True or False? 6 Common Food Questions Answered

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Photo by Matt MacGillivray
Lots of mysteries lurking at the average grocery store

There are a lot of misconceptions and myths floating around in our world today about the things we like to eat and drink. I hear a lot of strange "rules" at the grocery store where I work, and of course from people I know outside of my job. Here are a few that I think are pretty interesting.

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Photo by Loozrboy
I guess this is one way to avoid contaminating your kitchen

6. You must wash chicken before cooking it.

I've heard this since I was a kid. Uncooked chicken is dirty and needs to be thoroughly washed before it is cooked. Is this true? The answer is "No!" And, in fact, it's a really bad idea.

Cooking chicken to proper temperature will destroy bacteria, but washing a dead uncooked bird in your kitchen is asking for trouble, since any dangerous bacteria present can easily be sloshed all over other surfaces in the kitchen, landing on prep areas, other food, or your own skin. So, no, rinsing a chicken off before cooking it is a very bad idea that actually worsens the problem it's supposed to help.

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Photo by Steven Depolo
Delicious meal or clever strategy to sell meat before it's inedible?

5. Markets pre-marinate meat to disguise the fact that it's going bad.

Customers ask me about this this all the time when they see that we have marinated beef and chicken for sale. So do meat markets marinate items in order to disguise the fact that the item is getting old? The answer is:

Maybe.

A huge part of running a successful meat business is managing product freshness. Not to sound gross, but from the time an animal is slaughtered, its meat begins to decay. There are procedures every step of the way from slaughter to the store that help to slow the rate of decomposition, but no meat market manager wants to just throw away hundreds of dollars of meat because it didn't sell fast enough, and is starting to rot. So what do they do? Well, there are lots of things that they might try. Freezing overstock is one technique, another is putting a product on sale if the amount they have on hand exceeds normal demand.

Then there are other ways, making sausage being a huge one. Adding a sausage cure to meat that's nearing its expiration prolongs its edibility.

Or they might marinate certain cuts that aren't "rotting" to the point of being inedible, but that don't look as fresh as they might have a day earlier.

I've never worked anywhere that would knowingly sell customers rotting meat, and good market management should avoid having lots of overstocked product laying around getting old anyway. The only time that I've ever marinated meat at a place I've worked, it was all very fresh, but I can't speak for everyone.

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8 Vegetarian Foods That Are Delicious

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Photo by LL Barkat
Vegetarian sausages are but one of many choices for those on meatless diets these days.

People who decide to become vegetarians, or who at least want to limit the amount of meat in their diets, often find it difficult to give up certain foods they've been long accustomed to. The idea of maybe never eating another hamburger is a daunting one for anyone who has grown up eating them.

Working in a health-food store, I encounter a lot of newer vegetarians, and also people who've been living without meat for years, who are looking for more options to add to their diets. Many vegetarians eventually just start making most of their meals from scratch, but for those who desire convenience or don't possess the kitchen skills to get beyond mixing a salad, there are plenty of choices that are either ready out of the box or just need to be warmed up.

I asked a couple of good friends who have lived for decades without meat in their diets for good suggestions to seek out at the grocery store. Here are some vegetarian foods to check out:

8. Amy's Kitchen Quarter Pound Veggie Burger

My pal Tommy Thunders (Yes, that's his name) swears by these large veggie burgers. Amy's Kitchen seems to be a major player in the vegetarian convenience food market, and everything I've ever had from them has been tasty, particularly their enchiladas and Indian dishes. The Quarter Pound Veggie Burger is described this way on Amy's Kitchen's website:

"Amy's Quarter Pound Veggie Burger combines fresh organic grains and vegetables with protein-rich soybeans and a hint of barbeque sauce to create a firm, great tasting burger that's perfect for barbecuing or grilling." That, combined with Tommy's endorsement, is enough to steer me towards this burger the next time I'm at the store.

7. Field Roast Brand Sausages

Tommy also suggested these, and I sell them at the store where I work. They really are exceptional vegetarian alternatives to meat sausages. The flavors are great, and they have a texture similar to that of meat sausages, something that can be difficult to achieve. The sausages come in three flavors, and the description from the company's website is mouthwatering:

Italian - made with fresh eggplant and packed with fennel, red wine, garlic and sweet peppers.

Mexican Chipotle - a spicy-hot blend of smoked Chipotle peppers, Chili de Arbol peppers, fresh chopped garlic, sweet onions seasoned with cumin seed and oregano.

Smoked Apple Sage - a savory combination of apples and sage anchored with Yukon gold potatoes with a subtle hint of hickory smoke.

Pro tip from Tommy: These sausages are awesome eaten like hot dogs, on a bun with barbecue sauce and cheddar.

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Do You Really Have to Wait Half an Hour After Eating to Swim?

Categories: For Your Health

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Photo by Tommy Wong
Note: Falling asleep in a pool is definitely not a good idea.
We all heard it at some point in our childhood:

"You can't go in the water yet! You just ate! Wait half an hour and sit there quietly, otherwise you'll drown!"

A stern warning from mom about drowning/vomiting/mean cramps was enough to strike fear into the hearts of most children, but there were always those skeptics--the kids who swore that it was a-OK to down a hot dog and jump right back into the swimming pool.

As adults, we tend to think a little more carefully about the warnings our parents issued during our childhood. Will walking outside in the rain when it's chilly really make you get a cold? (No.) Will your face really freeze that way? (Absolutely not.) Can you die from swimming right after eating?!

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Recipe: Mediterranean Seven-Layer Dip

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Seven-layer Mediterranean Dip (small size)

Seven-layer dip (also known as "Mexican" or "Taco" dip) is awesome. Recipes vary but most involve strata of refried beans, sour cream, guacamole, cheese, tomatoes or salsa, ground beef, black olives, green onions, and/or peppers.

From the list of aforementioned ingredients, it's easy to surmise that seven-layer dip is not terribly healthful in its most traditional form. Yes, you can easily lighten it by using low-fat or lower-salt versions of the seven components; however, for a healthier albeit different spin on this classic party appetizer, go south of (French) border for inspiration.

Many of the traditional mezze, spreads, and condiments of the Mediterranean region in combination give rise a lovely, lighter-style seven-layer dip with more protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and nutrients. "It's European," you can brag to your guests, just before taking a huge honkin' scoopful and shoving in it your mouth. The recipe, after the jump.
This article continues on the next page.

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The Not-So-Secret Garden: Six Houston Restaurants That Grow Their Own Grub

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Photo courtesy Coltivare
While eating on Coltivare's back patio, you might catch a chef picking produce from the garden.
In this week's cafe review, I take a look at Coltivare, the new restaurant from Revival Market's Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber. The small but alarmingly busy spot has been getting a lot of buzz not just about the unique Italian-inspired menu, but also about the ample backyard garden that supplies much of the restaurant's produce.

Back before the restaurant opened, I was treated to a media preview dinner at Coltivare. After trying a few dishes, I was taken into the backyard to see the garden. It was already dark, but in the light from nearby street lamps, I could see tiny buds poking out of rich soil.

Coltivare's public relations manager Geralyn Graham took me around the various raised beds, pointing out what each newly sprouting sliver of green would become. It was January and still quite chilly, but I could already picture how lush the garden would become under Houston's warm spring sun.


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Oscar Mayer's New Cold Cuts Are Really Spicy and That's No Bologna

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Two of the new line of "Bold" deli meats from Oscar Mayer

"That's some spicy sliced turkey," is not a phrase I ever anticipated coming out of my mouth. But, then, I also didn't anticipate really liking a sandwich involving cold cuts. While I'm a big fan of Italian deli meats, I've never really latched onto to the standard American sliced turkey, ham, etc. I generally find them rather bland, salty but not savory, with a texture akin to damp felt.

Knowing I am perpetually interested in new supermarket products, a friend of mine alerted me to the introduction of a new line of "bold" cold cuts from Oscar Mayer. I was dubious, but embracing the mantra "everything is worth trying once," I sampled the Cajun Style Turkey Breast, Chipotle Seasoned Chicken Breast, and the Cracked Pepper Turkey Breast.

