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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Let's Talk Turkey







"Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you who you are."
~Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Identity is entwined with culture, and food is entwined with culture, so it isn't at all far-fetched a notion to associate food with identity.  However, Monsieur Brillat-Savarin, it's Thanksgiving. I'm an American, so I'll be eating turkey. I often act like a turkey. Guess that makes me a cannibal. Of course, Monsieur Brillat-Savarin does have a cheese named after him:
 Brillat-Savarin... the oooey gooiest bit of lactose intolerance-inducing deliciousness I heartily recommend you all invest in, one wheel at a time, slice it through its meridian, and spread a luscious layer of Italian black truffle paste (or 'truffle pate' as the snootier vendor prefers to call it) on one half and then sandwich it by covering one half with the other half, allow it to sit for a few hours, then serve it with hunks of warm toasted baguette for the most decadent appetizer that will ever coat your tongue and glide down your gullet. A soft, white-crusted cow's milk cheese with at least 75% fat, created c. 1890 as "Excelsior" or "Délice des gourmets" ("Gourmets' delight") by the Dubuc family, near Forges-les-Eaux. Cheese-maker Henri Androuët renamed it in the 1930s, as an homage to 18th-century French gourmet and political figure Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. His most famous work, The Physiology of Taste, was published in December 1825, two months before his death. The full title is Physiologie du goût, ou Méditations de gastronomie transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l'ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savantes. The book has not been out of print since it first appeared, shortly before Brillat-Savarin's death. In a series of meditations that owe something to Montaigne's Essays, Brillat-Savarin discourses on the pleasures of the table, which he considered nothing less than a science. The philosophy of Epicurus lies at the back of every page; the simplest meal satisfied Brillat-Savarin, as long as it was executed with artistry.

You can buy truffled Brillat-Savarin in the cheese sections of markets like Whole Foods, but making it yourself is simple enough. Still, no matter whether you buy it prepared or not, serve it at room temperature which means removing it from your fridge at least an hour before eating, garnish it artfully with a few sliced figs, a bit of honeycomb, a pile of  Marcona almonds, a few Picholine olives and you will have a cheese plate worthy of being painted by a 17th Century Flemish Master. Simple, elegant and scrumptious. Maximal impact for minimal effort is the key to many a holiday hostess' success. Perfect start or finish to any holiday meal.





But I digress... I'm here to talk turkey.

"What we're really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?
~Erma Bombeck, "No One Diets on Thanksgiving," November 1981

I so adore this holiday, doing one of the things I love doing most in the world! It's all fun to make and fun to eat, but I would cook it all even if I weren't going to eat a bite myself. Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is an active meditation for me. I enjoy every aspect of making this holiday's meal - well, almost every aspect of it. I hate peeling and coring apples, and really don't like cleaning up the wreckage afterwards. Luckily, el hubby loves to get in there and tackle the dishes. We usually do an encore meal on Saturday because el hubby adores this meal. Naturally we'll have turkey sandwiches for lunch the next day, I get some avocado and provolone for them. I make enchiladas with leftovers on the following Monday or Tuesday. I nearly always use leftover cream-based soup as the base for a pasta dish; leftover stuffing is a rarity, but when we do have some, I use it to stuff portobello mushrooms or eggplant, adding only a bit of grated parmesan to the stuffing before baking.

The history of the Thanksgiving turkey is a bit of a mystery. Nobody knows exactly how it earned its dubious place of honor at the table each November, but historians have a few different theories. Thanks to letters and records kept by early American settlers, we know that when the colonists sat down to dine with the Wampanoag Indians, beef and fowl were on the menu. This historical meal would later become known as the first Thanksgiving. Although historians cannot say for sure which types of fowl were served up that day, a letter written by pilgrim Edward Winslow mentions a turkey hunting trip before the meal.

Another theory attributes the Thanksgiving turkey to the Queen of England. During the 16th century, a fleet of Spanish ships sunk on their way to attack England. According to legend, Queen Elizabeth received this news while eating dinner. She was so thrilled that she ordered another goose be served. Some historians say the early settlers were inspired by the queen's actions and roasted a turkey instead of a goose.

 The wild turkey is a native bird of North America. Turkey was a favored food of Native Americans. When Europeans arrived, they made it one of only two domestic birds native to the Americas—the Muscovy duck shares the distinction. The turkey was Benjamin Franklin's choice for the United States national bird. He claimed the fact that it was indigenous to America made the turkey a more suitable national bird for the United States than the bald eagle. Not everyone agreed with Franklin, however, and the bald eagle became the national emblem for the United States in 1782.

Yet by the early 20th century, wild turkeys no longer roamed over much of their traditional range. They had been wiped out by hunting and the disappearance of their favored woodland habitat. Wild turkeys typically forage on forest floors, but can also be found in grasslands and swamps. They feed on nuts, seeds, fruits, insects, and salamanders. Wild turkey reintroduction programs began in the 1940s, and the birds were relocated to areas where populations had been decimated but woodlands were recovering. Such efforts worked so well that wild turkeys now live in areas where they may not have occurred when Europeans first reached the Americas. Today, flocks are also found in Hawaii, Europe, and New Zealand. Here's a little turkey trivia to deflect Aunt Edna's prying questions about who you voted for this past election: Wild turkeys can fly, but domestic turkeys can't. Turkeys can run up to 20 miles per hour. The long, loose skin that hangs down on a turkey's neck is called a “wattle." Maybe you should keep that last bit of trivia to yourself. Aunt Edna might think you're referring to loose skin around her neck.

So, for whatever the reason, Thanksgiving Day is Turkey Day, unless you're vegan and even then you probably have some seitan (wheat gluten) roll or Tofurkey atrocity front and center, plattered up and garnished. A proper Thanksgiving Day meal is always days in the making. Even if you keep it down to the basic bird, potatoes, stuffing, gravy my husband prefers to say his grace over. "I want everything to be brown on my plate." is his request, and I acquiesce (mostly). I sneak a veggie and some cranberry sauce on the table every year, as well as something pumpkinesque and yammy, and since brown is in the red family, as is orange, I have technically kept the requested palette palatable. After all, rituals and traditions are above all about comfort and security: the lark's on the wing, the snail's on the thorn, the turkey and stuffing's in your belly, and all is right with the world. I have 364 other days of the year to concoct my Frankenstein-like food experiments which he happily eats.


