Saturday, September 27, 2014

Food for Thought


Food for thought

This heading does not really sound like something a chef would have in mind. Chefs have food for your stomach in mind and they should, after all it’s their job to provide food for stomachs. 
So why come with a topic like this, well I've been advocating home cooked food as the right path to healthier living for some time now and thought that it would be interesting to have a look at the differences between cooking at home and restaurant cooking.

One out three or four people in the US are obese, may be with an exception here and there, but all these people became overweight for a reason and that reason is not because they eat healthy food.
Supermarket prices rise by 6% per year while restaurant prices remain somewhat flat. These facts provide the perception that eating out is cheaper than cooking and eating at home.

Americans are spending more and more of every paycheck on dining out; presently this is about 4.5% out of every paycheck, while the spending on groceries stays flat.
When the prices of groceries rise for you, obviously they rise for restaurants also, but restaurants buy in bulk you may argue. True, but so can you! 
Portion your bulk purchase, buddy shop, share, vacuum your portioned bulk purchases.

You can find a quality vacuum sealer here:  for USA and for Canada. 

Is it less expensive to cook at home

I research a bit for this article and found two articles that made clear how we, consumers, are misguided by the media. Let me share the stories.
The first part was a study conducted by a financial website Gobankingrates, I found it on MSN Money, with the heading “Eating out is Cheaper than cooking at home”, they compared a number of restaurant meals to the purchase of the same ingredients of that particular meal in a supermarket and claimed that the restaurant meals were $2.00 to $3.00 cheaper compared to the home cooked version.

Jane Dornbusch of the Boston Globe raised her eyebrows, like I did when she saw the article and investigated.
The study forgot, as I suspected, that you cannot calculate food cost apple to apple. 
One of the meals in question was a rib-eye steak with soup, asparagus and a salad for $17.99, cooking the meal at home costs according to the study $20.52

Jane made a trip to the restaurant and found that in reality $17.99 was the base price for the rib-eye steak, soup added $2.99, the asparagus added another $1.00 and at the end the bill eventually came up to $22.93  
A few days later she purchased the ingredients to duplicate the meal. The grocery bill was close to the restaurant bill but, and here is the whole misconception created, you do not use all ingredients for that one meal only! You use some of the soup and the salad for example. When she calculated exactly what she had used, the cost of the home cooked meal was $11.84.

Quite an amusing twist to the study, but also an eye-opener how we are made to believe that cooking at home is expensive, and therefore it seems better to eat out, this brings me back to the rising cost of supermarket prices. Restaurants and other food offering establishment also need to cover the rise in ingredient prices.
They cut wages by hiring less knowledgeable staff and compromise on quality of food, hard to detect compromises are made to maintain profits and your health pays the price in many cases, whereas you are in control when you cook at home.

Cooking at Home is (in most cases) healthier

The home cooked meal gives you the ability to control, calories, nutrients, quality of ingredients, salt levels, portioning and taste.
Whatever leftovers you have can innovatively be re-used for other dishes when you teach yourself a bit how and your vacuum sealer gives you the ability to keep your food in good condition. A little effort can easily save up to $100.00 per month or more.

Eating out is fine and good for all. It is good to be served and pampered once and a while. Just buying food to eat and out of so-called convenience leads in many cases to obesity, bad health and series of medical issues.

Enjoy a regular trip to your favorite restaurant, but keep in mind that your health is yours, keep it under your control.

By: Marinus Hoogendoorn   

Friday, September 26, 2014

Make the Ultimate Halloween Candy Stash with Vacuum Sealing

As a parent, you may have mixed feelings about leftover Halloween candy. You don’t want your kids to eat it all at once—but there’s only so much you can do with all that sugar, and after a while the candy can start to go bad and create sticky, melted messes in unexpected places.

Conventional storage methods can only preserve Halloween candy for so long. But with vacuum packing, you can keep candy fresh until next Halloween, and even beyond.

Why should you vacuum pack Halloween candy?

