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Wok This Way

For years, I thought that cooking with a wok was for only Asian Food and gas burners. Boy, was I wrong!

Woks are one of the most useful cooking pans that can be used in the kitchen. They can be expensive, heavy and come in all sizes. I have two. One I purchased about two years ago and was not successful in the use of it so I put it in the pantry and have not used it since.

That is changing now that I have learned the cuisine magic that can be produced with this marvelous invention that has been used for generation after generation.

The wok is not only for stir-frying—it can be used for pretty much everything. Woks are designed to cook foods hot and fast, so you need to use a type of oil that is approved for cooking over high heat.

The perfect piece of cookware for hot n’ fast stir frying among other things.

You need much less oil to deep-fry in a wok than in a regular saucepan. You can put a bamboo steamer in the wok, fill the base of the wok with water and steam like that, or get little metal trivets in the bottom, lay a dish on the trivet, and cover with a wok lid.

You can also use it for boiling and making stews, or even as a smoker—you cover the base of the wok with several layers of foil, and then you put some sugar and tea leaves and some flour. Heat it up until the sugar is burning and everything is smoldering, and you can put food on a rack, put the lid on, and do hot-smoking like that.

When you’re choosing a wok, you need to think about what kind of stove you have. If you have a gas flame, you can have a traditional round-bottomed wok. But if you have an electric stove like I have, then you need a wok with a flat bottom.  As for materials, I favor the carbon steel one, which heat up and cool down quickly.

Left: A traditional round-bottomed wok. Right: A flat-bottomed wok.

The average wok seems to be priced at around $50. I found one at the Goodwill Store for $14. It is a 12-inch steel with a lid. The steel appeared to be stained but it was otherwise in good condition, so I bought it. Little did I know that the staining was the patina giving it the non-stick quality of a well-seasoned wok.

After watching the care and use of woks on the internet and putting the techniques to practice I have used my wok almost daily. Everything from deep frying to frying eggs.

They have different sorts of handles. Some have one long handle—that is the easiest thing if you want to toss your food around. Other woks will have two ear handles. The good thing about those woks is they’re very stable, so for boiling or deep-frying, you do want it to be safer. My wok is 12-inches with one ear handle and one long handle it seems to be just right for at home cooking.

While Wok cooking is seemingly all drama with high flames that curve up around the underside of the round-shaped pan with clouds of smoke filling the kitchen. This is not necessarily the case. It depends entirely what you are cooking and whether or not you are steaming or frying. What it does do I have found out is cut down on the actual time taken to cook and it enhances the natural flavor of the food being cooked.

Using my wok for a classic Asian dish – fried rice with eggs and Chinese Sausage!

The wok distributes the heat more evenly than most flat-bottomed pans. What this means is you can put the heat up high to get the pan really hot and because of the steep sides you prevent burning by moving the food around. Stewing, steaming, boiling, and deep-frying are all within the wok’s repertoire.

Always season the surface of your wok before cooking. If you don’t do this you will have sticking. Sticking food will burn.  Burning unlike charring will change rather than flavor the food and makes it harder to move food around. To avoid this is to put a little bit of oil just enough to swirl it around the inside cooking surface of the wok, letting it get smoking hot. Then pour the oil.  Use fresh oil for cooking. 

Oil with a high smoke point, is best. I use canola oil but I also use olive oil.

Classic stir-fry is often done at very high heat.  The Chinese use the term the wok-hai, the fragrance of the wok from a kind of searing. Stir fry can have a bit of hissing, and some smoke. But you don’t want to heat the oil up so hot before you put in your aromatics because they can burn and turn bitter very fast.

After seasoning the surface get the wok really hot before you begin quickly put in garlic or chiles or sensitive things so the oil isn’t burning hot when you begin. You can extract the flavor without discarding or burning them. 

A wok spatula with a long handle is particularly good tool for scooping off the base of the wok when stir-frying. The other cooking utensil that’s useful is a Chinese ladle, the bowl is at a different angle than the Western soup angle making it easier to use with the shape of the wok. You can use it for scooping up oil, stock, or water, or for mixing up sauces before adding to the wok. A scoop with holes in it is good for scooping food out of oil or sauce. A bamboo brush whose bristles won’t melt is essential for cleaning the pan in between dishes while it’s still hot.

My favorite way to clean a wok: the bamboo whisk!

I have never learned the toss. I have seen instructions they read like this. “You just push the wok away from you and raise it and flip the food towards you. When you want to cook food very rapidly, it’s a way of moving it around. It’s always a good idea to practice without too much food and oil first. You could even practice with just some salad in it off the heat.”

If you want to make more food, it’s better to not just double the quantities for a stir-fry. If you try to stir-fry too much food, you won’t get the searing heat needed for traditional stir fry. Vegetables have a lot of liquid in them. When the wok is over loaded with food  the temperature can’t return to heat as quickly as needed to which will cause inadequate cooking making everything mushy. It’s better to do in different batches.

If you have ingredients that cook at different rates, do them separately and incorporate them at the end and they’ll both be perfect. For example, you’ve got some crunchy vegetable and some slices of pork or chicken. You want your meat to be really juicy, not dry. Stir-fry your meat until they’re just right. Take them out and put them in a dish. Then cook the vegetables, and when they’re just right, you put the pork or chicken back in the pan. That way everything will be cooked correctly.    

