Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chop Chop - Cutting Boards Safety

Wood or plastic, that is the question. Which is best? Which is safest? There doesn’t seem to be a lot of agreement here. But, with my recent brush with E Coli 0157 (my daughter was very ill, apparently picking this nasty bug up at a local food market) I’ve been doing a lot of reading about food safety and, of course, cutting boards are an issue.

I was unable to get definitive answers on which is safest, so I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to be careful about cross contamination and to clean, clean, clean.

Which do I use? Wood. I like wood. I prefer the way it feels when I’m chopping vegetables. I feel like I have better control of my knife using wood. Plastic seems too slippery to me. Also, when you use good German blades like I do, you want to be good to your knives. Wood is the best surface for your knives. Wood is soft enough not to damage the cutting edge of your knife. If you’re a major germaphobe and you just can’t bring yourself to use wood, use plastic. It’s the next best thing for knives. Don’t use glass or marble. Those surfaces are just too hard for knives and will quickly dull them.

So, back to the bacteria. Who says what? The FDA has recommended plastic over wood for many years. They say plastic is easier to clean, and can be put in a dishwasher and sanitized. Good point, but..... Now we’re hearing that plastic may not be all that much easier to clean. When plastic gets beat up from the use of knives over time, the bacteria can live down in the little nooks and crannies and it thrives there. It turns out that studies have shown that wood is more resistant to bacteria build up. Check out this site for information on these studies: For an opposing view point check out the Agriculture Research Service of the USDA at this site:

So what to do? Keep your cutting surface clean and safe. Use hot water and soap to clean after every chopping session. Don’t submerge your wood cutting boards in water, as this will damage the board. Use full strength white distilled vinegar to disinfect your cutting surfaces. The acetic acid is effective against E Coli, Salmonella and Staphylococcus. Use Hydrogen Peroxide. First wipe down the cutting surface with a paper towel and white vinegar, than use another towel to wipe it down with hydrogen peroxide. And there is always trusty old chlorine bleach. I know a lot of people don’t like to use it, but the fact of the matter is, it kills bad bugs. Flood the surface of your cutting area with a diluted bleach solution (1 tsp per quart of water) and let stand for several minutes. Rinse and pat dry.

Always keep your cutting boards dry. Water breeds bacteria. After washing, pat dry and set upright so no water sits on the board. Avoid cross contamination by using a different board for cutting raw meats then the one you use for chopping vegetables. And keep in mind that you can run some wood cutting boards through a dishwasher. You just need to keep the board treated with a mineral oil to extend the life of your cutting board. And when your board starts to get beat up and old, replace it. All those cracks, nooks and crannies are breeding grounds for some nasty bacteria.

So with that, happy chopping and safe eating!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Gordon Ramsey Omelette

Wow! It's some kind of record. Two posts in one day! My friend from the land of Kiwi's down under sent me this, and I just had to post this here. Too funny!


You will need:
Two fucking eggs
Some fucking salt and pepper
fucking chives
one fucking knob of fucking butter

The method:
Heat the fucking butter in a fucking omelette pan
Fucking break the fucking eggs into a fucking bowl
Fucking whisk the fuckers and add some fucking salt and fucking pepper to taste
When the fucking butter is hot, add the fucking mixture to the pan.
When cooked take the fucking things out.
Eat the fucker!

Food Safety

Today I'm going to write about the fun and exciting subject of food safety. Why? Well my 4 year old recently came down with a terrible illness, which turned out to be E Coli, and possibly the dreaded 0157. That still has not been concluded, but all evidence points in that direction. There is nothing more heart wrenching then to watch your child writhe in pain for several days and know that there is nothing you can do but let the cycle run its course, and pray. Fortunately, I can say she did not get the E Coli from my cooking. It was most likely contracted from our goats, after petting the new babies, being exposed to their fecal matter, then not properly washing her hands before eating. But, it could have been food related, and that was a concern because there were two other E Coli outbreaks within the same area in the last month. So being careful about your food is always a good idea.

