MARGARET PROUSE: Brownies make a great picnic

It’s time for picnics of all kinds: lunch at the beach, sandwiches for a road trip, outdoor dining during a family reunion or simply having lunch outdoors on a sunny terrace.

If you love anticipating trouble, you might be wondering, “What can ruin my picnic?” Rain, ants, bees? In my opinion, the biggest challenge of hot summer days is food poisoning.

The important thing to know about food safety and temperature is that danger lurks in the middle. The most common cause of foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, is the abundant presence of microorganisms, living organisms too small to see with the naked eye. You cannot tell if these are present by looking at or sniffing food, and they are not uncommon. The more of them there are, the more likely they are to cause disease.

In cold temperatures, microorganisms that could make you sick slow down and do not reproduce, and hot temperatures kill them. That’s why it’s safest to store cold or hot foods either at refrigerator temperatures, below 4 C (40 F) or above 60 C (140 F). Make a habit of keeping a thermometer on a shelf in the refrigerator and check it regularly to make sure it is holding the temperature between 0 C and 4 C. Use an instant-read thermometer to check that foods are hot enough to keep safe, especially if they’ve been cooked and you’re just keeping them warm.

Keeping food fresh is easy when you’re at home. Just keep it in the fridge and make sure your fridge is working properly. When traveling, you should use frozen gel packs or ice in an insulated container.

These chocolate brownies are fudgy and delicious.  - Contributed
These chocolate brownies are fudgy and delicious. – Contributed

Ensuring food is hot enough is an issue when grilling food, especially ground meats. If there is surface contamination of a whole cut of meat, such as a steak or roast, it will likely be destroyed when the outside of the meat is cooked, even if the inside is not thoroughly cooked. The danger here is cross contamination. If raw meat, blood from raw meat, or a utensil that has been in contact with raw meat touches anything (tongs, dishes, marinade brushes) that is in contact with the food after cooking, the cooked food may be contaminated. To keep it straight, I put everything that came in contact with raw food on the shelf to the left of the barbecue grill, and the utensils and dish for cooked food on the right side.

Meat that has been ground is more likely to create food safety issues than whole cuts of meat such as steaks, chops or roasts. Any contamination on the surface of a piece of meat can be mixed in as it is ground. Use a food thermometer to check that the burgers are cooked to an internal temperature of 71 C (160 F).

None of this information is intended to alarm or scare. The aim is to show how easy it is to store food safely, even when meals are served outside the kitchen.

Now that that’s settled, let’s think about what you might want to pack for a picnic. I’m voting for a dessert of fresh strawberries and chocolate brownies, and here’s my favorite recipe for them; it’s easy, melting and delicious.

chocolate brownies

Adapted from Paré, Jean: Company’s Coming: 150 Delicious Squares, Company’s Coming Publishing Limited, Vermilion, Alta., 1982.

  • 125 ml (½ cup) butter
  • 75 ml (⅓ cup) cocoa
  • 2 eggs
  • 250 ml (1 cup) granulated sugar
  • 175 ml (¾ cup) all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Grease a 20 cm (8 x 8 inch) square pan.

In a small saucepan, melt the cocoa and butter, stirring as it melts. Remove from fire.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Stir in sugar and flour. Then pour the cocoa mixture over it and mix everything together.

Scrape batter into prepared pan, level and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until edges show signs of pulling away from sides of pan.

Cut into 25 squares when cooled. No need to frost them; they are good on their own.

Home economist Margaret Prouse writes this column for The Guardian every Friday. She can be contacted by email at [email protected].

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