The trick is knowing when to add what ingredients based on how fast they cook.

Unlike a lot of the pots and pans used in the kitchen everyday Woks are practically indestructible. There is no special care really needed for them. If the wok needs a good cleaning, give it a good cleaning.

After cleaning you re-season it: After cleaning, heat the wok very hot, then rub it with a thick wad of paper towels and some oil. Let it get very hot and then let it cool again. It may even get a bit rusty. But it doesn’t matter! Just rub away the rust with wire wool, re-season it with a bit of fresh oil, and you’re good to go.

Cooking with Leopards

This month’s blog is to clarify the differences between food being just burned versus flavor-enhanced by the browning or charring process. When a food is burned, the proteins and sugars have gone past caramelization and into carbonization.  Only bitterness is left.

On the other hand, charring is allowing the browning to happen but stopping it before burning and tipping over the edge to being burnt. If you want to get technical, it’s called the ‘Maillard Reaction’ and describes how the browning gives food its distinctive flavor.

Seared steaks, fried dumplings, cookies and other kinds of biscuits, breads, toasted marshmallows, and many other foods undergo this reaction.

Charring spots on babyback ribs.

Charring brings out the natural sugars which adds to the overall flavor. Vegetables benefit the most from this, especially if they have a lot of natural sugars in them. The char is a welcome contrast to the natural flavor.

It depends on the balance of the char versus the sweetness. If the char is over all surfaces it quickly turns to just being burnt with an unpleasant acrid taste. Charring around the edges give a pleasant contrast of sweetness to the slight bitterness of the char.

Charring on pork patties as part of the Vietnamese dish ‘bun cha’.

‘Leopard spots’ on pizza and tortillas are just the charring of the bread dough. The idea is to provide a contrast of flavors on the pizza enhancing them. The charring of tortillas gives a finished baked effect.

Classic leoparding on a Neapolitan pizza.

‘Blackening’ is a charring technique used in the preparation of fish and other foods. It is usually cooked in or on an extremely hot cast-iron skillet or grill to form a crust. The characteristic brown-black color of the crust results from a combination of browned milk solids from the butter, mayonnaise and charred spices.

One of the ways to add a nice crusty char on a steak is to add a gossamer-thin layer of mayonnaise – yes, mayo! – right before you put it on the grill. Give this a try, you won’t be disappointed.

How steak should look. Thin coating of mayo, 90 seconds per side on a hot grill!

To learn more about the Maillard Reaction, check out the link here.

Just In Time cooking

When I worked in the corporate world, I taught among other things the importance of planning ahead and just in time manufacturing planning. JITM in manufacturing means to have the materials you will need to make something available when you need them. I never would of thought that the idea would apply to cooking.

Studying the different techniques made me realize that cooking is basically a chemistry and value-added manufacturing process.

You need the right tools, supplies, technique and a plan. The plan is the recipe. Supplies are the ingredients to be used in the plan. The best tools are not necessarily the most expensive.

My best almost all purpose tool is the second hand wok that I purchased at a local thrift store. The wrought iron frying pan I use was inherited from my mother, I have no idea how old it is. A good used one can be picked up at thrift stores and garage sales. Never mind if they appear to be rusted, a little bit of correct care and they can be rejuvenated and made like new but they are definitely a must have in the kitchen.

Knives should be of a good grade. Purchase these separately with the job they are intended for in mind. A beautiful set will cost more than they are really worth. A good knife can sometimes cost more than all your kitchen utensils combined. But consider the fact that like my mother’s wrought iron skillet you can hand it down to your descendants. 

I have a hand wrought meat cleaver that is well over a 150 years old, it will still chop through a ham bone or a split kindling wood if needed. The point here is make sure you get the best knives that you can afford and choose them for what they will be used for.

Prep work is the most time consuming of the whole process. But once that is done, the rest is easy and goes quickly. The cool thing is that prep work can be done ahead of time, so you can enjoy a glass of wine or set the table. The actual cooking time is short.

If the recipe has lots of ingredients, I pre-measure them and place them in the order that they will be used next to the stove. Usually this means the aromatics (garlic, onions and other spices) are placed first.

When I first started cooking I used to dump everything in at once. Since occasionally wisdom come with age I have learned that is usually not the best way. Everything has its time to be added. If you are breading meats like chicken for frying, give the chicken time to rest and let the breading adhere to the meat after dredging.

Then wait until the oil you will be frying in is hot enough to bond the breading to the chicken when it first goes in the pan. Also this insures that the chicken will brown and crisp up without soaking up the grease. The hot oil sears it and prevent the meat from soaking up all the grease.

Sweet Nuggets of Gold

Come mid-summer, the days turn long and warm. And corn on the cob is one of those foods that’s synonymous with summer. It’s a perfect side for hamburgers, hot dogs, or a perfectly seared steak.

Everyone swears by their favorite method to cook corn on the cob. You can find them in the grocery store already shucked and trimmed at a cost of $1 or more per ear. Frozen in packs, usually six for ~$5.  The cost of a fresh ear is usually no more than 50 cents. As the summer wears on, they get down to 4 for a dollar. The frozen corn usually comes out kind of mushy after steaming or boiling and pre-shucked corn is to my mind just throwing away money.

