Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fresh food and how not to let it spoil

Since a huge part of my most recent attempt at weight-loss has been cooking more food at home, I feel like this is just the thing I need to extend the shelf life of my veggies, especially the home-delivered organic ones that are just too good to let spoil. I have this problem where I buy groceries with grandiose plans for meals and then I make one or two days' worth of food, get discouraged, and everything goes to waste.

I've tried fixing this problem by planning out exactly what I eat for each meal, but that doesn't last too long before I get bored/forget and I have to start from scratch. I've since made a list of exactly what is in our fridge and have a menu of sorts planned out for the next few days. I mean, it's not like I can whip up some recipe using collard greens. Up until last week, I had no idea what they even were. And that's what I like the most about the weekly food drop. I get what's in season and don't have too much say over what I get each Monday. I can substitute a few items but especially now, in the dead of winter, the choices are slim.

Anywhos, I'm babbling. Here's a list compiled by Country Living and adapted from Rebecca Diliberto's, Penny Saving Household Helper, about how to keep your food fresh longer. They also have some good stuff about leftovers and fixing over-salted or over-oily soups. In general, I may have to check this book out from the library and read it from cover to cover.

Ok, onto the list. Some of these I already knew, but some are interesting and worth remembering:
  1.  If you’re unsure of an egg’s freshness, see how it behaves in a cup of water: Fresh eggs sink; bad ones float.
  2.  Line the bottom of your refrigerator’s crisper drawer with paper towels. They’ll absorb the excess moisture that causes vegetables to rot.
  3. Don't throw away sparkling wine or champagne that's gone flat. Restore the bubbles by dropping a raisin or two into the bottle. The natural sugars will work magic.
  4. If you only need a few drops of lemon juice, avoid cutting the lemon in half – it will dry out quickly. Instead, puncture the fruit with a metal skewer and squeeze out exactly what you require.
  5. To keep herbs tasting fresh for up to a month, store whole bunches, washed and sealed in plastic bags, in the freezer. When you need them, they’ll be easier to chop, and they’ll defrost the minute they hit a hot pan.
  6. A bay leaf slipped into a container of flour, pasta, or rice will help repel bugs.
  7.  Prevent mushrooms from getting slimy by wrapping them in paper towels before refrigerating.
  8. To revive day-old muffins, sprinkle them with water, place in a paper bag, and pop in a hot oven for five to 10 minutes. The steam created by the water will restore moisture.
  9. Stop cheese from drying out by spreading butter or margarine on the cut sides to seal in moisture. This is most effective with hard cheeses sealed in wax.
  10. When radishes, celery, or carrots have lost their crunch, simply pop them in a bowl of iced water along with a slice of raw potato and watch the limp vegetables freshen up right before your eyes.
  11. Store crispy and chewy cookies in separate containers. If you combine them, the moisture from the chewy cookies will make the crispy ones lose their crunch.
  12. Avoid separating bananas until you plan to eat them – they spoil less quickly in a bunch.
  13. Put rice in your saltshaker to stop the salt from hardening. The rice absorbs condensation that can cause clumps.
  14. Stock up on butter when it’s on sale – you can store it in the freezer for up to six months. Pack the butter in an airtight container, so it doesn’t take on the flavor of whatever else you’re freezing.
  15. Another dairy tip: In order to make cottage cheese or sour cream last longer, place the container upside down in the fridge. Inverting the tub creates a vacuum that inhibits the growth of bacteria that causes food to spoil.
  16. Believe it or not, honey is the only nonperishable food substance, so don’t get rid of the stuff if it crystallizes or becomes cloudy. Microwave on medium heat, in 30-second increments, to make honey clear again.
  17. Prevent extra cooked pasta from hardening by stashing it in a sealed plastic bag and refrigerating. When you’re ready to serve, throw the pasta in boiling water for a few seconds to heat and restore moisture.
  18. You can freeze cheese! After serving, put leftovers back in the original package, wrap tightly in plastic, and freeze. Defrost in the fridge a day before serving. This trick works best for soft cheeses with a high fat content.
  19. Keeping brown sugar in the freezer will stop it from hardening. But if you already have hardened sugar on your shelf, soften it by sealing in a bag with a slice of bread – or by microwaving on high for 30 seconds.

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