All are made with no artificial flavors and colors. Good thing, as I shudder to think we are living in a world where manufacturers and consumers prefer to use fake cracked pepper.

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How Green Was My Cookie! Healthy Baked Goods From Green Plate Foods

Categories: For Your Health

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Strawberry Jam, Super Brownie, Banana Chocolate Chip Mini-Muffins

While I certainly consumed a lot of emerald-colored food and drink in celebration of St. Patrick's Day, most of what I ate and drank wasn't "green" in the sense of healthful. Nothing like, that is to say, the offerings at Green Plate Foods, which reached out to me a few days before St. Paddy's with promising information on their "nutrient-rich snacks with nothing artificial."

"Hmm," I thought. "Why not take a break from Pillsbury brownies and processed icing and eat something 'naturally' sweet'?" Other than a piece of fruit, I mean.

Founder and CEO of Green Plate Foods (and Houston resident) Lisa Pounds started this wholesale and retail catering company because she was frustrated with the unhealthy food options she found in her daughter's day-to-day life. Determined to craft a better solution, Pounds created Green Plate Foods to prove to people that craveable treats can be healthy.

The company sells a full line of salads, snacks, sandwiches, and breakfast items, but I was most interested in their baked goods, many of which are vegan, gluten-free, and/or made with fruit and vegetable purees.

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Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Five Ways

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Photo by Krista
You eat with your eyes first, so mix in tons of colorful veggies and get playful with the presentation.
If you're trying to watch your weight or eat healthier, there is no doubt you've come across the chicken lettuce wrap. A big leaf of lettuce is the perfect, low-carb vehicle for chunks of lean chicken and veggies, especially when we're gearing up for swimsuit season.

But there's much more to chicken lettuce wraps than the Chinese-stir-fried chicken varieties that are popular in restaurants across the nation. From bar-food favorites to wraps that will taste like an island vacation, here are five Chicken Lettuce Wraps for your eating pleasure:


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Local Couple Seeks to Improve School Lunches With Wholesome Tummies Franchise

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Photos courtesy of Wholesome Tummies
Michael Alba and his wife, Donna, launched Wholesome Tummies in Houston in August 2013.
One of the most pressing issues concerning childhood obesity deals specifically with the lunches and snacks that are served to students in schools. For years, many people have fought to force schools to serve healthier lunches. In 2010, British chef Jamie Oliver began his "Food Revolution" in America, hoping to improve school lunches and educate children and parents about healthier diets. Although he faced obstacles in public schools when he attempted to bring in fresh foods, eliminate sugary chocolate and strawberry milk, and prove fresh food tastes better than highly processed and fried food, he sparked great conversation and debate about juvenile health and nutrition.

Houston has been deemed "the fattest city in America" by Men's Fitness, and that's nothing to joke about, because the problem doesn't begin and end with adults; it affects children of this generation and generations to come, as well.

This is where Michael Alba and his family come into play. In August 2013, Alba, along with his wife, daughter and sons, began operating Wholesome Tummies, a national franchise that provides healthy lunches to schools.

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Paula Deen's Son Is Coming to Houston, and He Wants You to Buy His New Book

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Bobby Deen will be signing copies of his new book on February 12 at Brazos Bookstore.
Bobby Deen is coming to Houston, and he's excited about it.

"I love Houston!" he enthused over the telephone. "I have friends in Houston and I love it -- I love Texas! I was just in Houston a few months ago, in fact, and had a lot of fun."

Tickets are on sale now for Deen's February 12 appearance at Brazos Bookstore to promote his new cookbook, Bobby Deen's Everyday Eats. The Food Network host and author (and son of Paula Deen) is eager to share his new work with the fans who made his first cookbook so successful.

"Taking these traditional Southern recipes and lightening them up is a concept that really resonated with people," he said. "Not only did it work in book form; it works in television form. My television show is really based on these very same principles, and it's really well-received."

The latest Deen offering presents 120 brand-new, health-conscious, easy-to-prepare recipes that he promises can all be ready in 30 minutes or less.

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