Posts tagged ‘Kitchen’

December 11, 2018

Always Keep Kitchen Safety in Mind

When you’re preparing food, it’s important to always keep kitchen safety in mind. Where else in the house do you get to play with sharp objects, open flames, boiling liquids, cans under pressure, and countless amounts of breakable glass? In contrast to the rest of the house, the kitchen is a perpetual accident waiting to happen.

I feel like I’m pretty aware of safety when I’m working in the kitchen, but I am constantly reminded of yet another hazard by an OMG moment! Grandchildren in the kitchen have added yet another layer of awareness.
kit safety
Here are a few safety tips from my kitchen…

Knives

Beyond the obvious keep knives away from fingertips warning, don’t be tempted to leave knives lying on the countertop. This is hard for me. I will chop something on a cutting board, then lay a knife across it because I plan to use it again after I’ve done a few other things. I know the knife is there, how dangerous can it be?

Well, having almost stabbed my foot with a falling knife I’d accidentally jostled a couple of months ago, I’d say pretty dangerous. I was grateful I’d had Stop the Bleed training. I also became keenly aware how difficult it would be to use that training on myself.

I know not to leave sharp or breakable objects on the counter when my grandchildren are around. A curious 18-month-old may reach above his head and swipe his hand across the countertop to see what he can find. He also may reach for a knife from your knife block if it is visible. Luckily, my grandson warned me that he was about to pull a knife out by telling me he needed one for the dish he was “cooking” on his stove. My knife block no longer resides at the end of the counter.
knife
Flames

I’ve narrowly escaped burning dish towels and sleeves by failing to notice until the last minute how close they were to the flames on the burner. In general, long flared sleeves may be adorably cute on you, but they’re a really bad idea to wear as cooking fashion. In the same vein, a dish towel may be the most handy potholder, but if you leave any part of it dangling, it can touch a dancing flame before you know it.

And don’t even get me started on paper towels near the stove. Fry some chicken, cover a plate in paper towels, hold that plate above and to the side of the skillet when you remove the chicken to drain on the paper towels. Sounds like reasonable instructions, right?

The instructions aren’t bad, they’re just not complete. They should include a caution to make sure NO paper towel extends beyond the edge of the plate and that the flame is turned low enough that it doesn’t extend past the edge of your frying pan. If you need the flame higher than that to maintain the proper oil temperature, it’s probably best not to hold the plate so that you know it’s sitting a safe distance away from the flame.

Also, don’t be tempted to wipe that drip off the top of the stove just behind the burner while it’s on. You’ll have to reach your arm over or around a very hot pot near a very hot burner most likely with something wet in your hand that won’t protect fingers from heat. That’s too much risk for the amount of time it will save you later. Of course I know this is a bad idea because I’ve done it.

Always keep a fire extinguisher charged and handy just in case flames get out of hand. Mine lives under my kitchen sink. If you happen to have a small grease fire in a pan, turn off the burner, smother the fire with a metal lid or baking sheet, baking soda, or salt. Do not throw water or flour on the fire. Do not cover the pan with glass or pottery. Do not try to carry the pan outside.

Pot Holders and Dish Towels

We just touched on one downside of using a dish towel as a potholder, but it’s also good to remember that a damp or wet towel will not provide insulation from heat. Any towels or potholders should be dry before grabbing a hot handle.

Dish towels may have to be folded multiple times to be thick enough to protect your hand. This can result in a wiggly (technical term) grip. Heavy skillets like those made from cast iron increase the risk a wiggly grip poses.

I use my pot holders so much, they get thin in the middle. I usually discover this when I grip a skillet of cornbread and start to lift it out of the oven. The heat transfer is gradual, but over time I’ve learned when it feels hotter than it should in the first few seconds I should immediately put the skillet back down on the rack in the oven. Muscling through the heat to lift it to the counter is a D-U-M-B thing to do.

Storage

Don’t store anything in the oven that isn’t oven proof to the temperature you’d use to bake a frozen pizza. Sometimes I just need a quick place to hide something in the kitchen. Of course the oven works beautifully…until days later when I’ve totally forgotten the plastic tray in there and preheated the oven. Ugh, you get the picture. I actually preheated the oven this morning with a skillet & sheet pan in it. I do this on the regular, so I know I have to outsmart myself and only store oven proof things.