Last year went well. His eons old hope that we eat a holiday dinner before 9 pm was finally realized. We didn't start stuffing ourselves at the oft requested 5 pm, but service did start at 6. I had fully organized my week with  (for this Caribbean descendant) the precision of a Swiss watchmaker from the Third Reich. I practically goose-stepped around the kitchen. But well... it did fray my nerves a bit...   It was two days before T-Day. The apartment smelled divine. The stock was simmering, the cranberry sauce is made,  the bread for the stuffing prepared and I took a break from kitchen duty before seasoning the turkey breast and setting it aside. All very homey. My loving husband had his beloved futbol on. Manchester United was playing,  I was feeling cranky. Not thankful. My having a stomach virus didn't make things any better... there is nothing worse than cooking when you can't stomach eating, especially while having to listen to someone - even someone you love - mercilessly scrape the bowl of his salad, and chomp on his pizza like a savage beast partaking of more than his fair share of antelope after several days wandering the Serengeti sans nourishment... I prefer to create my edibles to more melodious music. Something less like the soundtrack of National Geographic WILD and more Debussy Claire de Lune, Miles Davis Kind of Blue.

 On the other hand, this was the man who called me whilst I was in a frantic search for brioche (with my stomach virus asserting itself the entire time and nary a public toilet facility to be found). His first suggestion was that I abandon the holy quest and simply buy prepared croutons for our stuffing. When I said I'd rather go without stuffing than eat chemically-laden croutons, he very sweetly offered to go to other stores to search for it, so that we could divide and conquer - and what's more, he did find the blessed loaves of brioche, just as I finally did...

 He went all the way on the other side of town, and what was even lovelier was after we confirmed his acquisition of the holy grail, and hung up, he called me back immediately just to ask me if I was looking at the moon because it was so spectacularly large and luminous it looked surreal - like something out of an old Hollywood film set... and he wanted to make sure I saw because he knows what a moonatic I am.

 "But please pay attention to where you're walking and be aware of your surroundings, I don't want you attacked because you are mesmerized by the moon."

We discussed the little fluffy clouds that were framing the moon with their kisses, and I promised him I'd be careful, told him what street I'd walk down to reassure him, and hung up. THEN as I was walking back home, he surprised me by driving directly to where I was walking to give me a lift home. He had been following me for three blocks quietly before announcing his presence.

 "It's frightening how oblivious you were. I could have been anyone with intent to do you harm!"

 "I was looking at the moon. I'd love to get a good picture of it but it's impossible. These new iPhones have light meters that automatically adjust the flash. I'm so disappointed."

"Come on, when we get to a good dark spot, I'll let you off, and wait while you take pictures." 

"Yay! Okay..."

 He chauffeured me to two locations where I could take dramatic photos of the moon, patiently waiting for me, drove us home, put away the groceries, put away the dishes in the dishwasher, and reloaded it with this mornings dishes (all while I went running to the bathroom - this stomach virus had been kicking my ass for three days now). So sweet and solicitous. I adore him. I'm very lucky but (and you knew there had to be a "but") I just wish the man would spare me the play by play and color commentary about the futbol game he's watching... and he's not speaking rhetorically, he expects me to react to his every utterance... I couldn't keep pretending to care for long... I hadn't the energy... desperate measures were taken. I  beaned him over the noggin with my turkey baster. Lovingly.

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast with Citrus Butter and Chanterelle Mushroom Gravy










I chose 
to use a turkey breast because there were only four of us. The turkey breast stays juicy and dripping with delight since it doesn't have to wait for the darker meat to cook. I love the chicharron that the skin creates. It really crackles! When choosing a size appropriate for guests, allow about 1 pound of raw turkey per person. Sounds like a lot, I know, but you want to have leftovers, don't you? That's the best part. Frankly, hot turkey leaves me cold. I love the sandwiches later on Kaiser rolls or Dutch Crunch bread with stuffing, avocado, and cranberry sauce... Yummy, Yummy!!!


BTW, you can substitute any kind of mushroom you like for the gravy. Chanterelles are expensive. I chose them because this meal is small in scale which meant I could spend more per person, but good old button mushrooms or criminis will work just fine, if that's all you have. Hell, you don't even need any mushrooms.

The consistency of my gravy is much thinner than most. I prefer the good wholesome turkey flavor of the jus and stock not the taste of a floury pasty goopy gravy... yuk! I achieve the thickening with a minimum of starch and a maximum of reduction. I boil the hell out of the stock to reduce it to an almost gelatinous consistency which means you must minimize the use of any salt products until the gravy is made, then add the seasoning or else it will taste way salty. The turkey should be seasoned the night before roasting. 


For the Turkey

Ingredients
  • 1 whole bone-in turkey breast, 6 1/2 to 7 pounds
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 onion, skin removed & cut in half
  • 1 leek, cleaned & sliced length-wise
  • 1 carrot, cut into quarters
  • 1 lemon, cut in quarters, juiced with juice reserved
  • 2 teaspoons  (approximately) powdered smoked paprika (for dusting over skin)

Directions
  1.  Place the turkey breast, skin side up, on a rack ( I use a trivet) in a roasting pan. Nestle the onion, leek, carrot & juiced lemon & place it inside the breast cavity. Be sure that you have cut the pieces in large enough sections so that they don't fall through your rack or trivet.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the garlic, mustard, herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice to make a paste. Loosen the skin from the meat gently with your fingers and smear half of the paste directly on the meat. Spread the remaining paste evenly on the skin. Dust with paprika. Pour the wine into the bottom of the roasting pan. Cover and store turkey breast in roasting pan on a trivet in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from fridge one hour prior to roasting. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  3. When oven is hot, heat up Citrus Butter in small sauce pan until melted & keep warm.
  4. Roast turkey for 20 minutes at 450, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
  5. Baste with Citrus Butter.
  6. Roast the turkey for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, until the skin is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees F when inserted into the thickest and meatiest areas of the breast. (I test in several places.) If the skin is over-browning, cover the breast loosely with aluminum foil. Occasionally basting with citrus butter.
  7. When the turkey is done, cover with foil and allow it to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes while you make the gravy. Slice and serve with the jus & gravy spooned over the turkey.
For the Citrus Butter:

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon grated lime rind
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 shallot, finely minced

Directions
  1. Stir rinds into boiling water; pour through a wire-mesh strainer. Drain on paper towels.
  2. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer or by hand until creamy; gradually add juices, & shallot beating until blended. Stir in rinds. Chill. Can be made 3 days ahead or more if you freeze it.