When your kids bring home a big haul on Halloween, you need a safe place to store all those sweets. Vacuum sealing keeps Halloween candy from going stale over time, so it’s just as tasty as the day it arrived even months later.

Another great reason to use vacuum packaging is to save money for your own Halloween candy-giving. You can hit stores in the days after Halloween and buy discounted candy, which is often up to 90 percent off as stores clear out for Christmas, and keep it vacuum sealed for next year. You’ll have fresh candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters, and you won’t have to fight through the crowds to buy it.

How vacuum sealing preserves Halloween candy

High sugar foods keep best when they’re kept cool and dry, but ordinary packaging and conventional storage lets in air, moisture, and even insects. The vacuum packing process removes oxygen from the packaging, keeping candy from becoming dry, brittle, or stale and maintaining the natural moisture balance.

This is especially important for chocolate candy, which contains cocoa butter. Removing the oxygen prevents the cocoa butter from becoming rancid and spoiling the candy.

What kind of candy can you vacuum pack?

Pressed sugar candies such as Smarties, lollipops, hard candies, and candy sticks (including candy canes) perform best with vacuum sealing. These types of candies can stay fresh, edible, and tasty for years in vacuum packages, even when stored at room temperatures.

Chocolate is also a great candidate for vacuum packing. When prepared properly, you can vacuum seal and store chocolate for a year or longer without losing any flavor or moisture. You may choose to store vacuum packed chocolate in the fridge or freezer for an even more extended shelf life.

Candies with cream or liquid centers or filling are the toughest to store using any method. The process of vacuum sealing this type of candy in vacuum bags can crush them, leaving you with a mess in a bag, and they also may not stay fresh as long as other types of candies. However, you can store cream or liquid filled candies for a limited time by freezing them before vacuum packing, or by vacuum sealing them in canning jars with a vacuum jar attachment.

Vacuum sealing is a great way to extend the life of your Halloween candy stash, and start saving lots of money on your Halloween candy purchases. You can even buy family favorite treats while they’re on sale after Halloween, and enjoy them all year round without having them go stale.

Image courtesy of Rochelle Hartman
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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why making Banh Mi at Home Sounds like a Good Plan


Why making Banh Mi at home sounds like a good plan

Reading around lately I noticed a number of pretty contradicting trends in the American fast food businesses. Pizza Hut announced to forgo their plans to introduce ‘skinny’ healthy pizzas. Dominos tried to introduce healthy pizzas earlier, but apparently they also hit a wall of non –acceptance from the public, same reason why Pizza Hut abandoned the idea. 

I noted a couple of articles ago that one of the food trends of 2014 was healthy Gourmet Pizza’s, a trend seemingly growing fast in the US, the move sounded therefore surprising.

A few days later, Vietnamese sandwich outlets were introduced by Yum, owners of Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, among other famous fast food brand names, in an effort to introduce healthier items on the menu.

Why, Pizza Hut’s owners abandon healthy ‘skinny pizzas’ because they are rejected by the public and they believe that healthy Vietnamese sandwiches will be accepted is somewhat puzzling.

Healthy food is a very difficult to overcome issue for fast food companies, health food has perishable ingredients and perishable ingredients are very difficult to control for the staff. Except maybe for a salad here and there

Fast food does not hire chefs at store level, they have ‘workers’ (with due respect for the word) trained to prepare very simple food, that food has to be fool proof or the risk of contamination and more over cross-contamination reaches dangerous levels, something fast food companies cannot afford to happen.

Sales for a number of fast food chains, that entered China, went down by 20% last year due to some food safety scandals. Millions of dollars are needed to restore customer confidence and no fast food company is looking forward to that, let alone the image damage it causes.