I have come up with a recipe for the most delicious way to roast corn in the over. But I hear you say, “Roasted corn isn’t anything new!” You’d be right – it’s not. But I got inspired after having a delicious ear of corn at the world-famous Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. I tweaked their recipe a bit and it turned out absolutely delicious.

Start by selecting the freshest ears you can find. There’s no absolute foolproof way to do this, but there’s one way that works wonders for me.

Just pick the ear up and smell it, especially close to the end with the tassel. The corn should smell fresh, something like freshly mown grass. The silks at the top should still have a lot of green. The ear itself should feel full and firm.

Perfectly fresh ears of corn. Note how much green is showing on the tassel silks.

If you’re unsure, pull back the shuck just enough to see the first few kernels. They should be the yellow of golden creamy butter. (Or freshly polished ivory, if you’re looking at white corn.)

What fresh kernels and silks should look like. It should smell like freshly-mown grass.

When you get it home and are ready to cook, begin by shucking the corn and removing the silk. Slather the exposed kernels with soft butter. Follow up with yours herbs of choice.

For two ears of corn, I use a teaspoon of each of the following: red pepper flakes, garlic (either fresh minced or powder) dried parsley, salt, and pepper. Mix the spices and then drizzle on evenly over the kernels. The butter will help the spices stick. Wrap up tight in tin foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Unwrap, watch the hot steam, and Happy Eating!

Hot and perfectly roasted. Wait for it to cool enough to pick up, or get out your corn holders!
Corn with corn holders. Pictured with my (almost) famous pork ribs.

Journeys into Soup-making

At left: Saifun Noodle Soup; At right: Soba Noodle Soup!

I don’t do soups much during summer…but when I do, I try to make it worthwhile!

These pictures are of a mixed pork-beef-onion broth made from the accumulated juices of a recent batch of pulled pork, homemade onion soup, and a dash of beef broth.

One of the best investments for the thrifty home cook is a simple mason jar with a lid. These can hold a lot of juices from a batch of pulled pork, roasted meat, or cooked chicken. Put the juices in while they’re still hot, put the lid on tightly, and place in the fridge. The temperature differential will usually create a vacuum seal to keep things fresh for a few weeks – check if the seal formed by looking to see if the top of the lid is indented.

While this broth base is delicious on its own, be sure to add some store-bought stock to bulk it out. Additionally, this is a great time to go through your leftovers and the vegetable drawer to find and use veggies that need to be used. In the example here, I added some of the leftover pulled pork, carrots, celery, and bok choy.

While the broth is the same, there’s two different bowls of soup here. On a recent visit to an Asian supermarket, we decided to try out some of the different noodles available. The clear noodles are Japanese ‘saifun’ noodles made out of potato starch. They ended up clear, with a little bit of a pleasant chew, like a rice noodle.

The other bowl with dark green noodles is green tea infused soba noodles – soba is a kind of Japanese noodle made from buckwheat. It’s got a delicious flavor like a good quality wheat noodle, only nuttier.

Consider breaking out the noodles and stock to make supercharged-flavor soup the next time you slow-cook a batch of meat. It’s a budget-friendly way to up your cooking game!

Steamed Ginger and Garlic Fish

Recently I attempted one of my most challenging dishes yet: Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger and Scallions!  I’d seen this recipe featured in a YouTube video and during my most recent visit to a local Asian market where they sell extremely fresh fish, I spotted a display of amazing red snapper. 

  I had the fishmonger scale and gut the smallest one (2 pounds!) and brought it home to cook that night.

The recipe I was following required me to make slashes in the fish’s flesh and marinate it for a couple hours in a mixture of fish sauce and pepper.

 Then I placed slivers of ginger and scallions both inside and out of the fish, then place it in a steamer.

Whoops! I don’t have a steamer large enough for a whole two-pound fish no matter what the species. Fact is I don’t have a fish poaching pan either. After all the work I had already put into this recipe the big question was how was I going to cook it.

I ruled out baking it. Even though that would have worked I wanted to try the steamed fish.

I do have a good oven. Why couldn’t I steam it in the oven.  Yes, the oven.

The steaming process was the biggest challenge of the cook. The idea is to cook the fish using high wet heat without the fish being in water. I did not want to boil or poach the fish I wanted it steamed. 

I have a large baking dish and a rack that fits inside. But by using the rack alone the fish would be sitting in the water. But by placing another smaller plate inside the bigger one then sitting the rack on top it with the fish and tenting it with aluminum foil it made an adequate steamer.

 Perfection after 45-50 minutes in a 375 F oven

Set the fish aside to cool slightly after removing the cooked  ginger and scallion slivers and replacing them with fresh ones.  You create a garlic-infused hot oil to pour over the fish – it sizzles like a fajita plate! – and then a dipping sauce of soy, sugar, sherry, and sesame oil to place around it before serving with rice on the side.

Hands down this is one of the best fish dishes I’ve eaten.  The white flesh flakes away in moist chunks, and every bite is lightly infused with garlic, ginger, and scallion.  Delicious, and the leftovers, what little there was went into fish tacos for lunch!

Wonders of Cheese

When I was growing up in the late 1940’s and ’50’s there were to my mind only Velveeta from Kraft. It was invented in 1918 by Emil Frey of the Monroe Cheese Company in Monroe, New York. In 1923, The Velveeta Cheese Company was incorporated as a separate company, and sold to Kraft Foods in 1927. … The name “Velveeta” was intended to connote a “velvety smooth” edible product.