If you have pets, storing anything on the top of the stove can be risky. A former customer of mine put a basket on top of her stove to at night. One night while everyone was sleeping, her cat jumped on the stove to investigate. In the process, the cat’s foot turned on a burner starting a fire. Luckily, a smoke alarm awakened the family quickly, but the whole kitchen burned.

Having a system that tells you how long a bottle of olive oil, soy sauce, or maple syrup has been stored open in the pantry can prevent you from eating spoiled condiments. Of course, it’s good to do the same thing for the salad dressing, mayonnaise, pickles, jelly, and ketchup in the fridge. Discarding these in a timely manner (with hot sauce, timely means you have years to spare) is a great safety precaution.

I’ll admit my discard system is haphazard. When I’m testing recipes, I use everything so fast this isn’t an issue. When I’m cooking less, I periodically throw everything away that I can’t remember opening and start over. I’m about to have one of these purging sessions in my pantry.

Microwave

I’m sure you know not to put metal in the microwave. You may not know that putting a honey bear in there to heat up crystalized honey can result in serious burns. If heated too long, the bottle can explode when you remove it and you can end up covered in molten honey. This happened to a friend of mine, but a Reddit thread tells me it’s happened to others as well.

When James was about two, I microwaved a cup of water. I took it out of the microwave then had to go check on his crying baby brother. Before I left the room, I made sure the cup was toward the back of the counter where James couldn’t reach it. Being resourceful, James pulled a chair up to the counter, climbed up, got the cup and spilled a full cup of boiling water down the front of his shirt. It all happened in a matter of seconds.

James proceeded to run around the house screaming at the top of his lungs because his shirt was burning him. When I finally caught him, I grabbed the shirt and quickly pulled it off. The skin of his entire chest came off along with the shirt.

Yes, it looked as bad as it sounds and I’m sure it was as painful! After a visit to the doctor, we kept the wound clean and coated in Silvadene and it healed. The only scars left are in James’ memory and on my Mommy record.

Coffee

Unplug the coffee grinder before you use your finger to scrape out the grounds that didn’t fall into the lid. I mean it. Unplug the thing. More than once I’ve had coffee grinders come on unexpectedly and get stuck on. One of them was recalled because of this problem. I’ve seen plenty of otherwise smart people dig out grounds with the grinder plugged in. It makes me cringe each and every time.

Unplug the coffee maker when it’s not being used. I once watched my coffee maker shoot sparks into the kitchen. It was plugged in, but not turned on. The fact that I was there to see it (and prevent a fire) was a happy accident. I switched to a French press.

Timing

I use the timer on my stove, but it’s not very loud. If I’m leaving the kitchen, I know it’s a good idea to set a corresponding timer to carry with me. The one on my phone works great. I also have a stationary one on the desk in my home office.

It’s also a good idea to set a timer if you decide to chill a can of soda in the freezer. I rarely do this, but when I do, I consistently forget about that can for way too long. Usually I catch my error at the point the top of the can begins to bow out, but I have had to clean up the freezer after a can explosion. I can assure you that cleaning the freezer is not my idea of fun!

Other Things

-Read labels for allergens.
-Disinfect anything that touches raw meat.
-Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat reaches a safe temperature.
-Don’t eat raw eggs.
-Wash fruits and vegetables.
-Kiss Caesar salads goodbye for awhile. The romaine problem has gotten out of hand.
-Refrigerate leftovers in a timely manner.
-Turn pot and pan handles toward the center of the stove.
-Wipe spills up quickly so you won’t slip and fall.

Clothing Optional

I’m fine with you doing whatever you want to do in the nude, but this post is about safety in the kitchen. Soooo, don’t cook naked. Like ironing naked, it seems like a good idea until it’s not. By that point you’ll probably have frozen or burned something you really don’t want to freeze or burn. At least put on an apron. A simple apron with heels can be the perfect cooking outfit depending on the guest list.