For the Chanterelle Gravy:






About the stock: make your own if you have the time (recipe below), I do every year... it's easy to prepare, just takes a bit of time to cook,  if not buy it frozen from your butcher; you can substitute prepared chicken stock, but make sure it has no or low-sodium. This gravy will be dark , almost mahogany in color, if you take the time to roast your turkey giblets & wings first, really worth it. It's only once a year & a lot cheaper than buying canned, plus you can make extra & freeze until Christmas to use it then!
Cornstarch & arrowroot are almost flavorless & tend to dissolve more quickly than flour which is why I am using it here, but heat destroys it's coagulating properties so you must wait to add it until the last minute or so to the gravy. I scrape up ALL the pan fond. It adds a gorgeous color to the gravy and loads of flavor, PLUS it makes it MUCH easier to clean up the damn pan! Do not boil the gravy after you add the thickening agent. Then serve immediately.

Ingredients
  • 2 big handfuls (handfuls is an industry term ;P) of chanterelles or your mushrooms of choice, cleaned & sliced
  • 2 large shallots, sliced thinly
  • 6 sage leaves, in chiffonade (sliced very, very thinly length-wise)
  • half a handful of parsley, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups of fresh turkey stock
  • pan drippings from turkey
  • scant tablespoon of low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup of dry vermouth or any acidy, un-oaked wine such as sauvignon blanc
  • sea salt & fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbs. cornstarch or arrowroot

Directions

  1. Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbs. butter & olive oil, when butter is foamy & melted, add a tiny pinch of sea salt to the pan followed by the shallots. Saute until they just change color.
  2. Add the mushrooms, add the additional tablespoon of butter, if the mushrooms appear to absorb the fat in the pan. Saute until mushrooms are softened, lower heat to medium-low.
  3. Add the parsley and sage. Stir in & when the mushrooms appear to be slightly glazed, season lightly with salt & pepper. Turn off the heat & set aside in a warm place.
  4. Place roasting pan over medium heat on the range burners. When hot, deglaze pan with the wine or vermouth, being sure to scrape off all the pan fond (the stuck on brown bits) & incorporate into the wine.
  5. Add the stock to the pan & reduce by half; about 10 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of stock & mix that into a slurry with the cornstarch. Set aside.
  6. When stock, is reduced add the mushroom mixture, season with soy sauce; stirring well to incorporate it. Taste for seasoning & then add salt & pepper to taste.
  7. When everything is to your liking, turn the heat down to very low & add cornstarch mixture, stirring really rapidly to avoid making lumps.
  8. Heat for another minute or two over low heat until the cornstarch flavor is gone.
  9. Place in gravy boat. Serve immediately.


Turkey Stock






I buy two wings, a turkey back, add aromatics & herbs to roast the bones. I make the turkey stock the day night before, but you can make it up to three days before. I do NOT peel the onions for this, it is important to keep the skins on... It adds a beautiful color to the stock. Add any veggie peelings or parts you like, it will only enrich the flavor. A stockpot is a must. If you don't have one, you can use a larger dutch oven.

Ingredients
  • 2 turkey wings/and or 1 turkey back (I like both)
  • fennel bulb, rough chopped
  • whole onion, unpeeled, cut in half
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • two carrots, cut in quarters
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into quarters
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary, left whole
  • 3 sprigs or oregano, left whole
  • 1 leek, cleaned well, white part only, cut in half
  • a couple of button mushrooms
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • peppercorns (to taste)
  • water

Directions

  1. Place all of your ingredients in a roasting pan into a preheated 400 degree oven
  2. Roast for 20-30 minutes or until turkey is browned
  3. Empty contents of the roasting pan into stock pot, include all accumulated juices
  4. Deglaze roasting pan with water, scrape up all pan fond (burnt bits that stick to bottom), add to stock pot
  5. Fill stock pot with fresh cold water
  6. Set pot over low heat
  7. Allow it to simmer for 12 hours, undisturbed 
  8. Remove from heat, let it cool, then strain contents into a storage container until ready for use. I usually remove the turkey parts & the large pieces of vegetables after straining, and save them to add to gravy or soup later in the week 






Shiitake, Chestnut and Sausage-Apple Stuffing




Be sure to cut all the aromatics the same size small dice. Makes a big difference in texture.


Ingredients
  • 16 ounces Challah bread or any brioche (use white bread if you can't find an egg bread), cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 12 cups)
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter - plus additional to add atop the casserole 
  • 6 cups onions, about 2 large, finely chopped
  • 1 pound tart green apples, peeled, cored, diced small
  • 2 handfuls of shiitake mushrooms (you can use oyster, button, whatever you like)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled & cut into small dice
  • 2 celery ribs with leaves, diced small
  • 4 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • 1 jar of whole roasted chestnuts a.k.a marron glace', rough chopped
  • 4 sprigs of finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 8 sprigs of finely chopped fresh sage
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 eggs, beaten to blend
  • 1 and 1/2 cups to 2 cups (about) fresh turkey stock or canned low-salt chicken broth

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Divide bread cubes between 2 large baking sheets. Bake until slightly dry, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.
  2. Sauté sausages in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, crumbling coarsely with back of spoon, about 10 minutes.
  3. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to large bowl. Pour off any drippings from skillet.
  4. Melt butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, carrots, apples, celery, mushrooms and poultry seasoning to skillet; sauté until onions soften, about 8 minutes. Mix in chopped chestnuts and rosemary & sage. Add mixture to sausage, then mix in bread and parsley. Season stuffing to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
  5. Mix eggs into stuffing just before baking.
  6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 15x10x2-inch baking dish. Mix 1 1/3 cups broth into stuffing. Transfer to prepared dish. Cover with buttered foil and bake until heated through, about 45 minutes. Uncover, add butter evenly over the top,  and bake until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes.


