Archive for April, 2013

Kitchen Tip Tuesday: Sticky Situations

April 30, 2013

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Measuring sticky ingredients, such as honey or molasses can be a mess. Next time a recipe calls for a sticky item, spray the measuring cup or spoon with a light coating of cooking spray. The sticky sweetness will drip right out!

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Hidden Havens (for bacteria)

April 29, 2013

A recent report looks at the places and appliances in your kitchen, which are the most likely to harbor harmful bacteria. The results may surprise you.

The study by NSF, a nonprofit public health group, hopes to provide some insight on how food borne illnesses spread in even the cleanest of kitchens.

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Researchers took swabs from kitchens in suburban Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and asked participants to rate where they thought the highest contamination might occur.

While the participants all guessed that the microwave keypad would be the dirtiest, the researchers found that other areas were much more contaminated.

Refrigerator ice and water dispensers are a breeding ground for yeast and mold. The vegetable and meat compartments of refrigerators were often found to harbor salmonella, and listeria. Most shockingly, rubber spatulas, and the rubber gasket that prevents leaks in the blender, were also found to contain yeast, mold and E coli and salmonella.

Proper cleaning of these items is pivotal in preventing food borne illness.

The blender should be fully disassembled and washed in hot soapy water, before drying and storing. Just washing the jar and lid does not seem to be effective enough. Be sure to remove the rubber ring and wash each component thoroughly.

Rubber spatulas are made in 2 pieces, and the handle should be detached from the rubber head, and cleaned separately.

NSF also suggests that the vegetable bins be washed regularly with soap and water, and dried with a clean towel. Unwashed produce should be kept separated, and away from other foods to prevent cross contamination.

The meat drawers should also be cleaned regularly. The meat should be stored at the bottom of the refrigerator, to avoid juices dripping onto other items.

Water and ice dispensers should be cleaned with a solution of vinegar and water. It is recommended that the water source be turned off, and 3-4 cups of distilled white vinegar be run through the system. Use a tiny brush to clean the waterspout weekly. Be sure to run the water and discard the next batch of ice, to avoid the vinegar taste.

While it was not found to be the ultimate harbinger of germs, it doesn’t hurt to wipe down that microwave keypad with a disinfectant on a regular basis.

Strange Brews

April 24, 2013

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I got an interesting call today, asking me to create a recipe using an odd but unusual combination of foods. The example they gave me was pancake lasagna. Drat! How great would homemade flour tortillas be in  lasagna? Nickelodeon’s hit television show “I Carly” often showed the stars indulging in their favorite meal, spaghetti tacos.  Mario Bataali serves an amazing olive oil ice-cream at his restaurant Otto. We are talking unexpected, but not unappealing.

I tend to be a bit of a food purist, and like simple food using fresh ingredients. I want to stay true to my roots, and come up with something unique, but delicious.

What are some of your favorite odd food pairings? Think hot and spicy merged with sweet, different ethnic flavors melding together in a new way, or some crazy preparation of an old stand-by. I am not sure everything is better with bacon, but I willing to consider the possibilities.

Post your strange food cravings below, and if they sound good, I will develop a recipe around them. I need to come up with an idea quickly, so put your thinking cap on and help a girl out here!

xo indigo jones

 

Inconvenience Foods

April 24, 2013

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Several people I follow on Facebook have taken to posting recipes culled from various cooking sites on their walls. They are quite popular, and are often met with “likes” and comments about how delicious they are.

As someone who writes about food, I look at these recipes with great interest. And each time, I am appalled.

Most of these delicacies are made with mixes, and contain tons of fat, sugar and “white stuff.”  A cake recipe features yellow cake mix, eggs, lemon Jell-O, vegetable oil and 7-UP (yes, the soft drink!). It is iced with sugar and orange juice.

While I am no stranger to treats, and bake often, it is my philosophy that the best possible ingredients should be used, and the end result should be well worth the dietary splurge.

Calorie for calorie, I am sure that my baked goods would weigh in at a similar or even greater amount. This isn’t about fat content or grams of sugar. My issue is with the chemicals and unnecessary additives in the Jell-O, soda and cake mix.

“Holy Cow Cake” contains a jar of caramel topping, cream cheese, a can of sweetened condensed milk and Cool Whip blended with a chocolate cake mix. Holy Cow, indeed!

The fresh strawberry cake does in fact feature the real deal, and the website talks about the joys of going strawberry picking (fresh and local= good). Yet those freshly picked berries are beaten into submission by a meat tenderizer, and overcome by Jell-O and cake mix again.

Honestly, I didn’t think people used this stuff anymore. I really, truly believed that people fell into two distinct camps: those who baked, and those who frequented bakeries. I am shocked that someone would take the time to prepare things like this, under the guise of homemade.