Every cook I know burns themself at some point. Many cut a finger. Most of these injuries are minor. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to have a watchful eye and always keep kitchen safety in mind when you’re having a kitchen adventure.

https://www.firerescue1.com/firefighter-training/articles/223446018-How-to-put-out-a-grease-fire/

https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/index.html

https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/index.html

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/make-the-kitchen-your-happy-place/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/pare-your-kitchen-down-to-the-basics/

April 12, 2018

Free-Range Grazing in My Kitchen

My family just spent a couple of days free-range grazing in my kitchen. That wasn’t exactly what I envisioned. All I wanted to do was have a large pot of something prepared before my out-of-town guests arrived so that there was food within reach if anyone got hungry.

I don’t know about your family, but you don’t ever want mine to get hungry. We don’t just get hangry, we go ballistic. It is not a pretty sight!

I settled on beef stew and bought stew meat, small purple and white potatoes, various colors of carrots, and boiling onions. So that my sauce would thicken on its own, I coated the meat with a mixture of corn starch, tapioca starch, sweet white sorghum flour, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper before browning it in olive oil.

A couple of hours later, I had traditional beef stew boiling on the stove and a plane to meet at the airport. The crew arrived hungry and started on the beef stew immediately. I threw together some cornbread. All was well.

The next morning, two more sections of the family would arrive. Instead of fixing breakfast while the LA crowd slept, I made pasta sauce enhanced with salami and pork chops with rice. At the time I thought I was prepping for the following days. That’s not how it worked out.

Somehow, as the crowd gathered food started disappearing. I brought out the left over stew and cooked gluten-free pasta to add to my sauce. Before long everyone had a plate of something. A few hours later, everyone had a plate of something else.

The snack bucket I had stocked with gluten-free pretzels, trail mix, peanut butter, crackers, and chips began to empty. Green banana eaters and ripe banana eaters grabbed bananas. The left over cornbread got slathered with honey.

Food disappeared in waves. I ran out of bowls. We grabbed mixing bowls. I cooked frozen gluten-free pizza to fill in the pasta gap once the pasta was gone. The extra salami not used in pasta sauce ended up on crackers.

The kids played, we laughed, and no one ever got hungry. In fact, no one even got fussy much less hangry. Eventually, the dishes got washed. And after a couple of days of free-range grazing, most everyone went home to graze in their own kitchens.

I still have some clean-up to do, but it was a great visit proving a little food can go a long way toward building happy families!

April 3, 2018

Spring is for Renewal – Even in the Kitchen!

Spring is for renewal – even in the kitchen! The winter season is hanging on here and there, but the spring growing season will soon arrive with wild contributions of poke salat, dandelion greens, and lamb’s quarters.
lettuce
Of course you’re not required to eat from your yard. Farmers markets, food co-ops and select grocery stores will fill vegetable bins with leaf lettuce, spinach, chard and kale. Fresh vegetables deserve a fresh presentation now and then and spring feels like the proper time for renewed inventiveness in the kitchen.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to pick leaf lettuce from the garden my grandmother planted at our farm. It was so tender and flavorful, nothing like an iceberg lettuce wedge which I only really appreciate when drenched in bleu cheese dressing topped with bacon pieces. For years, it was the only lettuce I knew. (How lucky was I?)

The vegetables we grew were what we ate. My mom wasn’t going to drive into town to buy different vegetables from the store when we had perfectly good ones peeking through the dirt across the driveway. Of course, we didn’t want to eat the same thing every day, so necessity became the mother of invention. New combinations or cooking methods developed on the fly.

A few years ago when I first purchased a share in an organic farm, I noticed that a similar thing happened in my kitchen. Rather than plan meals and make a shopping list, I was suddenly planning dishes based on the surprise ingredients I received each Friday when I picked up my share from the farm. Not knowing in advance what I would get made the experience feel like a cooking adventure. It renewed my sense of creativity in the kitchen.

Now, when the weather warms, I can’t help but feel an excited anticipation for the arrival of fresh tender greens, small green onions, beets, peas, asparagus, and broccoli. I love the bright colors! I love the flavors! And I love having a chance to think of new combinations!

I was thinking about giving you some recipes next, but that might keep you from the fun of creating your own. I would never want to rob you of fun! Instead, here are the top 8 ingredients I like to have available to pair with fresh veggies:

Avocados
While they’re great for soooo many things, it’s not always practical to keep an avocado in the kitchen. I can’t tell you how many I’ve thrown away because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the changing level of ripeness.

Now I keep Wholly Guacamole avocado minis on hand. I can use them in anything requiring mashed avocado without worrying whether they’ve gone bad.

