Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ten Holiday Kitchen Safety Tips You Don’t Want to Miss

Leaving aside the hall bathroom after your wife’s unemployed brother has spent the good part of the morning in it, the kitchen is the most dangerous and hazardous place in your home. Especially during the holidays when an overwhelming majority of Americans assume they can actually cook.

So in the spirit of the season, I offer these 10 important holiday kitchen safety tips.

1. Wash up as you work and keep your cooking area clean and clear. Keep potholders, towels, wooden utensils, food packaging, and curtains away from the stovetop. Oh, and remember that holiday tie you got from the kids last year? The one with Mickey Mouse dressed as Santa? Don’t wear it if you’re going to be hanging over the stove.

2. Do not hold a child in your arms when you are working in the kitchen. Even if it’s someone else’s kid. The same goes for pets. Even the ugly ones.

3. There’s usually a good reason the smoke alarm goes off. The good folks at First Alert did not create these items just to annoy the hell out of you.

4. If you do have a grease fire in a pan or pot, quickly slide a lid over it to completely cut off the oxygen supply, then turn off the heat. Avoid the urge to immediately lift up the lid “just to take a peek.”

5. If the fire is in your oven, close the door and turn off the heat to smother the flames. Don’t worry about the turkey in there. It’s probably a goner.

6. If the fire is in your microwave oven, turn it off immediately and keep the door closed until the fire is completely out. Unplug the appliance if you can safely reach the outlet.

7. If the fire is in your belly, it’s probably a good sign. You really do need to get off that lazy butt of yours and do something with your life.

8. Best bet? Purchase a multipurpose dry-chemical extinguisher rated for Class A, B and C fires. Hang it in an easily accessible place in your kitchen, not in the garage. And remember, this device is not a toy. Sticking the hose down the back of Uncle Roy’s shorts and giving him “one good shot for old time’s sake” might seem funny to you and almost everybody else in the room, but it will probably piss Uncle Roy off real bad.

9. Nuke your dirty sponges occasionally in the microwave for one minute to kill any bacteria that might be present. Important Note: Make sure the sponge is damp when you do this or it may catch on fire (see Important Kitchen Safety Tip # 6).

10. And finally, avoid cross-contamination. Don’t toss a salad with the fork that you scrambled the eggs with. And don’t use the same cutting board to cut raw veggies and raw meat. And by all means, don’t wear that striped apron if you insist on wearing the plaid shorts.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sometimes What I Read About Salt Is Not Worth Its...Well...Salt

Whenever I'm doing a cooking demo or a book signing, a number of people can be counted on to ask, "Are your recipes low-salt?"

But rarely do they ever ask if my recipes contain too much celery, paprika, or are written in such a way that might impinge upon the rights of an overly sensitive people group.

No. Salt is the issue of today. Though it's true that sometimes someone will ask if my recipes are low-fat - but that is rare since the low-fat craze has lost a lot of oomph.

So why is salt such a big issue? Because the use of salt has been linked to such maladies as high blood pressure, stomach cancer, asthma, Alzheimer's, kidney stones, osteoporosis and, according to one report I found in a recent edition of Cars and Chicks, eating too much salt may also be responsible for those morons in front of us who drive with their blinkers on even though they have no intention of turning.

Think about it. We've all seen articles and reports with alarming titles like: Salt, The Pillar of Death, or The Hidden Dangers of Salt, or Salt: The Silent Killer, or I Was a Salt-Licking Teenage Mutant.

Yes, salt is getting a bad rap these days. So let me help set the record straight*. Salt, like money, is not evil. (The love of money is the root of all evil). It is not even dangerous. (Too much or too little can  be harmful, but that goes for just about anything). Our bodies need salt (sodium). We cannot function without it. I'm not going to expound on the biological reasons as to why this is the case. That's why God created science textbooks.

No. I'm not here to teach a science lesson. Nor am I here to say that the consumption of salt in today's world is not harmful. I believe, and the data shows, that American's do ingest too much. We should cut back. But not in our day-to-day cooking. Why? because salt does affect flavor. In a big way. The 1/2-teaspoon of salt that we stir into a sauce or sprinkle on a steak would be sorely missed if we were to ban it from our cupboards. No, this thoughtful and moderate use of salt is not the primary culprit in our society's struggle with hypertension or any or the other maladies listed above.

The real culprit? Processed food. Most are loaded with salt. Look at the label of any processed food to see what I mean. If you want to cut down on your sodium intake, cut down on your intake of processed food. I also steer clear of fast food and family-style restaurants as a matter of habit because they also load their dishes with salt.

So, unless you are strictly advised otherwise by your physician, feel free to sprinkle some Kosher salt on that roast, vegetable, or starch. Your body won't mind and your taste buds will love you for it.

I generally use all-purpose non-iodized table salt in most everyday applications, including baking, because the small grains dissolve readily, but I will reach for Kosher salt when I am seasoning meat, fish, poultry or vegetables because it's easier to control and the grains cling a bit better. Oh, and on a side note, have you ever wondered why a good number of chefs (including me) sprinkle Kosher salt on any given item from a height of 12 to 20 inches? It's not to present some type of grand flair. No. The food we prepare will hopefully showcase our talent. The reason we sprinkle salt from such a height is because it is more evenly distributed that way. Go ahead. Try it. And the fact that it looks cool certainly doesn't hurt.

