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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Food Safety

I've never had food poisoning, thankfully.  It's funny, though, that as soon as someone thinks they may have food poisoning, they immediately think about the last meal that they ate out in a restaurant. 

Truth is that most food poisoning occurs from foods prepared at home.  Most of them don't get reported because people think it must have been the flu or some sort of stomach bug.  But the fact remains that the lack of food safety in the home contributes to a lot of illness.

There are those who say, "Oh, I've never sanitized my cutting board and I don't get sick" or something like that.  That may be true.  But new pathogens show up all the time and your old ways of doing things may not keep you from getting sick for much longer.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has come up with 4 simple terms to keep in mind when thinking about kitchen safety.  (Thanks to China Millman's article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for many of these ideas.  Find out more from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/foodsafety.)
    • Wash your hands completely (20 seconds in hot, soapy water) before cooking and often during the cooking process--especially after handling raw proteins.
    • Wash all fruits and vegetables in water.  Yes, even organic and items that you'll be peeling.
    • Don't rinse meats or poultry.  You're not going to wash off many of the bad microbes and you'll just be contaminating your sink.  Pat them dry with paper towels if you wish.
    • Clean cutting boards and countertops with a solution of diluted bleach (1 Tbsp bleach to 1 gallon of water). 
    • Sponges can be home to a bunch of microbes that can make you sick.  Sterilize them by microwaving for 1 minute on high or run them through the dishwasher.  Do this frequently.
    • Change your dish towels frequently as well.  If you accidentally get some chicken juice on one, that won't help things when you go to dry your hands later on.
    • Cross-contamination is the biggest concern in your kitchen.  Any contact from raw meats or poultry with foods that aren't going to be cooked can be dangerous.
    • Always use separate cutting boards--one for meats/poultry, one for other items.  Be sure to wash your cutting boards, knives, etc after cutting raw proteins. 
    • Store these foods separately in your fridge as well.  Try to store raw meats/poultry at the bottom of the fridge so there's no danger of them dripping on other items below them.  Be sure to keep them well wrapped.
  • COOK
    • Be sure to cook proteins to the recommended temperature.  To be safest, don't use visual cues to tell you this.  Use a thermometer to be sure.
    • Refrigerate foods promptly when you get them home. 
    • Be sure your fridge is no warmer than 40 degrees.  Use a refrigerator thermometer to make sure.
    • If you don't use raw proteins in a few days, freeze them until ready to use.
    • If something in your fridge doesn't look or smell good, toss it.  Better to err on the side of caution than get sick.
Here's another article for you to check out on a similar topic.  It helps to dispel some myths that many believe to be true when it comes to kitchen safety. 

Does it take a little extra work on your part to make sure you are preventing food-borne illness in your kitchen?  Sure.  But the alternative is a lot worse!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Networking Opportunity

I'm a member of the Central Bucks Business Networking Group (CBBNG) and on November 14, we're hosting a Fall Mixer with the Quakertown group (QBNG). 

It's a great way to meet other businesspeople from our area in a relaxed, no-pressure environment.  The event will be held at Revival's Restaurant, 4 S. Ridge Rd, Perkasie, PA, 18944 from 5:30-7:30 PM.  Light refreshments will be provided and a cash bar will be available.

The cost is $10 at the door, but if you RSVP in advance, it costs just $5.  All you have to do is go to www.qbng.org/cbbng-joint-mixer.html and pay using your credit card. 

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Couple Local Places

Mary Beth had the day off yesterday and we went to Vera's Country Cafe (4203 Durham Rd, Ottsville, PA, 18942; 610-847-8372).  I had heard good things from a number of people about Vera's, so we thought we'd check it out.

Let's just say that we didn't need to eat lunch.  The breakfast menu is pretty typical a place like that, but there are lots of choices from egg dishes, to pancakes, to creamed dried beef and more.  I had one of the specials--a Wild Mushroom, Bacon, Cheddar & Potato Omelet.  Huge and filled with goodies.  Very tasty.  It came with home fries and toast.  MB got the SOS (Creamed Dried Beef) as is typical for her.  Very good.  The sauce was nice and thick.  We shared another special--a Strawberry-Chocolate Chip Pancake.  We ordered just one (nice that you can order as many as you want).  That was all we needed as a "side dish".  It was as big as the plate it came on.  (Sorry, I forgot my camera.  I'll have to go back to get pictures.)

If you're looking for a good place to get a good, home-style, affordable breakfast in a nice casual setting with very friendly staff, check out Vera's.  They serve lunch, too.  If you've been there for lunch, let me know how you liked it!

Have you been to the Cafe Blue Moose in Doylestown?  I've not been there, but have heard great things about it.  The neat thing about this place is that it was started 4 years ago by a couple of teenage friends.  Housed in one of their homes, the "restaurant" was a hit--so much so, that a permanent spot in New Hope will be opening next month.  Read all about this great venture in this article from Bucks County Taste.  It's pretty cool.

