Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Your guide to eating cheap including tips, recipes and techniques

Archives for Food Storage

10/26/10 | Eating Expired Food

[ Currently Eating: Dental Floss ]

Ah yes, that ubiquitous question:

Eat or Chuck It?

I’ve often thought that this would make a great reality TV show. Because we know just how GREAT those shows are. It goes like this: line up contestants and put a container of food with a label that says its expiration date in front of them. They either trust the date on the container is correct, or they can call your bluff and eat the food.

Higher elimination levels in this reality game show will feature “obviously” expired food, so that the expiration date doesn’t even make a difference. You know – black pudding, salmon, moldy peaches (ha, not the band), slices of raw liver – just to see who has the cast iron stomach to get to the next round. Last contestant standing, all others eliminated – literally. All contestants will, of course, have to sign waivers of responsibility and blah blah…

Wait, let me guess – you’re the type of person who throws away the milk the day it hits the expiration date.

Shakes head.

No really, I’m really shaking my head. You see, I have a bug in my ear. It’s buzzing.

It is a Class 4 IntelliCovert Miniaturized Operating ThingyDevice. The suits are telling me to tell YOU that there is no conspiracy about expiration dates. That there is no Central HAL-ish Computer subliminally running our lives through these numbers.

Well, they can’t see me typing, so I think we’re safe. At least I don’t think they can detect what I’m typing from the pattern of the sound of the keys I’m pressing, though to be safe I’ve been Hi Pa, Uncle Nathan’s doing just fine! inserting some extra commentary How’s the rutabaga harvest, ey? every so often.

OK, so I’ve pulled a few boners (no not THAT kind of pulling) in my day. I think I may have mentioned this before, but one time (in band camp, of course) I took out a plate of seafood fried rice from the microwave and ate it, thinking that my parents had put it in before they had left for Vegas. Little did I know, it was actually from the day before. Hey, how was I to know – IT WAS WARM.

Son of a gun. I will not even BEGIN to describe the projectiles…

I think I actually fall somewhere in the middle between folks who are paranoid about their milk and yogurt dates being correct, and that lady from the first episode of Hoarders who couldn’t bear to throw away food. Like, the Chicken Tortillla Soup above wasn’t sitting in the fridge. It was frozen solid, so I figured it would probably be good.

Got wood knockers?

The date of January 28 is a little misleading, since there’s no year. Well, it was from the beginning of this year – that’s only nine months expired, so not bad at all, right?

I’m still alive and pearl jamming.

I think with a lot of the “fresh foods” like milk, vegetables, meat, fish – it’s just common sense and using your nose. Stuff like cheese – I’ve been known to slice off the “green” part. Good as new. Moldy bread, good for the head?

A bit more of a gray area when it comes to those dry and canned goods. I think you can usually tell when you open up a can and it smells. Or the bottom of the can has rusted out. Or there’s so many bugs in the dry pasta that it looks like it came seasoned…

My mom is quite a proponent of “Old Food Usage”. Their refrigerator, freezer and pantry are full of all sorts of anachronistic edible treasures. Frozen mystery meats from the 80s. Cans of food where you can tell what era they’re from because of the Mad Men style of font in the titles.

I had to tell her it was time to stop using the old Marjoram to season up stew. It tasted like weeds. I think it was because it was dated 1968…

I have a lot more Matured Food stories to tell but The weather’s been nice here, a little rainy maybe but hey the kids like it I’ve got to run. I’d be curious what the limits are on “expired food” for other Cheap Eats folks…

[Editor's Note: This post was brought to you by Rubicon, the "Soon To Be Cancelled Because Critics Like It But Scuttlefish Don't" show. Season 1 is over, but I'm still basking in that old timey, warm glow of government conglomerate Aunty Nellie is doing fine but her hip's bothering her conspiracy theory. Hmm... I'm slowly realizing that this blog is not really about food - it has morphed into a weird, muddled treatise on Paranoia and its effects on society. I will catch you later, but for now I have to "adjust" the other implanted Class 4 IntelliCovert Miniaturized Operating ThingyDevice I've got on me. Want to know where it is? Surprise Beans!]