Later on I was introduced to the Kraft Parmesan. You know the stuff in the green cardboard cylinder. The height of dinner for me was Kraft Macaroni and cheese. As I grew older I discovered Blu Cheese and Swiss. Until the year 2002 these were still the only types of cheeses I really knew about or tasted and used for cooking.

Kraft cheese food products are still around, they don’t appear to have changed in over 107 years. If the product works for its customers why change it. Right.

My first experience with a a good cheese was Parmigianiano Reggiano, of course Mozzarela di Bufala on pizza. Since then I have made it point to seek out different cheeses in the cheese shops, I have not been in one yet that does not offer samples. Also the cheesemonger will be happy to explain what and how the particular cheeses are made, where they are from and how long they are aged.

The cheese pictured above is at the Austin Cheese Company. While there, I came across what has to be the prettiest cheese I’ve seen: Alpine Blossom, aka ‘Senneri Huban’. This is an Austrian import that’s aged with a coating of Alpine flowers, including marigold, rose petals, lavender, and chervil as a mild green herb.

There is another called Green Dirt that I particularly like. It comes from Green Dirt Farms. Green Dirt uses its own sheep’s milk to create a unique fresh cheese that ripens and drains for 48 hours before it is packed. The result is a bright, lemony cheese with a soft, delicate curd and a clean milkiness on the finish — similar in style to a chevre, but without the distinct flavor of goat’s milk. The rind is a mushroom ash that gives it a wonderful earthy flavor.

I could go on and on about the different cheese I have sampled over the last few years, but I won’t. What I want to mention here is the fact that you shouldn’t let the prices of these marvelous flavor experiences pass you by. In the case of most of them the price per pound when spread out over how much you use per serving breaks it down to being quite affordable. The biggest advantage is the fact that you are eating real cheese and not a cheese food or cheese powder.

Cackle Berries

Image result for chicken and egg images

Cackle berries, hen fruit, or just plain eggs. The egg is the subject of many stories, myths and misinformation. Hopefully what I am writing about today will lay at least some of that to rest.

When we think of eggs and what produces them, we generally only think of birds and fish. However, they are not the only animals that lay eggs. Insects, turtles, lizards, and reptiles are egg layers. However, there are two mammals that lay eggs: the platypus and the echidna. All other mammals give birth to live babies. Mammals produce and give milk to their young.

Of the two the platypus is one of the few living mammals to produce a venom delivered by means of a spur for defense. Other than the breeding season the platypus’s venom gland lacks secretion. The venom’s effects are excruciatingly painful, it is however not lethal to humans.

Echidnas on the other hand look like a giant hedgehog. Unlike the platypus they are not venomous. They count on their ability to curl into a ball utilizing their spines for defense.

The eggs I am writing about today are chicken eggs.

FRESH vs. STALE

One of the biggest complaints about eggs is when they are hard boiled, they can be very hard to peel. Sometimes the shell doesn’t peel back cleanly and leaves a pock-marked chunks out of the surface of the egg, sometimes enough to make the egg useless for the intended use like deviled eggs.

Most people think that the eggs that do this are older. However, this mostly happens with extremely fresh eggs. Just the opposite of what is largely believed. As eggs grow older, their shells peel more easily. The reason for this is with fresh eggs, the albumen (egg white) tends to stick to the inner shell membrane due to the less acidic environment of the egg.

When the eggshell’s protective coat slowly wears off, the egg becomes porous. The porous surface absorbs more air, and releases some of its carbon dioxide. This makes the albumen more acidic, causing it to stick to the inner membrane less. The egg white shrinks slightly, so the air space between the eggshell and the membrane grows larger, resulting in boiled    that are easier to peel.

For ideal peeling, use eggs that are seven to 10 days old. Usually the age of eggs purchased in the stores.

NOTE: Hard boiled eggs in a glass jar or water with tight lid place egg in about two inches of cold water and shake. Shell will slip off easily.

Egg producers are lawfully required to print a sell date on the egg carton to give an idea of how long they are safe to use.  What they can’t tell you is how fresh the eggs really are. Wherever you buy eggs from, a store or your local farmer you can determine how fresh they are with this simple trick that involves only a bowl of water.

Lying, Standing, or Floating

Fill a deep bowl or pan with enough cold tap water to cover an egg. Place the egg in the water.

  • If the egg lies on its side on the bottom, the air cell inside is small and it’s very fresh.
  • If the egg stands up on end and bobs on the bottom, the air cell is larger and it isn’t quite as fresh. It is probably one to three weeks old, which is perfectly acceptable to eat.
  • If the egg floats on the surface, it is bad and should be discarded.

Air Cell Size Equates With Freshness

Inside every egg is a thin membrane. Between this membrane and the outside shell is a tiny air cell. This pocket of air grows larger as the egg ages. A very fresh egg will have a smaller air cell the older the egg is.

When you place a whole egg in water, the air cell like a life preserver affects its buoyancy. The more it floats, gives an indication of the egg’s age.  

Testing a Cracked Egg’s Freshness

If you neglect to check the freshness of eggs before cracking, you can tell if an egg is bad after it’s out of the shell.