Goat Cheese
The light creaminess of goat cheese won’t overpower even delicate garden flavors.

Boiled Eggs
Keeping a few boiled eggs in the refrigerator comes in handy for salads and casseroles as well as pasta dishes.

Fresh Ginger
Grated fresh ginger is delicious with beets or green beans and can give salad dressing a kick.

Mint
Any fresh herb could make this list on a given day, but today I like mint. Tomorrow, who knows, I may like cilantro.

Mirin or Rice Vinegar
Mirin is a rice wine with a light sweet flavor. Both mirin and rice vinegar add light acidity to a dish or dressing.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
I buy hulled pumpkin seeds and toast them in the oven with a little olive oil spray and salt. They bring a satisfying crunch and earthy flavor to salads. They’re great by the handful too.

quinoaQuinoa
I like the texture of quinoa. It works great as a base for a Buddha bowl or a salad and it has a higher protein-to-carb ratio than rice.

With these ingredients, or your own favorites, you’ll be well equipped for a variety of spring culinary creations. Inspiration for combinations can come from anywhere — accidentally tasting two things together on your plate, a dish you’re served in a restaurant, something you remember from childhood, a recipe you want to vary, a cooking show, a painting — literally anything!

This is the kind of post that makes my sister crazy! She would be much happier with an actual recipe. I want her to learn to play with flavors. Mostly, I want her to have the pleasure of discovering something new, delicious, and totally unexpected that she created. I want that experience for all of us! It feels so great on so many levels!
I feel so grateful that spring offers the bounty for such opportunities over and over and over again! It truly is a time of renewal.

https://www.eatwholly.com/products/chunky-avocado/wholly-chunky-avocado-minis/

January 9, 2018

Make the Kitchen Your Happy Place

If you want to improve your family’s eating habits, make the kitchen your happy place! Watch any home improvement show and you’re sure to see a lot of emphasis on kitchen design. Even tiny house occupants often insist on full-size appliances. This could lead you to believe that Americans love to spend time in the kitchen. But according to former consumer packaged good consultant Eddie Yoon, only 10% of Americans love cooking.

Why do we go to all the trouble and expense of large refrigerators, stone countertops, and multiple small kitchen appliances if we don’t want to be in the kitchen? It doesn’t make much sense. On some level, we must still believe the kitchen is important. Since the only way to really know what’s in your food and thereby ensure you are meeting your health and nutrition goals is to begin with fresh food, it would be good if we enjoyed our time in the kitchen.

So, how do we take a basic space or a beautifully appointed kitchen with a custom pantry, elegant countertops, decorative backsplash, and ample refrigerator and turn it into a space we want to use, a space that draws us in, a space that feels like our happy place?
pancakes
Make it Yours

Forget all the sparse, neutral images you see on TV and online. Those are just showing you a blank canvas waiting to be personalized. Let your kitchen become a place filled with things that make you feel good.

Personalize
Put your grandmother’s cookie jar on the counter and keep it filled with homemade cookies just like she did. Add a wireless speaker to the top of the refrigerator so that meal prep can be choreographed to your favorite dance tunes. Get a spoon rest that makes you laugh. Buy a handcrafted cutting board that makes you feel connected to the outdoors. Get cabinet organizers that reduce frustration by making everything easily accessible. Get rid of appliances you never use so you don’t feel guilty for having them. Buy a small appliance if it will invite you into the kitchen to use it (for more than the first week or two). Add a collection of decorative objects you love. A kitchen does not have to be cold and clinical to be functional and efficient.
teapot
Add Color
Don’t be afraid to add some color!!! All white, mostly gray, or somber black and brown can dampen my mood! Unless your house is listed for sale, there’s no reason to be hesitant about adding something bright and happy to your kitchen. If you’re not comfortable with painting the walls or cabinets, bright curtains, a painted island, decorative plates, unique pottery pieces, wall art, vintage salt and pepper shakers, flowering plants, or potted herbs can help make you feel happy to spend time in the kitchen.

Get Comfortable
If you love to converse while you prep veggies, add a bar stool or a comfortable chair near your prep space. Share a cup of hot chocolate, hot tea, or coffee and conversation with a friend, neighbor, partner, spouse or child while your hands are busy. They don’t necessarily need to help. They can just keep you company. This can be a great time to exchange recipes or share cooking techniques.

