Thursday, August 7, 2008

Food storage to save you money! - Part 2

Today, I'm going to give you some storage tips for all those beautiful and healthy vegetables and fruits. I sometimes want to cringe when I see the price of fresh produce, but really gets me, is that some shoppers just grab an item without checking the condition of it first! I'm really picky when I buy produce. I'll pick up half a dozen or more of almost any produce to make sure I'm getting exactly the quality that I want. If I can't find it, then I probably won't spend the money. Once I get all that fresh bounty home then I really get to work. I'll admit that my methods take a little extra time, but I can keep a head of leaf or romaine lettuce for two weeks. I can keep celery and bell peppers three to four weeks. Curious? Read on...

I keep root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and onions in the crisper. I know the experts say not to keep potatoes in the fridge. I buy a 5 or 10 pound bag and sort them first. Any that look or feel soft or have bad spots are used first. The rest go in the crisper and I take out what I need the morning of the day I want to use them and allow them to return to room temp. You can't taste the difference. If there is excess moisture in the bag of carrots, I allow them to dry in a single layer on paper towel on the counter. I also cut off any sprouts or rotting ends before putting them in the fridge. I keep a pealed carrot in a zippered snack bag so it is ready for salads etc. Any unused onion that is already pealed is wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then stored in a zippered bag in the crisper.

Broccoli - Trim the woody part off of the stems and cut the florets an inch or two into the stem. Soak the florets in cold salted water for 15 minutes. Drain well and place in air tight container in fridge. The stems can be pealed and grated for a slaw.

Cabbage - remove the outside layer and trim the root stem. Wrap the head tightly in plastic wrap and place in plastic bag. This will help prevent the cabbage from drying out, turning colour and emitting odours into other products. I've kept and used a 2 lb. cabbage for close to a month with very little waste.

Repeat after me; "Paper towel is produces best friend!" Yup, and you can even use the cheaper, no name products for these! Now here's the secrets to this amazing product!

Leaf or romaine lettuce - Carefully pull off leaves about an inch above the root end, gradually working your way to the center. Wash the lettuce under cold water, then stand leaves upright in a colander for a few minutes to drain. Next, lay the leaves in a single layer on paper towels. Allow to air dry for about 20-30 minutes. Then start with the smaller leaves. Take two similar size leaves and lay them on the end of the paper towel that you dried them on. Fold the towel once to cover. Place two more leaves on top and fold over once. Repeat the process until every second leaf is separated by a layer of paper towel. Store in a plastic produce bag. The ones in the produce aisle are perfect for this as they are not air tight - it needs to breath, so don't seal the bag. The paper towel absorbs excess moisture. As you use the lettuce switch the leaves to single layers between towels and trim any brown spots by hand - never use a knife on lettuce. I've kept a large lettuce for two weeks and only thrown out the equivalent of a couple of leaves.
Green Onions - remove the elastics, trim off the root, leaving as much of the white part as possible. Remove any wilted stems and a small amount at the top. Rinse well under cold water then lay in single layer on paper towel for 15-20 minutes. Take one green onion and lay it at the end of the towel, fold 1/4 turn, place another one parallel to the first and fold again. Repeat till they are all wrapped, then store in produce bag. As I use them, I open the whole role and trim a little off of each end for whatever I'm making, then roll up the same way. I can keep two bunches of green onion for two weeks this way with minimal wastage.

Celery - Same as the green onion, trim tops, and bottom, wash, dry ribs upside down to allow moisture to drain out of the rib onto the towels. Wrap with paper towel allowing 1/4 to 1/2 turn of towel between ribs. Trim the ends as you use them each time and check for brown spots. I've kept large celery stalks for three weeks.

Bell Peppers - I buy the four count or 2lb. bags but I also check each one very carefully to make sure there are no spoiled/soft spots on any of them before purchase. I wash and dry the peppers, then wrap each one in a separate paper towel and store in the bag I bought them in. Before I cut one, I check all of them to see which one is the closest to going bad, That one gets cut first. The rest are re-wrapped and stored. Once the pepper is cut in half and seeded, I re-wrap any unused portion in the same towel and store in a zippered bag in the crisper. I find that if I cut the outside edges on all sides and store them with the flesh sides together, that each one can last me up to a week. That's almost a month for the whole bag.

Berries - Sort the berries and use any soft ones first. Layer in single layers between paper towels in a loose plastic bag. Wash/clean only as you use them.

Citrus - never store in the fridge - especially lemons and limes as the chemicals they emit can sour almost any dairy product. If you must store part of a citrus product, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in zippered bag. Use ASAP!
BTW, I'm sure you are wondering what to do with all that paper towel afterwards. I often make my salads in the morning then cover with a damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag and store in the fridge until the evening when I add the dressing and serve. This keeps the salad fresh and crisp. Even if it is stained, you can still use the towels for quick clean up of spills on the counters or floors.

I know these may seem a little obsessive and time consuming BUT when you are on a fixed/limited income and trying to eat healthy, you do whatever you can to make your dollar go a little further.


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