  • A very fresh egg out of the shell will have an overall thick white that doesn’t spread much. The yolk will stand up and have a nice, rounded dome.
  • If the egg white is quite thin and spreads, the egg is probably past its peak.
  • A flattened yolk or one that breaks very easily is an indication that the egg is old.
  • The white of a very fresh egg will be cloudy. A clear egg white indicates an older egg, but not necessarily a bad one.
  • The smell of a rotten egg is unmistakable and should be apparent immediately upon cracking. If it smells bad, throw it out.

Choosing and Storing Eggs

There are a few things to consider when buying and storing eggs to help you have the best experience.

  • Grade AA eggs are the highest grade available. They cost more than other eggs but may be a good choice because of their high quality and longer shelf life.
  • Pasteurized eggs have been immersed in a temperature-controlled water bath for a specified length of time in order to destroy all bacteria inside without cooking the egg. Pasteurized eggs can be used in recipes that call for raw eggs.
  • Store eggs in the refrigerator in their original carton. It’s best to point the small end down, so get in the habit of flipping your eggs whenever you bring a new carton home. Putting the small end down keeps the air cell at the top, broad part of the egg and reduces the chance of harmful bacteria finding their way from that cell to the yolk, which is more prone to spoilage than the white.
  • Eggs that are a week or so old are easier to peel than very fresh eggs when cooked in the shell. This makes them perfect candidates for hard-boiled. To keep hard-boiled eggs fresh, keep them in the shell until you’re ready to eat them.

Kitchen cleanliness throughout the kitchen and in every step of food preparation is the first step to prevent the spread of bacteria. It’s important to wash your hands, utensils, equipment and work surfaces thoroughly in hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after you come into contact with any food. Then, rewash after you prepare each item and before you prepare another food. Also wash your hands after you use the bathroom, or handle pets.

To guard against bacteria lurking in pores, use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards. Clean them thoroughly each time you use them by running them through your dishwasher or washing them with hot, soapy water. Use paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces or wash cloth towels often in your washer’s hot cycle.

 Use only clean eggs with unbroken shells and discard any eggs that are unclean, cracked, broken or leaking.  

CROSS-CONTAMINATION AND WHAT SHOULD I DO ABOUT IT

Cross-contamination is the spread of bacteria from people to food or from one food or piece of equipment to another. To help prevent it, in addition to cleanliness, it’s important to separate foods – particularly to separate raw meat, fish, seafood and poultry from other foods, especially ready-to-eat foods.

 At home, refrigerate raw shell eggs in their cartons in the coldest part of the refrigerator, away from any meats that might drip juices or any produce that might come into contact with eggshells. Cover or wrap well any egg mixtures or leftover cooked egg dishes before refrigerating.

With hot, soapy water, thoroughly wash any bowl, pan, blender or other container which has held a raw egg mixture before you use it again for more eggs or another food. Do the same with any container that has held raw meat, fish, seafood or poultry. Also use separate cutting boards for raw meat, fish, seafood, poultry and other foods, particularly cooked and ready-to-eat foods. Thoroughly wash and sanitize work surfaces, cutting boards and utensils, such as beaters, after each use.

I use an antibacterial dishwashing liquid to wash my cutting boards and countertops.

Light cooking will begin to destroy any Salmonella that might be present, but proper cooking brings eggs and other foods to a temperature high enough to destroy them all. For eggs, the white will coagulate (set) between 144 and 149° F, the yolk between 149 and 158° F, and whole egg between 144 and 158° F. Egg products made of plain whole eggs are pasteurized (heated to destroy bacteria), but not cooked, by bringing them to 140° F and keeping them at that temperature for 3 1/2 minutes. If you bring a food to an internal temperature of 160° F, you will instantly kill almost any bacteria. By diluting eggs with a liquid or sugar (as in custard), you can bring an egg mixture to 160° F. Use these temperatures as rough guidelines when you prepare eggs.

 HOW LONG SHOULD I COOK EGGS?

Cook egg dishes according to the following guidelines and then serve them promptly.

Scrambled Eggs, Omelets and Frittatas
Cook until the eggs are thickened, and no visible liquid egg remains.

Fried Eggs
To cook both sides and increase the temperature the eggs reach, cook slowly and either baste the eggs, cover the pan with a lid or turn the eggs. Cook until the whites are completely set, and the yolks begin to thicken but are not hard

Poached Eggs
For classic poached eggs cooked gently in simmering water, cook until the whites are completely set, and the yolks begin to thicken but are not hard, about 5 minutes. For steamed eggs cooked in ‘poaching’ inserts set above simmering water, cook until the whites are completely set, and the yolks begin to thicken but are not hard, about 6 to 9 minutes. Avoid precooking and reheating poached eggs.

Baked Goods, Hard Boiled Eggs
These will easily reach internal temperatures of more than 160° F when they are done. Note, though, that while Salmonella are destroyed when hard-boiled eggs are properly prepared, hard-boiled eggs can spoil more quickly than raw eggs. After cooking, cool hard-boiled eggs quickly under running cold water or in ice water. Avoid allowing eggs to stand in stagnant water. Refrigerate hard-boiled eggs in their shells promptly after cooling and use them with 1 week.

French toast, Monte Cristo sandwiches, crab or other fish cakes, quiches, stratas, baked custards, most casseroles
Cook or bake until a thermometer inserted at the center shows 160° F or a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. You may find it difficult to tell if a knife shows uncooked egg or melted cheese in some casseroles and other combination dishes that are thick or heavy and contain cheese – lasagna, for example. To be sure these dishes are done, check to see that a thermometer at the center of the dish shows 160° F. Also use a thermometer to help guard against uneven cooking due to hot spots and inadequate cooking due to varying oven temperatures.