THE PLACE GRATITUDE FILLS IN A FINE CHARACTER 

 by Walt Whitman from the Philadelphia Press, Nov. 27, 1884,

—A large family supper party, a night or two ago, with voices and laughter of the young, mellow faces of the old, and a by-and-by pause in the general joviality. “Now, Mr. Whitman,” spoke up one of the girls, “what have you to say about Thanksgiving? Won’t you give us a sermon in advance, to sober us down?” The sage nodded smilingly, look’d a moment at the blaze of the great wood fire, ran his forefinger right and left through the heavy white mustache that might have otherwise impeded his voice, and began: “Thanksgiving goes probably far deeper than you folks suppose. I am not sure but it is the source of the highest poetry—as in parts of the Bible. Ruskin, indeed, makes the central source of all great art to be praise (gratitude) to the Almighty for life, and the universe with its objects and play of action.

 “We Americans devote an official day to it every year; yet I sometimes fear the real article is almost dead or dying in our self-sufficient, independent Republic. Gratitude, anyhow, has never been made half enough of by the moralists; it is indispensable to a complete character, man’s or woman’s—the disposition to be appreciative, thankful. That is the main matter, the element, inclination—what geologists call the trend. Of my own life and writings I estimate the giving thanks part, with what it infers, as essentially the best item. I should say the quality of gratitude rounds the whole emotional nature; I should say love and faith would quite lack vitality without it. There are people—shall I call them even religious people, as things go?—who have no such trend to their disposition.”

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!



Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Cauldron of Molten Chocolate Cake In A Mixed Bag of Tricks

“Except for cases that clearly involve a homicidal maniac, the police like to believe murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they're right - a chilling thought when you sit down to dinner with a family of five. All those potential killers passing their plates.”
― Sue Grafton, A is for Alibi


For the dedicated caregiver, family meals are an iffy proposition. Getting any group of people to sit together at one time is enough of a challenge, but when they are a motley assemblage of schedules, age, sex, and attitude that happen to share the same genes, it can be downright hostile. Individual preferences can't be easily catered to - and yet each family member will expect some nod to their tastebuds as they stuff their gullets (lest you risk their crying about your horrible neglect into their Gestalt therapists notepads for years to come) ; and when matters become further complicated since Sally is vegan, Tommy wants pancakes all-day, everyday, while little Jerry refuses to eat anything that hasn't been rolled into a tube and preserved by nitrates? Fuggetaboutit! It's a wonder that more homecooks aren't convicted murderers because, frankly, poisoning their nearest and dearest's gluten-free pasta is the only way to ensure everyone has received equal consideration.
I myself am not a parent, but I've have seen many a busy one who, in desperation to fulfill the needs of the collective (and maintain some semblance of sanity), give up entirely on anything vaguely nutritive, and find themselves repeatedly resorting to the panacea of fast-food restaurants: Taco Bell and McDonald's to the rescue. (No wonder McDonald's "You Deserve A Break Today" and "Have You Had Your Break Today?" slogans were named the #1 Advertising Jingles of the Century by AdAge.). Sure to us, the child-free culinarily virtuous, it's still poisoning, but it's a slow poisoning: comprised of several legal lethal injections, one "Happy Meal" at a time.
The happiest day of the year for the childbearing set, when an American parent is almost free from the angst of wondering how many spoonfuls of sugar will help the meal-time medicine go down, has got to be Halloween. It's an endless downpour of confectionary bliss: Snickers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and M&Ms ... OH MY! Enough to put the sweet cherubs into a sugar coma for one long blessed mid-autumn evening. Although Halloween itself has never held any true interest for me. I had too many real life ghouls and goblins to contend with growing up, making the thinning of the veil between underworld and real world just another a silly thought.. besides those worlds are constantly overlapping, of course! What are ghosts but persistent memories? Picturing a parade of merry Medeas and Cronuses singing, "Free at last! Free at last!" (at the suggestion of a sympathetic pal whose advice I sought for writing something less than ordinary about All Hallow's Eve), I nearly conjured up a recipe for adeptly poisoning trick-or-treater's candy and getting away with it, but reconsidered on moral grounds. I don't want to contribute to the delinquency of a procreator. Though, sadly, historically speaking, there are no lack of begetters who have resorted to poisoning their begotten for a brief respite from family life.
Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook, claims that Mary Ann Cotton was the world’s most renowned “arsenic murderess.” Between 1865 and 1873 in the North of England, she murdered three of her four husbands, as well as a lover, to collect on their insurance policies. It’s believed that she could’ve killed up to 21 victims—including 11 of her 13 children—and was ultimately hanged for her crimes. Within that time frame, American Lydia Sherman operated in much the same vein. Using rat poison as her first toxin of choice, she offed her third husband by adding spoonfuls of the pesticide to his mug of hot chocolate.
You see? Those good old days of yesteryear are not as idyllic as we are led to believe. Nostalgia is a distorted rearview mirror whose surface is coated with rainbows, instead of aluminum, but some times are better misremembered anyway, particularly when we didn't actually experience them (insert wink emoticon for those whose diets are irony-deficient). The only true family-style "happy meals" not served at McDonalds are likely those imagined in the pages of fiction and written into scenes for children's films/ television shows. So with this fuzzy logic I looked forward to my backward glance at cartoon life as I myself sought to prepare an article for you dear readers that would kill two pterodactyls with one boulder: viz. write something vaguely Halloweenish and foodly.
I was going to subject you to a Dinner of the Damned cooked up by Dante's Inferno - a 9 course meal for those infernal circles of Hell. I wanted each course to be from Dante's 13th Century Fiorenza and directly correspond to an individual diner from each level, a representative of the group as a whole: letting the food course fit the sinner and his sin. To make it more relevant for the average reader of today's social media-infected crapitola (I'm not referring to you, of course, discerning reader),  my dinner guests would be culled from a list of trending celebrities, fictional characters, notorious murderers, sports icons, and historical figures who were born after Dante wrote his classic poem, but I soon realized that not only would the audience for such an undertaking be limited to those three people on earth (still amongst the living) who actually read Dante's Inferno in its entirety, but also that the article's scope would exceed the space that this humble column allows.  Honestly, I feel as though most months I already stretch the limits of readers' (and editors') patience with my prolix meanderings on the arcana of foodisms, BUT Dinner at Chez Dante's the only idea that occurred to me that hadn't already had volumes written about it ad nauseum in food circles ... probably for good reason! 

