Kitchen sponges are festering germ dens—and sanitizing them doesn’t help

Some germy places in the house include the kitchen faucet and sponges. Typically people wash their hands after handling raw meat in the kitchen and frequently use sponges or cloths to wipe germs from surfaces in the kitchen. (Photo by Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

Scientists have long thrown shade at the unassuming kitchen sponge. The household staple skulks in sinks amid dirty dishes and soggy food scraps, sopping up and amplifying microbial forces capable of invading clean food spaces. The savvy kitchen-goer may think they have this situation locked down—a simple toss through a sanitizing dishwasher cycle or a sizzling swirl in the microwave… and done. Sudsy germsplosion averted.

Nice try, says science.

In a comprehensive study of 14 household sponges and their microbial inhabitants published in Scientific Reports, researchers confirmed that kitchen sponges are indeed domestic abominations. Moreover, any sterilizing attempts only seem to temporarily free up sponge-space for potential pathogens, which rapidly recolonize the festering scrubber.

I haven’t used a sponge in my personal kitchen for years.  Blech.

Read the whole thing at ARS Technica.

Further Reading:

The New York Times:  We Need to Talk Some More About Your Dirty Sponges



You’re Using your Nonstick Pans all Wrong — Here’s the Right Way to Care for Your Pans

Most of this is obvious; and I agree with the part about using olive oil or butter instead of cooking spray. I usually heat my pan before adding oil or butter, but I guess I’ll change that when using nonstick!


The Rule Against Refreezing is a Myth

Refreeze foodsFrom The New York Times:

The notion that you cannot refreeze thawed foods “is a myth,” said Tina Hanes, a registered dietitian with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.  Any raw or cooked food that has been thawed can be refrozen.

There’s an important caveat, though:

As long as it was thawed properly — in the refrigerator, not on the counter — and hasn’t spoiled. That includes raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood, Ms. Hanes said.

You should never thaw frozen meat, poultry, fish or seafood by placing it on the counter at room temperature or by running it under warm tap water, she said, “because bacteria like it warm, like we do, and multiply rapidly at room temperature. Thawing on the counter is not safe, period. You should never do that.”

I think a lot of people thaw frozen food on the kitchen counter.  It’s a no no.

In a 2013 household germ study, NSF International found salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold hidden in blender gaskets.
In a 2013 household germ study, NSF International found salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold hidden in blender gaskets

Home kitchens are notoriously full of germs and bacteria.  Much more so than commercial kitchens, or even home bathrooms.   NSF International, a nonprofit organization based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that has been promoting proper cleaning of kitchen tools and appliances since the 1940s.  NSF International recently put out recommendations on kitchen hot spots based on studies done in 2011 and again in 2013:

  • Scary sponges
  • Ghastly gaskets
  • Creepy fridge compartments
  • Separate the spatulas and clean the can opener
  • Wash water dispensers and coffee reservoirs

Cleaning a few often-overlooked areas in the kitchen can offer additional protection from E. coli, salmonella, listeria, yeast and mold.

Further Reading:


Ricette Classiche: Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are few American dishes more classic than chocolate chip cookies.  Traced back to the Nestlé company, which placed the recipe for Toll House cookies on the back of its chocolate chip bags in 1939, these delicacies have been baked by Americans for generations.

I’ve run across countless recipes and variations for chocolate chip cookies, but here’s one that struck my eye, for a number of reasons.  The recipe is provided by Barbara Cosgriff, whom I met when I was Managing Director of The Nasdaq Stock Market.  She and I instantly became great friends and after I left Wall Street to open Bellavitae, Barbara and her husband were constant guests.

Barbara shares her recipe as guest blogger on the Behind the Scenes at La Cuisine blog.  “My mom made the delicious recipe on the chocolate chip bag.  This recipe has evolved from my having baked thousands of them…and the little tweaks that come from experience.”

Click below for Barbara’s recipe:




Why Barbara’s Recipe is so Special (and why it works!)