Soft (stirred) custards, including cream pie, eggnog and ice cream bases
Cook until thick enough to coat a metal spoon with a thin film and a thermometer shows 160° F or higher. After cooking, cool quickly by setting the pan in ice or cold water and stirring for a few minutes. Cover and refrigerate to chill thoroughly, at least 1 hour.

Soft (pie) meringue
Bake a 3-egg-white meringue spread on a hot, fully cooked pie filling in a preheated 350° F oven until the meringue reaches 160° F, about 15 minutes. For meringues using more whites, bake at 325° F (or a lower temperature) until a thermometer registers 160° F, about 25 to 30 minutes (or more). The more egg whites, the lower the temperature and longer the time you need to cook the meringue through without excessive browning. Refrigerate meringue-topped pies until serving. Return leftovers to the refrigerator.

  MICROWAVING EGGS

All models of microwave ovens tend to cook foods unevenly, leaving cold spots. To encourage more even cooking, cover the dish, stir the ingredients, if possible, and either use a turntable or rotate the dish at least once or twice during the cooking time.

Though it’s unrelated to potential bacteria, another safety factor in microwaving eggs is that you must break the eggs out of their shells. If you put an egg in its shell in the microwave, it’s likely to explode. Microwaves heat so quickly that steam builds up faster than an egg can ‘exhale’ it through its pores and the steam bursts through the shell. For the same reason, when microwaving, always prick the yolk of an unbeaten egg with the tip of a knife or a wooden pick. The vent you create allows the steam to escape.  

The overall risk of egg contamination is very small, the risk of foodborne illness from eggs is highest in raw and lightly cooked dishes.  re them. To cook eggs for these recipes, use the following methods to adapt your recipes:

COOKING WHOLE EGGS FOR USE IN RECIPES
As a nutritious combination of egg whites and yolks, whole eggs should be fully cooked for assured safety in recipes that call for raw or lightly cooked eggs. The following method can be used with any number of eggs and works for a variety of recipes.

In a heavy saucepan, stir together the eggs and either sugar, water or other liquid from the recipe (at least 1/4 cup sugar, liquid or a combination per egg). Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the egg mixture coats a metal spoon with a thin film or reaches 160° F. Immediately place the saucepan in ice water and stir until the egg mixture is cool. Proceed with the recipe.

COOKING EGG YOLKS FOR USE IN RECIPES
Because egg yolks are a fine growth medium for bacteria, cook them for use in mayonnaise, Hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, chilled soufflés, chiffons, mousses and other recipes calling for raw egg yolks. The following method can be used with any number of yolks.

COOKING EGG WHITES FOR USE IN RECIPES
Cooking egg whites before use in all recipes is recommended for full safety. The following method can be used with any number of whites and works for chilled desserts as well as Seven-Minute Frosting, Royal Icing and other frosting recipes calling for raw egg whites.

In a heavy saucepan, the top of a double boiler or a metal bowl placed over water in a saucepan, stir together the egg whites and sugar from the recipe (at least 2 tablespoons sugar per white), water (1 teaspoon per white) and cream of tartar (1/8 teaspoon per each 2 whites). Cook over low heat or simmering water, beating constantly with a portable mixer at low speed, until the whites reach 160° F. Pour into a large bowl. Beat on high speed until the whites stand in soft peaks. Proceed with the recipe.

Note that you must use sugar to keep the whites from coagulating too rapidly. Test with a thermometer as there is no visual clue to doneness. If you use an unlined aluminum saucepan, eliminate the cream of tartar or the two will react and create an unattractive gray meringue.

OTHER THAN COOKING THEM, ALTERNATIVES FOR RAW EGG WHITES

Yes. You can use pasteurized dried or pasteurized refrigerated liquid egg whites. Egg substitutes often contain gums and/or added salt which can hamper foaming. Pasteurized dried and pasteurized liquid egg whites on the retail market either contain no other ingredients – for recipes where little foaming is required – or contain only a whipping agent – for recipes that require a stable foam. Follow package directions to substitute pasteurized dried or pasteurized refrigerated liquid egg whites for raw egg whites or use about 2 tablespoons water and 2 teaspoons dried egg white or 2 to 3 tablespoons liquid egg white for each large egg white.

  PASTEURIZED SHELL EGGS  

Pasteurized shell eggs are heat-treated to destroy any bacteria, should they be present, and are especially suitable for preparing egg recipes that are not fully cooked, but may also be used for other recipes, including baked goods. The heating process may create cloudiness in the whites and increase the beating time needed for foam formation. When you separate pasteurized shell eggs for beating, allow up to about four times as much time for full foam formation to occur in egg whites as you would for the whites of regular eggs. Prepare other recipes as usual.

You can keep pasteurized shell eggs refrigerated for at least 30 days from the pack date (a three-digit number on the short side of the carton which represents the day of the year, with 001 = January 1 and 365 = December 31), but do not freeze them.

If pasteurized shell eggs are not available in your area and are worried about the use of unpasteurized eggs use the cooking methods outlined above.