No cooking here

A closer look at a fast food kitchen lay-out, may explain why that is so. 
Frozen foods are strictly separated from perishables and processed foods and handled by different staff members. The moment you mix the two, you have a recipe for disaster.
That is the main reason why fast food uses processed food. A pizza for example has a processed sauce, vegetables, processed meat and some processed cheese on top of the dough, when prepared, the raw pizza goes through a 473 F oven and is served, quite difficult to mess that up. 
Ingredients are replaced after a set period of time, so if everybody follows the rules, you can safely eat your pizza. The moment raw meat or fish enters the circle matters become tricky.

With burgers you see the same thing, a worker places a frozen burger patty on a hot plate or in a grilling machine, flips it over after the buzzer beeps, somebody else adds a slice of lettuce and a slice of tomato on top of a halved bun and the ‘burger man’ tops the patty, pack, serve, also difficult to mess it up.

The moment fresh (not frozen) meat has to be cooked with vegetables, all is lost and food safety control is out the window. The solution? When the pizza does not work for the public, choose a complete new concept and the public will welcome the idea, believing it has been invented by people going out of the way to make our life more exiting.

When you ask me, the best way to have a great Vietnamese sandwich (Banh Mi) is to make them yourself. Why? Well here is a good reason:

In the early 1980s, Vietnamese sandwiches were at the center of a food craze in the US, several peddlers ensued in a sort of food war, advertising prices as low $1 or $1.25. Obviously you got eventually what you paid for and the fast food masters know that benchmark.

Banh Mi is made with a light crispy baquette as a base; this kind of baquette is made with a mix of wheat and rice flour resulting in an airy crumb. They are available in Vietnamese and Chinese stores, bakeries or deli’s. The baquette is traditionally spread with (chicken) liver pate, topped with chili pepper, daikon and carrot pickles, protein is an option, roast chicken, grilled pork, chinese char siu pork and tofu are common.

I am pretty sure that you will not to find a traditional Banh Mi in the fast food. Simply because grilled, roast and barbequed meats are not processed meats and therefore very perishable. 

Focal point is the protein and when you have leftover vacuum packed grilled or roasted meat in your freezer you’re half way done.


Here is a recipe :   
1 small Vietnamese baquette
1 serving of grilled, roasted, or barbequed pork, chicken or beef
1 tbsp homemade mayonnaise
4 thin de-seeded cucumber strips
1 tbsp cilantro leaves
4 thin chili pepper slices (Jalapeno works fine)
1 tsp light soya sauce
Daikon and carrot pickle
Slice the baquette lengthwise in half and remove some of the inside (keep that for bread crumbs)
Spread the mayonnaise on the inside and layer all ingredients in the baquette. Top with the soya sauce and voila. Enjoy.

You can replace the mayonnaise with pate, if you like  

What a way to make perfect use of your vacuum packed meat you stored in the freezer.

If you have no homemade vacuum packed meat in your freezer start making some, you can find your vacuum sealer here:  for USA and for Canada.

A delightful sandwich that will save you money as well, the fast food plans to charge you $7.50. 

By: Marinus Hoogendoorn

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Vacuum Sealed Food and Food Safe Temperatures


Vacuumed food and food safe temperatures

Vacuum sealing food is THE way to prolong shelf life, maintain freshness and to increase the overall quality of food, either by chilling, freezing or dry storage.  Vacuuming raw, cooked or dry food alone does not guarantee success, there is a little more to it.

Find your vacuum sealer here:  for USA and for Canada.

Every type of food, whether vacuum sealed or not vacuum sealed need to comply with a set of temperature measures to make them safe for consumption when they need storing for a period of time.

Enforcement at home

These temperature measures apply to all foods, raw, cooked, marinated and also dry foods. Guidelines have been set by various departments of public health, but often apply, or seem to apply to catering businesses and related food retailing businesses like supermarkets, restaurants and caf├ęs, seldom have they referred to households. 

We all know that caterers need compliance with food safety measures, but how do these measure translate when we store and cook food at home. 
Caterers and food retailers basically do the same thing as what homemakers do at home. Food is ordered, received, stored and prepared, quantities may vary, but the principal remains the same.  
Main difference is that caterers and other food handling businesses are checked at intervals by enforcement officers where homemakers are not. Does this mean that we can rely on the integrity of caterers and supermarkets? 
The answer is NO! Homemakers have their own part to play.