So we've touched on some of the issues of salt. But there's more. Topics like how and when is it best to apply salt. Brining (effective and useful). Those nifty little salt grinders that are turning up in stores and restaurants (silly and useless). And what about the rage over sea salt?

These questions and more will be discussed in a future blog.

Until then, pass the salt, will ya?


*As a matter of record, I am a cook and not a nutritionist, dietitian or doctor (although I once played doctor with the other kids when I was a child). The recommendations made in this blog are the result of careful research, classroom instruction, and the occasional wild guess. Any lawsuits stemming from physical harm incurred from said recommendations should be addressed to the real author of this blog: Andrew Shmedley, 1203 Commorant Way, Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and not to Warren Caterson.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's Not Exactly Food...But Feast on This.

Although I'm not due for another blog update for a day or two, I just had to pass this along.

It's a 'Flash Opera' that took place at the Macys in Philly this past Saturday.

650+ singers burst into the Hallelujah Chorus at noon. Startling weary shoppers and eliciting broad smiles.

Okay. I admit it. I'm a sucker for this type of thing (I'm often tickled by Improv Everywhere and their antics on YouTube). But this particular one put chill bumps on my chill bumps. Click on the link below and see what I mean.

Eric Voegelin once coined the phrase 'Immanentize the Eschaton' (loosely meaning: trying to create heaven on earth) back in the 50's. William F. Buckley popularized it by saying 'Don't Immanentize the Eschaton' a little later on. College student fans of Buckley even sported buttons quoting him.

And with all the religious fruitcakes that dot our landscape I would have to agree with that sentiment.


After hearing and sharing in the joy of these singers on the video, I must admit that perhaps I caught a brief glimpse of the Eschaton.

Sometimes God shows up. Even in Macys.

Like in the voice of that middle-aged black woman.

Or in that toddler dancing in the outstretched arms of her dad.

Or in that Generation Y guy taking pictures with his iPhone.

Or in that ten-year-old-boy who surely must've been wondering what the hell was going on.

I especially loved the placard that announced to those in attendance that they had just experienced 'A Random Act of Culture'. Kudos to the Opera Company of Philadelphia and all the choral groups who shared their voices.

I know this blog has nothing to do with food.

But perhaps we should all watch the video and chew on it for awhile. Bon appetit!


Monday, November 1, 2010

A Chicken in Every Pot...And a Pot in Every Kitchen

One of your major purchases for the kitchen will be your pots and pans. Just as a good knife contributes to safety, good cookware contributes to a well-cooked meal. But unlike the cost of various knives, the price spread for cookware is more pronounced. A set of pots and pans can run from $19.95 for flimsy stainless steel to several thousands of dollars for handcrafted copper.

My friend Lee Ann has a very nice set of All-Clad cookware. You may have seen them offered in serious gourmet cook stores or glossy high-end chef's catalogs. They are rated very highly by numerous chefs and testing labs, and therefore find themselves ensconced at the top of the home cookware heap. They are very good. But they are not cheap. Lee Ann sometimes lets me come over to look at them as long as I wipe the drool off her countertop before I leave. I also have another friend who inherited a set of French copper cookware. They perform flawlessly and the polished copper looks glorious hanging from the hooks in her kitchen. But since she charges me three bucks just to look at it, I rarely ever do.

Because cookware will be one of your most important investments you should purchase the very best that you can afford. And as with cutlery, cookware should be selected for its effectiveness and durability. And remember, it pays to shop around. In addition to both on line and brick and mortar cook stores, be sure to check out the sales at department stores as well as stores like Marshalls, Homegoods, Ross, or TJ Maxx.

Now...a word about "Celebrity Cookware".

You've seen them. Knives, pots and pans, kitchen gadgets, counter top machines, blah, blah, blah. All stamped with the name of the celebrity chef of the hour. I generally steer clear of these items and stick to the cookware that most of these celebrities actually use in their own kitchens. But don't take my word for it. Objective reviews of celebrity cookware may be found in consumer publications as well as on-line. If you already have them, use them til they wear out. But I digress...

The Table for Two kitchen will initially require a half-dozen or so carefully chosen pieces of cookware. Here are my recommendations:

8-inch non-stick omelet pan
10-inch or 12-inch stainless steel skillet*
10-inch or 12-inch pre-seasoned cast iron skillet
1-quart or 1-1/2-quart stainless steel saucepan*
2-quart stainless steel saucepan*
3-quart stainless steel or enameled cast iron dutch oven*
8-quart covered stockpot with steamer basket

*Look for tri-ply stainless steel cookware where an aluminum core runs up the whole side of the pan and is sandwiched between two sheets of stainless steel for effective and even heating.

Of course, you will eventually add to your collection as you see fit, but these items will make a nice start. You may even find some of these items in cost-saving sets. For a complete rundown on specific pots and pans as well as brand recommendations, sign up for my newsletter on the right side of my blog. It's not too late to be in the running for my 8-piece cookware giveaway. I'll be drawing names this weekend.

Bon Appetit!