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Prepared Meals, Beef Braising, and Considering a New Fridge
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Prepared Meals

Nutrition experts and secret shoppers from Consumer Reports recently investigated prepared meals at several major supermarket chains in the Northeast region. Here’s a few findings:

  • There’s a steep price to pay for the convenience; you may “save” time, but that’s about it (sometimesyou’ll find a good deal, money and time-wise). For example, mashed potatoes at Shoprite checked out at $4.99 a pound! 
  •  
  • If something says “freshly made“, it doesn’t always mean fresh ingredients. It’s implied that by ordering at a counter with chef-like personnel, you’re getting a ‘home-cooked‘ meal or close to it (you may be picturing cooks in the back putting a delicious, hot meal together; but according to Consumer Reports, only about half of the dishes purchased for their tests were made on the spot (some dishes weren’t even made in the same zip code area as the store).
  •  
  • When it comes to portion control, most prepared meals have no suggested serving price; and because these are purchased either by weight or by the piece, a ‘serving size‘ is left up to you to determine (for the most part). Research has shown that big containers of food tend to result in bigger portions on the plates, says David Just, Ph.D., a professor at Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.
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  • Like a lot of salt? Did you know that most of sodium in the American diet comes from salt added to processed and restaurant food? But Consumer Reports also found that there’s also a lot of sodium in those prepared meals.

Braising Tips for Beef

 

Braising comes from the French word “braiser“; it’s a combination cooking method that uses both moist and dry heat. The food is usually seared at a high temperature, then finished in a covered pot or pan at a lower temperature while sitting in some amount of liquid, which may also add flavor. The purpose of braising is to break down the connecting tissues, thus enhancing the meat’s tenderness.

Some examples of cuts that are usually braised include:

Chuck (Chuck Eye Roast, Chuck Arm Roast, Chuck Shoulder Roast and Short Ribs)

Brisket (Brisket Point Roast, Whole Brisket and Brisket Flat Roast)

Shank (Whole Beef Shanks and Cross Cut Shanks)

Round (Boneless Rump Roast, Top Round Roast, Eye Round Roast and Bottom Round Roast)

First, brown the roast, using a large pan and some oil over high heat, seasoning the meat first.

Then, once the roast is browned, ‘deglaze‘ the pan, using wine or some of the liquid that will be used in the braising process, to capture drippings from the pan (very flavorful!).

Once the roast is browned, place it, along with all of the liquid including the pan drippings, in a deep roasting pan or Dutch oven. Cover the top of the pan as tightly as possible (enables the steam and pressure to build up during the oven cooking process).

The liquid for the braising process can vary depending on the particular meal you’re trying to make; for example, beef broth can be used for a pot roast. Root vegetables can also be added in the pan if desired.

The oven process is usually done at 250 degrees and can vary from 3 to 8 hours (depending on the cut of meat and the size). When the meat’s properly braised, it should shred easily with a fork.

New Refrigerator Features

The fresh food trend has made not only an impact on American supermarkets; it’s also impacted refrigerator design.

An outstanding example is the Samsung Chef Collection (RF34H9960S4-retais for $6,000), which has earned top scores from Consumer Reports, particularly for its unique four-door configuration: the bottom-right chamber can switch from freezer to refrigerator for those who would prefer more produce than frozen goods. “Our data shows that most people are keeping that flex chamber in the refrigerator mode most of the time,” said Justin Reinke, director of refrigeration product marketing at Samsung.

Another freshness-enhancing feature that Consumer Reports has seen more of in its labs is dual-evaporative cooling; with standard refrigerator design, the fresh-food compartment is cooled with air from the freezer: “Dual evaporators let us create two different climates“, said Michael Mattingly, a product manager for refrigeration at GE. This process also enables fridges to maintain optimal humidity and prevent ice cubes from tasting like fish or other smelly foods.

New Refrigerator Shopping

Here’s a few suggestions:

Refrigerators should maintain a consistent 37 degrees F. in the fridge and 10 degrees F. in the freezer.

What style do you prefer? Bottom freezers will keep fresh-food items at eye level; side-by-sides will have narrow door swings and require more bending. Top freezers cost the least, but are the also the least stylish; built-in fridges can sit flush with cabinets, but they’re pricey and will hold the least; cabinet-depth French doors and side-by-sides will have a streamlined for less.

What features are essential? Water dispensers and through-the-door ice are nice, but they’re pricey and are also more repair-prone. For more storage, pullout shelves, deep door bins and split-shelves are good options. Stainless-steel looks modern and sleek, but will show fingerprints; the newer matte finishes, like slate and graphite, will minimize this.

Doing a full kitchen renovation? Then any size fridge will be OK. If not, be sure to carefully measure the height and width of the existing space, adding an extra inch or so for air circulation. And check the width of the door swing!

Sources: “What’s really in supermarkets’ prepared meals?”-From Consumer Reports-The (Sunday) Vindicator, March 6, 2016, “Beef up your Gatherings”-Braising Tips sidebar-Family Features-The Vindicator, February 4, 2015, and “Keep it fresh with new refrigerator features”-From Consumer Reports-The (Sunday) Vindicator, Aug. 2, 2015.

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