When foods are sealed in a vacuum and left unchecked on a kitchen counter they are as much subject to spoilage in a caterer’s kitchen as they are in a domestic kitchen.

Safe temperatures

The danger zone lies between 41 F and 135 F. This is the temperature range bacteria love and multiply at rapid speed. Bacteria multiply individually, meaning one becomes two, two become four and four become eight. If you would start with one bacterium, (which is highly unlikely) you will have 4000 bacteria after 4 hours considering that particular bacteria multiplies every 30 minutes.
This proves the importance of food storage under refrigerated or frozen conditions.

Vacuum packing food, slows the process of bacterial growth considerably, but does not stop it, in fact nothing does, shelf life of vacuum sealed food becomes however interesting prolonged as the chart below will show.   

Vacuum for prolonged shelf life


Stored in
Normal shelf life
Vacuum shelf life
Large cuts of meat, beef, poultry, lamb and pork
6 months
2-3 years
Ground meat: beef, lamb, poultry, pork
4 months
1 year
6 months
2 years
1-3 days
1 week
Cheeses, hard, semi, soft and pasteurized. Soft cheeses should not be vacuumed
1-2 weeks
4-8 months
Cookies, crackers
Room temperature
1-2 weeks
3-6 weeks
Coffee beans
6-9 months
2-3 years
Coffee beans
Room temperature
4 weeks
16 months
6-9 months
2-3 years
Room temperature
4 weeks
16 months
 Source: Dr. G.K.York, Dept. of Food Science & Tech, U of California, Davis

It is important to note that laboratorial test are usually performed under perfect conditions, conditions homemakers cannot comply with, even if they want to.

Food Safety Guide Lines

We don’t walk around with thermometers when we do our grocery shopping, well at least I don’t. It is nevertheless good to keep some guide lines in mind which will help improve food safety standards.

·         Ensure to buy fresh meat and fish that has been stored in a chilled environment.
·         Avoid buying food in damaged packaging, for example: dented cans, damaged caps on jars and other sealed products.
·         Ensure that frozen food is in full frozen condition. (not half soft when handled)
·         When your travel time from store to home is longer than 30 minutes, store fresh food in a cooler box with frozen cooling elements.
·         Store food immediately in the respective storage, freezer or refrigerator, after returning home from the store.
·         Place a refrigerator thermometer in your refrigerator and check regularly if the temperature is constant.

Best temperatures for storage

Refrigerated potentially hazardous food
41 F or below
Frozen foods
0 F or below
Dry storage
50 – 70 F
When cooking food before vacuum seal storage, ensure to cool rapidly!

·         Do not cool at room temperature
·         Use an ice water bath to hasten cooling
·         Divide food in small units or spread it out to make a thin layer and refrigerate
·         Cool the food from boiling temperature to 70 F within 2 hours and then to 41 F within 4 hours.
·         Transfer to food to new clean vacuum seal bags, vacuum pack and freeze or chill immediately.
·         Thaw frozen food overnight in the refrigerator or on the defrost mode in your microwave.
·         Reheat food for consumption to 165 F  

A few simple measures and a bit of common sense, go a long way when it comes to food safety

By: Marinus Hoogendoorn


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sous-Vide Cooking for beginners and Other Home Chefs


Sous-vide cooking for beginners and other home chefs

If you, like me, cook regularly at home and are not too afraid to try something different, sous-vide cooking is something you must lay your hands on one day.
If you believe that sous-vide is a mysterious way of cooking, exclusively reserved for well-trained chefs in Gourmet restaurants, something you need a lot of expensive equipment for, an investment you are not willing to spend your hard earned dollars on. Read on… 

Sous vide does not change or replace traditional cooking, sous-vide complements traditional cooking.  If you are a bit innovative you do not need to spend a lot on this amazing cooking method.

