Monday, June 21, 2010

Last One is a Rotten Egg!

Dear Tricia, Last month I bought 2 -18 count organic eggs around 6pm, put them in my trunk, came home, parked in my garage and forgot they were there… 2 hours later (ugh!!) I remembered and put them in my fridge. I ended up throwing them away, but hated doing it…would you think they’d be good still? I’ve heard that cooking with room temperature eggs is better anyway…how long is “room temperature” before you start letting it rot? Hate wasting food, but hate getting “wasted” more.

Good question! I understand your hatred for wasting food and money. Like I always say, nobody likes a waster. But unfortunately, I have news for you that puts you in the waster category. At 2 hours, your eggs were just fine. Insert sad face here.
What's funny to me about Americans (not that I'm not American, but I just notice that Americans seem to be especially concerned about refrigerating EVERYTHING) and their refrigeration habits, is that they think that anything left out at room temperature is going to go bad immediately. I know people who request ice to pack their groceries in for the 20 minute ride home, which seems a little ridiculous. Let's not forget that produce grows outside in the hot sun, and that eggs come from warm chicken lady holes.
In Europe, you'll usually find eggs at the grocery store out at room temperature, far away from the refrigerators. Their system of putting expiration dates on eggs is based on when the egg was laid, not when it left the farm like it is here in the States. So their guidelines on refrigeration are obviously different than ours, but you don't seen some crazy Egg Plague taking over Europe either. I've also seen eggs out at room temperature in Grenada, part of the British West Indies. I ate them and I was fine. No Egg Plague for me, I've avoided Salmonella, and have only gotten food poisoning from calamari and bad hockey arena food. (Ugh. Never again.)
"But what about eggs giving me Salmonella, Tricia?" Here's the deal with Salmonella: you don't get it from eating undercooked or spoiled eggs. A chicken has to already have Salmonella in their body in order to get Salmonella into the egg. It happens before the egg leaves their body, and before the egg even has a shell around it. And even then, if you boiled the egg, you'd cook the Salmonella right out of it. It's not like an automatic thing that magically happens if you leave an egg out and then it just gets Salmonella. That would be some form of crazy ninja bacteria that doesn't exist yet. But ideally, that's why you're not supposed to eat raw eggs. And people are usually good about that until it comes to eating raw cookie dough. Then it doesn't seem to matter anymore, does it?
Here's my humble opinion... that's why you're here, right? According to the Egg Safety Center (, you can only leave eggs out for 2 hours at room temperature before they are unsafe. And frankly I think that's a load of crap. A humongous pile of steaming crap, covered in Salmonella. Especially because the health department and food safety books will tell you that you have a 4 hour window. There's no set standard, just a lot of overly cautious, super litigious people who are afraid you might get sick and then sue them. Do you want to avoid eating room temperature eggs if you're like 98 years old with pneumonia, or you have the immune system of an AIDS patient? Probably. But for most of us... its fine. Every bakery and restaurant I've ever worked in leaves eggs out at room temperature all day. I've written about this before when I talked about how room temperature eggs are best used in baking. And you were just fine after you ate that delicious piece of Red Velvet cake that I baked.
Now would you use those eggs to make cookies if you cracked them open and they smelled rotten? No, of course not. You always want to use your best judgment when it comes to food safety, and you can read more about that here. So remember to use your eyes, nose, and brain. And when you go to Italy and eat that fritatta at breakfast that is oh-so-delicioso... just remember that those eggs didn't ever see a refrigerator.

Monday, June 14, 2010

When Vegetables Attack!

Dear Tricia, I need to find a way to use up everything when I buy a lot of veggies.

I got this question on my Facebook fan page (thanks, Erin) when I opened up a little conversation about vegetables. And its a good one, because no one likes to throw food away, unless you're a waster... and no one likes a waster. On a side note, I can totally relate to this because when I lived in San Francisco, I used to go the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market every Saturday and come home with a bag full of random produce that I had no intention of cooking within a week. It all just looked too pretty not to buy. Some people splurge on shoes, I splurge on pretty vegetables.
When I need to use up random veggies, (which never happens anymore, because feeding my husband is like feeding a 14 year old, garbage disposal stomach of a boy) I always make them into an easy enchilada casserole. I've written about this before too, when I was writing about how to eat your feelings without getting cellulite, but I'm happy to share it again. You'll need said excess veggies, a package of corn tortillas, two cans of enchilada sauce, a can of refried beans, and shredded cheddar cheese. (I like to use non fat for everything, but you can use whatever you want.)
To start off with, cut up your veggies into bite sized pieces. Steaming them without any gadgets is easy; just get a saute pan really hot (and seriously, wait until its really hot or this trick won't work), throw the veggies in there, pour in 1/2 cup of water and put a lid on it. When the water is completely evaporated, your veggies will be just about done. You don't want to crowd the pan and dump like 2 pounds of veggies in there because that's too much to cook at once. So do it in batches... just enough veggies to cover the bottom of the pan. When you're done, put all of your veggies together in a bowl.
Next, get a casserole dish ready. Put two tortillas in the bottom. Using a spatula or a knife, spread a healthy layer of refried beans on the tortillas. Then put a layer of vegetables on top. Pour about a 1/4 cup of enchilada sauce on the veggies. Repeat this until you've filled up the dish. You should use up the entire can of enchilada sauce. Once you've finished, put two last tortillas on top and pour the other can of sauce on them. Top it with a layer of shredded cheese and throw that sucker in the oven at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. When its melted and gooey, its ready, and you can eat your feelings, not get cellulite, and use up your vegetables. Congratulations, you just killed 3 birds with one stone.
Bird murderer.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Truth about Tilapia