Gustave Doré's depiction of Minos judging sinners at the start of Canto


It's quite remarkable the ostensible appetite publishers and food writers believe homecooks have for the stuff. The pantheon of food literature written on everything remotely macabre is enough to choke the Kraken's throat. From Lemonysnicket's Pasta Puttanesca to the Addams Family's "Mushrooms Fester" and "Hearts Stuffed", to copious recipes adding a touch of eye of newt and suggesting popping over to the neighbors for a cup of cyanide. I found Harry Potter's Butterbeer Sauce with Golden Snitch Truffles and Nosebleed Nougats, Turkish Delights from The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Ring's Lemba Bread, Sleepy Hollow's Slapjacks. An endless array of whimsical ghoulish stomach-churners... there's even a Necronomicon Cookbook featuring such comestibles as Cthulhu Pot Pie and Chthonic Casserole of Yog Sothoth for the ardent H.P. Lovecraft fan. After all this, I still considered writing a recipe for Buffalo-style Hippogriff wings... but thought better of it. I didn't want teenybopper vegan Harry Potter fans (or their virtue-signaling parents) writing me death threats. Then I opted for riffing on MFK Fisher's, "How To Cook A Wolf" with "How To Cook A Werewolf", and, as she did in her essay, subtly turned it into an exposition on the current state of national politics, but lost the stomach for yet another didactic bit of social commentary served up as infotainment. This election season has already taken several huge slurps from the chicken soup of my soul.
Recreating Lucrezia Borgia's Banquet of Chestnuts seemed promising until I discovered it was more orgy than banquet: mostly just chestnuts scattered on the floor as guests ground each other into meat patties on top of their fragrant carpet of nuts. I was also disappointed to learn darling Lucrezia didn't really poison everyone she dined with. Dropping that theme, I then began research on great chefs who were murderers, but, although it turns out many sociopaths are attracted to restaurant work, none are actually chefs. Surprising, eh? I thought for sure I'd find a skeleton or two in Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen pantry.
From there to a Murderer's Row Dinner Banquet menu filled with final meal requests was just a hop, skip and a thump, but the Death Row'ers requests were disappointingly pedestrian (Hannibal Lecter would look askance at the mundane meal choices). Except, that is, for kidnapper and murderer, Victor Feguer, hanged in 1963 - the last person executed in Iowa. As his final meal, Victor requested a single olive with the pit still in it, with the hopes that it would grow into an olive tree from inside his body. Another request of note was interesting not so much for its content as for its wickedly ironic tone: Ricky Ray Rector was executed in 1992 for the 1981 murder of police officer Robert Martin in Conway, Arkansas. He requested steak, fried chicken, cherry Kool-Aid and pecan pie, but left the pecan pie on the side of the tray, telling the guards who came to take him to the execution chamber that he was "saving it for later." 
Even the infamous Jeffrey Dahmer, Milwaukee's favorite cannibal, American serial killer and sex offender left my ladle cold. He didn’t have a scheduled date for execution when he met his end, but, before fellow inmate, 25 year old Christopher Scarver, beat him to death, apparently he did consume what would undoubtedly be a USDA-approved last breaking of the fast: one hard-boiled egg, toast, cereal and coffee when he woke on the morning of November 28th, 1994. At 7:50am, Jeff and two other inmates were brought in to clean the prison gymnasium. Twenty minutes later, guards found Dahmer and one of the other inmates beaten severely, one hour and one minute later, Dahmer was pronounced dead en route to the local Divine Savior Hospital. Dahmer's head was destroyed with a broom handle, then smashed against the floor and wall. There was blood everywhere. The other inmate was in critical condition. Apparently, Jeff's last words to Scarver were, "I don't care if I live or die. Go ahead and kill me." Such a good sport. That led me to wondering what he used to give away as candy to trick-or-treaters...and attempting a little exposition on the Halloween habits of serial killers, but I reached yet another dead end. 
And on that cheery note, I direct you to the next platter of this article's smorgasbord:
A Munster's Family Menu.
THE MUNSTERS was a situation comedy on CBS between 1964-68. They were not as wonderfully weird as the Addams Family (whose popular show ran against The Munsters on a rival network at primetime). The Munsters lacked the income, sophistication and mordancy of the Addamses - they were the working class-version. Despite being supernatural creatures (with Frankenstein's monster as the head of the family, vampires for both mother and grandfather, a werewolf as an only child, a "normal" cousin who is adopted by the family, and a pet dragon), Herman and the clan were remarkably less outre than they were blithe spirits trying to get along in a world in which they couldn't quite assimilate, but not for lack of trying;  somehow, they still considered themselves a typical mid-20th century American nuclear family, much of the comedy in the script relied on a cheerful obliviousness to their effect on their human neighbors. The Munsters lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane in the city of Mockingbird Heights, a fictional suburb in California. The story lines were topical, incorporating themes of the era. Herman, like many husbands of the 1960s, is the sole wage-earner in the family; though Lily and Grandpa often made futile and hilarious attempts to assist him financially from time to time. Lily and Herman were depicted as equal partners in the marriage. A devoted housewife, Lily prepared most of the meals and eagerly encouraged her little boy Eddie to eat with a "Don't just sit there, wolf down your food." In one memorable episode, "Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?", in order to save Herman from divadom when a song Herman records became an instant hit on a popular radioshow, Grandpa Munster (who was not only a vampire but also a mad scientist concocting potions in his basement laboratory) baked his Nothin' Muffins promising his daughter Lily "one bite turns anything good into nothin", feeding them to Herman, ending Herman's singing career and all was doves and olive branches in the Munster household once more. 

The series often depicted the family eating together with gustatory relish on a diet that included the following:

Chopped Lizard Livers
Cold Rhinoceros Tongue Sandwiches.
Fillet of Dragon.
Eggs (Gloomy Side Up)
Cream of Vulture Soup (Herman's favorite)
Curried Lizard Casserole
Rolled Hyena-foot Roast
Bird's Nest Stew (Grandpa's favorite)
Warm Ladyfingers with Pickled Frog Ears
Dodo Bird Roast
Cream of Buzzard or Iguana Soup
Cactus Salad
Salamander Salad with Centipede Dressing
Bloody Mary or Bat's milk (served hot).
Devil's Food Cake for dessert




