Wednesday, April 27, 2011

STEP 10: Storing Your Food For Maximum Life

Now that you're getting the idea and are possibly stocking up when the deals are good, I thought I'd lend my how-to's of storing foods. In most cases, storing foods in the packaging they come in is ideal. But there are also items that can spoil and/or that aren't packaged 'critter-proof'.

Let's start with foods that spoil quickly: Meats, Fruits, and Veggies: This is where you may want to consider purchasing a freezer. Your side by side or your top/bottom freezers are not big enough. Craig's List is a great place for used ones. Trust me, in the long run, it's worth it!
For meats, I strongly encourage you to purchase a decent vacuum sealer. There are occasions where meat deals are fabulous and you'll want to stock up! Here's what I do... for all my meats, I separate them into (my) family size portions. Once that's done, I sprinkle all sides with a dash of salt and I vacuum seal it. I write the date of purchase AND the date I freeze it on the package and pop it into my freezer. If there are some odds and ends, I package those in individual servings that I can turn into a nice lunch, chicken salad, or steak and eggs where lesser meat is acceptable.

Cheeses, if you use cheese mostly in cooking, then you can freeze just about all of your cheeses in the packages they came in with little consequence. Just about all cheese maintains it's flavor however some softer cheeses will loose a bit of their density and consistence once thawed which would not make them ideal for a 'cheese and cracker' setting.
Fruits and Veggies - Just about all of these can be frozen and used in smoothies, pies, pancakes, muffins, sauces, stews, and so much more. The only produce I can think of right now that does not freeze well is lettuces, cucumbers, citrus, tomatoes, and kiwi. The rest can be if prepared properly. Just about all veggies can be cleaned, chopped, bagged, vacuumed, and stored including potatoes, celery, carrots, and the like with very little issues. Fruit takes a little more work.
Berries and Grapes - Wash, Bag, Seal, Freeze
Apples- Wash, Slice/dice, spritz with lemon juice, freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then bag and seal for long term.
Bananas and Mangoes - Wash, Dice, Bag, Seal, Freeze
Pears - not ideal but you can puree these, put them in a small jar and freeze

Pasta, Rice, Flour, Sugar, and the like
You can keep these in the packaging they came in if you are certain you do not have to worry about rats, mice, roaches, ants, moths or other buggies. Let's face it, none of us can say we're 100% sure. So my advice for these items is to store them in air tight containers. Now I recently learned that freezing these for roughly a week will kill any stray larvae left in your foods. So you may want to consider doing that before shelving.

Now here's my trick (channeling my inner Martha), save your milk jugs, water jugs, soda bottles, and juice containers!! Small pastas can be stored in milk and water jugs. Rice can go in soda bottles, and sugar and flour can go into wide mouthed juice containers. The best part - not only do you spare the environment from another non-biodegradable, but you've critter proofed your grains! If you don't have any, you can buy generic water for around $.70 a gallon. Pretty cheap for an air tight gallon sized container, no?

Storing sugar and flour (especially wheat) in these containers is great and can actually make dispensing and measuring easier than dipping into a canister or unraveling those stupid paper bags. Another option if you like cheeseballs or pretzels, is to buy one of those canisters of them. Those containers are also great AND can store your longer and larger pastas like spaghetti and large shells OR you can use them for opened cereals. And despite what you may be thinking, these WILL save space especially on the pasta (not so much on the rice unless you fill them up)!

One more little tip... purchasing business card adhesive pouches are perfect for labeling permanent containers like this. You can print off business card sized labels from your computer and swap out when the container is emptied. Here's what I'm referring to:

Other container uses...
Jars for sauces are great for holding leftovers for lunch the next day. Simply plop a couple handfuls of the cooked pasta in there, a few spoonfuls of sauce, shake, and fridge/freeze. When you're ready to eat, thaw, dump onto a plate or bowl, nuke, garnish, and serve!

I don't know the actual name for these but those containers that lunch meats come in. Some are nice tupperware style ones others are like a press together to seal kinda thing. Both of those are great for lunch salads and sandwiches!

Egg cartons are great for starting seeds for fruits and veggies.

Baby food jars are great for storing small quantities of condiments at your place of work or packing in a lunch bag for single serving dressings, mayo, etc.

Many stockers use over-the-door shoe organizers (the ones with the pockets) to hold seasoning packets, mashed potato pouches, pasta pouches, and the like as it keeps them tidy and you don't loose them in the pantry!

What ideas do you have for keeping your foods fresh and storing them?