Dear Tricia, Talk to me about tilapia.

Talk to you about tilapia? Hmmm, should I tell you about that time it got in trouble in the 9th grade for selling history essays to jocks for $50 a pop? Or I could tell you about that one time it formed an all-girl group called the Hot Sundaes but got hooked on caffeine pills and ruined their chance at mainstream stardom. But you probably don't want to know that kind of stuff about tilapia. I'm guessing you want to know how to cook it. No problem.
Tilapia is a mild-tasting, white fish that lives in warm, shallow, fresh water. (Read: it doesn't come from the ocean.) Its super healthy for you because its high in protein, and low in carbs, fat and calories, unless its farm-raised. Farm raised tilapia is more commonly seen in grocery stores and its actually really high in fat. Try to avoid any farm raised fish if you can, especially tilapia. Its more expensive, but I believe that its completely worth it. Just my opinion.
Because tilapia filets are usually pretty small (you can only eat about 30% of the entire fish, which isn't much, compared to say tuna, where about 50% of the fish is edible), it cooks really quickly. And because its so mild-tasting, you can season it with whatever you want.
If you're on a health kick, the easiest way to cook tilapia is by preheating your oven to 400, putting it on a piece of foil to keep it from dripping, and seasoning it with anything you like: I like to go old school and just use Old Bay Seasoning. But look in your spice cabinet and use what sounds good... anything lemony or garlicky is awesome too. Put it in the oven and it only has to cook for about 8 minutes. (This may vary. If you preheated your oven like I told you to, it will be around 8 minutes. If you turned on your oven and then put the fish in right after then its obviously going to take longer. Le duh.) "But how will I know if its done, Tricia?" Its simple. The fish was kind of translucent when you put it in there, right? When the fish is solid white, then its done. If you're not sure, take a knife and open it up a little bit... the center should be white. And if its just about there, but not quite, you can go ahead and take it out of the oven because it will continue to cook another 5 degrees or so. (This is called "carry over cooking." It happens to every kind of meat when you take it out of the oven or off the stove.) Finish it off with a squeeze of lemon or lime and you're all set to go. Simple, and easy.
If you want to get a little fancier and aren't concerned about calories, try this:
1. Get about two tablespoons of butter ready, and chop up a clove of garlic. (The already chopped up stuff in the jar works fine too.)
2. Get a small bowl of milk ready and take your piece of tilapia and dip it in the milk. Make sure both sides get coated. Then sprinkle both sides with grated Parmesan cheese. Press down on the cheese lightly to make it stick on the fish. (If you don't like Parmesan cheese, you can use breadcrumbs. You can buy them already made at the grocery store, or click here to learn how to make your own.)
3. Put a saute pan on medium-high heat on your stove and let it get hot. (You can also do this while you're coating the fish.)
4. Melt the butter in the pan and put the garlic in there while its melting. Stir it around a little so that the garlic gets coated with butter.
5. When the butter is melted, put the Parmesan tilapia in the pan and let it cook for about a minute or two.
6. After a minute or two, use a spatula to turn the filet over to finish cooking. As soon as you turn it over, turn the heat down to medium. It should take another 2 minutes or so to finish cooking. Again, you'll know when it done when the fish is no longer translucent.

If its taking longer than this to cook, then you're not letting your pan get hot enough before you add the butter. The butter should make noise when you put it in the pan. Noise is good when you're cooking: it means something's happening in the pan. When you get good at that, you can start slamming pots around and slamming oven doors and dropping f-bombs and pretending like you're a professional chef. That's how it is in the real world.

On a side note, I would like to apologize for the month-long gap in my blogging. I got married in May and have been a little preoccupied. But I'm back from my honeymoon now and will get back to my regular writing. Thanks for reading! And don't forget to share your favorite blogs on Facebook and Twitter using the links on the right.