There are so many interesting and impressive food spots right in our backyard.  Let me know about some of your favorites!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fruits & Veggies

Jake and I took our weekly trip to Penn Vermont Fruit Farm (Rt. 113 & Rolling Hills Rd, Bedminster).  There are lots of places around to buy fruits and veggies--Penn Vermont is right up there with the best of them.

This time of year, the main reason we go is for their many varieties of apples.  Fresh, juicy--so tasty.  They also have some pears (although not as many as apples). 

In the market for pumpkins, squash or gourds?  They have plenty of them--in all colors, shapes and sizes.  On Saturdays and Sundays, they run hay wagon rides to the pumpkin patch for a fun way to spend some time on a nice fall day. 

We picked up some incredibly brilliant purple cauliflower that tastes great.  Super fresh.  And now they have their own apple cider--a little on the sweet side, but so good. 

So if you're in the Bedminster area, stop in at Penn Vermont for some fall goodies.  You'll be glad you did!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happy NCCI Day!

I don't know how these "national" days are established, but apparently, October 14 is National Chocolate-Covered Insects Day! 

Chocolate-Covered Crickets (courtesy of
Have you ever tried these crunchy little snacks?  To be honest, I can't remember if I have or not.  I have a very clear recollection of someone bringing chocolate-covered grasshoppers in to my first grade class.  This could be true or totally be some dream I had.  If there are any of my first grade classmates out there, do you remember that? 

Anyway, from what I understand (or remember), insects are very crunchy and have a nutty flavor.  And they're actually pretty nutritious, too--lots of protein.  I guess covering them in chocolate sort of defeats the healthy-food aspect of them. 

As I've written before (see my post, Bug Off), people all over the world eat insects rather routinely.  Here in the refined US, however, it's gross to most people.  I wouldn't have a problem with ants or crickets (which seem to be the most common chocolate-covered bugs you find).  It's those big gooey ones--big spiders or grubs or things like that--that might make me pause.

But come on, why not give it a try on this special day! 

Here's just a few places you can buy them:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Naked Lobster

As you know, I love lobster.  When in Maine, there's nothing better than buying live lobsters, cooking and eating them right away.  Delicious.

But there are those who, even though they love to eat lobster, have a hard time with killing their dinner right in the kitchen.  Not to mention the work it takes to get to the meat.

To me, that's the Maine experience--cracking the claws, sucking the meat out of the little legs, taking a big bite of tail meat while butter drips down your chin. 

I guess not everyone agrees with me.  Many folks just want to eat the lobster meat without the killing and cracking.  That's where John Hathaway comes in.

Hathaway opened a lobster shack in Kennebunkport, ME in 2001.  You know the place--plastic bibs, disposable tablecloths on picnic tables.  But what he found was that most people don't want that experience.  They just want to eat the lobster meat.

He found out about an accidental discovery in Louisiana by an oyster distributor who, while playing around with high pressure water to kill bacteria on oysters and extend their shelf life, discovered that the high pressure spray also shucked the oysters.  Hathaway wondered how this technique might work with lobsters.  He headed South to find out.

What he found may actually revolutionize how and where lobster can be shipped and how it can be sold and served.  What happened is that the live lobsters came out of the high pressure spray with 2 differences: they were dead and the meat was totally separated from the shells, but still on the inside.  So once the shells were cracked, the raw lobster meat just slid out.

Needless to say, Hathaway has changed his business plan.  He bought a huge machine that puts the lobsters under high pressure, killing them in 6 seconds and separating the meat in 6 minutes.  He sells to people who don't want to cook and dismantle live lobsters in their homes and to restaurants that save money (and pass some of the savings on to their customers) because they don't have to have space to store live lobsters.  Lobster meat can now be shipped at much less expense (you don't have to keep the critters alive) and can spread the Maine lobster to places that haven't known it before.

For my money, I want the fun of eating a whole lobster.  But I can totally understand the appeal of cooking with raw lobster meat without the hassle.  Read more about this interesting story in this article from Boston.com.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Putting On the Pressure (or Not)

Jake's favorite Phillie is Ryan Howard.  Now, I'm not even going to get into the fact the Phillies are out of the playoffs.  In fact, my writing those words doesn't really convince me that it's actually true.  Give me a couple of months.

Anyway, he loves Ryan Howard.  Like Howard, Jake is a left-handed hitter (usually has a little better eye than the slugger).  And they're both streaky at the plate--Howard at home plate, Jake at the dinner plate.

Jake ate a whole lobster for the first time this year,
overcoming some previous trepidation about it.

There will be days that Jake will eat like he's never eaten before.  He'll shovel down everything in front of him.  Then, he'll change to a streak where he won't eat much at all.  Early on, MB & I were a little worried that he wasn't eating as much as he should be.  We didn't want to pressure him, but we wanted to make sure that he was getting the nutrients that he should have been getting.  His doctor assured us that children self-regulate how much food they need to get by.  There's no use in pressuring a child when they're not eating because chances are, they're simply not hungry.

