Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Roll the Dice on Bacteria

I’m not sure if this piece in The New York Times makes me more confused about food temperature safety than I was before or even more skeptical about accepted government guidelines regarding such acts of culinary hazards. Is Rhulman sipping from his own death stew? Will the most heralded of all food scientists be found sucking on his own vomit in a heap on the kitchen floor after pressing his lips to a batch of overnight meat stock? I hope not.

It’s somewhat a relief to know that if a parcel of leftover cooked food is left out overnight it is most likely safe to go ahead, heat it up good and hot then munch it down. On the other hand, why in the hell would you roll the dice and leave it out day after day? It’s like snubbing your nose at the grim reaper. We all understand he is after us as it is, why leave a snack trail of deadly bacteria, spores, and mold so he can hunt you down like a pack of hounds snapping at a foxes tail?

I would claim that this article is irresponsible, but as of now at least it can only be found in the NYT, and I don’t see many NYT readers being so intellectually challenged that they might extrapolate a scenario where it would seem acceptable to say, oh, think it’s ok to eat that package of raw chicken that fell out of the grocery bag and has been in the trunk of the family jalopy the past few days. On the minds of home cooks good food handling is important. On the other hand it is of upmost importance that restaurant patrons can trust that the food they receive has been handled with great caution and respect. If I choose to take a chance on some food left in the ‘danger zone’ that is my choice, but when I dine out I don’t want to take chances, and as a chef I have no right to compromise the health of others.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Summer Vegetable Pickle

I have been waiting for just the right set of ingredients to become available in order to put a large batch of local baby vegetables under a pickle. The stars have finally aligned and in a few short weeks we will have a batch of beautiful pickled veggies.

As you can see I went for a varied assortment of vegetables. I was lucky to come upon some absolutely heavenly small yellow cucumbers that had not developed much of a skin or toothsome seeds. They are just perfect. I also found wonderfully sweet Mars Onions. They are rather small, red, mild and sweet. There are also some finger length green zucchini, carrots, whole local garlic cloves, and lastly sugar snap peas. I've never pickled peas so we will have to cross our fingers on how they come out.

I acquired a standard pickling spice blend from Spicehound and added that to my standard pickle ratios along with a handful of thyme, sage and rosemary. I put a layer of lemons over the whole mess for a little added twang and put a "do not disturb" label on the bowl and set it away to magically transform.

My standard pickle ratios are very simple; equal parts sugar, water, and vinegar. I usually prefer rice wine vinegar as it has a smoother tartness in my opinion compared to wine or cider vinegars. In this specific batch I used three parts rice wine to one part cider vinegar because I planned on adding a full assortment of other strong flavored herbs and wanted to assure a strong tang in the end product.

Pickled Summer Vegetables

Four cups finger sized baby summer vegetables
Six garlic cloves
One lemon sliced

Two cups each sugar and vinegar
Two cups cold water
Two heaping tablespoons pickling spice
One teaspoon salt
One quarter ounce thyme
One large sprig each rosemary and sage

The amount of liquid is roughly the amount needed to cover the amount of vegetables. This may change with regard to the size of the vegetables and/or the container but what is really important is the ratio of sugar, vinegar and water. I start by heating the sugar, vinegar, garlic, and pickling spices over medium heat. Once the sugar dissolves remove from heat and add cold water to chill the liquid and set aside while preparing the vegetables. As long as the liquid is room temperature when added to the vegetables it will work fine, but steer away from adding hot pickling liquid over the vegetables as this will make for a very limp and soft end product. That's all, pack it up and let it sit for about two weeks. Feel free to stir it up every so often.