Well after the demise of the show, Al Lewis, the actor who played Grandpa Munster in the series, owned & ran his own Italian restaurant on Bleecker Street in Manhattan. Between 1987 to 1993, you could find the tall, affable Lewis—once a basketball star at Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York— on Bleecker and Leroy Streets. Grampa’s Bella Gente Italian is where he capitalized on his Munsters' fame, living a fruitful afterlife, parlaying his passion for plasma into one for pasta. I myself once enjoyed a perfectly adequate dish of linguine there just prior to its closing. Without so much as a whisper, the kitchen door eerily swung open. Dark and imposing against a swirling backdrop of steam rising from the pots of boiling water beyond, his theatrical figure in the doorway, tufts of gray hair, and arched eyebrows made him instantly recognizable even without the pasty makeup. He was the host of Bella Gente as well as the owner, personally meeting and seating every guest: spry, spirited looking very elegant and dapper dressed in a red bow tie and tweed suit (though I do remember being disappointed he wasn't dressed in the full Munster's vampire regalia, but I was young, please don't hold it against me). He'd stand out in front of his restaurant every night, beckon customers, happily posing for photos. After Grampa’s Bella Gente closed, Lewis opened two comedy clubs, and hosted a political talk show on WBAI in the 1990s - becoming a colorful addition to radical N.Y. City politics, as well as a frequent and raucous guest on the Howard Stern show, memorably haranguing the FCC with a flurry of bleepable expletives.



Lewis ran for governor in 1998 on the Green Party ticket (and scored 52,000 votes). An actor onstage and off, he indulged in a bit of self-mythologizing: "I'm not a politician. I've been a performer all my life. But I'm a very political person and have been that way fifty, sixty years. I was involved with topical events of the day like the attempt to stop the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, the imprisonment of Tom Mooney and Warren K. Billings, the trial and imprisonment of the Scottsboro Boys..." 
And: "Charles Manson babysat my kids," he once bragged. "He didn't chop no heads off. He was very nice with me."

A fascinating character who held a PhD in child psychology, Al Lewis seemed to have found the secret to living a happy life, "I absolutely must have fun at what I'm doing," he once said in an interview with the New York Daily News "If I don't, I leave, I quit. I don't care how much money is involved if the work is a drudge." He died at his Roosevelt Island home on February 3, 2006. At his funeral, one friend said, “Who was Al Lewis? A raconteur. The de facto mayor of Roosevelt Island. The best-dressed man on Roosevelt Island. He held court in front of 546 Main Street, the senior citizens center…” It should be noted that Grampa Munster’s signature ride, the ‘dragula’ gold coffin on wheels, rolled his remains up to the door of the church. 
Inspired by Grandpa Munster's penchant for mixing volatile politics like potions, I offer up these molten lava cakes - a bubbling cauldron of chocolate, but, unlike the cauldron featured in the song of the witches from Macbeth, you only need a few ingredients, none of which include howlet's wing. Save that for your next spell:

Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1
A dark Cave. In the middle, a Caldron boiling. Thunder.
Enter the three Witches
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin'd.
Harpier cries:—'tis time! 'tis time!
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.—
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
Witches' mummy; maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark;
Root of hemlock digg'd i the dark;
Liver of blaspheming Jew;
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips;
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,—
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.


MOLTEN LAVA CAKES


Crusty on the outside, all warm chocolate ooze on the inside, this is pure sensuality on a plate. The now ubiquitous dessert has remained a restaurant classic since its invention in the late 1980s & is one of the easiest ways for any homecook to replicate a Michelin-starred chef's dish (hell, even Betty Crocker sells a bastardized one-minute microwaveable version of it named Warm Delights, which are essentially single-serving bowls of regular old cake mix). In New York, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef-owner of JoJo, created the molten chocolate cake. It happened by accident: He pulled a chocolate sponge cake (the recipe is his mother’s) out of the oven too early, tasted the cake, and discovered that the raw gush of its underdone center was delectable. He called the cake a Chocolate Valrhona Cake, and served it with vanilla ice cream, and a new classic was born. I suggest you serve it with a raspberry coulis to make it more Halloweenish (though coffee, vanilla, caramel or peanut butter ice cream will all work, too.) Tell your brats the raspberry coulis is bat's blood, if they look down their noses at you for not providing something kitschier for them to eat. With any luck they'll stick to Kit Kats and candy corn and you can have these treats all to yourself! 




INGREDIENTS
½ cup unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the molds
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
4 large eggs
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting the molds

DIRECTIONS
Put the butter in a medium bowl and melt it in the microwave. Add the chocolate to the hot butter and stir until melted.
Crack 2 eggs into a bowl, and add 2 more yolks (discard the extra whites, or save & whip into a meringue as a fun topping for the cakes). Add the sugar, and beat or whisk until light and thick, about 1 minute. Add egg mixture and 2 teaspoons flour to the melted chocolate; beat until combined.
Butter and lightly flour four 4-ounce molds or ramekins (make sure not to miss any spots, or the cakes will stick). Tap out the excess flour. Divide the batter among the molds. (At this point you can refrigerate them for up to 3 hours; just bring them back to room temperature before baking.)
When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 450. Put the molds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the cakes have puffed up a bit, the tops are barely set and the cakes still jiggle slightly when shaken, 7 to 9 minutes (better underbaked than overbaked). Let sit for 1 minute.
Put a plate on top of the ramekin and (with a potholder to protect your hand) carefully invert the cake onto the plate. Let it sit for 10 seconds, then lift up the ramekin. Serve immediately with raspberry coulis (recipe below).

Serves 4 lucky ghouls.

RASPBERRY COULIS





INGREDIENTS
1⁄3 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons of water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 
1 lb fresh raspberries or 1 (12 ounce) bag frozen raspberries, thawed
1 teaspoon kirsch (optional) or 1 teaspoon framboise eau-de-vie (optional)


DIRECTIONS

Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the sugar dissolves completely, about 5 minutes.
Put the raspberries, lemon juice, and the sugar syrup in a blender and puree.
Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds and stir in the kirsch or framboise, if using.
The sauce keeps well, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for 4-5 days and freezes perfectly for several months.
Yields 1 1/2 cups




Thursday, September 8, 2016

Better Safe Than Sorry: On Food Safety



“Open your mind to what I shall disclose, and hold it fast within you; he who hears, but does not hold what he has heard, learns nothing.” 
― Dante AlighieriParadiso



It's gleaming white. A font of purity. Grateful for its cool porcelain embrace, you're prostrated before it, awash in the fluorescence of this peculiar sanctuary's baptismal light. You could be a mendicant, hoping for a few crumbs of charity from the gods of intestinal fortitude as you grip tight onto the bowl's contours, but the sheer force of the projectile issuing from your praying mouth, rattling your knees and jangling your nerves, is no offering to a Supreme Being. It's the result of yet another bout of food poisoning. Amazing to think how something as tiny as a microbe from the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni could fell a mighty oak like you, but it does. There is no lovely poetic way of writing about it (though I did once pen a sonnet to Diarrhea just because I hate writing sonnets), so let's just ummm.... plunge right in, shall we?