There are savory dishes here as well, such as a recently posted soup recipe that features bacon, whipping cream, potatoes, cheese and bouillon cubes. Bouillon cubes! Those tiny blocks of flavor are made of salt, sugar, MSG, hydrogenated palm Olien, and Disodium Inosinate among the long list of ingredients. I don’t use any of those things in my homemade stock, which is much richer and more flavorful than rehydrated chemicals will ever be. But I also don’t add bacon, whipped cream and cheese to my soups either.

While we blame much of the obesity epidemic and its related diseases on fast food, this “semi-homemade” movement is often worse. Basing our meals around premade, processed and preservative ridden mixes is creating dishes that are worse for us than a fast food burger. I can’t help but think that many people have no idea how much less healthy these foods are even as compared to the “real” versions of the same thing.

Why does dry cake mix need to have well over a dozen unpronounceable ingredients in it? Most of the dry components of a cake are flour, sugar, a small amount of salt and some type of leavening, such as baking soda or baking powder. All of these are shelf stable, without the need for additional preservatives. For most basic mixes, you need to add water, oil and eggs. For most basic recipes from “scratch” you need to add butter, and eggs. I can’t even begin to imagine how a mix is easier, or why anyone would want to eat all those chemical additives.

I don’t mean to offend anyone’s palette, or to get all judge-y about anyone’s dietary preferences. If you want to indulge, go for it. But in using manufactured ingredients instead of fresh ones, we are harming our bodies and subjecting ourselves to exposure to unsafe food additives, without any good reason to do so.

Next time you long to make a special cake, or a hearty casserole,consider not only the nutritional value of the dish itself, but also the unnecessary additions and additives you are using as well.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: How to Get More Juice From Citrus Fruits

April 23, 2013

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When using citrus for cooking, it’s important to extract as much juice as possible from the fruit.
Here’s all the juicy details to help you get the most from your citrus fruits.

Lemons and limes can sometimes be very firm, and hard to juice. Placing them in the microwave for about 10 seconds or so, softens them and brings out the juice. Be careful when you cut into them, the juice can get hot!

Rolling the fruit on the counter before cutting is another way to release the juices. Use firm pressure as you roll the fruit before cutting.

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This little kitchen gadget makes juicing super easy. Just place the cut fruit into one side of the cup, and squeeze! It allows the juice to pass through, keeping excess pulp and seeds inside.

photos: Glasshouse Images

French Women Don’t Sag, and other folktales.

April 22, 2013

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A French study published last week claims bras are a detriment to keeping women’s breasts from sagging.
The study followed 330 women, ages 18-35 over a 15-year period. Their breasts were measured using a slide rule and caliper, to document any physical changes.

The women who did not wear bras were found to have a 7-millimeter lift as measured from the nipple, and their breasts were thought to be firmer, with a marked fading of stretch marks, as compared to their bra-wearing counterparts.

Researchers believe that wearing bras limited the growth of breast tissue, and caused deterioration of the supporting muscles.

While those responsible for the study view the data as preliminary, (after 15 years?!) they caution women not to abandon their bras just yet.

Whether or not the information is valid, there is a social and cultural aspect to wearing the undergarments. The way our clothes fit, the way our body feels and the sense of “overexposure” might make many women uncomfortable with losing their support system.

As one commenter on the New York Times website stated: “ Have the people who did the research ever seen the pictures of women in National Geographic? Not wearing bras definitely didn’t firm theirs.”

So ladies, this begs the question: Are you willing to give up your bra if it’s proven to contribute to sagging?

photo: Glasshouse Images

Work It Out

April 19, 2013

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After managing to make it through the flu season relatively unscathed, I seem to be fighting a cold of some sort.

It started with a sore throat, and after a few days, an intermittent, yet hacking cough has joined the party.

I have been working hard to get back to my normal level of fitness after a long gym hiatus due to an injury. The thought of being sidelined again so soon, is daunting.  If I can make it to work, run the household errands, and get dinner on the table, surely I can make it to the gym, right?

It seems counter-intuitive to even ask the question, “When are you too sick to workout?” If you’re sick, you’re sick. But the reality is, a little exercise can boost your immune system to help you recover more quickly.

The rule of thumb seems to be that if the ailment resides above the neck, then it’s ok to do a light workout, if you feel up to it. Sore throat, and sniffles, even a little mild coughing is ok. Chest congestion, fever and stomach ailments are all big resounding “NO’s!”

It is recommended to workout at a reduced intensity to avoid exhaustion; run at a slower pace, eliminate high intensity intervals, and avoid going breathless.

Be cognizant of your fellow gym goers. If you are sneezing and dripping all over the place, perhaps it’s better to keep those germs to yourself.  Be sure to wipe down equipment after use, as an extra precaution, and toss those nasty tissues into the trashcan.

 

(*after coughing through the entire night, I threw in the towel and skipped the morning workout. )

Photo: Glasshouse Images

How Safe Are Our Household Products?

