REDUCING FOOD WASTE: Understanding how long preserved foods are “good”

I started Can-Do Real Food after working part of one growing season at a farm and becoming aware for the first time just how much food never even reaches people who want to eat. Farmers regularly pull aside veggies and fruit that are imperfectly shaped or start aging while new produce is being harvested. Consumers want the best looking stuff, of course, so farmers are used to feeding their imperfect items into the compost pile or as additives to chicken or pig food.

While I take responsibility for reducing food waste once it gets to me, I very much understand that the volume that ends up in my compost pile instead of my stomach is a teeny tiny amount of waste compared to other places along the food supply line. However, I still want to reduce that as much as possible. After all, I am also wasting my money to purchase food if I have to throw it away! One way is to be aware of those dates that are stamped or written on all commercially prepared foods and to understand them. Then you can apply the same concept to your own home-preserved items, whether they are frozen, canned, dehydrated, smoked or fermented.

One of the conundrums as a commercial food processor was that I had was to determine WHICH standard to use: “use by” or “best by”. There are NO guidelines from the government other than the mandate I use something!

“Use by” implies that the food is unsafe after that date. I know I stopped my youngest from pouring out a half-empty gallon of milk because the “use by date” had passed. You can imagine the “mean mommy” experience that required him to actually sniff (okay, it smells okay) and TASTE (do I have to? YES!) to teach that there is no magic event that instantly occurs that makes something bad at a specific date.

The mayo I purchased a month or so ago has a Best By date with plenty of time to use in other households but we don’t use mayo much……..

A word here that expiration dates on medication also has some wiggle room but I am not an expert on this. If you wonder if you can take something that “expired” 5 years ago……ask! A pharmacist is a good resource.

Back to food. I preferred to use “best by”. In the first season when I learned to can I put up some carrots. I dated my jar and never reached for it until a couple of years later when I was making soup and thought carrots would be a good addition but had none in the frig. I checked the seal….good. I looked at the contents inside the jar. The color was appropriate and there were no little bubbles of gas in the liquid, so far so good. I opened it….no bad aroma. So far all signs show it is SAFE to eat.

But when I put a fork in to pull a carrot out, it dissolved immediately into an orange cloud. It was certainly past the BEST time to enjoy it.

So, since then I put the date on the lid with what it is. (I am long past trying to convince myself I will remember what that jar of bluish-purple color jam is or which spice mix is in that tomato mix in that jar.) I put new jars behind any older ones of the same recipe when I store on my shelves. That way, the older stuff SHOULD be used first.

And remember, share. Seriously, if you have not eaten that jar of peaches that you put up in 1999, please toss it. If it’s from 2016, open one and if it is okay, plan how to use them. And do not make more until you do!

Our State Fair award-winning instant soup…and here is the one in MY cupboard, showing a best by date of last July. I know that means I prepared the mix in June from the pumpkins’ harvest in the fall of 2018. It is dry and good for at least 5 years or longer. That is one of the joys of dehydrated foods.

So, bottom line: besides the fact that this shows one more advantage that dehydrated foods hold longer safely than canned products, most are SAFE to eat beyond the date on the container, but the texture may be diminished the longer you move from initial processing.

REDUCING FOOD WASTE: What’s in the Crisper Drawer?

Just because I have been a commercial food processor whose mission is to reduce food waste does not mean I am innocent. Oh Lord, no. I wrote about my own fuzzy scientific experiments in the containers in the back of my frig before. But this is shameful because now, going to the supermarket to get more food is WORK. I need to gain more respect for the food I bring into this house for us to eat. Perhaps you do too.

So here is a photo of my crisper drawers before we used some of it for supper prep. Let’s talk about what to SAFELY do with tired veggies.

First, see that blue plastic “apple” shaped item? That is a tool used in a lot of commercial kitchens to absorb the gas that decaying produce emit, thereby theoretically slowing down rot. And, even tho it looks like it has not worked, it can….if I just replace the pellets inside…….. I picked this gem up at the Fancy Food show a few years ago. Only food professionals can attend and it is an amazing event held each January in San Francisco and in June (not this year probably) in Manhattan. So, when I keep the pellets inside refreshed, my produce in my crisper drawers last about twice as long as without. And you can buy it too, but we should not need to.

Those carrots embarrass me., but I’m owning up to their current state because I know I am not alone with this issue. I picked up 4 carrots (these will keep well, I thought) 3 weeks ago, and I already had 4 carrots. They do not keep forever, and the older ones are just at the point of no return. Tomorrow I will make another soup and the good ones will go in cut up and yes, we will get more carrots the next shopping. But not 8 and I will plan to use them.

And that is the key. Check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Plan your menu for the week and then make a list of those items AND THE QUANTITIES you need for that week. That way you won’t buy fresh stuff you will not use.

Make Shopping Lists

Then check the pantry again to look to add a couple more items from that master pantry list to expand your spices, or your pasta selection or some other shelf safe item that can help you make the best of what fresh you can keep……in good eating order.