Campylobacter jejuni is a common cause of food poisoning. Contaminated poultry, meat and milk are sources of infection. It can take up to 3 days for the symptoms to develop. I, sad to say, have had it, and who knows how many other foodborne illnesses to boot. I have spent many a miserable day in its grips places as far flung as Hong Kong to right here in my humble Russian Hill apartment. There is no safe haven from food poisoning. Let's face it, even if you cook your meals, unless you have your own farm, butcher your own meat, grow and harvest your own vegetables, and are scrupulously hygienic all the while, you are at the mercy of thousands of what are likely unwashed hands handling every morsel you munch which means the risk of succumbing to a foodborne germ or illness is high.

In fact, according to the CDC, each year, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. That's about 48 million people - 128, 000 of them are hospitalized with 5, 000 of those cases being fatal.

Many different disease-causing microbes, or pathogens, can contaminate foods, so there are many different foodborne infections, almost as many infections, it seems, as there are foods that can carry them. More than 250 different foodborne diseases have been described. Most of these diseases are infections, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be foodborne. In addition, poisonous chemicals, or other harmful substances can cause foodborne diseases if they are present in food.

Gastro-intestinal distress is a common symptom of all these maladies, no matter what the source. It isn't just raw food that is the culprit. Foods and beverages (particularly juices) prepared in restaurants, supermarket delis, anywhere and everywhere that cooked food is handled and served, including private homes (YOUR home) can be a veritable petri dish of contaminants.

Campylobacter infections commonly cause diarrhea and occasionally bacteremia, with consequent endocarditis, osteomyelitis, or septic arthritis. Campylobacter species are motile, curved, microaerophilic, gram-negative bacilli that normally inhabit the GI tract of many domestic animals and fowl. Several species are human pathogens. The major pathogens are C. jejuni and C. fetus. C. jejuni causes diarrhea in all age groups, although peak incidence appears to be from age 1 to 5 yr. C. jejuni can cause meningitis in infants. Contact with infected animals (eg, puppies) and ingestion of contaminated food (especially undercooked poultry) or water have been implicated in outbreaks. Person-to-person transmission through fecal-oral and sexual contact may also occur. However, in sporadic cases, the source of the infecting organism is frequently obscure. Although Campylobacter jejune is a well recognized infection associated with GBS, stool culture for Campylobacter jejuni is not essential for diagnosis. By the time the disease presents stool cultures are often negative.

Then of course, we have more in our foodborne illness buffet:

1) Enterotoxigenic E. coli causes the classic traveler's diarrhea. The infection is non-invasive and is acquired via the fecal-oral route through consumption of unbottled water or uncooked vegetables. The major manifestation is a copious outpouring of fluid from the GI tract presenting as explosive diarrhea. This is due to the action of one of two types of enterotoxins on the GI tract mucosa.

2) Shigella sonnei produces a syndrome very similar to C. jejuni. However, the organism appears as a gram-negative rod on Gram's stain. It does not have a comma shape. Transmission is from person to person via the fecal-oral route. Infection requires a low infective dose since the organism is fairly resistant to gastric acidity.

3) Staphylococcus aureus produces food poisoning due to the ingestion of a pre-formed enterotoxin. The organism is present in food that is high in salt content such as potato salad, custard, milk shakes, and mayonnaise. The patient presents with nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, followed by diarrhea beginning 1-6 hours after ingestion of the enterotoxin.

4) Vibrio cholerae produces a secretory diarrhea due to increases in cAMP in the intestinal cells. The organism is not invasive. The patient presents with the sudden onset of painless, watery diarrhea that becomes voluminous, followed by vomiting. The stool appears nonbilious, gray, and slightly cloudy with flecks of mucus, no blood, and a sweet odor.

And these are just the first four pathogens I picked out of a bucket of KFC Popcorn Nuggets. There are many, many more; each of them oodles of fun to describe, but I'll spare you my interpretations and provide you with this fun-filled graphic instead:



What to do?

It's not like we are going to stop eating or drinking anytime soon, much as I'd love to think I could subsist on love like every ethereal creature should. So... 

The CDC has a few recommendations:



1) CLEAN:

Wash hands and food preparation surfaces often. And wash fresh fruits and vegetables carefully. Keep all the surfaces, utensils (chef's knives and cutting boards) separate and clean. Anything raw that is to be cooked needs a separate cutting board, from anything that is going to be eaten raw. For instance:

Don't cut up chicken on a cutting board and then chop up tomatoes for a salad on that same cutting board with the same knife. Wash everything as you are preparing food, most especially when handling poultry. Almost 75% of chickens carry the Campylobacter jejuni bacteria which is why, in general, I try to handle poultry as little as possible, cooking it in large pieces before actually slicing it; though on the rare occasion, I do succumb to my husband's yen for General Tso's or Lemon Chicken and slice the raw into bite-sized morsels for breading and stir-frying, but when I do, I am washing my hands, sink, knives, and even faucet handles obsessively. Bleach mixed with water or bleach sprays with paper towels are good things to have right at your elbow whilst preparing high risk foods. Chicken blood is the worst, contain & clean it immediately if you have a spill on your counter.

2) SEPARATE:

Don't cross-contaminate! How you store and handle your food is of primary concern. When handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods - even when traveling from the supermarket to home. Make sure they are bagged separately. A hot rotisserie chicken should go in its own bag! Cross-contamination is the transfer of microbes from raw foods to prepared and cooked foods, it can take place by:

raw food touching or splashing on cooked food
raw food touching equipment or surfaces that are then used for cooked food
people touching raw food with their hands and then handling cooked food

To prevent cross-contamination it is important to maintain good kitchen hygiene such as storing cooked and raw food separately and good personal hygiene by washing hands correctly and tying hair back.

