Killers in the kitchen: Part 1
The kitchen is a fun place and the heart of the home where family and good friends congregate - as long as you run it well. That means filling it with practical, safety- minded and beautiful equipment.
I'm going to help you navigate your way through the kitchen so you can feed your family healthfully and remain unscathed in the process.
The first cut is the deepest
Paring knives, microplanes, graters, poultry shears, vegetable peelers and food processor blades can deftly julienne, slice and dice your fingertips and knuckles. If you have a catch-all drawer that looks like a stash of weapons of mass destruction, then you have an emergency room visit waiting to happen.
Put these loose instruments in a safe storage area out of reach of little hands and get a wooden block of knives for daily use. And remember to keep your knives well sharpened since blunt ones are more dangerous as you press harder and tend to miss your mark.
You can also buy a protective glove made of chain mail similar to Sir Lancelot's armor in case you slip when chopping.
Pulp or plastic?
Cutting boards are a hidden source of germs and bacteria. Whether you choose wood, glass, steel or plastic is a matter of personal preference. I use a reversible wooden board with one side marked "V" for veggies and the other "M" for mammals and other things once living to prevent cross-contamination.
If maintained properly, these can last for generations and improve with age by developing a rustic patina. You need to season them periodically with oil to prevent staining and absorption of odors. Surprisingly, wooden boards are more antimicrobial than plastic ones since wood is porous and deprives bacteria of drinking water.
Plastic also harbor germs in the nooks and crannies from knife markings. Stainless steel boards, while hygienic, destroy knife blades. Whatever your cutting board druthers, keep them clean with warm soapy water, but never soak your wood board as it will dry out and crack.
Burn, baby, burn
Dress for cooking success and safety. Tie your hair back and wear an apron over fitted clothing, nothing loose and drapey. Also, invest in a good oven mitt that covers most of the forearm.
The silicone mitts that resemble costume props out of a "Star Wars" flick can withstand 700 degrees so you can even immerse your hand in scalding water without getting burned. Finally, be careful when lifting lids, as escaping steam can burn you badly.
Tools of the trade
You don't need every dazzling tool and implement available at the high-end cookware store. Buy a combination of stainless steel and wood utensils, including ladles, stirring and slotted spoons and tongs for cooking, and plastic spatulas for prepping only since heat might release plastic molecules into the simmering food.
From the frying pan to the fire
Stainless steel or copper pots and pans are the safest and best conductors of heat. Nonstick surfaces can release toxic substances into the food when the surface becomes scratched. Iron skillets also leach iron into the vittles, which can be dangerous for serial carnivores who already have an abundance of the metal in their bodies.
Keep it all bottled up
Helene Berk, a San Diego-based registered dietitian and health reporter for healthy
people.com, advises shoppers to buy their food and beverages in glass containers instead of plastic, which might release molecules that would then become absorbed into the liquids. She also recommends buying unrefined cooking oils in tinted glass to preserve their therapeutic properties "as sunlight will degrade the oil, creating free radicals that will attack your cells." Berk adds, "Remember to recycle."
Avoid using clay-based pottery or ceramics for cooking or serving hot foods, as microscopic cracks could allow toxins from the clay to escape into the foods.
Plastic is not fantastic
Berk also warns about the hazards of using plastic wraps or containers when microwaving or heating foods "because plastic molecules, when heated, can be easily transferred to the foods." Microwave your food in glass containers and bake in glass-based, oven-safe cookware, covering with parchment or waxed paper.
Next week's column will focus on edible gremlins in the kitchen.