REDUCING FOOD WASTE: The joy offered by the supermarket roasted chicken

Oh roast chicken: how many ways can we use you? Whether you buy it already roasted at the supermarket or grab a whole chicken there and roast it yourself at home, the zero waste person can get MULTIPLE meals out of one 3-pound bird.

Roast chickens at a Paris marche (open-air market)

First, roast chicken with roasted veggies. Set the oven for 350 degrees. If you have an uncooked chicken, clean it (yes, you really need to wash it) and then season it. That can be done simply with some dry herb mixture your family enjoys or even a liquid cooking sauce. Veggies should be cut into fairly similar sized pieces and also sprinkled with some seasoning. Roast for 45-60 minutes. There are many many many recipes online if you need more specific info to get started.

Second, trim all meat off the bones. Place meat in a sealed storage container in the frig (to use within 2 days) and prepare to make broth. You need a large saucepan or dutch oven. Add the bones to the pot. Cut up an onion. Wash and peel a couple of carrots and slice them in. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a slow simmer, covered, for two to five hours (YES! The longer the deeper the flavor!) Add washed and peeled small diced potatoes or pasta or rice, salt and pepper and other seasonings. Veggies will be cooked in another half hour and you have some soup to enjoy!

Third, those meat trimmings. Adding chopped onions for tang, green or red peppers for crunch, maybe walnuts if you are leaning towards something different, and then mayo or your favorite salad dressing for a salad or sandwich filling.

Does anyone have more suggestions???? Add them below in the comments.

Stock Your Pantry

We seem to be in the height of the harvest now and it is a great opportunity for people to grab what they can to enjoy the tastes of summer through the winter. 2014-10-03 11.21.47Can you imagine tasting a summer peach in February?  The ones available in the supermarket are currently in flower in  South America. They will be harvested a bit green to make the 1500+mile journey to us without spoiling. They will be presented in the grocery store a bit hard and you will ripen them on the counter. When you taste it, it will be very pale in flavor compared to the tree ripened, freshly harvested fruit you can pick up in the market.

So what can you do?

You COULD consider eating in season. We used to do that when I was little because fruits and veggies grown overseas and brought in were very expensive. Then shipping prices dropped and here we are, expecting to eat watermelon in January. Consumer demand drives corporate decisions. If we the people who love our food to taste good decide we will not buy unripe produce during the winter three things can happen:

  • The stores will reduce what they bring in.
  • Local farmers probably will pick up the slack as much as the climate permit.
  • We learn that eating in season brings a lot of joy as we welcome a favorite flavor once again for the first time.

Image result for canning equipment canning toolsAnd there is a fourth, but it’s all on you: preserve the food available in season. You can freeze (easy), dehydrate (also easy and you can pick up a dehydrator that will work well for you for as little as $50), canning (a bit of a learning curve and you need a huge canning pot and attention to food safety issues), and freeze drying  (if you have a spare $3500 to purchase one, I want to use it for just 2 kinds of processing, please).

Of course, there is an easy way: shop Can-Do Real Food and stock your pantry.personal pantry

For example, right now we have a lot of dehydrated fruit offered as single types, combinations and fruit leather (roll-ups).  Can you imagine buying some watermelon strips now and holding them in your cupboard until January?  That will be a ripe full-flavored yumminess.

Image result for summer poeach winter peach comparison

The tomatoes began to show up in the market a few weeks ago and last week the farmers who provide surplus to Can-Do Real Food started sharing. I had enough to make salsa, some mild (golly gee, people, I ONLY used bell peppers…..and some mild Hatch chilis that barely stirred my palate, so be BRAVE) and some we loaded with jalpenos and more but Graham says it is “medium”. Heat lovers will have to taste to know if it provides enough pain/pleasure.  So, when you buy, buy TWO and put one in the back of your cupboard and forget about it……until the holiday gatherings. Then pull out the taste of August!tomatoes from BS

The next tomato project is the Loaded Pasta Sauce. Buy 6, get 10% off. Buy 8 and get your choice of a small (9 ounce) jar or a small dehydrated bag of your choice free. Buy 12 and get 15% off (and the freebie that you earn at 8).

Why do I suggest this? Because eating locally grown food supports our neighbors, the farmers who work from beyond sunrise to sundown in all kids of weather.  I want you to enjoy eating local food year-round and if you don’t preserve today’s harvest, take advantage of the fact that I do…with no artificial anything.cropped-mission.jpg

 

The Joy of Having a Personal Food Processor

Here I am toiling away in the commercial kitchen when I get a message from a friend: How about a case of peaches?peaches

Hmmm, more peaches. I have made the Hogan’s Hot Stuff and the Naughty Peach Jam and brought both to the farmers’ market last week. There are more available and local people can contact me to arrange purchase. But as good as those are, both in taste and popularity, these new peaches offer a bit of fun in a different way.

