Sunday, November 9, 2014

Kitchen Safety Rules for Cooking a Thanksgiving Dinner

Tips for Staying Out of the Emergency Room This Holiday Season

Preparing a holiday meal can be an enjoyable time spent with fiends and family, but one little mishap can ruin the event for all involved should it result in a trip to the emergency room. Over the years, experience has taught me to be mindful of these following safety tips so I can focus on the positives of the season, and not the potential negatives.

Sharpen Those Knives For Safety
 
A sharp knife cuts through turkey as though the meat was made of milk. On the other hand, a dull knife can be as confounding to use as a hand saw slicing through a loaf of bread. Forcing a knife to do a job it's not prepared to do is a sure way of slipping up and slicing an emergency room sized gash in your hand. Take a few moments and sharpen your knives before cooking, then keep your stone handy to touch the blades up every once in a while thereafter.

Keep the Thanksgiving Fryer Outdoors
 
A deep fried turkey is not only a crisp, tasty, and juicy alternative to a traditionally cooked centerpiece, it can also be the last clever idea you have before burning down your house. When I prepare a fried turkey, I use the foresight to begin thawing the noble bird at least 24 hours before introducing it to the fryer to side-step the possibility of ice pockets super-heating and exploding in the fryer. Also, and this is very important, I never, ever, ever walk away from the cooking set-up. Sure, I'll be socializing and enjoying a beer or two, but I'll watch that succulent bird as if guarding a pot of gold in a New York subway station at rush hour.

Use a Meat Thermometer When Cooking

I don't rely on the little piece of plastic that was stuck in the bird at the processing plant to tell me when the turkey is done cooking. If you don't already have one, invest a few dollars in a meat thermometer to monitor the exact internal temperatures of your cooking bird. My target reading is between 165 and 180 degrees F for a perfectly cooked bird, and once reached, the old Tom is ready
for resting.

Tips For Grease Fires

Another sure-fire way to burn down the house is to panic when faced with a grease fire. These are easily managed with a calm head, a clear workspace, and vigilance. I'll check the condition of my kitchen extinguisher every month or so, and will replace if needed. Also, I'm prepared with a large pot lid to smother any pan-contained flames ravaging my fried asparagus. A quick, even head will save the day, and no one will be the wiser that the asparagus wasn't meant to be flambe. Whatever notion might cross my mind, I will never use water to put out a grease fire. That's one sure way to re-create Mt. Vesuvius in the kitchen, with ensuing burns to match.

Be Aware of Food Allergies This Holiday

Presumably, the people I invite to my table are close friends, and I'm already aware of adverse reactions to peanuts, seafood, or poultry. If an unexpected guest should arrive, I extend a host's courtesy by asking that ever-personal question in order to know them more intimately. "Excuse me, will any of my foods kill you?" Trust me, they appreciate the concern.

Clear The Sidewalk
 
Thanksgiving in New Hampshire often means snow on the ground. Well before guests begin to arrive, I shovel out accessible parking places, scatter a liberal dose of pet friendly ice melt, and sand the beejebus out of any conceivable pathways. They may be my friends and family, but that doesn't mean they won't sue the pants off of me for any broken bones.

Clean Up Spills As They Occur
 
This is a no-brainer, but worth mentioning nonetheless. Even in the mad rush to bring serving platters to the table, immediately wipe up the little gravy and mashed potato spills that have made it to the meticulously scrubbed floor. My kitchen is comparable to Grand Central Station right about now, and a few drops of olive oil can topple Great Aunt Bertha faster than a first-attempt chocolate souffle failing at the last check-in.

Use At Least Two Cutting Boards
 
Salmonella - a particularly nasty bacteria that is extremely easy to catch. To keep this little harbinger of intestinal doom at bay, I use two cutting boards while preparing my dishes. I dedicate one for meats and seafood, and the other for ready-to-eat foods such as vegetables, cheeses, and breads. After each use, the boards are washed. I prefer using plastic cutting boards picked up at Goodwill for .99 each, but if I'm using hardwood or bamboo, my in-between cleaning regimen includes a diluted bleach solution.

Wash Those Hands

A little dab'll do ya. I wash my hands after each food-prep step, and twice after handling raw meats. One small slip of memory loss can result in a dinner party reunion in the emergency room within 24 hours, where each guest is diagnosed with a heady case of food poisoning. Bacteria and food-borne parasites are easily be contained by washing hands before moving on to the next task, so I do it without thinking.

Control The Pot Handles

My kitchen is a wildly busy place during any meal preparation, and during the holidays, it can be magnified beyond proportion. Distractions occur in the mayhem, and bumping the scalding handle of the peas or mashed potatoes will leave a nasty contact burn, even through clothing. Little hands also have a tendency to make their way into the kitchen trying to locate the 'good smells', and might reach for, and spill, hot food in every direction. I alleviate this possibility by simply turning those handles inward.

Have a wonderful holiday cooking season, and be safe.