels are melted. 

Coconut - Toasted: Spread the coconut in an even layer on a shallow baking pan and place in an oven heated to 350°. Toast until lightly browned, approximately 5 to 10 minutes, watch carefully. Shake or stir frequently for even browning.

Toast in the microwave by placing the coconut in a microwave safe bowl and microwaving on high for 30-second intervals. Stir and continue to microwave for 30-second intervals until the coconut is lightly browned. 

Lemons: To get juice from your lemons, roll them between your hands and the countertop or microwave for 15 seconds before squeezing the juice out. 

Fresh Herbs: When you need to chop fresh herbs, hold a small bunch with your fingers and use a scissors to snip into fine pieces. The herbs will be fluffier and nicer cut than if you try chopping with a knife. Chopping with a knife has a tendency to tear and bruise the herbs when they are fresh. 

Pepper: To get the best flavor from your pepper, crush the peppercorns just before you are ready to use it. 

Garlic: The skins from cloves of garlic can be removed by placing the clove on a hard surface, such as a cutting board and then press down on the clove with the flat side of a large knife. The skins should break loose and be easy to remove. Another technique that works well is to heat the cloves in the microwave for 15 seconds. Remove the cloves from the microwave and the skins should peel right off.


Zesty Beef  Kabobs
(refer to handling/preparation tips above for assistance)

2 lbs. beef steak, cubed

¾ c vinaigrette salad dressing of choice (see Recipe Index)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T fresh herbs, chopped (parsley, chives, basil)
¼ tsp black pepper 

1 red or yellow pepper, cubed

1 onion, cubed

8 whole mushrooms


Stir the vinaigrette salad dressing with the garlic, fresh herbs and black pepper.  Toss the beef cubes with ½ cup of the dressing and let sit ½ hour.  While the beef in marinating, cut up the veggies.  Thread the marinated beef and the veggies on 8 skewers.  Broil or grill the kabobs, basting with the leftover ¼ cup of dressing, turning every 3 minutes until done.  Serve with a fresh green salad and crusty bread.  Serves 4.



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