Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tidbit: Keep Picnics Fun but Safe

Here in the U.S., it’s getting to be picnic and outdoor eating time.  It’s always more fun to eat outdoors (as long as the bugs or pollen aren’t getting you), but eating outdoors can be quite a bit of work if  you are the organizer.

There seems to be two types of people who do outdoor meals. Those who get everything ready, eat, then run around immediately after the picnic and put food away while the guests chat.  Then there are those who are more relaxed, leaving the food out “just in case” someone has an emergency hunger pang;  no one in the second group seems to keep track of how long that food has been sitting out.

The menu may vary, but no matter which type of host you are, food safety principles remain the same.  Here are some key principles to help keep your family or group safe from food poisoning during the outdoors eating season.

1. Keep cold foods cold.  Some people take better care of their beer than they do their food!  Be sure to get plenty of ice for the insulated cooler for both beverages and food. And the food can’t just sit on top of the ice, it has to be covered with ice. (Remember science class? Cold travels to a lower level, so if food sits on top of ice it can get too warm, even in a cooler).

It’s best to keep the ice chest inside the car, not in the trunk, on the way to the event (the trunk can reach 150 degrees). And when  you get to your picnic site, put the cooler in the shade and cover with an old blanket to keep the cold in.

2.  Keep hot foods hot.  You may not want to bring a hot dish to your outing if you have no way to keep it hot, over 140 degrees F.  Bacteria thrive in lukewarm temps.

If there is no way to keep food hot or cold, then bring foods to your outing that don’t need refrigeration, such as chips, crackers, peanut butter, peanut butter and/or jelly sandwiches, dried fruit, nuts, unpeeled fresh fruit, cookies and cakes.

3. Avoid cross-contamination, with raw and cooked items. This means, when grilling meat, chicken or fish, don’t put the cooked meat back on the same plate that held the raw meat.  And don’t use the same cutting board for cutting up the beef cubes for kabobs as the salad vegetables.

4. Remember the 2-hour rule. And sometimes it’s a 1-hour rule.  Perishable foods need to be put away within two hours to keep the food out of the “danger zone” (that is, between 40 and 140 degrees F).  And if the temperature outside is 90 or more, the put away time is one hour.

5. Wash your hands with water when prepping food. Nothing beats good old soap and water when making foods and handling raw stuff. There had been some thought that hand sanitizer would be just as good as washing, but that is usually not the case. (Hand sanitizers stop the spread of germs in a hospital or clinic setting, but they cannot stop the bacteria that causes food poisoning).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Q & A: Are nuts considered "healthy" fats?

Q.  I am in a weight loss program (Weight Watcher's) that suggests we include two servings of "healthy fats" a day. The leader mentioned using olive oil (one teaspoon) on salad or drizzled on foods as one of the servings. Are there any other things that could be considered healthy fats such as nuts? I don't know if I'll always want to pour oil on the foods I'm eating.  C.C. Holland

A.  You most certainly could use nuts as a healthy fat serving!  It sounds like the program wants to make sure you are eating a balance of many foods. Each teaspoon of olive oil (or any other oil) is about 45 calories and 5 grams of fat.
      Here are the equivalents to one healthy fat serving:

  • 10 peanuts
  • 6 cashews
  • 6 almonds
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • 16 pistachios
  • 4 walnut or pecan halves
  You could double the amount listed above, bring that amount of nuts to work with you, and call it your afternoon snack. That type of snack would do several things for you:
  1. Keep your hunger at bay
  2. Help your cholesterol levels
  3. Not raise your blood sugar
  4. Keep you away from the vending machine or a co-worker's candy dish

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tidbit: Don't Chill Your Tomatoes

Those so-called “fresh” tomatoes you buy at the grocery store have a lot to overcome.  First, they are often picked green. Second, even though the label may say “vine-ripened”, that’s a stretch. Anyone who has grown their own tomatoes or purchased some from the farmer’s market during the summer knows there is a huge difference in flavor between naturally ripened and the almost ripe ones from the store.
            And third, to top it off, some people make the mistake of putting the store-bought tomatoes in the refrigerator.  And bye-bye goes the flavor.

