Friday, April 27, 2012

Is it done yet? The importance of a food thermometer & food safety.

Pretty soon we'll be outdoors grilling chicken, hamburgers & steaks. It is so important to be sure these meats are cooked and handled correctly.  
(See "Resources" at the bottom of this blog.)

 So today I thought I'd take some time to stress the importance of food safety and  show you a kitchen gadget that should be in every kitchen: 
a food thermometer.
If you've every had food poisoning, you understand why cooking to temperature and food safety is imperative.

Did you know?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that every year about 48 million people in the United States 
become ill from harmful bacteria in food; of these, about 3,000 die. 

That is why every kitchen should have some kind of meat thermometer & a meat temperature guide. This gadget should be as common in the kitchen as a fork and knife.  
Thermometers range in price from $6 up to over $100 dollars.   Whichever one you decide to use, consider the cost an investment in your family's health.  The most expensive thermometer will still be cheaper than a trip to the emergency room! 

I have several food thermometers, but find the Thermapen by ThermoWorks to be the fastest, easiest, accurate and most convenient to use. It retails for $96, but can be found on sale for as low as $69.  ThermoWorks has "open box" pricing on their site. as well as  giveaway contests on their Facebook/Twitter sites.

More about my gadget of choice"Made by Hand in England, the Thermapen is faster and more accurate than any other cooking thermometer on the market. Competitors have tried to copy the Thermapen with mass-produced products made in China and have flooded the housewares market with slower, less-accurate knock-offs. However, when compared to true competing commercial thermocouple thermometers, the Thermapen is not only faster and more accurate, it's also less expensive!"

The Thermapen probe tucks away onto the side of the pen.
When the probe is opened, the Thermapen turns on automatically.
Is available in many colors.  I picked pink.
Testing the Thermapen on a small, thick steak.
Fast and easy to read.

Testing the Thermapen on a tiny, thick piece of chicken.
Is easy to hold, has a nice grip.

Below are several resources that will help you keep your food safe for your family.   It will also instill confidence in you when you are cooking these foods knowing that you are cooking them properly.

Meat Temperature Cooking Guide
Once on that page, you can copy and paste the chart onto a blank document and print it.
Remember:  Remove the meat at 5 degrees F. below the target temperature.  The meat will continue cooking for a few minutes after it is removed from the heat

FDA "Is it done yet" Online Brochure

Thermometers Aren't Just for Turkey Anymore
These days, food thermometers aren't just for your holiday roasts—they're for all cuts and sizes of meat and poultry, including hamburgers, chicken breasts, and pork chops. Using a food thermometer when cooking meat, poultry, and even egg dishes is the only reliable way to make sure you are preparing a safe and delicious meal for your family. 
Why Use a Food Thermometer?
Everyone is at risk for foodborne illness. One effective way to prevent illness is to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry, and egg dishes. Using a food thermometer not only keeps your family safe from harmful food bacteria, but it also helps you to avoid overcooking, giving you a safe and flavorful meal. 

FDA Fact Sheet on Kitchen Thermometers
 Why Use a Food Thermometer? 
Using a food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure safety and to determine desired "doneness" of meat, poultry, and egg products. To be safe, these foods must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy any harmful microorganisms that may be in the food. 

"Doneness" refers to when a food is cooked to a desired state and indicates the sensory aspects of foods such as texture, appearance, and juiciness. Unlike the temperatures required for safety, these sensory aspects are subjective.

FDA: Food Safety
Dangerous Food Safety Mistakes
Sometimes a simple mistake can have grave consequences. What may seem like a small food safety mistake can cause serious illness with long-term consequences.

When it comes to some germs, such as Salmonella, all it takes is 15 to 20 cells in undercooked food to cause food poisoning. And just a tiny taste of food with botulism toxin can cause paralysis and even death.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Disappearing Mini Kaiser Bread Rolls & Quick Ham Salad

Last Saturday was my daughter's bridal shower, it turned out to be a great day weather wise and a beautiful event that was enjoyed by all.  One of the many food items that was served was an enormous spiral ham.  I had the good fortune to be given some of the leftover ham to take home.