Yesterday, the subject of eggs came up, and the safety of farm fresh ones. So I'll start with the subject of safety and eggs today.

First of all, what is the biggest concern of eggs? Salmonella. Not a fun food poisoning to get, and one that cannot be treated with antibiotics. So, if you have your own chickens, what can you do to prevent getting Salmonella, or any other food borne illness? That would require proper handling of the eggs, the chickens and their nests.

So, to wash or not to wash, that is the question. One of my co-workers use to dip her hens eggs in a bleach solution. Is that the right thing to do? I wonder, as I had always been told it's not a good idea to wash eggs as they are laid with a protective coat on them called "bloom" that helps them to last longer. You definitely want to clean any pooh or mud off of them, but as for the detergent and bleach washes, I'm still wondering if it's a good idea. Even the USDA site does not recommend washing the protective coat off. Factory farms must wash all of their eggs. They sand them and then coat them with a tasteless, edible mineral oil. You definitely do not wash eggs from the store. You want that mineral oil on them for preserving them.

But what about the ones from your backyard chickens? In my research I've found many different opinions on this. In the forums, most small time farmers say no to washing their eggs of anything but the dirt and pooh.

Here is what the Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends. Collect eggs in an easy to clean container. Never cool the eggs rapidly before they're cleaned, because the eggshell will contract and pull any dirt or bacteria on the surface deep into the pores when cooled. You want to try to keep the temperature as constant as possible until they are washed. They recommend that you wash the eggs as soon as you collect them, to limit the possibility of contamination and loss of quality. Wash the eggs with water 10 degrees warmer than the egg, which will make the egg contents swell and push the dirt away from the pores of the egg. If the eggs are extremely dirty, use a mild detergent approved for washing eggs. NEVER let eggs sit in water. Once the temperature equalizes the egg can absorb contaminants out of the water. Then cool and dry eggs quickly. Store large end up at 50 to 55 degrees F at 75% humidity.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has this to say:
For eggs you plan to sell, they should be either lightly sanded to remove small areas of dirt or carefully washed in potable water 20 degrees warmer than the egg temperature and less then 90 degrees F using only sanitizers approved for egg washing. Place in a colander and rinse without submersing in the solution. Dry immediately. Do not wash sanded eggs. A bleach solution of 1/2 oz household bleach in 1 gallon of water may be used. Place eggs in a clean cardboard box and store at or below 45 degrees.

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln says, if you only have a few eggs, you can wash them at the sink with hot water. The hot water and the sanitizer should be as hot as the hands can tolerate. Make basins of detergent, rinse water and sanitizer, each containing 1 to 2 gallons of solution if you are doing a greater number of eggs. The temp should be 90 to 120 degrees. Wash eggs individually, but do not soak in the solutions. After the wash, rinse in clean water then dip in the sanitizer and set aside to dry. Promptly refrigerate dry eggs.

These recommendations have to do with people who intend to sell their eggs, or if you plan to share with friends and neighbors. What if they're just for your own personal consumption?

The book, Raising Poultry Successfully says to clean soiled eggs right after gathering and cool them as rapidly as possible. The Dirty eggs can be immersed in a pail containing detergent-sanitizer (temp 110 to 120 degrees) and then rinsed with clean water. Do not leave the eggs in the solution for more than a couple of minutes, then dry immediately. You can get these detergents at most farm stores. If there are only a few dirty eggs, you can wipe off the soiled spots with a cloth dampened with a detergent-sanitizer, then rinse in clean water. Some small flock owners use mild household detergents (unscented laundry detergent or dishwasher detergent). This process does remove the bloom, and there will be a loss of moisture from the egg through the shell and the quality of the egg will rapidly deteriorate. So, unless the eggs are going to be eaten immediately, the shell should be coated in an orderless, edible mineral oil. Many small flock owners do not clean their eggs until right before consumption.