 AN EGG DISH, OUT FOR BUFFET SERVING

Proper cooking destroys any bacteria that may have been present before cooking, but a dish may be cross-contaminated after cooking by people, other foods or cooking utensils or equipment.

It is best if you serve buffet foods that you keep the cold foods cold and the hot foods hot. Serve buffet foods in small dishes and replenish them with fresh dishes often, rather than leaving foods at room temperature.

   REFRIGERATION IS KEY

Rapid growth of bacteria can occur between 40 and 140° F. Using cold temperatures keeps bacteria from growing to large enough numbers to cause illness. Salmonella will not grow when held below 40° F. Freezing does not destroy Salmonella, but may impair some cells. In general, while the quality of the frozen food may be altered by the freezing process, frozen foods will emerge from the freezer just as safe or unsafe as they entered it.

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO STORE RAW EGGS?

Continually keep raw shell eggs, broken-out eggs, egg mixtures, prepared egg dishes and other perishable foods refrigerated at 40° F or below when you’re not cooking or eating them. These foods should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours, including the time you use to prepare and serve them. Allow no more than 30 minutes to 1 hour when it’s 85° F or hotter.

To guard against breakage and odor absorption and to help prevent the loss of carbon dioxide and moisture which lowers egg quality, store raw shell eggs in their cartons. Place egg cartons on a middle or lower shelf where the temperature will fluctuate less than on the door.

Refrigerated raw shell eggs will keep without significant quality loss for about 4 to 5 weeks beyond the pack date or about 3 weeks after you bring them home. For longer storage, beat whole eggs just until blended, pour into freezer containers, seal the containers tightly, label with the number of eggs and the date and freeze for up to 1 year. Substitute 3 tablespoons thawed whole egg for 1 Large fresh egg. Avoid freezing hard-boiled whole eggs or hard-boiled whites as freezing causes them to become tough and watery.

   LEFTOVER EGG WHITES AND YOLKS

You can refrigerate raw whites for up to 4 days and unbroken raw yolks, covered with water, for up to 2 days in a tightly sealed container. If you can’t use the yolks quickly enough, hard boil them just as you would cook whole eggs in the shell, drain them well and refrigerate them in a tightly sealed container for up to 4 or 5 days. For longer storage, freeze raw whites, sugared or salted yolks and cooked yolks for up to 1 year.

To freeze egg whites, break and separate the eggs, one at a time, making sure that no yolk gets in the whites. Pour the whites into freezer containers, seal the containers tightly, label with the number of egg whites and the date and freeze. For faster thawing and easier measuring, first freeze each white in an ice cube tray and then transfer to a freezer bag or container. Substitute 2 tablespoons thawed egg white for 1 Large fresh white.

Raw egg yolks require special treatment because the yolk’s gelation property causes it to thicken or gel when frozen. If frozen as is, the yolk with eventually become so gelatinous it will be almost impossible to use. To help retard gelation, beat in either 1/8 teaspoon salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar or corn syrup for each 1/4 cup egg yolks (4 Large yolks). Label the container with the number of yolks, the date and whether you’ve added salt (for main dishes) or sweetener (for baking or desserts) and freeze. Substitute 1 tablespoon thawed egg yolk for 1 Large fresh yolk.

  FREEZING COMBINATION DISHES CONTAINING EGGS

Depending on the ingredients used, wrapping and other factors, combination dishes containing eggs may or may not freeze well. You can determine the likelihood of successful freezing for a combination dish by consulting the cold storage guide available through the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline at 1 (888) 674-6854. Most egg-containing combination dishes should be frozen for no more than 1 to 3 months. Whether you thaw a frozen egg dish first or heat it while still frozen, cook or bake it until a thermometer at the center registers 160° F or more.

 WHEN DEFROSTING FROZEN EGGS, EGG PRODUCTS AND COOKED EGG DISHES

Like most frozen food that needs defrosting prior to cooking defrost frozen eggs, egg products and cooked egg dishes in the refrigerator overnight or under running cold water, not at room temperature. Cook them thoroughly and serve them promptly after they’re thawed.

 RECIPES THAT CALL FOR EGGS AT ROOM TEMPERATURE?

  Some cake recipes call for eggs to be at room temperature before they are combined with creamed fat and sugar. Cold eggs could harden the fat and curdle the batter which might affect the finished cake’s texture. For these recipes, remove eggs from the refrigerator about 20 to 30 minutes before you use them or put them in a bowl of warm water while you assemble other ingredients.

And, although eggs are easiest to separate when cold, whites reach their fullest volume if allowed to stand at room temperature for about 20 to 30 minutes before beating. For both creamed cakes and separately beaten whites, it’s only necessary to take the chill off the eggs. They don’t have to be room temperature. For all other recipes, use eggs straight from the refrigerator.

 LEFTOVERS CONTAINING EGGS

Promptly after you serve them, divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers and refrigerate them immediately so they’ll cool quickly. Then, thoroughly reheat them and eat them within 2 to 3 days. Without tasting them, discard any egg-containing leftovers that have been refrigerated more than 3 days.

I hope todays blog was informative and useful. A portion of the information contained in it came from research about eggs found on the internet. Mainly the information about times and temperatures.