  • Top-shelf ingredients.  As any good cook will tell you, the best ingredients will result in the best recipe.  No skimping here.  You can order most everything online from La Cuisine.
  • Chilled ingredients.  As Barbara notes, if the batter is warm, the cookies will run (overspread).
  • A combination of brown and white sugars.  Although both sugars Barbara uses are “brown” (i.e., they contain molasses), the combination really represents a mix of brown and white sugars.  Brown sugar will attract and retain water (“hygroscopic”), rendering the cookies chewy.  Too much brown sugar and they will become, well, floppy.  The white sugar (about a quarter to a third of the total sugar) will add firmness and crispiness.
  • Baking soda.  Many cookie recipes use baking powder, which acts as a leavener when the batter is exposed to heat.  But baking powder is more appropriate for cakey cookies, not chewy cookies like chocolate chip.  Moreover, a crispy exterior is almost impossible to achieve using baking powder.  Baking powder would actually make the cookies crisp from the inside out, not a good thing here.  The acid needed to activate the baking soda in this recipe comes from the brown sugar’s molasses.
  • Low-protein flour.  Barbara uses an Italian “Tipo 00” flour, which has a lower protein content.  A high percentage of protein creates a harder (stronger) flour best suited for chewy, crusty breads and other yeast-risen products.  Less protein produces a softer flour, best for tender and chemically leavened baked goods, like pie crusts, cakes, cookies, and biscuits.
  • Don’t cream the butter.  Creaming butter is a wonderful technique that encourages cakes to rise nicely, as well as cakey cookies.  The sugar crystals act as extra beaters and will aerate the butter, enabling chemical leaveners to do their trick as the cake is baked.
  • Let the batter rest.  Allowing the cookie dough to rest will result in the sugars further dissolving.  This dissolved sugar will caramelize more readily and produce a crisp exterior that is juxtaposed by a chewy interior with a complexity of butter, caramel, toffee, and chocolate.


High Altitude Adjustments

Of all baked goods, cookies are generally the easiest to make at high altitudes.  However, once you reach 10,000 feet (as we are here inTaosSkiValley), things get a little tricky.  Here are some adjustments I would make to Barbara’s recipe for readers at this altitude:

  • Increase the flour by ¾ to 1 cup
  • Reduce the India Light Muscovado Sugar by 2 ½ tablespoons (this prevents overspread)
  • Increase the vanilla by 1 to 2 teaspoons (adds flavor to compensate for reduced sugar)
  • Reduce baking temperature by 50°F – to 300°F
  • Bake longer – an extra 4 to 5 minutes




Further Reading:  





Consigli per la Cottura: Egg Yolks

The always-helpful Rose Levy Beranbaum offers three tips when using egg yolks, discussing the following:

  1. More and more often, the proportion of yolk to white is less than it has been over the past decades.
  2. If egg yolks are combined with sugar and allowed to sit they will crust over, dry out on the surface, and result in lumps in the cooked or baked product.
  3. If you have extra yolks, you can freeze them but only if you stir in some sugar which will maintain their texture.


Read the whole thing here.

Rose has an excellent blog for bakers, a great source for information that nicely compliments her highly acclaimed baking books; I highly recommend it!

“Rose Levy Beranbaum is the award-winning author of nine cookbooks, including The Cake Bible, the International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook of the Year for 1988.  It was also listed by the James Beard Foundation as one of the top 13 baking books on “the Essential Book List.”  Rose also won a James Beard Foundation Award in 1998 for Rose’s Christmas Cookies, and her book, The Bread Bible, was an IACP and James Beard Foundation nominee and was listed as one of the Top Ten Books of 2003 by Publishers Weekly and Food & Wine.  Her most recent book, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, won the International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook of the Year for 2010.

She is a contributing editor to Food Arts magazine and writes regularly for the Washington Post, Fine Cooking, Reader’s Digest, and Bride’s.  Her popular blog,, has created an international community of bakers where you can visit Rose Levy Beranbaum and join in the discussion on all things baking.  While you are there, you can bring the author right into your kitchen as she demonstrates key techniques and shares trade secrets so that you can create perfectly divine cakes.”


High-Altitude Baking

The Italian Alps. Photo Courtesy Travel GGG

What a wonderful Christmas we had while visiting Colorado – fresh brisk air, snow, friends and family.  And as is our tradition, we baked.

The challenge this year was the high altitude and how it would affect favorite breads, cookies, and quick breads.  While there are many terrific high-altitude baking books available, any baker understands the comfort one has with tried and true familiar recipes.  Aren’t there a few simple adjustments to compensate for the altitude?

We baked using recipes from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible and The Pie and Pastry Bible, Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery, Carol Field’s The Italian Baker, and King Arthur Flour’s Bakers Companion and Cookie Companion.

Here’s what we learned about high-altitude baking this Christmas in the Rocky Mountains:

High altitude, among other things, can significantly affect baking outcomes.  With higher altitude comes lower air pressure and typically drier atmospheric conditions.  Altitude begins to affect baking results at around 3,000 feet – a level where the baker must begin to make recipe modifications.

Below are some helpful tips when you’re baking at a high altitude:

Continue reading “High-Altitude Baking”