Monday, April 13, 2009

Love Food - Hate Waste!

How to store food is truly a science. Supermarkets spends billions a year to improve food storage. They know every head of lettuce that wilts before they were able to pass it on to you means money washed down the drain.
It is really frustrating to go through lengthy planning, careful choosing only to have to toss that unrecognizable heap of mush into the bin. I know I absolutely hate it.
It is estimated that the average American family throws away nearly $500 worth of produce a year.

What can we do to prevent you from having to throw out one more piece of fruit, vegetable or any other food item. Let’s look at storage and educate ourselves.

A couple of points to consider:

1. If you routinely throw out lots of food - you may be buying too much. Slow down at the store and try to make a plan before you shop. Guesstimating costs an awful lot of money.

2. In your plan-making, leave gaps. I don’t know about you, but I know that if my plans are not flexible they won’t work for me. A big part of cooking well and on a budget is all about using leftovers and there has to be space for these in your menu for the week. So leave some meals - lunches and dinners blank and that is where your leftover meals will fit.

3. Also make a point of positioning dishes that use produce items that spoil quickly at the beginning of the week. Example: it does not really matter whether you make a potato salad on Tuesday or on Saturday - if you do your shopping on a Sunday - but if you are planning on a spinach salad I would not want to wait all the way until 6 days later to eat raw spinach that is now clearly past its prime.

4. If in doubt how to store an item imagine where and how it was located in your local supermarket when you bought it. Onions will never be refrigerated and neither will be potatoes - how about green peppers, lettuce or broccoli? Close your eyes imagine - the answer for the above items was one: no refrigeration, two: yes three: yes - and that is how it should be!

5. The refrigerator is your biggest helper when it comes to food storage - but it has to be clean - and you have to see what is in it! If your fridge is so full that you have no chance of seeing everything you also have no chance of using all that food. A refrigerator should be cleaned once a week - yeah not a typo - every week before you go shopping you have to know what is still in there from last weeks shopping! So, everything has to come out - things that have to be used immediately go in a crockpot or soup pot and while you clean out the fridge - wiping everything down - takes about 15 minutes really - you can already put together your meal for when you get back from your shopping trip - convenient and cheap!

6. One spoilt apple will spoil the barrel! So true and not only for apples. There are people in the supermarkets constantly picking over the produce trying to pick out the rotten apples and such. Another reason to clean out your fridge once a week - germs spread and infect other food. Spoilage needs to be nipped in the bud.

7. Store bulk grains in airtight glass containers - old spaghetti sauce containers work great. Grain moths can be a rather persistent problem - store a small dried habanero pepper in the glass jars, but don’t forget to remove it before cooking otherwise you will have a spicy surprise!

8. Raw nuts - which are by far the best nuts your money can buy - should ideally be stored in the refrigerator. Make sure they do not become humid - you use container with a tight seal and buy only as much as you can use up in a month. Do not waste your money on broken nuts - they will almost always be all rancid and severely lacking in nutrients. Also nut flours are easily made in a blender - it literally takes seconds to grind up nuts.

9. Dried fruit can be kept in the fridge and stays fresh longer that way - zip-lock bags work great.

If we divide our fruits and vegetables in sections:

+ Always refrigerate

+ Never refrigerate

+ you could refrigerate - especially once fully ripened

+ ripens nicely on the countertop - in a brown bag

+ eat asap - won’t last no matter what you do

Let’s start with fruits:

Always refrigerate:

Apples - put in a bag - paper with a plastic bag inside, always choose apples that smell good and have no bruises - check on them often since one apple does indeed spoil all the others

Cherries - refrigerate immediately - and use asap - you only have a couple of days to enjoy them at peak flavor - and cherry season is horribly short!

Coconut - both fresh Thai and brown - should be refrigerated where they will last a couple of weeks - a bit less for the fresh ones

Grapes - should be refrigerated in plastic - but should be dry - wash them only immediately before eating.
 They can last for a week in your fridge

Never refrigerate:

Bananas - they will turn dark brown instantly - just arrange in a fruit bowl and buy at various stages of ripeness to have a constant supply - don’t throw out overripe bananas but freeze them for smoothies

Mango - never - it will kill the flavor

You could refrigerate: 

Citrus - if you are trying to make it last more than a week - otherwise it would be fine on your countertop

Kiwi - if you are trying to hold on to them for up to a month - otherwise they will be good on your countertop

Melon - if they are whole, refrigeration is optional - especially if they could use a little ripening - keep them on the countertop until they develop a bit of aroma (water melon excepted which will not have any scent) - then you can refrigerate, cut melon of course has to always be refrigerated and should be eaten asap

ripens nicely on the countertop - in a brown bag: 

Apricots - can be bought hard - will ripen on countertop - if bought ripe enjoy immediately or keep in fridge for couple of days - tops

Nectarines - can be bought hard and ripened at home - in a day or two - when fully ripe you can refrigerate them and they will last another day or two

Papaya - if you bought it green - leave on your counter until they have color and aroma then you can transfer them to the fridge where they will keep another couple of days, but should be used asap

Peach - same as with papaya - will ripen well on the counter in a brown paper bag - once you have the characteristic aroma you want to eat them asap - but you can refrigerate for another day or two

Pear - another one for the countertop - if you want to slow down the ripening process- refrigerate 

Pineapple - looks beautiful on your counter and that is where it belongs - until you get the wonderful aroma which could take a week or longer - then cut it up and store it in the fridge in a closed plastic container - it will pick up other aromas and will last only a few days

Plums - will ripen in a brown paper bag - once ripe they will keep in the fridge for a few days

Pomegranates can be kept at room temperature for a week or longer, but can also be refrigerated where they will last several months

eat asap - won’t last no matter what you do:

Berries: I know you can refrigerate the hardy blueberries or blackberries for a couple of days - but buy local, go crazy when in season and eat right away and stay away from all not local berries the rest of the year and go for frozen if you have a craving. Out of season berries - are simple tasteless and never worth the money. Never wash fresh berries until absolutely ready to eat and berries will never ripen after they are picked!


Always refrigerate:

Artichokes - up to one week - choose firm globes, stay away from opened leaves

Asparagus - couple of days tops - look for tight and dry tips and a bright, fresh green color throughout

Beans - string or snap - in a plastic bag, do not wash until you are ready to use them - if they are slightly wilted you may be able to revive them in a bowl with ice cold water

Beets - buy with tops only - cook with a bit of stem and cut only after cooking, to not lose the nutrients into the cooking water - use the greens like salad greens

Broccoli - stores well right in the plastic bag it came from the store - make sure there is a little moisture - like from the misting that happens in the store - keeps well for at least a week

Brussels Sprouts - keep well in the fridge for at least a week

Cabbage - will keep for many weeks in your fridge - when you don’t want to use the entire head of cabbage at once - it is worth to simple peel off the outer leaves and leave the rest of the head intact - the rest will keep for another meal that way 

Carrots - will keep in the plastic bag you bought them - if you bought ones with the top on - twist it off - it will draw the sweetness out of the carrots - and use carrots with green tops sooner - you can revive limp carrots in an ice bath

Cauliflower - store in the plastic bag it came in keeps well for a week and beyond - watch for black spots and use immediately if they appear

Celery - refrigerate - will keep crisp for at least a week

Celery root - will keep for many weeks in your fridge - in a plastic bag to keep in moisture

Cucumber - refrigerate only for a couple of days 

Eggplant - will store in plastic bags for several days 

Ginger - will last for a couple of weeks in the fridge

Leeks - will last a week or more - store dry in a plastic bag

Mesclun greens - will store well if refrigerated - however if you purchased them loose by the pound - transfer them out of the loose plastic bag into a plastic container - tupperware works - otherwise splurge on a mesclun mix in a hardshell plastic container and keep that for repeated use since it was designed by the growers to keep loose leaf lettuce, it does a fine job in keeping your greens fresh - always keep them dry and pick out any wilting leaves immediately

Whole lettuce heads - should be kept in a plastic bag and should be slightly moist - it will keep three to five days at peak freshness

Mushrooms - never store them in a plastic bag - paper bags only and add a slightly damp sheet of paper towel - use asap they really don’t last

Peppers - should last up to a week - dry in a plastic bag - wash right before use

Spinach - store in fridge right away - do not wash until ready to use, but even if stored perfectly you will only get a couple of days - so use it soon

Sprouts - parish quickly - store in refrigerator and use within a couple of days

Summer Squash - store in unsealed plastic bag

Swiss Chard - store in open plastic bag in the fridge - will keep for a week

Never refrigerate!:

Garlic - moisture is an absolute killer - keep it in a dark, cool place on your countertop - and don’t waste your money on the pre-chopped stuff

Winter Squash - unless it has been cut - store in a dry dark place and winter squash will keep for a couple of months

Tomatoes - never ever refrigerate! - even if ripe - it just kills the flavor - make gazpacho and salsa if you have too many ripe ones

You could refrigerate: 

Corn - but only for a short time and you should really eat it asap

Onions - some people recommend refrigeration others condemn it, I guess it depends on how good your storage is outside the fridge - you want a cool, dark, dry place away from potatoes and apples

Potatoes - other than the very thin skinned new potatoes - potatoes usually do not need to be refrigerated they should be kept in a cold, dark, dry place

And - that's all folks!

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