Friday, January 27, 2006

Queenie Rants on Food Hygiene

{Before I get started though, an explanation's in order on my nickname. I want the focus to be on food, not on me, and I don't want to be dooced. That's why there's no name here. I chose the nickname because I liked the way it sounds (I'm a big sucker for alliteration), and because I feel most comfortable in the kitchen. I'm pretty handy for a girl, but the kitchen is the domain where I do my best stuff. Also, my mom describes people who are really mad as "royally pissed," and believe me, when I see people doing unsanitary or idiotic things in my kitchen, I get royally pissed!}

Okay. So yesterday afternoon I was running some errands with my children, and I decided to treat them by stopping at one of the fast food places that has a play area. The plan was to let them play some while I got organized, and maybe to get them dinner there. I bought drinks for everybody, then went to the restroom.

When I went in, an employee, a high school girl by the looks of her, was fiddling with her hair. I went in a stall and did my business, and heard her go in the other stall and do hers. She flushed, opened the door of the stall, and then walked out of the restroom.

Without washing her hands.

Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!

I was totally grossed out. Even if all she was doing at the job was getting drinks for customers, all the germs on her hands could still be transferred to other people! How could she just ignore the big sticker on the mirror that reminds employees, in no less than two languages, that they have to wash their hands before returning to work?!

It's true that my kitchen isn't always the cleanest place, and that some things that are okay with me would probably revolt others. (If the food isn't too gooey or obviously contaminated with gross stuff, I let the kids wipe it off and eat it if they drop something on the kitchen floor and pick it up immediately.) A few germs among family are part of the package. But when it comes to handling food when cooking, and especially when guests are eating with us, I am queen of the kitchen, and woe to anybody who doesn't practice good hygiene! Especially when they're dealing with uncooked foods like salads. I am a cleanliness freak then.

Even my six-year-old knows that if she wants to help me with anything in the kitchen, she has to wash her hands. With soap. And dry them well on a clean towel. And if she touches her hair or sticks her fingers in....well, in the places kids inevitably do, she must go through the drill again. And again, every time she does something that could contaminate the food. She doesn't like it, but she understands why it's important, and she sees me washing my hands frequently when I cook, so she knows it isn't a rule I take lightly.

Back to the fast-food place. When the kids came running to me asking if they could get their dinners, I told them that we wouldn't be eating there and that I'd explain why once we were outside. They were a little disappointed, but when I told them what I'd seen and heard, and not heard in the bathroom, they didn't argue. They understand that nobody should go from a bathroom to cooking without washing their hands.

So when we got home I made homemade hamburgers for dinner. That's a big treat for them, I usually try to limit how much meat they eat (and also stretch it for economy's sake). Here's how I do them.

I use good quality ground beef, but not a lowfat type. The higher fat helps keep the burgers juicy and flavorful, which is really important when there's just the beef. I try to let the meat warm a bit before forming the patties, because it's easier to handle that way, and overhandling beef leads to tough burgers. I grab a chunk of beef and gently press it into a fairly thin patty, just enough pressure to hold the burger together. I lightly season each side with salt and pepper after all the burgers are formed.

I cook them in a cast iron skillet that's been preheated on medium-high heat. Once it's hot, I put in a dollop of butter and a squirt of olive oil. They help the patties brown, and add a bit of flavor (they're not absorbed much by the patties). You could do just butter or oil, I use a combination because I like the flavor of butter and the oil helps keep the butter from burning. Once the butter is sizzling, I add the patties, leaving plenty of room around each (which means I usually have two skillets going to cook burgers for our whole family).

Once the bottom side is nicely browned (3-5 minutes), I flip the burgers and cook the other side to brown too. Then I turn down the heat to medium or medium-low and turn each burger twice more, to make sure the inside is cooked as desired (this could take just a couple more minutes for rare burgers, which I don't recommend because I don't trust mass-produced ground beef, and around 5-6 minutes for medium burgers).

How I tell if they're done the way we like is by touching them. The softer they are, the less done they are. Yes, you can really tell this even through the crunchy browned exterior! Test for yourself by touching a burger right after you've flipped it after browning both sides. It'll have a lot of give (unless it's a very thin burger). After you let the interior cook some, turn it again and feel it; that side will be firmer. With practice you'll be able to tell how cooked the interior is, without cutting a peek-hole into a burger or cutting one completely in half to tell if they're done.

Have everybody at the table and ready to eat when the burgers are done. They dry out and get tough if they're allowed to sit.

Now you probably know the other reason I don't make these very often. They use a lot of ground beef, but they also require me to wash my hands practically constantly! Sorry there's no pictures, but surely you know what a delicious, homemade hamburger looks like.

Comments:
Hi Queenie! I don't blame you for not eating there...my boyfriend got food poisoning from McDonalds and my father ended up getting whatever kind of hepatitis that you can get from people not washing their hands when I was younger...so I'm right there with you! It's good that you've instilled good practices with your kids too - that's really important! Your burgers sound delish - this is sad, but I honestly have never made my own burger...a boy always takes control when there are burgers to be made!
 
LOL, my hubby takes control of anything that's grilled outside, but it's my job when they're cooked inside. It's a fair trade imo.
 
Where in Washington are you? To answer your question: We went skiing at Mt. Bachelor, near Bend, OR. But we sometimes head up to the Gorge for concerts in the summertime, and I'm dying to get up to Seattle and to Olympic Nat. Park. You're always welcome down here too...It would be great to meet you!
 
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