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Dinner Tips

Is it Done?

Q. How do I know when food is done enough?

A. The great success or ultimate failure of any cook is determined by the quality of the finished product. Foods cooked to proper doneness result in a delicious dish, while overcooking or undercooking often results in tough and dry foods that no one particularly enjoys.

grilling meat
©2007 Photodisc
Getting the right degree of doneness is important when cooking meat.

"Doneness" means being cooked to the desired degree, measured by external qualities including appearance, texture, and optimum flavor. For many foods, there are easy ways to tell when they're done.

For cakes and quick breads:

  • Use the toothpick test. Insert a toothpick into the center of the cake or quick bread, and check to see if it has come out clean. If batter is
    sticking to the toothpick, bake a few minutes longer and try again.

  • Use the fingertip test. The cake or quick bread should feel springy in the middle when you touch it. If your fingertip leaves an impression,
    continue baking a few more minutes.

  • Use the eyeball test. The edges of the cake or quick bread will start to darken and pull away from the pan. In addition, the crusts should appear golden-brown in color.

For cookies:

  • Use the fingertip test. If cookie crusts are not firm enough, and the cookie collapses, continue baking a little longer.

  • Remove cookies shortly before they look totally done and golden brown. The residual heat from the hot cookie sheet will continue to bake the cookies for at least 1 to 2 minutes after they're removed from the oven.

Foods need to be "done" not only for appearance and texture, but also for safety reasons. That means foods should be cooked to recommended temperatures. Cooking a food to a safe temperature ensures that any bacteria inside the food are completely destroyed.

Use an accurate food thermometer to help take the guesswork out of safe cooking. A cooking thermometer can be inserted into meats and chicken before you place them in the oven. Or use an instant-read thermometer to check meat temperature before serving. Many of today's ovens offer thermometer attachments, which shut off the oven when the meats reach the desired temperature.

Different meats have different cooking recommendations for individual safety, but in all cases, the best way to test for doneness is to use a meat thermometer. A good meat thermometer allows cooks to accurately test foods and determine that proper recommendations for safety have been met. Whatever method you use, be sure your meat dishes are "done" -- it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Proper Internal Cooked Temperatures:

Cut of Meat Temperature (degrees F)
Visual Signs
Ground beef
no pink color inside
juices run clear
Chicken/turkey breasts
juices run clear, no pink color inside
Chicken/turkey thighs
juices run clear, no pink color inside
Ground poultry
no pink color inside
flakes easily when poked with fork, flesh is opaque in color

Degrees of Internal Temperature for Doneness of Beef, Lamb, Pork, Chicken, and Turkey

Rare125 to 130 degrees F
140 to 145 degrees F
150 to 160 degrees F; 160 to 165 degrees F (pork only
165 to 170 degrees F
170 to 190 degrees F

Q. What are some good summertime recipes that satisfy the whole gang?

A. Chilled summer dishes and an outdoor grill will keep you and your kitchen cool as the proverbial cucumber. And since you aren't overexerting yourself over a hot stove, you may find more time and energy for some healthy exercise. Whether you're splashing in the pool or counting fireflies during an evening stroll, every little movement is another step toward better health.

Another road to good health is to follow the latest dietary guidelines. This includes more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables as well as an emphasis on "good" fats, like the monounsaturated fats found in olives.

When you add black ripe olives to your recipes you have a colorful, flavorful, and tasty way of getting monounsaturated fat into your diet. And as if that isn't good enough, California Ripe Olives are cholesterol-free and trans-fat free. Plus, an extra-large California Ripe Olive has only 7 calories.

For more great information on meal planning, see: