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Nutrition and safe food prep go hand in hand

By Lucie E. Willsie Lifestyles Reporter

August 14, 2013

Rodney Dockery is around food all the time, it seems. He is the child nutrition supervisor for the Surry County Schools, he works at a local restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays, and cooks for his family, mom, Silla, and dad, Carroll, all the time.


“Mom is a great cook, too,” Dockery added. He gives his mom and his aunt, Linda Howard, both the credit for learning his way around a kitchen.


“I don’t precisely remember what I first learned to cook,” Dockery said. But, he first started cooking around age 10, he believes. He does remember trying to have dinner on the table for his parents when they came home from work. He also remembers learning a lot about cooking when he would spend weekends with his aunt, he recalled.


“I helped her with cooking,” he said. Some of his favorites included sour dough bread, barbecue chicken, mashed potatoes, and homemade biscuits, as well as some desserts, like red velvet cake, peach pie, and pound cake. “I also worked at The Lantern Restaurant (in Dobson) … And I also do a lot of cooking for friends … I’ve tried my hand at cooking just about everything … The hardest was the biscuits.”


The biggest trick in making the best-tasting biscuit, Dockery said, is two-fold — one, to make sure to have enough shortening in the dough, and, two, not to over knead it.


“I’ve always taken pride in my cooking,” Dockery said. “If I am going to cook, I want people to enjoy what they’re eating.”


In addition to knowing how to cook and bake, Dockery has learned that it is equally important to know how to properly handle and store food to make sure it is as healthy to eat as possible.


Prepping properly is the first key to preparing safe and healthy food.


The No. 1 most important and first step in cooking is to wash your hands, Dockery said, and wash them often. Germs are often transfer during the cooking process.


Another important tip he wants everyone to remember is to be sure to wash the fresh fruits and vegetables bought or taken from a garden. And this caution is so important, especially if cutting watermelons or cantaloupes or tomatoes into slices, for example, because if there is bacteria on the surface of the produce, by cutting it, the bacteria will be spread into the meat of the tomato. Dockery remembers all too well the many e-coli and other contamination scares that made people sick and even caused others to die.


“Wait to wash until you’re ready to use the produce … Then, hold the produce under cool running water and let the water run over it,” Dockery said. “Rub and wash the whole fruit or vegetable … Dry with a paper towel … All for about a minute.”


Another important health tip Dockery learned when he was a cook at Northern Hospital is to know the temperature of the food.


“I learned the importance of taking the temperature of food,” he said. “It used to be called Temp Danger Food. Monitoring food during prepping and cooking is important due to food borne illnesses.”


One of the first steps is to make sure cooks are storing food properly. Cooks need to know how long individual foods will stay fresh at specific temperatures. As a child nutritionist, Dockery follows the Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Points guidelines for schools. These guidelines were developed to make sure food is monitored properly so it is safe to eat.


“This is also important in the home,” Dockery said. For example, the temperature in the refrigerator should be no higher than 41-degrees Fahrenheit. That goes for all meats, as well as produce. The freezer should be at zero or below when storing items such as ice cream, as just one example. “Even at home you need a refrigerator, as well as a freezer, thermometer.”


Always thaw meats in the refrigerator, not outside on the kitchen counter.


“You never need to thaw meat outside of the fridge,” he added.


Also, always store raw foods in the bottom of the refrigerator, and don’t store meats with the fruits and vegetables.


An additional caveat — when packing for a picnic, buy little freezable ice packs or make sure the food is packed in ice for the interim. Put the food in zip lock bags, Dockery suggested.


Now, going to the other temperature issue is making sure food is cooked at a high enough temperature, he said. For example, hamburgers should reach 155 degrees Fahrenheit to be cooked properly and safely. Chicken should reach 165 degrees.


“Hot foods need to be 140 degrees or higher,” Dockery said. And then should be cooked at the optimum temperature for that particular food for at least a couple of minutes, if possible, he added.


This is where a food thermometer at home is crucial, Dockery said, and they are easily found at several area stores.


And don’t mix cutting surface, he said. Food can become cross-contaminated. In addition, these surfaces need to be cleaned carefully with a bleach and water solution to keep them as bacteria-free as possible.


“I’m real big on food safety,” Dockery emphasized. “I even pay really close attention to the sanitation grades in restaurants.”


RECIPES


PEACH PIE


BY RODNEY DOCKERY


INGREDIENTS


1 pie crust, baked


8 ounces of cream cheese, softened


1½ cups of granulated sugar


1 cup of water


3 Tablespoons of cornstarch


4 Tablespoons of peach Jello


2 to 3 fresh peaches


Cool Whip


INSTRUCTIONS


Bake 1 pie crust. Beat the cream cheese and ½ cup of sugar together well. Spread in the pie crust. Cook 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and corn starch until thick and then remove from the stove. Add peach Jello to thickened the mixture, dissolving well. Set aside to cool. Wash, peel and slice the peaches. Place sliced peaches evenly on top of the cream cheese mixture. Spoon the cool, thickened, peach mixture over the cream cheese and fresh peaches. Then, let the pie set-up. Slice into portions and top with Cool Whip, if desired.


POUND CAKE


BY RODNEY DOCKERY


INGREDIENTS


1 box of Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Cake Mix


1 8-ounce package of cream cheese


1 stick of margarine


1 cup of sugar


1 cup of plain flour


4 eggs


1 cup of milk


1 Tablespoon of vanilla flavoring or lemon flavoring


INSTRUCTIONS


Mix the cake mix with the sugar, flour, cream cheese and margarine. Add the eggs, one at a time. Beat well. Add the milk gradually and add flavoring. Again, beat well. Bake in a tube pan at 350-degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour. You will need to adjust your oven temperature to fit your oven. (Our oven cooks cooler than most.)


FRESH GREEN BEANS


BY RODNEY DOCKERY


INGREDIENTS


2 pounds of Half Runner green beans


Salt


Water


½ cup of olive oil


INSTRUCTIONS


String and break the green beans. Wash thoroughly in water. Place washed green beans in a kettle. Add oil to the green beans. Season with salt to taste. Cover green beans with an extra 2 inches of water. Place on a stove burner and cook on high until they start boiling. Turn heat down on medium to low heat and cover kettle with a lid. Cook 2 to 3 hours until the beans are tender, watching carefully to not let the beans boil dry. Turn stove to high, to dry the water from beans before eating, if desired


MASHED POTATOES


BY RODNEY DOCKERY


INGREDIENTS


5 to 6 medium potatoes


Water


½ cup of butter


¾ cup to 1 cup of milk


Salt


Black pepper


INSTRUCTIONS


Peel the potatoes and wash them thoroughly. Slice the potatoes and put them in a kettle. Cover the potatoes in the extra 2 inches of water in a kettle and cook them on high until they start boiling. Turn heat down on medium to low heat and cover them with a lid. Cook 25 to 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Drain the water from potatoes and remove lid. Add the butter and the milk and blend all with an electric mixer. Add salt and pepper to taste.


CORNBREAD


BY RODNEY DOCKERY


INGREDIENTS


1 ½ cups of self-rising corn meal


½ cup of self-rising flour


1 egg


½ cup of oil


1 ½ cups of buttermilk


INSTRUCTIONS


Grease a cast-iron pan (medium size). Mix corn meal and flour and then add the egg, oil and buttermilk. Mix all well and pour into a greased pan. Bake at 400-degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and turn out onto a plate. Cut into desired portions.


BROCCOLI CASSEROLE


BY RODNEY DOCKERY


INGREDIENTS


2 packages of frozen chopped broccoli


2 eggs, beaten


1 can of cream of mushroom soup


1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese


1 cup of mayonnaise


¼ cup of chopped onion


1 stick of butter


5 slices of buttered toast


INSTRUCTIONS


Cook the broccoli and drain. Combine the eggs, soup, cheese, onion, butter and mayonnaise. Add the drained broccoli and mix well. Pour all into a greased casserole dish. Dice the five slices of buttered toast and cover the top of the casserole with the toast. Bake at 325-degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes.