Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Q & A: How to make the best use of Turkey Roll while keeping it safe

Q:            I received a 6-pound frozen turkey roll (already cooked) from the food bank. It is in my freezer. I am not sure how to handle it (no directions). If I thaw it, I will have to eat it all and it will take a couple of weeks for me to eat it. It won’t last that long in the fridge. I assume since it is already cooked I cannot re-freeze it. Do you have any ideas? M.F. Grand Rapids, MI

A.            I find it interesting that there were no cooking or handling directions on the turkey roll. Maybe it was packaged for commercial or institutional kitchens who usually have their own large volume recipes.
Anyway, now that you have the large turkey roll, here are a couple of ideas that are safe and can help you stretch it into many meals: 
  1. If you know someone with upper body strength (and the right knife) you could have them saw the turkey roll into portions, maybe into  quarter portions, so you could use one part and return the rest to the freezer.
  2. You could heat the whole turkey roll, slice it into meal portions, then refreeze in individual freezer bags.  Cooking directions for that size of turkey roll, based on whole turkey cooking directions, is to set the oven at 325 F, bake (with a little tent of foil over top) for 2 hours, and check it with a meat thermometer to help you know when it is done (165 degrees F is the safe internal temperature for poultry). Click here for instructions about proper use of a meat thermometer.
  3. As a variation on number 2, you could heat the whole turkey roll, save some of it as slices and cube the rest for stew or homemade soup, then refreeze those ready-to-go cubes in 1 cup or 2 cup portions.

More about Food Safety:
 I know you hear warnings about not refreezing food after it has been thawed (say, when your power goes out), but you would be fine using the directions above because you're heating it to a safe temperature first.

There are a couple of do’s and don’ts to know about freezing vs. not refreezing items. First, there’s the food safety issue. If your power goes out, the perishable food’s temperature may have gotten in the "danger zone" , between 40 and 140 degrees F, without you knowing it, and bacteria multiply profusely in these temperatures.  The one time that it is OK to refreeze meat-type items is when they still contain ice crystals, because that means the meat is still less than 40 degrees F.  (More about saving or tossing food after a power outage here).

Second, there’s a quality issue. If your power went out, and your frozen fruits or vegetables thawed, refreezing them could be safe if they still have ice crystals, but the food may have a less appealing texture when thawed or heated for your meal.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Simple Supper salad

It's been so hot and humid here I think my brain has fried and turned to mush.
And because of the fried brain syndrome, I present a simple salad to go with our simple supper.
Add some vinaigrette dressing, a piece of grilled sirloin and a microwaved "baked" potato, and there's a don't-heat-your-house meal!
I definitely don't want to turn on the stove or the oven. For anything.

We sit outside at the picnic table because "it's summer!" But as soon as dinner is done we run back in to the air-conditioning. What wusses we have become.

Do you have any favorite minimally-heated summer meals?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tidbit: Watermelon = Summer

In our part of the world, really good watermelon is only found in the summer.  Sure, there is watermelon available other times of the year, but the flavor and texture are usually disappointing (crunchy watermelon, anyone?).

Growing up, we always had watermelon in the summer, usually the elongated oval type.  My dad had the honors of cutting the melon slices. He always took a triangular plug out of the melon first, and tasted it before cutting to see if it was OK. He would always say “it’s really bad” as a joke, but then proceeded to cut it up and serve it.

When it was watermelon eating time, we were sent outside to the picnic table to eat. And spit the seeds at each other. The poor kids nowadays will never know the joy of picking those darn seeds out of the watermelon,  “shooting” them by squeezing them with forefinger and thumb, or just spitting them out.

Some fun facts about watermelon from Food Lover’s Companion and other sources: 
  • Watermelons are native to Africa. 
  • One cup cubed watermelon contains 48 calories, 11 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram protein, and 0 grams fat.   
  • Watermelons contain a fair amount of vitamins A, C, and iron.
  • Some people in Asia eat the roasted watermelon seeds. One quarter cup of watermelon seed contains 158 calories, 8 grams protein, 13 grams fat, 3 grams carbohydrate and 1 gram fiber. 
  • Some people puree watermelon pulp and drink it.  A few years back, one of my husband’s co-workers, newly in the U.S. from Taiwan, shared 18 watermelons with her two daughters one summer because it was such a treat. They pureed most of it. 
  • A ripe melon sounds like a hollow “thump” when slapped on the side; the rind should be dull, not shiny. 
  • Don’t buy cut melon that has grainy or dry-looking flesh. 
  • Always wash the rind of any melon prior to slicing it open to avoid contamination. 
  • Store watermelon in the refrigerator if possible and use within a week. 
  • Cut watermelon should always be tightly wrapped, refrigerated and used within a day or so for best flavor.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tidbit: Nutrition Facts Panel on the bottom?

Why do they do it? Why do food manufacturers put Nutrition Facts panels on the bottom of a package?

These are warehouse store-sized boxes of Cheerios and Kashi wheat squares, with all sorts of room to put the Nutrition info on the side of the box. But it is on the bottom. Do they think people don’t look at these panels?

I can understand why Russell Stover’s and other candy boxes have the nutrition info on the bottom…the manufacturers don’t want to make a big deal about calories of this fun food, and many people don’t really want to think about how many calories they are eating.

But it’s not just calorie counting people who look at these panels. A big part of my job is to teach people to read labels. For people with diabetes, we look at the carbohydrate content of a food portion. For heart disease and high cholesterol, we look at the types of fat in a portion of a food. For allergies, we study the list of ingredients.

So if you really want to know the carbohydrate grams in your cereal, you have to turn the box upside down. No big deal, right? But if the cereal has already been opened, and isn’t securely closed, you can make a huge mess (and may have to toss the part that hits the floor).

Hey Costco, Sam’s Club and other warehouse stores: Can’t you twist the arm of manufacturers and let them know that many of your members would be happier if the food label info was on the side, not the bottom?  Rant over. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What's for Dinner: Italian Pasta and Vegetable Salad

When it’s hot out, I think cold salads. This is a variation of a recipe I first tried at my sister Joyce’s place. It’s easy to add and subtract items depending on what’s in the pantry, garden and the refrigerator. It’s also a great salad to make ahead and have it ready for you when you get home from a busy day.

What makes it Italian? The Italian dressing and the Italian herb-seasoned diced tomatoes. And a side benefit of using canned tomatoes: They add moisture so you don’t have to use so much dressing (thus saving calories without sacrificing flavor).

Recipe: Italian Pasta and Vegetable Salad

1 pound corkscrew pasta
1/2 cup Italian dressing (I used fat-free Wishbone)
1 28-ounce can Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
4-6 tablespoons McCormick Salad Supreme seasoning
Fresh vegetables of choice. I used:
            1 large English cucumber, unpeeled, cut
            1 small red bell pepper, diced large
            1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced large
            1 green bell pepper, diced large
            4 green onions, trimmed and sliced
            (Other vegetable options include broccoli florets, cauliflower florets)
1 cup black olives, sliced in half
Optional: Cubed ham, pepperoni or summer sausage

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water until pasta is cold. Meanwhile, in very large bowl, pour Italian dressing, diced tomatoes, salad seasoning; stir to combine. Add cucumber, peppers, onions and cold pasta. Gently stir to combine ingredients. Chill (flavors blend best if chilled at least 2 hours; overnight is even better). 

Makes about 14 cups pasta salad.
Nutrition information per one cup:  177 calories, 6 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 31 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 1 milligram cholesterol, 431 milligrams sodium.