12/13/07 | How To Dry Herbs

[ Currently Eating: Pizza For Breakfast ]

Happy Holidays to everyone! This will be the last post before I take a mini-break until mid January or so of next year. Yep, even Cheap Eaters need a break once in awhile…

I’ve always been interested in homemade dry herbs. The problem is that because we don’t grow too many of them (besides the rosemary bush out back), we don’t really have any extras – whatever we buy we tend to use up rather quickly. However, this past Thanksgiving I did buy a small packet of Sage and used just a few leaves. The rest sat around in the fridge until I realized this might be a good time to try drying it.

Homemade Dried Herbs - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

My brother had mentioned he dried herbs in the microwave so I decided to try that route. Before I tried it out, I did some research about tips on drying, preserving and the different ways you can do it. Here’s a summary of some of them:

1. Herbs dry the best when they’re harvested right BEFORE they flower. I couldn’t control this so much since I wasn’t harvesting them out of my own garden, but rather buying them pre-packaged at the market. However, if you do try it, they say the best time to cut them is in the late morning before the sun gets hot.

2. Air drying herbs indoors is the easiest and perhaps best way. Attics, barns, garages will work and keep the herbs out of the way. However, it takes a longer time – and also drying them in the direct sun is not good for the color / flavor. I didn’t go this route, but will probably try it in the future.

3. If you already have one, you can use a food dehydrator to speed up drying the herbs. The drying times and temperature can range depending on the humidity – I think it’s usually 1-3 hours. I didn’t try this either – because I don’t have a dehydrator.

4. Another route is to try using the residual heat from the pilot or oven light. I think you can just pick the leaves off of the stems, layer on paper towels and leave it overnight.

5. Less delicate herbs like sage, parsley, thyme hold up well to air drying and microwaving. Delicate leaf herbs like basil, mint and tarragon are more difficult – they have a lot of water in them so they need to be dried quicker to prevent mold. I read you can try drying them by hanging in a paper bag with holes punched in it and the top closed w/ a rubber band.

6. You can freeze some herbs instead of drying. You just put the leaves in ziplocs and toss them in the freezer. Also, I’ve heard of the “basil ice cube” method – sort of reminds me of making ice cubes of chicken stock. I’m going to try that later probably. Herbs that can be frozen – dill, fennel and chives and probably quite a few others.

7. Microwaving herbs can be an “instant gratification” method – but you’ll lose a bit of flavor and fragrance. I think they said it’s best when you want to do preserve just a small amount of herbs. I went with this method because I figured everyone has a microwave.

Ok, so the method with microwaving is to basically wash the herbs and pick off the leaves from the stem. You sandwich the herbs in one layer between paper towels (i used one sheet of towels but other sites said to use 2) and put that on a microwavable plate. Then you also put a small dish of water in the microwave. Always a good idea to make sure there is a bit of extra liquid in the microwave when doing something like this.

Microwave it on high for a few minutes and check to see how dry the herbs are. You know they’re done when they feel dry and crumble easily. If not done, keep microwaving it on high in short intervals (30 sec is good).

Homemade Dried Herbs - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

Results are in the pic above. I found it took much longer than I thought. I think it was up to 5 minutes or so in 30 second intervals before I felt they were “done”. The leaves curled up a bit and changed color slightly – I suspect that they might have not curled as much if they were air dried naturally. The sage that I had also might have been a bit moist from sitting covered in the package in the fridge for so long. I actually found that I could only crumble the driest leaves. The rest – I found I could chop up as in below.

Homemade Dried Herbs - Cheap Eats at Bloglander

I ended up using the dried sage right away as part of a rub for some Cornish Rock Hens. So perhaps this wasn’t the best of tests. I did try and sample some of the dried sage versus a leaf of the non-dried. The flavor and fragrance was definitely not as strong or fresh in the microwaved version. But it wasn’t so bad. I’d like to see how it fares after storage for a few months. Oh, I also read to make sure you store your dried herbs in airtight containers away from sunlight and where bugs can’t get into them.