My husband loves homemade ham salad so on Monday I took out the ham, the food processor, the Victorinox knife and all the other items needed to get this done. It was quick and very easy.

Homemade Ham Salad

1/2 lb. leftover ham - cut ham into 1 inch cubes or if you have sliced ham, cut it into 1 inch strips.
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon relish

In the bowl of your food processor add all ingredients, pulse for only a few seconds until you achieve the consistency that you like for ham salad.  If you over pulse, you will end up with ham spread, which will still taste good if that's what you like.
Adjust the amounts to taste.  I like my ham salad on the dry side, so I don't use much mayo.


Rough chop & done!


On this same Monday, my sister in law was coming for lunch.  I thought I'd attempt some freshly baked Kaiser rolls to go with the ham salad.  The rolls came out smaller than I expected, but were amazingly delicious non the less.  I found a couple recipes I liked and took the best from each recipe and came up with this:

Mini Kaiser Rolls
Bread Machine & Manual Instructions

This was my first attempt at making these rolls.  A few of them "unknotted", but they tasted delicious and I will be making them again! So very much better than store bought.

Time:      About 1 hour
Makes:   16 mini rolls

If you have a bread machine, put the below ingredients in your machine and select the Dough cycle. When the dough is ready, follow the remainder of the instructions shown in the photos below.

1 large egg (whisked  well)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
3/4 cup water

3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

If you do not have a bread machine:  

In a large bowl, or the bowl of your electric mixer, combine all of the ingredients, stirring till the dough forms a cohesive mass and begins to clear the sides of the bowl. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then allow it to rest for 10 minutes (which gives the dough a chance to absorb the liquid, and the gluten in the flour a chance to relax.) Knead the dough for an additional 5 minutes, or until it's smooth and supple. The dough should be quite stiff, but not at all "gnarly;" adjust its consistency with additional flour or water, as necessary. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl or dough-rising bucket, cover the bowl or bucket, and allow the dough to rise in a warm area to rise until it's noticeably puffy, about 35 min. or so.
After the dough has risen, place it on a cutting board and follow the below instructions.
Optional: Brush tops with egg wash (one beaten egg) and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake at 400 for 10 - 12 minutes.

There are many bread machines to choose from. They are not all created equal. Many end up at thrift shops or yard sales.  I've tried a few, and these are affordable and work extremely well. 

For this recipe, I used my Sunbeam Bread Machine. 


This Oster bread machine is another one of my gadgets.  I use both machines equally. It's handy to have two when I want to make two at the same time.


Dough after coming out of bread machine

Cut dough in half. Then cut each half in half again
until you have four quarters.


Continue cutting the four quarters into sections of four.
Ending up with 16 pieces of dough.

Take each section and roll it into 8 inch strips.
I found it easiest to hold the dough ball between my
two hands and roll it vertically.
Similar to the motion of rubbing two sticks together to start a fire.
I know...we don't really do that anymore,
but it's the best I could do for a description.

Cross one end over the other.

Make a knot.

Take the top piece (left), stretch it, bring it under the knot
and tuck it up into the bottom of the knot.
Take the bottom piece (right), stretch it, bring it up over
the top and tuck in into the top of the knot.

It sound harder than it actually is.
Here is what it should look like.

Put them on greased cookie sheets on use silpat mats.
Let rise, covered, in a warm place for 30 min. or more.
I put mine uncovered, in a 100 degree oven.
which is my new oven's Bread Proof setting.
I'm sure you can do this in any oven.


This is how they look after 30 min. Puffy. The tops got
a tiny bit crusty, but it didn't effect the final baking.

After baking this is how they looked.
We "tested" four, that is why there are only 12 in this photo.

Picture perfect and delicious dinner rolls.
We put our ham salad in lettuce cups and had the rolls on the side.
They were big enough to cut in half, but we ate them "as is".

Friday, April 13, 2012

Special Sugar Cookies, Peanut Butter Balls & Cake Pops

Baking sweet treats for my daughter's shower Saturday was my motivation for this week's Kitchen Gadget post.

I made Special Sugar Cookies, Peanut Butter Balls & Cake Pops (and four lasagnas that aren't shown on this blog). :-)   It was a labor of love.

