At this time where our national leaders and health experts are asking us to keep physical distance from others, remotely work from home if possible, cancel events and gatherings and generally spend more time at home, take advantage in the kitchen. Many of us could take stock of supplies in our food cabinets we may not have considered in a long time. You might find inspiration to re-discover pleasure in home cooking or just discover items you didn’t know you have!
Canned vegetables and meat can be used for soups, casseroles or even side salads. Canned beans, chickpeas and green beans could be used for a marinated three-bean salad (or four or more!) and dressed up with just a little seasoned vinegar if you don’t have salad dressing. Try some dried herbs in there if you don’t have fresh or find some surprises in your spice cabinet. If you don’t have fresh tomatoes but like the look of the mix I’ve pictured, you can use canned diced tomatoes instead.
Canned stock and vegetables along with some canned meat (or not) and beans can also make a tasty soup when you can be free to try your own seasonings. (I know my homemade soup in the photo has some fresh kale and sausage in it, also, but hey, I had them to use. I just wanted to get your creative juices flowing.)
While you are in the pantry, think about giving it a good cleaning. A lot of us do not have the discipline to have been doing this on a regular basis throughout the year. When removing items to check your stock, take them all out and keep them out long enough to wash and dry shelves before replacing the food items. Use household cleaners (and EPA-registered disinfectants or a bleach solution if you also sanitize) that are appropriate for the surface in your pantry, following label instructions. Labels contain instructions for safe and effective use of the cleaning product including precautions you should take when applying the product, perhaps such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product. Then, before putting your foods and storage containers back, wipe them off with a warm, soapy dish cloth and dry with a paper towel (or clean cloth towel if paper is an issue for you at these times of short supply).
Remember when preparing food, wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils (including knives), and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next food. Then, sanitize cutting boards and kitchen countertops using a kitchen sanitizer. One teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach per quart of clean water can also be used to sanitize surfaces. Leave the bleach solution on the surface for about 3-5 minutes to be effective. It is best to let surfaces air dry, but if you have to, rinse with cold water and pat dry with fresh paper towels. (If you are in household with a person ill from COVID-19 or suspected ill from it at this time, follow CDC advice for cleaning and disinfecting: https://tinyurl.com/vyc9tdv)
Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. Then the germs get thrown away with the towels! Knowing paper supplies are in demand now and short supply, launder cloth towels often, using hot water. Do not dry your hands with a towel that was used to clean up raw meat, poultry, or seafood juices. These raw juices can contaminate your hands and other surfaces. Put those towels immediately into the laundry bin and wash soon.
Check out your refrigerator also. Wipe up spills immediately. However, while you are in the deeper kitchen cleaning mode, clean the inside walls and shelves with hot water and a mild liquid dishwashing detergent; then rinse. Once a week, you should already be checking expiration and “use by” dates on refrigerated foods.
Back to preparing food, especially if that has not been your regular kitchen activity for a while. Always keep raw and ready to eat foods separated. Cross-contamination is the word for how bacteria can be spread from one food product or to another, or from a dirty surface or hands to food. This process begins at the grocery store and continues with carry home bags, and your refrigerator. Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood and another cutting board for ready to eat foods. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat and poultry unless the plate has been thoroughly cleaned.
Cook food to the proper temperature. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry are cooked to a proper temperature and keep a cooking internal temperature chart handy. Chicken and turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165°F to be safe; ground meat and meat mixtures to at least 160°F; egg dishes like quiche to at least 160°F; seafoods to at least 145°F ; beef and other red meat roasts and chops to at least 145°F with a 3-minute stand time before serving. Use a clean, calibrated food thermometer to check the food for doneness in at least two places in the center or the thickest part. For reasons of personal preference, many people prefer to cook chicken and turkey to higher temperatures such as 170-180°F to remove pink appearance and rubbery texture. Thoroughly reheat leftovers to 165ºF internal temperature and be sure to bring gravies, sauces and soups to a rolling boil.
Finally, chill everything promptly! Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours by placing them in shallow containers to cool rapidly. Keep the refrigerator temperature at 40ºF or below and the freezer at 0ºF. Monitor the temperature with an appliance thermometer. Always thaw food in the refrigerator, in a cold water bath of running water, or in the microwave right before cooking it.
For more information on storing foods, including freezer packaging choices and headspace for freezer containers, see general sections on these topics available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia, https://nchfp.uga.edu. Also see the Food Keeper app and website: https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/foodkeeper-app