Stress-Buster Tip: How to Prevent Burned Food Disasters

Kitchen Timers to the Rescue

Ever lose track of time when getting a meal on the table?  I mean time in the sense of how long it takes pasta to cook, a vegetable to steam or a casserole to brown lightly in the oven.  This can be tricky when cooking more than one dish at a time, especially ones that must be watched carefully. It can also make cooking a complete meal seem overwhelming.

Old Fashioned Kitchen Timer

Salvation from kitchen stress can come from something as ancient and low-tech as my dad's darkroom timer from the 1940s.

In a recent Whole Kitchen class, Paula, one of the participants, offered a common sense tip for avoiding unappetizingly overcooked or, worse yet, burned food disasters:  Use a timer!  In fact, she sets a timer for each critical cooking event in her kitchen.  It’s easier than you think.  Stoves and microwaves come equipped with timers, not to mention the cell phones and stop watches that many of us have and can actually use (if not, get help from your kids.)

It’s all about getting into the timer-setting habit.  I started a few years ago after reading how Julia Child would have bells, whistles and gongs going off all over the kitchen to help her keep tabs on things.  I can’t handle more than one signal at a time, so I use only my stove’s timer, with my dad’s old darkroom timer handy for backup.  Now that I am in the habit, however, I can readily agree on the value of this simple solution.

So don’t tax your poor head any more than it already is.  Set a timer for each dish that needs close attention and breeze successfully through the kind of multi-tasking that routinely takes place in a kitchen.  You’ll be right on top of the steaming vegetables and know just when the casserole is browned and ready for the table.

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Autumn Eating: Wilted Salad Recipe with Cool Weather Mizuna

Change is in the air, and as the hot days of summer give way to winter’s cold, it’s natural to start craving warmer foods.  The trouble of course, lies in autumn’s in-between weather:  one day cool, the next warm.  Wilted salads are the perfect answer:  while refreshing enough for warmer

Pic of Mizuna Salad

This Kitchen's Sweet Red Chili Sauce offers a nice, spicy-sweet flavor

days, they have enough warmth to taste good on chillier evenings, too.

In another nod to the cooler days ahead, this salad uses mizuna, one of the Asian greens that does well in cooler weather.  I just had a mild and sweet bunch, but mizuna can be slightly bitter tasting, so try to use it shortly after buying and/or mix it with a sweeter lettuce like red leaf or romaine.

A wilted salad is made by pouring a hot, cooked dressing over the greens, which “wilts” them slightly.  In this recipe, some of the salad vegetables are also sauteed, like the cucumber.  I’ve found sauteing to be a good treatment for the cucumbers in my garden that escaped my attention and grew to enormous proportions.  If you are working with these kinds of monsters, be sure to peel, then taste both ends and cut off any bitter sections.

Mizuna waiting for a wash in my salad spinner

Mizuna waiting for a wash in my salad spinner

Finally, the salad uses peaches that are just about to fade from the seasonal eating palate, so if you can’t find any, substitute pears which are just coming into season.  This salad takes a little time, but it is pretty much a full meal.  Just add a little brown basmati rice, whole wheat flat bread or ready made spring rolls on the side for a complete meal.

Wilted Red Pepper and Mizuna Salad with Peaches

Serves 4

  • 1 lrg. bunch mizuna
  • 1 lrg. peach, diced to 1/2”
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint

Prepare the Greens (See pictures below) While mizuna is still in a single bunch, hold leafy ends and slice off dried ends of stems and discard.  Then slice remaining stems crosswise, about 1/4” thick.  Wash, drain and reserve.
Slice green tops of mizuna crosswise into 1” strips, then cut opposite direction to get pieces roughly 1 to 2” square (about 6-8 cups.)  Wash and dry in salad spinner, then place in salad bowl and toss with peach and mint.  Reserve.

  • 3/4 to 1 lb. mild white fish (e.g., talapia, pollack, mahi mahi, or halibut), cubed to 3/4 to 1” (can come from your freezer pantry)
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Marinate Fish Place fish in soup bowl, sprinkle with lime and salt and pepper, then toss to coat evenly.  Reserve.

  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tsp. grated ginger (bottled or fresh)
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic (bottled or fresh)
  • 2-4 Tbsp. sweet red chili sauce (to taste)
  • 3-4 Tbsp. soy sauce (to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

Prepare Dressing Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk with a fork until well combined.  Reserve.