Storey's Basic Country Skills has this to say about collecting eggs: First of all collect them often, which will prevent them from getting dirty or cracked. If you have a slightly dirty eggs you may brush it off or rub with a fine-grain sandpaper. A seriously dirty egg may be rinsed in water that is slightly warmer than the egg. It turns out that cooler water could force bacteria through the shell into the egg. Dry the eggs, place in a carton and refrigerate. Avoid getting into the habit of routinely washing the eggs. Water rinses off the natural bloom that helps preserve freshness.

So there you have it. How am I going to handle my eggs? I think I will follow the advice of Storey's Basic Country Skills. I'm most comfortable with that. It is what I have been doing all along, and it has worked fine. When I sell or give my eggs to others, I will continue to more thoroughly clean them as I have in the past. I usually use the detergent routine for those, but perhaps, from now on, they'll get a quick dip in a bleach solution, just to be extra safe.

When you get farm fresh eggs from friends or farmers markets, you may want to ask how they've been cleaned, and possibly do a quick dip in a bleach solution before you use them, just to be safe.

Now, go enjoy a good omelet!

PS. For sanitizers approved for eggs, check Fortuna Feed and Farm, Nilsens Feed in Ferndale or Eureka, The Farm Store out on Jacobs Avenue in Eureka, Three G's Hay and Grain in Arcata, or A & L Feed in McKinelyville.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

St. Patty's update, better late then never

There it is! My wonderful corned beef, corned personally by me. And man was it good! It didn't have that red coloring that you get when you buy one in the store, because I didn't have any of the insta cure no. 1. But it didn't look as disturbingly gray as I thought it would. It just looked like a beef brisket (purchased locally at Loleta Meat Market). It also wasn't as dry and tough as the ones I've had from the store. It was more tender, and the texture was softer. Another difference is, I didn't just cook it in pickling spices like you do with the ones from the store. I brined it with pickling spices, but I used a boquet garnis, or a spice bag filled with bay leaves, coriander seeds, allspice, and a dried chile. It gave it a subtle but distinct difference from store bought. That slight taste of allspice really made it unique. Another thing a friend of mine pointed out, is that it still tasted like beef. She noted that the ones from the store taste like pickling spices, and you don't really taste the meat, in mine, you could still taste the meat. I would say that's a good thing.
I got the idea for brining my own corned beef from Bon Appetite (you should be able to find the recipe at I made my brine slightly different from theirs. I borrowed a few things from the brine method out of Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman.
Otherwise I followed Bon Appetite's recipe for cooking it on St. Patty's. I cooked it in Guiness Stout with the spice sack I mentioned above, turnips, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. I made the horseradish cream and guiness mustard from Bon Appetite as well. It was all worth every minute of my time, and was topped off by my Bailey's Bread Pudding topped with a hard cream sauce. YUM!
Then the next weekend it was off to Chico to spend Easter with the in-laws which I got to do no cooking, but enjoyed every bit of food, as the scale will attest.
Unfortunately the only food picture I have of the Easter feast is this one:

These turned out to be some very comforting and delicious scalloped potatoes that went along great with the ham asparagus and rolls.
Then the next weekend was John's birthday. I made my Mom's potato salad recipe (sweet pickles, not dill)and I boiled corn on the cob, while John made his own special rub and BBQ'd pork ribs, which he later doused in Stubbs BBQ sauce. The first set of ribs came from a pig our friend raised locally. John helped with the culling ( a story you don't want to hear). Those ribs came out incredibly good. Slightly spicy, the fat was crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and the meat tender. The other ribs came from a wild boar that John and his friend Pat had killed the year before.

We still haven't got the hang of cooking wild boar. The meat fibers are shorter, and it's way too easy to over cook. They would have been wonderful, if we had teeth like a lion.

Then, the next reason it has taken me so long give an update on my brisket, is that one of our 3 pregnant goats decided to have her kids the next weekend. This will (hopefully) be the next adventure in our culinary experiences. I'm planning on learning a few goat meat recipes in the future. These cute little kids:

will be ending up on the menu in the future. I know, how could you eat such a cute thing? But believe me, when they get big and have horns and start butting you and your children, it's not so hard. They start to look mighty delicious! So, bon appetite, hopefully it won't be so long until I post again.