            So why do tomatoes lose their flavor when they are refrigerated?

            According to Howard Hillman in his book The New Kitchen Science, tomato flavor comes from the natural conversion of linolenic acid to Z-3 hexenel molecules. The more Z-3 molecules the tomato has, the more flavorful and yummy it is. Cold temperatures (less than 55 degrees) hinders this conversion, and also reduces the ability for the Z-3 molecules to reach the olfactory receptors in our noses.

            If you do happen to have refrigerated whole tomatoes, or have some you had cut into and wanted to save for another meal, Hillman says at the very least, bring the cold tomato to room temperature before serving. This may recover some of the flavor molecules.

            Ideally, keep your store-bought tomatoes at room temperature for several days to develop the Z-3 molecules.  When you treat tomatoes right, you may be pleasantly surprised at the improved tomato aroma and flavor, even in the middle of winter.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What’s for Dinner: Old-Fashioned Goulash

It seems that everyone has their own variation of goulash, whether they call it that or not.  It may be known as macaroni with beef and tomatoes in your family. Our family calls it goulash.
This is not Hungarian goulash; that is a different animal altogether.  Maybe I’ll have one of my 15 Hungarian first cousins (two different families) share a recipe for that someday (if they want).
Today, I’m talking about the goulash that my grandma used to fix when my Uncle Bud came back from Oklahoma for vacation or when he was on leave from the Army and wanted home cooking. He also used to request his mom’s special chocolate chip cookies (and she gladly obliged).  (Come to think of it, grandma made anything for anybody if they asked. Sigh.)

Recipe: Old-fashioned goulash

2 cups dry elbow macaroni
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2-3  28-ounce cans whole tomatoes (I use 3 cans cuz I like it very tomato-y)
1/2 green pepper, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan, cook elbow macaroni according to package directions, then drain and set aside (don’t overcook; macaroni will cook more as you make the goulash).
Meanwhile, in a non-stick skillet, brown the ground beef. Drain the grease, then put ground beef in a dish lined with 2 paper towels to soak up even more grease (I don’t like to see orange floaty grease in my goulash).
In the now-empty skillet, sautee the onions in 1-2 teaspoons olive oil until just wilted.
In the same large pan used for cooking the macaroni, return the macaroni along with the ground beef. Add the whole tomatoes and slice each tomato in half to release the juice. Add the onions and gently stir. Add the green pepper last, and cook on medium-low for 10-15 minutes to warm everything up (try not to let it boil, or the elbows will get  soggy). Serve. Makes about 10-12 cups
            Nutrition info per 1 cup serving:  233 calories, 14 grams protein, 7 grams fat, 27 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 32 milligrams cholesterol, 375 milligrams sodium.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Q & A: Best Types of Oats

Q.            I have a few questions about oats.  I have noticed that regular oatmeal is so bland, and that I really like the oats when the label says 100% whole oats (like the Hodgson Mills brand) or the steel cut oats. They are thicker and fuller, but are quite a bit more expensive. The plain Quaker (or store brand) “oats” are soupier and don’t have much substance. I put cinnamon and fruit on all of these.  Which of these oats are better for me? M.F. Grand Rapids

A.            According to the Quaker Oats web site, there is no nutritional difference between quick oats, old fashioned oats and steel-cut oats. They all have the same calories, fiber, and all help to reduce blood cholesterol levels if you eat them consistently.
            The difference between the oats is the texture, and that’s probably what you are noticing. Each type of oat is considered a whole grain (containing the bran, germ and endosperm).
            “Steel cut” oats means that the oat grain is cut into thirds, but not rolled into flakes. Alternate names for steel cut oats are Scotch oats, pinhead oats and Irish oats. These oats are the chewiest, and take about 30 minutes to cook.
            “Instant” or quick oats are steel cut oats that have been rolled into thin flakes. They cook up quickly, have the least defined texture and are rather soupy. These are good for baking, too (oatmeal cookies, anyone?)
            “Old-fashioned” oats are whole oats that have been rolled flat into thicker flakes. They take about 5 minutes to cook, but have a defined texture (these are the ones I prefer).

            I may have a new favorite hot cereal: Quaker Oats Multi Grain (pictured above). It is a whole grain blend of rye, barley, oats and wheat, with a texture similar to old-fashioned oats. This cereal got a thumbs up from me and my husband.  Grand Rapids is used as a test market for new products, and I hope this is not one of those good products that goes away after a few months (I noticed that the Multi Grain hot cereal is not listed on the Quaker web site under products, but it seems you can order it directly from the company. Maybe they haven’t gotten around to updating their product page?)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tidbit: Growing and using fresh herbs

I tend to use dried herbs over fresh most of the time. My excuse? I’ve never had a good sunny window to grow fresh ones through the year.
            This  year I’m going to try growing fresh herbs near my rock garden, potting them in containers to see how they do (this is one of the few all-day sunny spots in my yard).  I hope to pick up basil, thyme and sage (I already have a parsley plant), and maybe a patio tomato, depending on what is available at the market next weekend. Last frost date around here is mid-May.
            As you probably know, using herbs helps add flavor to dishes while helping you reduce added salt.  Basil is great with tomato dishes, but I love how it gives a subtle flavor boost to pea soup. Sage is associated with turkey dinners, but it adds a nice note to many pasta dishes.
            If you are interested in adding some fresh herbs into your meals, check out the four-page Healthy Cooking with Fresh Herbs from The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Service. They give info about planting an herb garden, freezing herbs, preparing herbs for cooking, and storing fresh herbs.
            They also have a nice one-page handout, Flavor that Food!, which gives suggestions about matching herbs and spices to specific foods.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Q&A: Is white whole wheat for real?

 Q.            I saw some whole wheat white bread at the grocery store for the first time and it sounds like a stretch of terminology.  Is there really such a thing as whole wheat white bread?  How does it compare nutritionally to regular whole wheat? G.B. Grand Rapids

A.            You are right; whole wheat white bread sounds like fiction, but it is true. There is white whole wheat flour available to make your own baked goods from King Arthur, Bob’s Red Mill, Gold Medal and more. Some national bakeries have whole wheat white bread (for example in my area, I found whole wheat white bread made by Bimbo, Sara Lee, Pepperidge Farm, Aunt Millie’s and Wonder).  I thought I might see whole wheat white buns for burgers or hot dogs, but if they are available I didn’t spot them tonight.

            According to the Whole Grains Council, white wheat is a different type of wheat, with no major genes for bran color, so in a way it is an albino wheat. Regular whole wheat is made from “red” wheat, which contain one to three color genes.

            Whole wheat white is lighter in color and milder in flavor than regular whole wheat, but you probably won’t be able to fool your family members totally, especially if they prefer squishy white bread. The bread made from this flour is the right color for the white bread lovers, but the bread has a firmer texture. Whole wheat white is nutritionally equivalent to whole wheat, but the flour costs more, so if you don’t mind the brown bits in regular whole wheat, you can save some money.

            An interesting side bit is that white wheat has been the main type of wheat grown in Australia for decades. Also, many Asian countries prefer to make their noodles with white whole wheat (I have some udon noodles in my cupboard that list whole wheat flour as the first ingredient, but there are no flecks of brown in the noodle; they had to have used white whole wheat).

Development of white wheat for the US growing conditions started in the 1970’s. So it’s not really new! The original push for growing white wheat in the US had to do with increasing the amount of wheat exported. The use of whole wheat white to make white bread a more nutritious choice is a fairly new idea.

            But they’ve got to do something about that name though! It’s a tongue twister, and everyone calls it a slightly different name, which makes it confusing to many. How about “Hey it’s Really Whole Wheat (White)”? Or, “Hey it’s really Whole Wheat (Brown)”? Just a thought.