“I’d like to make an egg bake for a brunch, but I won’t have time the night before the event. Can I make it a couple days ahead of time?” my friend asked.
I thought a few seconds about a pan full of bread, eggs and milk stored in a refrigerator. Then someone else shared my exact thoughts.
“It will turn into a big sponge,” the other person replied.
The image of serving her honored guests slices of a baked sponge probably changed the menu for my friend. Even with a parsley garnish, no one would request the recipe.
For best quality and safety, prepare foods as closely as possible to cooking time. As a rule of thumb, prepare “make-ahead” perishable foods, such as casseroles, no more than one day in advance of the serving time. Some recipes also can be made ahead of time and frozen.
Resist the temptation to partially cook meat or any main dish no matter what your time crunch might be. Partial cooking is never safe.
With approaching graduations, weddings and other celebrations, cooking tasty and safe meals for groups is on a lot of minds. What would you do in these situations?
Scenario No. 1. You’ve arrived at a party at 6 p.m. The host mentions he put out the trays of food at 1:30 p.m. You note the meat sandwiches and potato salad are not on ice. What should you do?
a – Be polite and eat two sandwiches. You have a strong immune system.
b – Eat a big helping of potato salad, but skip the sandwiches.
c – Enjoy the nonperishable foods, such as the cookies and chips.
From a food safety standpoint, your best response would be c. From a nutrition standpoint, you may want to hold off until you get home.
You may not please your host by opting not to eat, but eating perishable food that has been at room temperature for more than two hours could put you at risk for foodborne illness, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Perishable food should be replenished every two hours on a buffet. During summer celebrations where the temperature might be more than 90 degrees, keep perishable food out for no more than one hour.
Scenario No. 2. Your cousin asked you to help prepare food for a family reunion. She ran out of space in her refrigerator, so she dropped off frozen raw chicken, fish fillets, ground beef and cream puffs for you to thaw. From top shelf to bottom, what order should you place the food in your refrigerator and why?
a – Cream puffs, fish, ground beef and chicken breasts
b – Cream puffs, ground beef, chicken breasts and fish
c – Cream puffs, chicken breasts, ground beef and fish
d – Fish, chicken breasts, ground beef, cream puffs
The best answer is choice a. Ready-to-eat foods, such as cream puffs, are kept on the top refrigerator shelf to avoid potentially being dripped on by raw meat juices. The meats are placed in the order of increasing internal cooking temperature.
For safety, cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, ground beef to 160 degrees and fish to 145 degrees. If the juice from raw fish dripped on ground beef, the bacteria from fish would be killed by the higher internal temperature recommendation for beef. Always use a food thermometer to check doneness.
For more information, visit the NDSU Extension Service Web site to access the publication, “Cooking for Groups” at https://tinyurl.com/ndsuFoodSafetyCookingforGroups
Visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food/recipes to see a wide range of recipes, including breads, breakfast items, desserts, snacks and much more.
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a professor and food and nutrition specialist with NDSU Extension in Fargo, ND.