3 Ways To Thaw Meat Safely

There are two things people commonly do to thaw meat – run hot water over it if it is needed right away, or leave it on the counter to thaw gradually. Neither method is considered safe, as it can lead to contaminated food. It’s important to keep it always at 40 degrees or less so that no bacteria grow on it.

So how should meat be thawed? There are three ways to do it safely.

Thawing in the refrigerator keeps it at an even, constant temperature. It requires planning ahead, as it takes more time to thaw. A large piece of meat such as a turkey can take more than two days, and ground meat or individual pieces of chicken will take a day.

Thawing in cold water is a quicker way. It must be put into a leak-proof plastic bag so that no bacteria can get into the food. The bag is placed in cold tap water in the sink or a deep container, changing the water every thirty minutes to keep it cold. It may be necessary to put something heavy on top of the meat so it doesn’t rise out of the water.

Meat can be thawed in a microwave, but should be cooked right after thawing because some of it may start to cook while it is thawing.

There is also the option of cooking meat without thawing it. It will take about 50% longer to cook.

For The Love Of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are popular for their earthy taste by themselves or in many kinds of foods, but how much do you know about them? Follow these tips and you will enjoy them even more.

BUYING

The button-type mushroom is the one usually sold in grocery stores. To find out if they are really fresh, look at the caps and see if they are still attached to the stems. When the caps have started to separate from the stems, they aren’t quite so fresh. If the caps have come completely off, they aren’t fresh and will start to decay, but you can buy them if you’re going to use them right away. They should be firm without any blemishes. It’s better to buy them individually if possible, because it’s hard to check them when they are packaged.

STORING

When you buy fresh mushrooms, store them in their wrapping in the refrigerator. They stay good for about a week if you don’t open the package. If you don’t use them all at once, wrap them in plastic or put into a plastic bag and poke a few holes so they can breathe. If you buy them loose, put them into a container just big enough to hold them, and wrap with plastic wrap poked with holes. This will help keep them fresh for about a week.

PREPARING

When you are ready to use your mushrooms, they are apt to be a little dirty. You can clean them one at a time with a damp paper towel, or swish them in cool water, or rinse them quickly under running water, but don’t soak them. They will absorb the water and won’t brown when they are cooking. Slice, quarter or mince them according to your recipe or the way you like to eat them.

COOKING

There are many ways to cook mushrooms – baked, broiled, fried, grilled, pureed, sauteed, or steamed. Cooking them brings out their most concentrated flavor and sweetness. They have a lot of moisture so they don’t caramelize as quickly or easily as some other foods. They have to be cooked slowly to release their moisture.

Cook in a single layer in a frying pan with a little butter or oil. You should hear them sizzling while they cook as the moisture is evaporating. If they aren’t sizzling turn the heat up just enough so you hear the sizzle. As they cook, moisture will appear in the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until all the moisture is evaporated and the mushrooms turn a brownish color.

Specialty Pans – A Fun Way To Bake

There are a number of specialty pans that either take some of the work out of baking or give great ways to do fun projects.

DONUT PANS

Got a sudden yen for a donut, but don’t want to go to all the trouble to fry them? Good news – a donut pan to the rescue. Baked donuts are a lot easier to make and are a lot healthier. The pans are non-stick and so can be easily washed in the dishwasher. Many have recipes included and come with a long warranty, in both standard and mini sized. For even more fun they are available for heart-shaped and twisted donuts. There’s even one for donut holes! A number of companies make them at various prices. This is a great project for kids.

ÉCLAIR PAN

If you’ve ever tried to make chocolate eclairs and had a hard time to make them the right shape, this pan is for you. It has twelve cavities, and you just pour the batter into them. They come out looking bakery made! The same pan can be used to make lady fingers and cream-filled sponge cakes (yes, you can make your own Twinkies!)

ICE CREAM SANDWICH PAN

What fun to make your own ice cream sandwiches! This pan makes cookies a uniform size and just the right thickness. After your cookies are cooled you spread a layer of slightly softened ice cream between two cookies. You can freeze leftovers to have a treat for another day.

POP PANS

There are a number of different pans for making cake pops and some include bamboo pop sticks.

WAFFLE GRIDDLE

This is a fascinating stove top griddle that makes seven 3-inch round waffles. It’s just the right size for two people, but the waffles could be kept warm to make more. They are great for small appetites, and are fun for children.

SMALL CAKE AND PIE PANS

One company has cake pans that are 2-7 inches in diameter, and there are pie pans that are 5-6 inches besides tart pans. These are great for one or two people, and make great gifts or something different for bake sales. If you are just learning to do cake decorating or want to experiment with new techniques, the small size works very well. Make a little cake for each member of the family so they’ll have their very own. Besides everything else, these small sizes are just plain cute! You can find the pans by googling small cake or small pie pans.

MINI PANS

There are so many pans for doing baked goods in miniature. Most have several cavities in one pan, which makes it easy to get in and out of the oven. These include pans for quick breads, meatloaf, bundt cakes, biscuits, scones, popovers and brownies. The brownies don’t have to be cut and they’re all the same. Then there are individual mini springform pans for cheesecake and bundt cakes.

This is a sampling of the many pans available. If you want to try something a little different and have a little fun, this is a great place to start. You’ll have a new adventure, and your family will love it!

Easy Way To Organize Your Recipes

If you have been collecting recipes and don’t know what to do with them so that they are easily available when you want to try a new recipe, this is a great way to organize them.

You will need:

• 3-hole binder

• Plastic sheet protectors

• Index dividers

By putting the recipes into plastic protectors they won’t get splattered when you are cooking.

Sort your recipes according to the types of foods. You can follow the order of a meal – appetizers, beverages, salads, soups, vegetables, main dishes, desserts. Then choose any special categories that you cook often, such as international type recipes, quick breads, pastry and cakes. By then you’ll know what categories you need. If you find that you need more later, you can easily add them, as long as they don’t need to go into any particular order.

Type the tabs for the categories and put them into your dividers. If you are doing them in a definite order be sure to put them in the order you want permanently, because it’s time consuming to rearrange them. Then place the dividers into the binder.

To get the recipes ready for filing, tape them onto white blank paper and put them into plastic protectors, filing them behind the corresponding divider as you go. It saves space and paper if you tape recipes onto both sides of a sheet of paper. When you get done your recipes will be neatly organized. But you’ll immediately notice something – your categories have disappeared!

The protectors have holes of their own which makes them extend beyond the divider tabs, and you can’t see the categories. An easy way to remedy this is to cut along the outside edge of a protective sheet, leaving about one inch uncut on the top and bottom so it won’t flop open, then insert a divider into a plastic sheet. Now all your categories are visible again!

Keeping recipes in a soil-free binder that you can keep in a handy place in your kitchen will be a great tool for menu planning. If you use a white binder and slip a cheerful food photo under the vinyl cover, it will make an elegant addition to your cook book collection.

This is a project that will take a little time and effort, but in the long run it’ll save you oodles of time because you won’t have to sift through a pile of recipes to find one that you want to try. And you can do this as you collect more recipes so they will always be organized. It’ll never be a big time-consuming project again!

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Spices

Without spices and herbs our foods would be very bland. How much should you use? How do you rehydrate them? When should they be added to food when cooking? You’ll learn the answer to all these questions and more.

Because spices are a natural food rather than a chemical, they can be added to any recipe without changing the time of cooking. Also they can be used freely according to individual taste, because they don’t have any effect on the other ingredients in the recipe. Most any dish tastes better with some kind of herbs or spices, and it’s a matter of experimenting to see what your family likes best.

No hard and fast rules can be made about the amount to use, because the strength of each spice differs, and individual taste varies greatly. The rule in most cases is to maintain subtlety in flavoring. Since it is easy to add more spice, it’s a good idea to start with very small amounts. At first use ¼ teaspoon spice per pound of meat, or a pint of soup or sauce. Use just one-eighth teaspoon of hot, sharp-tasting spices, such as garlic powder or red pepper. It’s always best to taste liquid dishes before serving, so that corrections in the seasoning can be made if necessary.

Spices come in several different forms – whole, broken, chopped, minced, powdered, or with salt. The way they are used depends on the recipe. When a spice is used whole the cell walls containing the flavor-giving oil are unbroken. It therefore takes longer cooking to release the flavor. When spices are ground it breaks up the cell walls and the oil is exposed to the air. For that reason the flavor releases more quickly and requires less cooking time. This is also the reason ground spices lose their oils quickly if they are not stored properly.

Spices are added at the beginning of cooking time in most dishes – about the same time as salt, so the flavor can blend with the foods. Whole spices go best in long cooking dishes, such as beef stew or baked beans, or when using a crockpot. If ground spices are used in these dishes, they should be added near the end of the cooking period. The seasoning salts should be added just before or just after taking the food from the stove.

When using whole spices, it’s a good idea to put them in a cheesecloth or muslin bag. This makes it easy to remove them when the flavor has developed, and prevents small pieces of the spice from remaining in the food.

