When It Comes to Food Products, What’s In a Date?

Perhaps you have noticed that some food products come with dates printed on them—”sell by Aug 01 14″ for example. Does that mean it has to be used by that date or just sold by that date? Or what about canned or packaged goods that show only a date like “2.01.14.” Does that mean you could end up in the E.R. if you consume it after that date?  

ExpirationDates (1)

Other food products don’t seem to have any date at all. Confusing, isn’t it. That’s why I thought today would be a good time to bone-up on food dating.

While most food processors date and code their products, the Food and Drug Administration mandates dating only on infant formula and baby food. Everything else is voluntary. Still, the food industry generally follows certain guidelines suggested by the FDA.

Phrases like “Best Before,” “Better if Used Before,” or “Best if Used By” tell you how long the product will retain its best flavor and highest quality. You will find these phrases on products like baked goods, cereals, snacks and some canned foods. The food is still safe to eat after this date, but may have changed somewhat in taste or texture.

Rotisserie Chickens to the Rescue

If you are like me—time-starved but too stubborn to give up home-cooked meals just because life can be chaotic—you need to embrace these two words: Rotisserie chickens.

Roto Bird

photo credit: anotherpintplease

Not exactly take out, not completely home cooked, think of a rotisserie chicken as your ace in the hole; a kitchen assistant with an extra pair of hands to help you get delicious, home-cooked meals on the table in a flash.

These days nearly every grocery store, supermarket–even warehouse clubs–offer fully roasted, hot and ready-to-go rotisserie chickens for around $5. In fact, rotisserie chickens are so readily available, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued safety guidelines for selecting and storing them.

Today I want to give you basic guidelines for what to do with a rotisserie chicken as soon as you get home. Then next week I will have several mouth-watering recipes using rotisserie chicken meat that you absolutely do not want to miss.

Cooking with Coffee

I must admit that I am not a fan of the fancy flavored instant coffee mixes. But as an ingredient in a great dessert? Oh, yes. And what better way to use leftover strong brewed coffee than in fabulous baked beans for your next barbecue or big family gather!

786653_m

Midnight Bliss Chocolate Cake

  • 1 pkg. (2-layer size) chocolate cake mix, any variety
  • 1 pkg. (4-serving size) chocolate instant pudding & pie filling
  • 1/2 cup flavored instant coffee, any flavor
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 container (8 oz.) sour cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 pkg. (8 squares) semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped
  • Powdered sugar for garnish
  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 12-cup Bundt pan or 10-inch tube pan.

Beat all ingredients except chopped chocolate in large bowl with electric mixer on low speed just until moistened, scraping sides of bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes or until well blended. Stir in chopped chocolate. Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake at 350F for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on wire rack. Loosen cake from side of pan with spatula or knife. Invert cake onto rack; gently remove pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Garnish with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar just before serving, if desired. Cut into 18 slices to serve.

Every Busy Cook Needs This Go-To Recipe

I may be the only person in the world for whom this has happened, but I doubt it. On a whim, I invite a bunch of friends over for Sunday Dinner. Or the phone rings and just like that I need to get a meal on the table in a big hurry because company is on their way

091214Image

Those are the occasions that I run to an amazing recipe that is easy to prepare, delicious to eat and quite impressive, too. Think: Italian restaurant in a pan. While it’s in the oven I make a big salad and we’re good to go.

This is a recipe that kids love as well as adults. It’s just amazing and I bless the day that the folks at Pillsbury came up with the idea. I, of course, have tweaked the recipe bit, but I give credit where credit is due.

Because life is uncertain, you will always find a bag of Italian meatballs from Costco and several loaves of Italian bread in my freezer, a big jar of marinara sauce in my grocery stockpile and cheese in the fridge.

No Lunch Left Behind

I’ve made my share of school lunches over the years. And just when I got really good at it (which means the lunches were deviously nutritious prompting the kids to actually eat everything I packed) my boys grew up and left home. How could they?!

schoollunch

Actually, that’s pretty much what parenting is all about: You work really hard to get good at it, and then your job up and leaves home without you.

Back to school lunches. How can you pack healthy lunches the kiddos will actually eat, without getting sucked into buying pricey junk food masquerading as nutritious fare? You have to refuse to be tricked by labels that promise health benefits, or fun, colorful packaging that gets the kids’ attention. 

Got 20 Minutes? Make Soup

To me there’s something magical about the way homemade soup can warm the soul on a blustery autumn day. But what if you don’t have all day to make soup? Don’t sweat it. If all you have is 20 minutes, that’s all the time you need to make any of these three from-scratch soups. They’re so easy and so delicious (and cheap, but let that be our little secret), you’re going to want to make it “soup night” at least once a week until spring. 

Food-Soup2

Homemade Chicken Soup

  • 2 14.5-ounce cans chicken broth
  • 2 cups baby carrots
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery salt
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro or fresh dill (optional)

Cucumbers Galore? Enjoy Salad and Pickles

Today we celebrate cucumbers which will soon be in the peak of their season and dirt cheap!  Cucumbers are not only delicious when prepared well, they are packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Home gardeners would do well to anticipate and plan for a big harvest because cucumbers, like zucchini, have a way to multiplying beyond expectations, and then producing even more. Farmers’ markets are always evident of this truth, where recently I saw a full box for just $5.

Personally, I love cucumbers so much, I would be happy eating them in salad, as pickles, in a sandwich or just straight up with a sprinkle of salt and I mean every day of my life.

One thing to know about cucumbers: When grown in extremely hot temperatures, the cucumber skin can get bitter. You can deal with this by either removing the skin prior to slicing, or soaking the cukes in salt water to remove the bitterness. 

Today I have a recipe for you that may take you back to your childhood. It does for me because this is the way my grandmother made cucumber salad. 

Pic1

Microwave Popcorn May be Trouble in a Bag

When I first read about the possible dangers of microwave popcorn, I assumed I would read about issues having to do with sodium and trans fats. What I’ve learned is that the real problem may be with the bag.

popcorn000

The bag almost all microwave popcorn varieties come in is lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This chemical, when heated, has been linked to infertility, cancer and other diseases in lab animals. No long term studies have been conducted on humans, but the EPA now lists this substance as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”  Holy moly! Likely to be? That’s enough for me to shun the stuff, but that’s not the only reason. Microwave popcorn is relatively expensive!

I’ll show you a cost comparison, but first, let me show you how to make popcorn in the microwave with no PFOA-laden bag, and no tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), annatto extract or propyl gallate added for flavor, color or longevity (ingredients copied from a bag of the stuff). I’m talking fresh, pristine, fabulous popcorn from start to finish in about 3 minutes.