A recent study from the UK (and discussed in an My Health News Daily article) backs up what the doctor told us. 

Basically, pressuring a child to eat when they aren't hungry can have a detrimental effect on how the child sees eating as a whole.  Often the result is a child who is picky and views mealtime as a battleground.  The study suggests that parents shouldn't worry about when a child won't eat--they'll eat when they are hungry.  Forcing the issue or substituting less healthy options (ones that the child will eat hungry or not) are not good ideas.

Is there any time that some gentle pressure is acceptable?  Most experts say that when you're working on trying to get a kid to taste something new, a little pressure isn't a bad idea.  Even a little incentive works in getting a kid to take the risk of trying something new.  I know in Jake's case, he simply has to be in the right mood.  Most of the time, he's very open to at least trying something, but there are times when nothing will get him to put his lips to that food. 

Bottom line to me is that all kids are different.  You can try strategies that seem to work in general, but only you know what might work for your child the best.  Just be sure to be an example to them--don't make them eat things that you won't eat.  And expose kids to "real" food--take them to farmers' markets, explain where foods come from, walk them around the produce aisle in the supermarket. 

Check out a couple previous posts about this subject: "Kids These Days" & "Kids & Food".

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

Everyone has it happen to them.  You go through the fridge once in a while (I try to do it every week) and you end up throwing away a bunch of stuff.  The red pepper you forgot was in the bottom of the crisper drawer.  The container of sauce that you were sure you were going to use for something.  Wasting food is an unfortunate fact of life in this country.

That's the drawback of living in a country where things are so plentiful.  Think of other things you throw away: the tops of carrots, citrus rind, potato peels, corn cobs and more--all of which could be used as ingredients in delicious food.

Leaves of carrots, celery and fennel can be used to flavor sauces or as herbs in a salad.  Many "scraps", like corn cobs or the woody parts of asparagus, can be used to flavor stocks.  Melon rinds can be pickled or even used raw in a salad.  There are limitless uses for the things we throw away. 

Using up these kinds of ingredients may take a little research and a little more time, but we should take a cue from cuisines of other countries, where using every possible part of a plant or animal is commonplace--and necessary. 

An interesting and informative article from the New York Times tells about the ways that chefs and others use these kinds of ingredients to save money and eliminate waste.  Maybe it'll help to inspire us to use food for all it's worth!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mainely Food (Part 3)

So as our trip wound down, we took a nice easy hike along Long Pond (which is much bigger than what I would classify as a "pond").  The day started out a little overcast, but cleared up a bit as we started the walk along the shoreline. 

Looking down Long Pond.

The water is incredibly clear and still.  We got to a point further down the shore and Jake's young eyes spied a loon in the middle of the water.  He started making loon sounds ("Listen!  I'm communicating with the loon!") 

Fog over Long Pond.
After sitting for a while, we started back toward the car and the fog came rolling over the mountains, hovering over the water.  It was an almost surreal feeling.  The sounds of the loons calling, the low fog, bald eagles flying through the low clouds.  It was really cool.  Jake continued to make his loon calls, which resulted in a 2-second delayed echo.  He though that was pretty neat.  We did too.

Our last morning came (or what we thought was going to be our last morning) and we went for breakfast at Breakfast at Grumpy's in Southwest Harbor.  We didn't know anything about it, but it looked good.  And it was.

A beautiful setting right on the harbor (complete with yet another loon having breakfast).  It's a family-run place where everything is made from scratch.  Big portions (see the picture of the blueberry pancakes!), too.  Grumpy, by the way, is a really nice guy who has been in the food biz for almost 30 years. 

Plate-sized blueberry pancakes and
a 3-egg omeletat Grumpy's.
It was a good thing that we had this hearty breakfast, because the rest of the day was going to leave no time for lunch.  Soon after, we noticed the smoke coming out from under the hood and our 2 day stranding in Bar Harbor began.

Oh, sure.  We didn't need the added expense of the repair and the motel and the rental car.  But we did get a couple other good breakfasts at Cafe This Way and Grumpy's again.  And we got to spend another day and a half in Acadia--Jake back swimming in the 57 degree water at Sand Beach.

And we found a new casual dinner place in Bar Harbor.  The Side Street Cafe is a relatively new place (opened in '09) that is family-friendly and is known for their yummy burgers and macaroni and cheese.  You can "build your own" burgers and mac-and-cheese by adding your choice from a list of ingredients.  MB got mac-and-cheese with spinach and mushrooms.  I had a burger with goat cheese, bean sprouts, olive tapenade on a ciabatta roll.  Really tasty.  Jake loved the kid-sized burger, too. 

From burgers to fried seafood, from fresh steamed lobsters to trail mix while hiking, from Cafe This Way to Grumpy's--it was another great food adventure in Maine.  (Not to mention all the other great non-food stuff!)  Jake's already asking about when we'll be heading back.