The gadgets I used for the sugar cookies is my new rolling pin, mini sifter, and my trusty sil pat mats. The gadgets used for the peanut butter balls was the large sifter, the mini scoop and my Kitchenaid Mixer.  The gadget used for the cake pops was the Cake Pop maker and batter pen (see archives).

The theme for my daughter's shower is "Spring Bling", so I used Wilton's silver sugar sprinkles as well as their glitter dust.

The recipe for the sugar cookies came from
For the icing, I used a simple mixture of confectioners sugar, milk and vanilla.

The recipe for the peanut butter balls came from (photos of my peanut butter balls see pics #5 & #6)
For the coating, I melted semi sweet chips.

The cake pops were made from a traditional cake mix.
For the topping, I made a chocolate ganache.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Get it now! Drastic Price Drop on this Rolling Pin - Amazon!!! Limited Time I'm sure.

I happened to be looking for a rolling pin that can be used inside a cookie sheet a while back, but didn't need one until this week.
I'm making these sugar cookies and the first reviewer suggested rolling the dough right in the cookie pan to eliminate lifting the delicate cookies. Great tip, but my rolling pin wouldn't get to the dough, my cookie sheet has sides.

 In checking my Amazon wish list, I found that the $33 rolling pin I wanted has a HUGE price drop and today is marked $5.99.
If you read the one review, it can also be used to roll out dough in a cookie sheet.

Just had to share this bargain!
  Go, go, go!!


Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Casserole: Cheesy Bacon Hash Brown Bake

Brunch is the plan for this Easter. We will be dining at my daughter & future son in law's home in Newburyport, MA.
One of the items on the menu is this Cheesy Bacon Hash Brown Bake.
I found this recipe from the Ore Ida site.  It called for their Southern Style Hash Browns, along with green, red peppers and a small chopped onion.  
My grocery store did not have the Ore Ida Southern Style Hash Browns but did have the Ore Ida Potatoes O'Brien.  The O'Brien potatoes also had the peppers & onions already in the package.  That was perfect!

The gadgets I used to help prepare this casserole were the Presto Microwave Bacon Cooker,a  red stoneware baking dish, a 10 inch balloon whisk, a wooden cheese slicer & my always handy Lodge 12 inch cast iron skillet.  Except for the wooden cheese slicer & the cast iron skillet,
 everything else goes into the dishwasher for quick and easy clean up.  I demonstrate how to clean cast iron in one of my previous posts.  The wooden cheese slicer wipes clean, and the cutting wire gets a warm, soapy wash down with a paper towel. Don't forget to clean out any cheese left in the groove of the cutter, a toothpick works great for that job.

   Cheesy Bacon Hash Brown Bake

1 28 oz. package of Ore Idea Potatoes O'Brien
8 Slices of cooked bacon
12 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
12 ounces of Velveeta cheese thinly sliced

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1.  Cook bacon & reserve drippings.
2.  Cook Potatoes O'Brien in the hot bacon drippings browning the potatoes, 10 to 15 minutes.
3.  Spread cooked potatoes into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
4.  Whisk eggs and sour cream until blended; pour over potato mixture.  Top with bacon and Velveeta.

Bake 40 minutes or until center is set and casserole is heated through.

Note: Always serve egg based dishes immediately after cooking to prevent bacterial growth. Be sure to cook until the eggs are completely set.
Make ahead:  Casserole can be assembled ahead of time. Refrigerate up to 24 hours before baking as directed, increasing baking time if needed until casserole is done.

Ingredients & Presto Power Crisp.  I saw this gadget while visiting
my daughter who lives in Sahuarita, AZ
 (Bargain Birdie is her blog, her link is on my page in the lower left corner).


Carando Apple Cider Cured Bacon

By the way, these parts come apart and are dishwasher safe!

Tip: Tap eggs on a paper plate for easy clean up.


Ore Ida Potatoes O'Brien sauted in bacon drippings i
my well used Lodge Cast Iron Skillet.


Super handy cheese slicer.

Forty seconds per slice & it's done!

Cooked potatoes, scrambled egg mixture, cheese and bacon.
Ready to assemble.


Ready for the oven.

Finished casserole, yum!