Donna Maurillo, Food for Thought
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Donna Maurillo, Food for Thought

Oct 18, 2023

What a weekend! I was down with food poisoning. Trust me, you don't want it! I was miserable for three days, sick and dehydrated. Where did it come from? I have a few clues – probably a restaurant meal – but this condition is so hard to pin down that I really don't know for sure. It could even be a stomach bug because they’re so much alike.

You don't need a restaurant meal to get food poisoning. You can get it from your own kitchen. To save you some misery (and it is misery), here are several ways to help prevent it.

First, I’ve known people who love rare hamburgers. Don't do that. Rare steak is one thing. The inside of the steak is protected from external bugs, so if you cook the outside, you’re generally good.

Ground meat is a whole other story. Most beef is contaminated with fecal bacteria from the slaughterhouses. When you run it through the meat grinder, all those surfaces become further contaminated. So, you want to cook ground meat all the way through. No exceptions.

In your kitchen, have the disinfectant wipes at the ready. I’m always chasing after Gary to wipe up the countertops after he's put raw meat on them. If you have tiles with grout, you have to be especially careful. That's why I put in granite – no crevices for bacteria to hide.

Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and raw vegetables. I use silicone pads because they’re easy to wash – red for meat, gray for vegetables. Clean up like you’re going over a crime scene. Wipe up spills and meat drippings right away.

If you are eating raw fruit or vegetables, then rinse them thoroughly in a salad spinner or colander. Imagine how many people's dirty hands have touched those peppers or strawberries before they reached your kitchen.

Wash your hands between different foods. If you’ve handled raw chicken, wash before touching those peaches. Almost all raw chicken has salmonella. Don't spread it to the salad. If your hands get dried out from all that washing, wear nitrile gloves and wash your hands while the gloves are still on.

No, your kitchen doesn't have to be sterilized. A lot of this is just common sense. But I’ve seen some poor food handling practices in people's kitchens. My goal is to keep my friends or family safe when they dine at my home.

How much food is wasted in the United States each year? Would you believe 120 billion pounds? We complain about the cost of food, but then we throw it into the trash if it doesn't look picture-perfect.

Here's how to save money and put a dent in that waste. Bruised apples, for instance, are great for applesauce, pies and tarts. Just cut off the bruised parts and cook the rest. Same with peaches and pears.

Wilted carrots can be stuck upright in a glass of cold water to revive them. Or toss them into a soup, where crispness doesn't matter. Same with wilted lettuce. As long as it doesn't have mushy spots, you can refresh it in a bowl of ice water and use it for salad.

Overripe tomatoes (NOT moldy ones) can be used for gazpacho, soup, sauce or salsa. Berries that are past their prime (again, not moldy) can go into pies, jam or sauces. Or whirl them in a blender and make fruity popsicles. And of course, overripe bananas or zucchini can be turned into tea breads.

Wilted herbs can be stuck into a glass of cold water, like flowers, and they’ll perk up. Or place them in a dehydrator for dried herbs. You can do the same in an oven overnight with the light on. Don't turn on the heat.

Just be careful of anything with mold. The tentacles can go deep into the produce and create toxins. Toss the entire thing into the compost bin.

My photos of Italy are on display at Casa Nostra Italian restaurant, Highway 9, Ben Lomond through the end of June. Go for lunch or dinner, and enjoy the show.

A sprinkle of herbs can perk up a lackluster dish. Rice, for example, looks good with paprika or cinnamon on top. Or try cut corn with parsley, sliced tomatoes with chopped fresh basil, mashed potatoes with sage, or green beans with chopped pimiento.

Fruit tarts always look wonderful in the bakery case. But you can make your own and impress everyone with your skills. Tarts always look like they took more trouble than they actually do. Here's an easy one.


Serves 8

Special Equipment

9-inch tart pan with removable bottom


For the crust

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

½ cup butter (1 stick), softened

For the filling

½ cup heavy whipping cream

½ cup mascarpone cheese (or softened cream cheese)

2-3 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Assorted fresh fruit, such as raspberries, halved strawberries, blueberries, green grapes, plum slices, kiwi slices, etc.


1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or in a food processor), mix together the confectioners’ sugar, flour, and salt. Add the butter in pieces. Mix to combine until it forms clumps.

3. Place the dough into the tart pan, and press with your fingers to make an even layer, including up the sides of the pan. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork. Place the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up.

4. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet on the center rack of the oven. Bake about 12-15 minutes or until the crust is golden. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool.

5. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the mascarpone, cream, sugar, and vanilla until it forms soft peaks.

6. Evenly spread the cheese mixture into the cooled crust. Top with assorted fruit, either scattered randomly or in a pattern.

7. Chill for an hour. To serve, lift the bottom of the tart pan away from the sides. With a spatula, loosen the crust from the pan, and carefully slide the tart onto a serving plate.

Note: You can use a 10-inch pie pan for this, and it tastes just as good.

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