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Archive for Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cooking Q&A: Some additional tips for holiday meal preparation

November 24, 2010

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Q: My sister told me that I don’t have to cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 180 degrees anymore. Is that true?

A: Yes, it’s true — and what great news it is. There’s no longer an excuse for dry, overcooked turkeys.

A few years ago, the USDA lowered the recommended minimum internal temperature to 165°F as measured with a food thermometer.

Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures. Personally, I pull it out of the oven as soon as it reaches the 165-degree mark and then I let it rest for about 20 to 30 minutes before carving to allow the juices to soak back into the meat and set. This helps the turkey from drying out, plus it carves more easily.

If your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also check the internal temperature of the turkey with a food thermometer.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, the “Let’s Talk about Cooking a Turkey” video is now available on www.youtube.com/user/USDAFoodSafety.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Q: How can I keep the gravy hot?

A: Try using an insulated coffee carafe or a fondue pot. The carafe also helps prevent drips.

Q: Can lumpy gravy be saved?

A: When making the gravy, use a whisk to blend in the flour/water thickener. If it still gets lumpy, strain it through a fine-mesh strainer.

Q: What equipment is best to mash potatoes?

A: Electric mixers will produce gluey potatoes. A hand masher or a ricer may leave a couple lumps. But a food mill makes smooth and silky mashed potatoes that are lump-free.

Q: What is jicama?

A: Jicama (pronounced hee-ca-ma) is quite a popular vegetable in Latin America, Central America, and Mexico. These regions add this vegetable to many of their delicious cuisine because it easily takes on the flavors of the other ingredients. In addition, jicama is great when eaten raw. Raw jicama has a wonderfully light, crisp, and juicy flavor, much like that of an apple or pear.

If you have never seen jicama before, it looks very similar to a potato or turnip with brown, gray, or tan skin and white flesh. It also has a short, stubby root.

The good thing is that jicama is so easy to prepare. All you have to do is peel off the skin like a potato, then cut it into strips, wedges, or slices and eat it raw or toss it in with a casserole or salad. It can also take the place of water chestnuts because it is similar in texture and mouth feel.

Jicama is available year-round, but its best season is between the months of November and June. Choose jicama that is free of bruises, cuts and discoloration. They should also be firm when gently squeezed, and their root should be dry, not soggy.

Jicama can be stored in a plastic bag for 2-3 weeks in a cool, dry place, much like you would store potatoes.

During this holiday season, choose jicama to put on your veggie trays. It is a “conversation piece” because so many people don’t know what it is, but will be pleasantly surprised when they crunch into it. Plus, it is a low calorie food, only containing approximately 20 calories per half cup. It also contains high amounts of dietary fiber and vitamin C.

Q: Do you have any stuffing recipes that are gluten-free?

A: Here’s a brown rice stuffing provided by the USA Rice Federation that would be very tasty for Thanksgiving.

Almond Brown Rice Stuffing

1/2 cup slivered almonds

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 medium tart red apple, cored and diced

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1/4 teaspoon thyme

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

3 cups cooked brown rice (cooked in chicken broth)

Cook almonds in butter in large skillet over medium-high heat until golden brown. Add apple, onion, celery, poultry seasoning, thyme and pepper; continue to cook until vegetables are tender crisp. Stir in rice; cook until thoroughly heated.

Use as stuffing for poultry or pork roast, or bake tightly covered in a separate baking dish at 350 degrees 25 to 30 minutes. Makes six servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 257 calories, 13 g total fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 333 mg sodium, 30 g total carbohydrates, 4 g dietary fiber, 7 g protein.

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