I’m definitely going to try this out with different types of herbs. I’m also interested in putting them in the freezer. If you’ve tried drying your own herbs with success, please leave a comment.

Ok, Happy New Year in advance!

[ Currently Eating: Mongolian Beef Noodles ]

Bread Crumbs In A BowlEven though it’s definitely worthy of a Cheap Eats article, I’ve only lately tried making my own bread crumbs. The main reason is: I am just damn lazy. Which is of course no excuse!

I use a lot of bread crumbs in dishes too, which is even more reason for me to get on the ball with making them. They’re great for topping casseroles, for getting meatloaf texture to be more consistent, and of course for breading foods to be fried, like chicken breast fillets or fish.

The consistency of bread crumbs called for in recipes varies. Sometimes the crumbs are simply pieces of bread roughly torn apart, drizzled with butter and baked in the oven. Other recipes call for extremely fine crumbs, almost like semolina. You can buy a can of fine bread crumbs at the market for fairly cheap, and some even come pre-seasoned. But making your own out of older bread that’s already around is definitely cheaper.

Bread In CuisinartSo back to being lazy… we always have leftover bread (ends and slices) in the fridge. So that’s one part down. The part that always gets me when making homemade bread crumbs is the need for a food processor. Even if you had the time to stand there chopping up bread with double action cleavers, the act of cutting bread squishes it together instead of cutting it clean, making for pretty terrible crumbs. Nope, you’ve pretty much got to break out the Cuisinart.

The chefs on TV are always using food processors, mixers and blenders. I think one of the reasons they’re so enthusiastic about using these “time-saving” devices is because they don’t have to clean out the damn things after using them. It is somewhat of a pain to break out the food processor just for a little job and then have to clean the blade, cover and mixer bowl.

Continue reading “Homemade Bread Crumbs” …

[ Currently Eating: chocolate ]

Green Onions
One important thing to remember about Cheap Eating is that food storage is nearly as important as low cost. Staples like beans, rice, canned vegetables, and dry pasta are gold for eaters on a budget because you can buy them in bulk without worrying about them going bad quickly.

Vegetables and especially green, non-root vegetables (not carrots or potatoes, for instance) are a whole different story. While the price of green onions and parsley isn’t going to break the bank, it can be annoying if anything to have to keep buying a fresh batch when the ones you have go bad in a few days.

So it’s important to properly store your green vegetables in order to get the most usage out of them. One important thing to note is that at the grocery store, the veggie section often has these auto-sprayers timed to shoot out cold mist in order to keep everything fresh. While this probably works well in the market, when you take a bunch of green onions and shove it in a grocery bag and tie the top, this isn’t good news for storage. All that extra water is not going to be good for greens when stored. So I like to make sure to carry paper towels in my pocket in order to wipe off excess moisture right there at the source. Some markets actually have rolls of paper for you to do this (Albertson’s where I shop does).

Continue reading “Keeping Green Vegetables Fresh” …

3/18/05 | Freeze Your Meat

[ Currently Eating: Chili Beans ]

A quick tip to increase your “nonspoilability” Cheap Eats score. Buy meat in bulk and freeze it. What? Frozen meat, you say? Didn’t they tell us on the Food Network about freezer burn and all that other stuff? Sure. But that’s if you forget and freeze it for say 2 years. That definitely won’t contribute to Cheap Eats.

In order to get the benefits of buying bulk meat, you need to keep track of which meat in the freezer has been bought when. They sell ziploc bags with a little white space on the front of them for writing on it. Keep a permanent marker in the kitchen and use it when freezing food. Write down the date and also what’s in it. That’ll go a long way when you’re doing freezer inventory to see what needs to be thrown out.

Continue reading “Freeze Your Meat” …



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