April 17, 2013

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Most of us assume that the chemicals we use in our homes have been tested by the government and deemed safe. The cleaning products, food packages and even lotions, soaps and shampoo that are purchased commercially, are laden with chemicals, which may be causing us long-term harm.

While pharmaceuticals and pesticides are subject to government testing, industrial chemicals are not.

In a recent article in the New York Times, it brings to light that the Toxic Substances Control Act, adopted in the 1970s is in dire need of an update.

Under the current policy, companies are required to notify the Environmental Protection Agency before it imports or manufactures a new chemical. They are not required to provide any safety data, unless specifically requested by the agency, which needs to show factors for potential risk. If no steps are taken to block the new chemical within 90 days, it is automatically cleared.

As time goes on, we are becoming increasingly aware of chemical substances that are used in many of our day-to-day products. BPAs in the lining of cans and plastic bottles, flame retardant or stain repellant coatings on textiles and nonylphenols in soaps and shampoos, are just a few of the toxins we are exposed to daily. Even infant care staple, Johnson’s baby shampoo came under scrutiny last year, for the carcinogens used to in their product.

Last week, 2 Senators proposed a bill called the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013, which would require companies to prove that a chemical is safe, and limit the use of those which are considered “of great concern.”

The bill is backed by 25 Democratic Senators, and supported by environmentalists. It is opposed by the chemical industry, and the Republicans are working on a competing bill that is expected to win the support of the chemical companies.

In the meantime, it is prudent to know what is in the products we use, and to seek alternatives that are safer.

photo: Glasshouse Images

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Perfect Salad Dressing

April 16, 2013

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Homemade salad dressing is so easy to make, and so much better than the store bought variety. A simple vinaigrette can be made with oil, and anything acidic, such as vinegar, or citrus juice.
As a baseline, dressing should be 3 parts oil, to one part acid. Depending on the ingredients, and what the dressing is being used on, that might need to be tweaked a bit. Personally, I tend to  err on the side of extra acid, preferring a little more tang to the dressing.

To make the perfect salad dressing, start out with a good quality oil. Olive oil is the most common base for a vinaigrette, but other clean, flavorful oils such as walnut can also be used.  Vinegar, or citrus juice can provide the acid.

There are lots of types of vinegars on the market. Balsamic vinegars can range from tart, to syrupy and sweet, depending on how long it has been aged. There is even a white balsamic, that has a milder taste. Red wine vinegar is a bit more tart, and half wine vinegar and 1/2 balsamic can be a nice blend. There are also flavored vinegars which add an extra element.  Lemon juice is a nice alternative to vinegar, as is lime or even grapefruit juice.

Whisking, or shaking the mixture will cause it to emulsify, thickening it slightly.
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Once you have the basic recipe, it is fun to experiment with fresh herbs or other condiments.

One of my favorite tricks is to make the dressing in a dijon mustard jar that is almost empty. Just pour the oil and vinegar or lemon juice into the jar, and shake it vigorously. The mustard left on the sides of the jar will mix in and add another level of flavor to the mix.

Once you start making your own dressings, you will never want to go back to bottled versions, which are laden with preservatives and other unnecessary ingredients.

Enjoy!

Photos:Glasshouse Images

Unrecipe of the Week: Grapefruit + Avocado Salad With Seared Tuna + Scallops

April 15, 2013

My favorite fish market is finally open again after a long remodel, so seafood is definitely on the menu tonight. As the weather tries to turn springlike in New York City, I am craving bright, citrusy flavors. A quick trip to Chelsea Market provided the inspiration needed to create this light meal.

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Seared fresh tuna and scallops are set on a bed of arugula, shaved radish, grapefruit sections and avocado, all drizzled in a grapefruit vinaigrette. The spiciness of the arugula and heat of the radish, balance out the sweetness of the grapefruit. While I chose to cube and sear the tuna, this could be done with a filet of any type of broiled fish, and served along side of the salad.

For the salad:

Peel the grapefruit, removing all of the white pith, and cut the sections over a bowl. I cut the grapefruit into large wedges, trimmed the inner white membrane, and used a small paring knife to remove the rind. I did this over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Remove the fruit and reserve the juice for the dressing.

Coarsely chop one head of arugula.

Finely slice a large radish or two. I happen to hate raw onion, but for those of you not adverse, a little finely diced red onion could be a nice addition.

Peel and cut an avocado into chunks. Mix the arugula, radish, avocado and grapefruit sections in a bowl. Toss lightly with the dressing and mound on plates.

For the vinaigrette:

Whisk a few tablespoons of the grapefruit juice with a olive oil, a little honey, and some balsamic vinegar together in a bowl. Taste to achieve the desired level of tartness.

For the seafood:

Season the tuna cubes and scallops with sea salt, black pepper and a little olive oil. Sear at very high heat until browned on one side, flip and sear the other side. Remove the tuna while it is still a rare.

Arrange the fish on top of the salad, and drizzle with a little of the warmed vinaigrette. Enjoy!

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