My great aunts used to shell peas together. They’d gather at my Aunt Nola’s house, sit outside in metal chairs with a bushel basket in front of them and talk while they worked. They actually did many things as a group – crocheted, quilted, and painted ceramics. The grandkids ran free in the yard or around the farm while the women stayed in touch and made work seem like play.

Experiment

If you’re new to cooking from scratch (without the use of something that is already prepared or in existence), but love to play around with color, texture, and flavor, the kitchen may soon be your favorite place! I tend to visualize how flavors will taste together in my head before I try them in real life, but I also get inspired to pair flavors when I taste something that excites me.

A cucumber, jalapeño ice lolly I ate on a hot day inspired my recipe for Chilled Honeydew Soup, a delightful and refreshing combination of honeydew, cucumber, with a hint of jalapeño. Soon after eating that ice pop, I began experimenting with ingredients in varying proportions and possible additions until settling on the best combination. After that, the recipe faced 2 more tests in order to meet the Cooking2Thrive quality standard. For me, each of the experiments was fun!
tomatoes
Good Taste

Even if experiments don’t excite you, It’s hard to resist a room filled with delicious food. Remember, many ingredients do not require cooking to be scrumptious! If you are reluctant to cook, consider constructing simple salads. These following salads rely on flavorful fruits for their flavor and texture. They do not require cooking and they are both delicious.

No Cooking Required
Tomato and Avocado Stacked Salad
Layer tomato slices, avocado, and mozzarella cheese. Drizzle with a vinaigrette made from olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, chopped basil, salt, and pepper. Add a slice of crispy prosciutto if you like.

Simpleberry Salad
Combine fresh blueberries and blackberries with sliced bananas and tiny cubes of cantaloupe. Dollop with sour cream or plain yogurt and top with grated nutmeg. Add a dash of cinnamon if desired. You can also sprinkle with a granola crumble if you like some crunch.

Bake Something
When you add baking to the equation, the kitchen will fill with warmth and the smell of browning cookies, yeast bread, pizza dough, and cake. Yummmmmm!! Who can resist the kitchen then? It’s like having your own personal bakery.

Add the Family

The smell of fresh baked cookies, pork tenderloin, or a casserole will bring the family running. A kitchen filled with all ages creating a meal is a wonderful place to connect and bond. Food is a source of comfort. Connection is another source of comfort and joy. When you begin to associate cooking with comfort and joy, it automatically becomes your happy place! Even the cleanup process ceases to be work when it’s a shared experience of laughter and fun.
dough
When my kids were growing up, there was always someone sitting on a counter in my kitchen. Sometimes it was my kids. Sometimes it was their friends. Sometimes it was me. One or two of us would be preparing a meal and the others would be engaged in the conversation while warming the counter. I don’t know why this seemed natural in that particular house, but it was. During cleanup, the roles reversed. In between, we enjoyed a meal together. This didn’t happen every day of the week, but it happened enough that that’s how my kids remember meal time.

Both of my sons are good cooks. Not only can they fix pancakes or steak and blacken Brussels sprouts, they bake yummy pies and cakes. They feel no limits when they’re in the kitchen. It’s a place they’ve always felt comfortable. I didn’t emphasize cooking back then. It was just a regular part of our lives, but it set the stage for them to cook in their own homes. That’s the benefit of making the kitchen your happy place!

My grandson DJ and I read “Green Eggs and Ham” on a regular basis. Whenever he balks at a new food, I simply say, “Try them, try them, and you may. Try them and you may, I say.” He knows exactly why I’m saying it. If you have never really gotten your hands dirty in the kitchen using fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch, but don’t think you like cooking, I’d probably say the same thing to you, “Try it, try it, and you may.”

And if you don’t, every family needs a cleanup crew in a happy kitchen!

https://hbr.org/2017/09/the-grocery-industry-confronts-a-new-problem-only-10-of-americans-love-cooking
http://time.com/money/4370620/food-spending-restaurants-versus-groceries/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3471136/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/the-benefits-of-cooking-part-1-the-food/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/the-benefits-of-cooking-part-2-the-fun-2/
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/the-benefits-of-cooking-part-3-the-lessons/