Surviving ‘til black Friday

Nov. 12, 2013 @ 10:15 AM

So I asked The Kid if there was anything I should include in this week’s column; Thanksgiving with an emphasis on food safety.  My little chef wrote this informative discourse:

“This holiday season, please don't kill your family.

Or, as is more likely, please don't give your family food poisoning. My guess is that you are all wiping up surfaces with soap and water. Keep it up. Beyond that, two big things, at least for me, are refrigeration organization and temperatures.

Please keep your turkey at the very bottom of your fridge, and cooked and ready-to-eat food at the top. Because your raw turkey will drip onto your green bean casserole and you will get sick and die. But really, the rule of thumb is that the higher temperature something has to be cooked to, the lower it should be in your fridge.

Speaking of temperatures, if your food is between 41 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, you are just like Kenny Loggins; you are in the Danger Zone. You don't need to immediately toss things out if they are in the danger zone, but they shouldn't hang out there. You have just under four hours before you need to be really concerned. This is also why you should avoid thawing meat all the way outside of your fridge. The danger zone is a perfect temperature range to allow bacteria to grow.

Best way to check and see if you are in the danger zone? An instant read thermometer. Just make sure it is calibrated. Stick it in a glass of ice water, and if it reads 32 degrees, you are good to go.

Have fun, stay safe, and please keep your family alive.” 

Thanks for the info, Kid.

Another potentially dangerous tradition is stuffing the bird.  To serve it with confidence, you need to cook stuffing to a temperature of 165 degrees.  And by the time your Pepperidge Farm goodness reaches that temp, the surrounding turkey meat will be over-cooked to the point of jerky.

The safe bet is to make dressing.  Mix all your traditional stuffing ingredients, and cook them in a separate casserole dish.  Just make sure it reaches 165.

Or maybe go a whole different way.  Recently I attended a reception at the Washington Duke Inn and Chef Jason Cunningham laid out a spread of some items from his new fall menu.

One dish would be perfect as a substitution for stuffing — his butternut squash and wild rice gratin.  It’s really delicious, and just right for a holiday meal.  Chef Jason kindly gave me his recipe to share.

Butternut Squash and Wild Rice Gratin

Makes 4 individual servings or 1 large to serve 4 people


½ cup cooked long grain wild rice

1 cup medium diced butternut squash, cooked and cooled

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup heavy cream

3 medium eggs, beaten

Pinch Kosher Salt

Fresh Ground pepper to taste


•Assemble all ingredients as listed and preheat oven to 325 degrees

•Prepare 4 individual (4 ounce) ramekins or soufflé cups or a medium bake-proof casserole by spraying with cooking spray or greasing with butter

•In a small bowl toss together the rice, squash and cheese and season lightly with salt and pepper

•In a second bowl whisk together the eggs and the cream

•Place the squash/rice mixture in the ramekins (divide evenly) or the casserole

•Pour the egg/cream mixture over the squash and rice just to cover and evenly coat ingredients

•Place the ramekins or casserole on a deep baking sheet or inside a larger pan and fill the pan with water to create a water bath. The water should come up to the half-way point on the side of the baking dish.

•Transfer the water bath with custards to the oven and cook until set; approximately 30 minutes for the individuals and a bit longer if making a larger one. Cook until a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out clean.

So this turkey day, to make it out alive, practice food safety in your kitchen.  And at the table, don’t talk religion, politics, or ask Great Aunt Edna about her gall bladder.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is