  • 1 Tbsp. canola or coconut oil (plus another Tbsp., if needed)
  • 1 med. yellow onion, sliced about 1/4” thick and 1 1/2” long
  • 1 med. red bell pepper, sliced into strips about1/4” wide and 1 1/2” long
  • 1 large cucumber (overripe is fine), seeded and sliced into quarter rounds about 1/4” thick

Saute the Toppings In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking.  Add onions and saute 4-5 minutes until lightly browned, turning every couple minutes to prevent burning. Remove to a soup bowl.  Saute pepper in same pan about 3-4 minutes, adding a little more oil as needed, then remove to bowl with onion.  Add a little more oil to pan, heat and saute cucumber and reserved mizuna stems about 4-5 minutes until lightly browned.

Return onion and red pepper to pan with cucumbers and stir to combine thoroughly.  Pour reserved dressing over cooked vegetables, stir and scrape bottom of pan, and cook just 1-2 minutes to heat everything through.  Immediately remove pan from heat (to avoid overcooking) and stir in:

  • 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice

Pour hot dressing-vegetable mixture over reserved mizuna and toss gently to coat thoroughly.  Salad will wilt slightly.

  • 1/2 Tbsp. canola or coconut oil

Cook Fish to Top Salad  Rinse saute pan used for vegetables, then heat over medium heat until dry.  Add oil and heat until quite warm.  Add reserved fish and cook just until done.  Sprinkle fish over salad and serve immediately.

Mizuna Stems

First slice the mizuna stems so they can be sauteed, since they are a little tough to eat uncooked

Mizuna Greens

Next, slice the leafy greens into pieces roughly 1-2" square

© 2010 Culinary Concepts, Inc.

Satisfy Your Primordial Harvest Instinct

View of Mount Lamborn from our B & B

View of Mount Lamborn from our B & B

We just returned from a biking trip to Colorado’s Western Slope.  The weather was  delightful, the color  and scenery were stupendous and biking was exhilarating, with almost zero traffic.  As great as all that however, was our last-minute “food hunt.”

On our last afternoon,  we scoured around the countryside, finding local meats , cheeses and honey, beautiful boxes of tomatoes, pears, peaches and plums, locally made mustards and sauces, and of course, joyous vegetables:  some U-Pick eggplant and peppers, plus green beans and carrots grown right at our Fresh and Wyld B&B that are the best I’ve ever tasted.

Garden at our B & B

The Garden at our B & B, from whence came the best tasting beans I've ever eaten

I am probably the only person on the planet who willingly and excitedly devotes vacation time to food hunting, so I’m not going to suggest this for your next vacation.  However, can I suggest a little close in food hunting as autumn swings into full gear.

I’ve discovered a long-dormant instinct that derives immense satisfaction from even the smallest autumn harvest activity.  Ideas for this kind of completely illogical joy:

  • Obvious choices:  an autumn visit to a local farmer’s market or farm stand
  • Something fairly obvious:  a pumpkin patch visit.  (Don’t be embarrassed if you’re kids are too big to go with you.  I loved watching everyone else’s kids–and didn’t have to negotiate over which pumpkin to choose!)
  • Something easy:  Slice and freeze red peppers for those winter months when they skyrocket to $7 a pound (and don’t taste like much.)
  • Something else easy:  Puree a favorite combination of peaches, melons, pears, plums and berries in the food processor.  Freeze the smoothie-thick juice for a mid-winter burst of flavor or cook up for a pancake syrup.
  • Something heavenly:  Bake peach slices until caramelized and freeze.  Then, don’t touch this “peach candy” until you can’t stand any more cold and snow in March.
  • Something very practical.  Make a big batch of marinara sauce, use half and freeze half.
  • Something lovely:  Make a bouquet of cut autumn flowers
  • Something unbelievably comforting:  Cut up apples, throw in a slow cooker and cook overnight.  Wake up to warm applesauce to top granola or pancakes.
  • If nothing else:  Buy a little extra from the store to stock the larder.  Even grocery stores can have sales of autumn foods, like fresh -pressed apple juice (pop in your freezer if it’s not canned), Maverick chickens (on sale at Vitamin Cottage), Muir Glen canned tomatoes (also on sale at Vitamin Cottage.)

    Canned goods in my pantry

    Canned summer for the depths of winter. (Those are pickled watermelon rinds in the center!)

Each autumn, I am surprised by the curiously satisfying feeling that comes from”putting by” a little for winter.   Maybe your harvest instinct might like some indulging, and there’s little to lose.   In fact, you’ll likely save money by buying now, while the best is in season.

My Freezer Pantry

Talk about a handy grocery store: meats, juices, peppers, peaches, zucchini and more.

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