Q: What’s the safest way to defrost food in the microwave?
A: Here are the guidelines recommended by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service:
• Remove food from packaging before defrosting. Do not use foam trays and plastic wraps, because they are not heat-stable at high temperatures. Melting or warping may cause harmful chemicals to migrate into food.
• Cook meat, poultry, egg casseroles and fish immediately after defrosting in the microwave oven because some areas of the frozen food may begin to cook during the defrosting time.
• Do not hold partially cooked food to use later.
• Cover foods with a lid or a microwave-safe plastic wrap to hold in moisture and provide safer, even heating.
Here’s some additional information on containers and wraps that should be used in the microwave:
• Only use cookware that is specially manufactured for use in the microwave oven. Glass, ceramic containers and all plastics should be labeled for microwave oven use.
• Plastic storage containers such as margarine tubs, take-out containers, whipped topping bowls and other one-time use containers should not be used in microwave ovens. These containers can warp or melt, possibly causing harmful chemicals to migrate into the food.
• Microwave plastic wraps, wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper and white microwave-safe paper towels should be safe to use. Do not let plastic wrap touch foods during microwaving.
• Never use thin plastic storage bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers or aluminum foil in the microwave oven.
Q Can you remind me which plastic food containers are safer than others?
A: Plastics are classified by their “resin identification code” — a number from No. 1 to No. 7 that represents the different types of resin. The number is usually inside a recycling triangle found on the bottom of your container. The safer plastics include:
No. 1: Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE): Used for bottles water, juices, peanut butter, salad dressings. Recycle after single use. Avoid reusing — they’re hard to clean, and because plastic is porous, these bottles absorb flavors and bacteria that you can’t get rid of.
The following three types of plastic are your best choices. They transmit no known chemicals into your food, and they’re generally recyclable.
No. 2: High density polyethylene (HDPE): Used for milk, water, juice, yogurt, margarine containers.
No. 4: Low density polyethylene (LDPE): Used for vegetable packing, some bread and frozen food bags and squeeze bottles.
No. 5: Polypropylene (PP): Yogurt and margarine containers, food storage containers.
Also look for PLA: plastics made from renewable resources such as corn, potatoes and sugar cane and anything else with a high starch content; although you can’t recycle these plant-based plastics, you can compost them in a municipal composter or in your backyard compost heap.
Q: I’m trying to figure out what kind of mint I should plant this year. Any suggestions?
A: When one thinks of mint to use in cooking, most think of spearmint. But there are more than 200 varieties of mint to tantalize your taste buds.
Spearmint pairs well with spring vegetables such as peas, asparagus and artichokes. They also combine well with basil, cilantro, ginger, cumin and cardamom. Some of the varieties to look for include:
• Pineapple mint: Use with fresh, fruity flavors and with rich cheeses and meats.
• Apple mint: very tasty in iced tea.
• Curly and smooth-leaf mint: taste like spearmint, just different texture. Curly mint is ruffled and somewhat coarse; smooth mint is soft and velvety.
Peppermint works well with chocolate desserts and bold flavors in recipes. Here are some ideas:
• Orange mint: great for adding a hint of citrus.
• Chocolate mint: ideal for desserts with chocolate and berries.
• Ginger mint: complements recipes with fresh or powdered ginger.
• Grapefruit mint: Add along with citrus zest for an extra punch.
— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.