What it is?

Sous-vide literally means ‘under vacuum’. To explain the method in the simplest way, it means cooking vacuum packed food in a water bath under low, very precise temperatures.

What it does?

Cooking food at low temperatures is a technique known to give great results. Braising a big roast in the oven for a couple of hours is a good example.
Cooking vacuum packed food under low temperatures in a water bath ensures an even setting of protein in the product from edge to edge without over or under cooking, this creates a super tender texture of meat and fish and results in super tender vegetables. No thermometer, no guessing if the steak is medium or rare, trust your timer and you cannot go wrong.  

How do you do it?

The idea of going through a scary process of learning how to go about sous-vide puts a lot of people off, looking for a special temperature controlled water bath sounds like a hassle also.

Well here is what you need:

A good quality vacuum sealer

You can find your vacuum sealer and vacuum bags here:  for USA and for Canada

A Rice cooker (one of those where you press a button and your rice is cooked automatic), as long as there is rice and water inside of course.  

A sous –vide magic, or a temperature control devise.
You can find SVM temperature controllers on-line under that name.

Most likely you can find your rice cooker in your cupboard  

What is the purpose?

The art of perfect cooking is mastering the dish, to have it perfectly right every time you make a particular dish. The problem is that contrary to a restaurant, you do not cook the same dish very often at home like chefs do in a restaurant with a fixed menu. To get rid of that annoyance sous-vide provides the perfect solution.

Every time you cook your in-laws favorite dish the amount varies, sometimes there are four people another time there are five and you cannot remember exactly how you did it the last time. 
Sous-vide cooking reduce complicated matters to a few simple steps, temperature and time. This gives you control and predictability. All your cooking stress is eliminated when you are assured of the outcome.

Why should I cook sous-vide

For one it takes away a big part of intense cooking, you can marinate and vacuum your meat or fish in advance, then just place it in your temperature controlled rice cooker with water and spend time on other important issues.

Linked to that is the idea of neatness and storage. Your marinated meat or fish is clean, safe for cross contamination and if made in advance easy to store in your refrigerator.
You can even prepare your whole meal and pan-sear or stir fry just before serving a magical dish.

The illustration

Teriyaki chicken breast

I use the example of chicken breast because chicken breast seems like an easy to cook piece of meat. You can buy it de-boned almost everywhere and most people like it.
Problem is that it tends to be dry and all your effort to produce something magic!! Well you know what I mean.  

Use this recipe per chicken breast and multiply by as many breast you intend to use.

For the chicken breast
1 bone-less chicken breast
½ tsp ginger juice
1 tsp evaporated cane sugar (you can use another liquid sugar as well, like maple syrup)
½ tsp salt
Season the chicken breast with salt, sugar and ginger juice.
Place the seasoned chicken breast in individual vacuum bags, vacuum and marinate overnight.

For the sauce
2 tbsp light soya sauce
2 tbsp evaporated cane sugar (you can use another liquid sugar as well, like maple syrup)
2 tbsp sake

Set your temperature controller at 140 F, attach your rice cooker filled with water
When the water has reached 140 F, drop the bagged, marinated chicken breast in the water and cook for 1 ½ hour.

Place the sauce ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil.

Remove the chicken breast from the bag, you will notice that there is very little juice released.

Place the chicken breast on an oven tray and brush with some of the sauce,

If you have a blow torch brown the chicken breast, if you do not have a blow torch you can place the chicken breast for one or two minutes under the heating element of your oven broiler.

Slice the chicken breast at a 45 degree angle, and place on a plate, drizzle the remaining sauce around and serve.

It is nice to serve this dish with grilled asparagus that have been sous vide cooked at 190 F for 4 minutes, prepare the asparagus earlier and grill them for 2 minutes just before serving.

Best chicken breast you have ever served and eaten.

Let me know how you fared.

By: Marinus Hoogendoorn