Seeds, like poppy and sesame, should be toasted before being used. Unless otherwise stated in the recipe, whole or leaf herbs should be crumbled finely just before using, in order to release their best flavor.

The use of dehydrated vegetable seasonings will save a lot of time and bother. You won’t have to weep over onions, or fuss over celery or parsley. If the dish contains a lot of liquid and the flakes will simmer in it for a few minutes, you probably won’t have to rehydrate them. Instant minced onion and parsley flakes rehydrate in five minutes. Sweet pepper flakes, celery flakes and mixed vegetable flakes take twenty minutes.

When it’s necessary to rehydrate them, use equal parts of flakes and water for onion and parsley. For celery and sweet pepper, use twice as much water and flakes, then when rehydrated, pour off the extra water.

Remember that one part of instant minced onion or parsley flakes is equal to about four parts of the raw vegetable in its seasoning strength. One part of the celery or sweet pepper flakes is equivalent to about two parts of the raw vegetable.

With proper care, your spices will last a long time and enhance the flavor of your cooking. Though some of them may seem to be expensive, they pay for themselves by making foods more delicious and appetizing, especially in low salt diets.

Tips For Using Canned Foods

When you are short on time, canned goods are a great help in getting food on the table. Dress them up with spices, herbs and other seasonings to enhance flavors and give them more pizzazz. Add more vegetables or pieces of leftover meats. One of the great things about canned food is that you can use it as a base and add your own touches.

When you buy canned food, especially if they are on sale, be sure to examine the cans carefully. Don’t buy any that are dented, unless they’re on a great sale and can be used within a very short time.

When you get them home, store them in a cool, dry place rather than cabinets that are near the stove, under the sink, or in a damp basement or garage. Don’t ever put them on bare concrete. Temperatures constantly vary in these places and can break the seal on the cans, causing them to spoil more quickly. If cans freeze they can get rusty and burst.

It’s a good idea to mark cans with the date of purchase, and then rotate them, using the oldest first. As long as the cans are in good shape, low acidic foods, such as meats, carrots and potatoes will usually keep for several years. High acidic foods, like tomatoes, should be used within 18 months. Some canned goods seem to last forever. They might lose some flavor, but when added to other foods, they are still edible. When you open the can, if liquid or foam shoots out of it or it smells bad, throw it all away.

It’s always best to wash the top of a can before opening it. Dust and bacteria collect on the top and can slide into the food when the can is opened.

Some people wonder if it’s okay to store leftover food in the can in the refrigerator. The United States Department of Agriculture says it’s safe, but that the food will taste and look better if it’s put into a glass or plastic container.

Many people believe that canned foods are inferior to fresh or frozen foods. But according to one study many canned fruits and vegetables have the same or even more nutrients than the fresh or frozen ones. They are picked at just the right amount of ripeness and canned within hours after they are picked. So having a well-stocked pantry provides an extremely convenient choice for making healthy meals.

How to Use Different Kinds of Cream

TYPES OF CREAM

There are a number of different kinds of cream and they have different uses. The following are those that are usually found in supermarkets, listed in the order of fat content.

Single or Light

This cream has the lowest percentage of fat and has many uses.

Half and Half This cream is a mixture of half whole milk and half cream. It cannot be used for whipping, but can be used as a substitute for a heavier cream in recipes if you want to have less fat but a creamy taste.

Whipping

This cream has enough fat so that it can be whipped for some uses, but it doesn’t keep its shape as well as heavy cream.

Heavy or Heavy Whipping

Because it has more fat, heavy cream will keep its shape and has twice the volume.

Double

This is the British version of heavy cream, but has a little more fat. For that reason it has to be watched carefully when beating it so it doesn’t get too thick. It is generally not available in the United States.

When you go shopping for cream, you may see it labeled “pasteurized” or “ultra-pasteurized.” The ultra-pasteurized has been heated to a high temperature so it will keep longer. It doesn’t whip as well as pasteurized, as it isn’t as light and doesn’t keep its shape as well. Many people feel regular pasteurized cream tastes better.

USING LEFTOVER CREAM

There are many ways to use leftover cream that you bought for a recipe and don’t know what to do with the rest. Often it spoils and has to be thrown away. Here are a few suggestions. Replace milk with cream in baking recipes. Make a hot fudge sauce by heating cream and add chopped chocolate or dark chocolate chips, and stir until melted. Add cream to an omelette. Warm cream and add to mashed potatoes. If nothing else, you can combine equal amounts of cream and water (or more water according to your taste) and either use it in any recipe instead of regular milk, or drink it!