Side notes: What I have learned over the years of cooking and raising chickens myself. Egg yolk color ranges from a lemon yellow to a brilliant orange color. The color of the yolk is dependent on what the chicken has eaten. Most factory layers are fed a laying mash that is made up of mostly grains with nutrients added that enhances the eggs we get in the store. This yolk is in general less colorful. Eggs from free range chickens is usually the more brilliant orange. Free range chickens eat bugs, green grass and anything else that takes their fancy. Brown eggs come from red or brown chickens. White eggs come from white chickens. Egg color is all the difference between eggs. Banty chickens eggs of course are smaller and I have always said they lay Easter eggs because the are multicolored, both chickens and the eggs.

Three Pizzas

Slice of Neapolitan with Peppadews

This post’s a little different than my other ones. It’s not so much about cooking than it is about an interesting taste-test experience.

By chance, I recently ended up having pizza for lunch three times in a row. Each one was made in a different style, and it’s worth noting the different types of crusts and flavors they were shooting for.

A classic Neapolitan pizza.

Locally, the upscale chain DeSano’s does an amazing Neapolitan style pizza. Neapolitan pizza has a very thin, airy crust at the base that some equate to the New York style of pizza. However the main difference – likely due to the different levels of gluten in ’00’ flour – lets it char more on the underside while remaining so delicate that a slice is difficult to pick up. Seriously, it’s worth keeping a knife and fork on hand to eat the very tip!

This kind of crust works best with very sparing applications of buffalo mozzerella, sauce, basil, and a relatively dry meat like Prosciutto. I recently tried a new topping, an oven-charred sweet pepper called a ‘peppadew’ which is also amazing!

Totino’s – a drastically underrated take-home dish!

After the Neapolitan I tried a more humble slice of pie; a store bought Totino’s. While they’re square these days, I could only find a photo of an older round crust. To my surprise, these are good enough in their own right – a distinctively sweet flavor to the sauce that balances out a salty meat and some less-than-stretchy mozzerella. Of interest here is a totally different, rigid, almost cracker-like crust. Perfect for snacking in front of the the television, which is absolutely something you could not do with a Neapolitan pie!

NYC style, pepperoni with mushroom. A classic.

Third up is the classic NYC-style pizza. Our local Austin purveyor is Home Slice, which makes this kind of pizza so perfectly that when you bite in, you can see the steam grates and hear the honk of the yellow taxicabs.

Like a Neapolitan, NYC has a very thin, airy crust. The difference is that it’s less ‘pillowy’ and it’s also more structurally sound. While you may get grease on your fingertips or down your arm, you can and should pick up a slice of this pizza, give it a bit of a fold between your fingers, and dig in. For some reason, NY style pizza goes best with solid, even greasy toppings like pepperoni and sausage.

All I can say is…pizza’s good, full stop. Even the not-so-good stuff…is actually pretty good. (grins!)

Note the top slice – that’s a crustier version from the East Coast called ‘The Sicilian’!

Spice, The Variety of Life

I’ve talked about money saving tips on meats by buying larger cuts on sale and doing your own cutting, chopping and grinding afterwards.

Later on, my mind goes to turning the purchased proteins into something tasty and memorable. I consider how to cook it, what spices and condiments to use, and whether I can use fresh ingredients. By using fresh rather than boxed or canned you control the amounts of additives in your diet. Additionally, for purposes of preservation, most of the flavor has been cooked out of pre-prepared food. Companies often add salt, sugar and other ingredients to bring back some of the flavor and make it palatable.

Spices in jars are expensive. That is a proven fact. Often times they are stale because in reality we don’t really know how long they have been packaged for. The ‘best if used by’ dates are often out to several years. Believe me I know. They are so expensive I was hesitant to throw them away, sometimes even after a few years mainly because I didn’t use enough of them to replenish!

Instead, I purchased a Krups coffee/spice grinder for about $19.00. I suggest this one because I have used it for years and it is one of the most inexpensive out there. By using it I take advantage of less costly bulk spices for a much better and fresher product. The best example is here is the use of peppercorns.

While pre-ground pepper is very cheap, it’s also ‘dead’ in terms of flavor and the oils inside that allow the flavor components to remain active. I suspect it’s actually the sweepings off the spice company’s floor! Instead, simply buy whole peppercorns in bulk. Throw them a couple tablespoons at a time into your grinder. I was amazed at the results. From the first time you will notice the wonderful difference in the smell. It will also lessen the amount needed in a recipe.

Consider some other bargains at the bulk counter that don’t even need grinding.

Fennel seed sold in a glass bottle is minimum $2.00 an once, bulk it is $.25 an ounce.

2 ounces of dried parsley sold in a glass bottle is $2.00, bulk is $ .17 an ounce.

A glass bottle of the ‘fancy’ ground cumin is $4.39 for 1.5 ounces. Whereas the same 1.5 ounces in bulk is $1.40.

These are only a few examples. But you get the idea. Check out the stores where you do your shopping. Most are putting in bulk spice sections as well as dry good sections for beans, rice, coffee and others. If you don’t see them, look in the ‘health food’ aisles, sometimes they put them where people can buy oats, granola, and natural remedies in bulk.

These are nice because you can purchase just the right amount that you need for your recipes. Of course there won’t be any packages or bottles for them. I am sure there will be some in your kitchen you can recycle for storage. Remember your money goes for, the packaging. Just wash them and refill with your new ones.

I was amazed at the money I have saved, which more than paid for the grinder. And with winter here it is the right time to be making all the spicy, savory warm your tummy recipes you have been craving all summer!