3) COOK:

Cook the food to the right temperature.
The bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in the “Danger Zone” between 40˚ and 140˚ Fahrenheit. And while many people think they can tell when food is “done” simply by checking its color and texture, there’s no way to be sure it’s safe without following a few important but simple steps:


Use a food thermometer.
Cooked food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Color and texture alone won’t tell you whether your food is done, especially less experienced cooks. Instead, use a food thermometer to be sure.
Keep food hot after cooking (at 140 ˚F or above).
The possibility of bacterial growth actually increases as food cools after cooking because the drop in temperature allows bacteria to thrive. But you can keep your food above the safe temperature of 140˚F by using a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker. So your supermarket macaroni & cheese that you just stuck in to-go container may make you sick, unless it's kept hot and consumed hot.
Microwave all reheated food to 165 degrees.

*Note: I will never serve lamb, beef, or duck at 160 degrees, unless it's stewed. I serve steaks and racks rare to medium rare.. 125 degrees to 140 degrees. This is a risk I am willing to take, but when reheating stews & soups, I make sure it is piping hot - at least 165 degrees. As far as fish is concerned, I love my sushi, sashimi, and tartares, but if the fish is not absolutely pristine? I won't eat it. Know the source of your foods. Understand the practices of your food purveyors, too. 


However, here are the recommended USDA Guidelines:




Remember... Microbes like all living organisms need food for energy and growth. Sometimes microbes get in or on food and start to break it down to provide them with energy and nutrients. Microbial growth causes the food to look, taste and / or smell unappetizing, but it may very well be contaminated before that stage. 
Follow this simple maxim:

When in doubt? Throw it out.


4) CHILL:
At room temperature, bacteria in food can double every 20 minutes. The more bacteria there are, the greater the chance you could become sick. So, refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying.
A mold is a type of fungus. Fungal spores (these are like the seeds of a plant) are all around us in the air. These spores can land on the fruit. If it is warm and moist the fungal spores grow. They send out very fine thread-like structures called hyphae. The molds that grow on fruit and vegetables produce enzymes that weaken the protective outer skin allowing penetration by the hyphae. The hyphae grow down into the fruit, digest it and absorb the nutrients. These threads criss-cross each other to form a large tangled structure known as a mycelium. The hyphae produce stalks that grow upwards. Spores form at the end of the stalks and are released into the air to start the process over again. Eventually the fruit becomes covered in a furry coat and is not fit to eat.

Food preservation reduces the rate at which food decays by slowing down the rate of growth of microbes or eliminating them. It can affect the flavor and texture of the food. Preservation techniques include, refrigeration, freezing, drying sterilization, curing with salts &/or sugars and pasteurization.

Fresh raw meat can be safely stored 3-5 days in your refrigerator.
Poultry should only be kept 1-2 days. Keep them in the coldest part of your unit. The following graphic will provide good guidelines to follow for the storage of a variety of foods
(click on the graphic to view full-sized):


The ideal temperature range for your fridge is 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria growth starts tripling around the 40 degree mark and things freeze at 32, so stick with 35 to 38 as a goal. 
The freezer should be set at 0 °F. Since few refrigerator controls show actual temperatures, using an inexpensive freestanding appliance thermometer will allow you to monitor the temperature and adjust the setting of the refrigerator and/or freezer if necessary. Buy one for the fridge, one for the freezer, and check them often. Most newer appliances have readouts, but if you don't or are in doubt, you can always buy a refrigerator-freezer thermometer at your local hardware store or online at sites like Amazon.  In addition to keeping the temperature in your fridge below 40 °F, you can take additional steps to make sure your refrigerated foods stay as safe as possible.

Avoid "Overpacking."
Cold air must circulate around refrigerated foods to keep them properly chilled.

Wipe Up Spills Immediately.
In addition to helping reduce the growth of the Listeria bacteria (which can grow at refrigerated temperatures), getting rid of spills — especially drips from thawing meats — will help prevent "cross-contamination," where bacteria from one food spread to another.

Keep It Covered:
Store refrigerated foods in covered containers or sealed storage bags, and check leftovers daily for spoilage.

Clean The Fridge Out Frequently.
Make this task part of your kitchen cleaning routine!


Whether you're dealing with leftovers or just-purchased foods, it's important to get foods that need refrigeration into your fridge quickly. Leaving perishable foods out for two hours or more allows bacteria to multiply rapidly — and can put you at serious risk of contracting foodborne illness.

Groceries: When you get home from the grocery store, put your refrigerated items away as quickly as possible. Never allow raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or produce that requires refrigeration to sit at room temperature for more than two hours; the limit is one hour if the air temperature is above 90 °F. (If you're not sure whether certain produce requires refrigeration, ask your grocer.)   
Also, keep in mind that your car is probably even hotter than typical room temperature, so it's important not to leave groceries in your car longer than absolutely necessary — and never more than 2 hours (or 1 hour on a hot day).

Leftovers: These need to be refrigerated or frozen within two hours, as well. Despite what some people believe, putting hot food in the refrigerator doesn't harm the appliance. To help hot food cool faster, divide leftovers into smaller containers before putting them in the refrigerator.


Doggie Bags and Take-out Foods: Again, the "two-hour rule" applies to carry-home foods. Leftovers from takeout or restaurant meals need to go into the refrigerator within two hours at most. If you can't get home within two hours after eating out, don't request a doggie bag.


Marinated Foods: Always keep food in the refrigerator while it's marinating. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in foods left to marinate at room temperature. Also, remember this tip for marinating safely: never reuse marinating liquid as a sauce unless you bring it to a rapid boil first.

Thaw with Care: Because bacteria can multiply so rapidly in unrefrigerated food, it's simply unsafe to let food thaw at room temperature. If left unrefrigerated, some organisms can create toxins that will survive the cooking process even if the food is cooked to temperatures that kill the bacteria themselves.

There are three ways to thaw safely: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. If you thaw food in cold water, change the water every half hour to make sure it stays cold. Foods thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately after thawing.


*****

I realize this is not a very appealing topic and after reading all this the sane person is likely to go on a diet of crackers and alcohol - most booze is mercifully free of foodborne pathogens (low-alcohol beers, however, are still susceptible), but let us be reasonable and rational consumers of comestibles and just exercise a bit of caution when purchasing, cooking, and storing food instead. Most municipalities have a Board of Health which oversees restaurants, delis & supermarkets, check your favorite haunts for their Restaurant Safety Scores. 

Better safe than sorry.