They belong to my friend and I am her personal food processor. She hands over fruits and vegetables to me from time to time and I preserve them for her. This time she requested peach with ginger fruit leather. I love when people want to explore taste combinations and I think she’s right;  I can’t wait to see how that turns out.

My friend loves to cook and she recognizes a good deal on raw produce when she sees one. That’s how she ends up with a box here and large sack there of this and that. And after I work my magic, her pantry is a bit fuller and she’s looking for the next item for stocking up.

I’m doing the same thing in a way for one of my farm partners. They actually have no plans for selling any of the yummies I preserve for them from their garden. All items are for their home consumption. They have gotten to the point where they know they personally do not have the time (or energy) to put up tomato sauce or other things. They call me and I can take care of it for them. Right now we are exploring and agreeing that dehydrated Asian pears are the bomb!

asian pears
Dehydrated pears with 5-spice powder

And I’m doing the exact same thing for one other friend who really hates to cook. But she ‘ll be the first to declare that she likes to eat. She asked me if I could provide her some simple meals in a jar. I had talked to her how I pressure can left over turkey after Thanksgiving into turkey pot pie. Then, if we come home and are too tired to even think about cooking, we can open the jar and heat it up. This friend and I are exploring what family favorites of hers can be canned up so she can have it easier in her kitchen while her family eats delicious and nutritious meals without the cost of eating out.

personal pantry
Bottom 2 shelves of our personal pantry with dehydrated mixes and canned items 

I can do the same thing for you. I can cook it here or there, either way. In fact, if you want to learn to can or dehydrate, working in your kitchen makes a lot more sense so we can do the job together and you learn as we go.

You can eat local food year round!!

Umami What?

Okay, unlike other foodies, I’m a bit slow in some areas. I knew the tongue could detect sweet, salty, bitter and sour but only a few years ago I heard about umami.

MSG is a flavor ingredient that got a reputation for causing headaches, but what was valued was how it enhanced flavors, particularly in soups and stews.

And now, through the magic of dehydrating foods that are found nearby, Can-Do Real Food is offering Umami Dust! Just a tablespoon of the mix added to your soup, stew, pot roast or other slow-cooked dish will perk up the flavor into a new level of appreciation.

The mix has two main elements. Earthy notes are provided by a mix of crimini, portobello and shitake mushrooms. The essence of the ocean is provided by dulce, a form of seaweed, and sea salt.

No MSG.

Enjoy!!!

umami dust

 

 

Turning Two Oops into a Pantry Feast

A funny thing happened last week on the way to preparing the matza ball soup for the Seder. I used the wrong chicken.

I’ve talked about “Know Your Farmer” so it probably won’t surprise you to know I have a farm where I get my eggs. They used to raise meat chickens but have gotten out of that last year. However, as their older birds no longer produce eggs, they are processed and frozen as “stewing” chickens. Perfect for making soup! I ordered some from her and we had three in the freezer.

The first oops happened when I asked my husband to grab a chicken and I didn’t notice until it was already defrosted that it was not one of the stewing hens. It was a large roaster so it served my immediate need but the next oops occurred Sunday when my husband used one of the stewing hens for supper…..and he did not stew it. It was, to put it mildly, hard to chew.  We ate vegetables that night. LOL

That chicken and one more from the freezer then went into the soup pot yesterday and I made a boatload of broth. It simmered all day to develop a deep flavor.

This morning I got out my canning supplies. First I used my hot water canner to sanitize the jars I would use. Then, filling a bunch of pints, I then pressure canned broth so we could have it on the shelf to grab for meal preparation.

While that was processing, I then stripped the meat off the bones and made up a chicken pot pie mixture with onions, carrots, celery, green beans, and a whole bunch of herbs and seasoning. Then I sanitized quarts in the hot water canner and got 3 quarts of pot pie mix, 1 quart of soup (the remainder of the pot pie mix with more broth) and 3 more quarts of chicken broth. I STILL had some broth left over so it went into the freezer.

We prefer to can broth instead of freezing it for a couple of reasons. First, it takes up freezer space which is needed for the meats we buy from local farmers and other items in the freezer, like my ice cream maker bowl…all necessary for happy living here. Secondly, when the broth is frozen you have to plan ahead in order to defrost it to use it. Sometimes our meal planning is more ad hoc and frozen broth ends up forgotten.

From left to right: pot pie mix, soup, broth

Knowing how to can food safely was something I learned three years ago. Hot water bath canning was enough of a challenge but pressure canning had that horrible “explosion possibility mystique” that I needed to overcome. Now, no big deal. And it becomes a joy when I look at my home pantry and see that I have a ready supply of food that I have preserved. This is food that I know the contents and there are no preservatives or additives we don’t want in our diet.

Do you want to learn how to can safely at home?  Let me know. I will be planning a canning lesson in May and will be interested if there is interest.