Cooking with Kay: Keeping it clean in the kitchen


Cleanliness is next to godliness — a phrase millions of mothers have used to coax reluctant children into baths. I doubt the words referred to bodily cleanliness but more a reference to the heart and soul. Nevertheless, many children like me took it to heart and climbed into the tub.

There is another place in life that I do believe the phrase applies and that is in restaurants and eateries. If the food prep areas are not clean and the food is not stored at the proper temperature, the problems could send us into the hereafter.

I applaud the Franklin County Health Department and its environmentalists who daily go into food establishments to ensure the community’s safety when it comes to eating out. It’s a thankless job; many food establishments dread the coming of these folks. But you and I should welcome their rules and enforcement of them.

Pay attention to your food

For the most part, the food service industry works hard to safeguard our well-being.

Yet, even in some of our favorite establishments, attention to rules and cleanliness may be a bit suspect. Still, we patronize them. Maybe we don’t think about it, but we should.

Case in point for me was an eatery where I stopped several months ago because I was craving one of their signature foods. It was just flat out dirty and dingy and I thought better of what I was about to do and left. A few weeks later I learned it closed; better we are for that.

Readers might be amazed at the foods that can create problems for our digestive systems if not handled correctly. We know the two main culprits — chicken and hamburger — but there are many others, including the simple onion.

Onions cut in the morning and allowed to sit until closing can be down right dangerous to the digestive system. Kept cool and replenished throughout the day, onions, for me, are a necessity on a hamburger.

Have you ever ordered a salad and found the ingredients to be warm? Chances are it has been sitting on a counter in a kitchen, prepared early and waiting to be ordered. It’s dangerous, no matter how clean the kitchen.

But it’s that uncooked hamburger and chicken sitting on counters waiting to be cooked that can be a trigger for multiple digestive issues; some of them we know, like e coli, are even deadly.

The bacteria that can form quickly in these meat products if they are not kept to a certain temperature is the main reason the health department looks at temperature gauges for refrigeration.

Cleanliness at home

There are no rules enforced for the home cook. But, let me offer some suggestions and scenarios to ensure you are aware of how to keep your family safe.

When shopping, buy meat and frozen products at the end of your grocery trip. Foods can often be in your cart for an hour while you are browsing the store. Up goes the temps from the time you purchased them. Of course, frozen food may begin to thaw.

Head home immediately after your grocery shopping. Stops along the way with meat and frozen products in the car can only mean a greater chance of them beginning to develop bacteria.

In the sweltering heat of the summer, I highly recommend carrying a cooler or insulated bag with ice or ice packs from home. We all have been cautioned about how hot the interior of our cars can get when sitting in the sun.

At home, put up cold food immediately. Don’t let it sit on the counter while you tend to other tasks. If it is not going to be cooked in the next 36 hours, divide meat and put it in the freezer.

If your refrigerator is not equipped with a displayed thermometer, invest in one that can be placed inside. Meat and dairy should be stored under 40 degrees. A freezer should register zero degrees. 

Be aware of your countertop. Any surface that raw meat is going to come in contact with as you prepare it should be clean. Not just a swipe with a dish cloth, but a clean cloth, hot water and antibacterial soap.

You can also make a solution of a gallon of water and a tablespoon of bleach. Be careful not to over pour the bleach; it can make the water toxic.

Raw meat should not be cut on a wooden cutting board. There are too many cracks and crevices that can hide germs.                                               Purchase a rubber mat and always wash it in hot water or in a dishwasher.

If you are making hamburger patties, use wax paper between the counter and the meat and for heaven’s sake, wash your hands. Don’t leave the patties to linger before you put them in the skillet or on the grill. Return meat to the fridge if it will be more than 10 minutes before cooking.

Don’t leave prepared food sitting out after you eat. Have a cup of coffee or a sip of tea and then head to the kitchen to put away the food. Believe it or not, airborne bacteria exist in our kitchens. It’s why I always put up mayonnaise, sour cream and other condiments as soon as I use them.

These cautions are not meant to imply that we don’t know how to handle food in our own homes, but as friendly reminders of things we can do to ensure the welfare of those who eat at our tables.


Burgers: An inside job

Hamburgers are one food that goes through more trends than any other — all aimed at offering flavor profiles that appeal to some aspect of the population.

One trend that we are seeing now is the stuffed burger. There is even a chef offering a gadget to make them. Here’s my take on making those and letting your guests or family have some choice as you do.

A great offering for teens or picnic-goers is building these hamburgers much the same way you would a pizza.

Stuffed burgers

Several pounds of ground meat. Do not use extremely lean hamburger, 80/20 is best. Less fat in the burger makes it crumble on the grill. Make flat, somewhat thin patties for the size of bun you are using.

Fill several bowls with ingredients to go inside the burgers – different cheeses, chopped onion, chopped peppers, diced tomatoes, cooked bacon or jalapeños. Mushrooms should be precooked because of the juice they release in cooking.

As your imagination goes, so do the ingredients. Maybe even add a tablespoon of chili. Let your guests choose their favorites.

Take the patty and using the side of your hand press an indentation and add ingredients. Take the second patty, place it on the filled burger and press the sides together.

Salt and pepper the outside of the burger and place on a hot grill or in a hot skillet. You want to hear a sizzle when it touches the grill or the pan. If using a gas grill, after you have put the patty on, turn down the heat. For charcoal, make sure the coals have burned down.

Use a large spatula and it is recommended that you only turn the burger once.

You can now buy pretzel buns, just like used in the restaurants. I recommend toasting any bun so it will hold the burger better.

Toppings besides the traditional mayo, mustard, and ketchup are endless. Have several available. This burger is going to be a delicious mouthful.

Chicken sliders

My nephew Kenny has been preparing these for his three sons all summer long. They love them.

He says it is an easy supper for a busy family like theirs.

Use chicken strip fillets or cut boneless, skinless chicken breast into bun size pieces. Pound a bit with a meat mallet.

Baste the chicken with a marinade. The boys are partial to just a little barbecue sauce with salt and pepper. Pay attention to the chicken on the grill and turn to keep the meat from burning.

Kenny says once he has gotten a little color on each side, he closes the lid to keep the chicken juicy. You can also do this in a skillet on top of the stove. Neither preparation takes long since the pieces are small and somewhat thin.

Slider buns are also available on grocery shelves.

Our boys like mayo, dill pickles and lettuce on theirs. You can add any condiment you enjoy with chicken.

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