Hello, again! This week we will continue our discussion about economical grocery shopping. Our focus this week will be everything except the meat case.
First, we will turn to the produce aisles. Produce can be one of the hardest items to preserve once it is in your refrigerator. One of the best habits to get into when you bring home produce is to clean it before you store it. I know it seems like a hassle and you don’t have the time for it, but it really does help keep your vegetables fresher. Without all those dirt and microbes on your veggies, there will be less chance of growth in the refrigerator. However, make sure your veggies are mostly dry when putting them into the refrigerator. Otherwise, spoilage will occur more quickly.
One of my favorite produce tips is for asparagus and basil. Simply fill a large, tall glass with water most of the way. Then, place either your clean asparagus or basil into the “vase” of water with the tops up. For asparagus, you will put it into the fridge uncovered. Basil needs to be covered loosely with a plastic bag. This keeps them fresh for about two weeks, which is much longer than they usually last.
Some fruits and veggies also produce a gas called ethylene gas, some more than others. Storing these different types of ethylene producers properly can help you keep them longer. Some that should be refrigerated are apples, apricots, muskmelon (aka cantaloupe), figs, and honeydew. Other gassy fruits and veggies that should not be refrigerated are avocados, unripe bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes. These produce items should be kept away from gas producers so they will keep longer: ripe bananas, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce and other leafy greens, parsley, peas, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, and watermelon.
Another way to avoid vegetative waste is to plan when to eat certain fruits and veggies throughout the week. By doing some minimal planning, you can make one shopping trip of produce last the whole week. This list comes from the Vegetarian Times (http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/spoiled-rotten-how-to-store-fruits-and-vegetables):
EAT FIRST (Sunday to Tuesday): Artichokes, asparagus, avocados, bananas, basil, broccoli, cherries, corn, dill, green beans, mushrooms, mustard greens, strawberries, watercress
EAT NEXT (Wednesday to Friday): Arugula, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, lettuce, lime, pineapple, zucchini
EAT LAST (Weekend): Apricots, bell peppers, blueberries, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, grapefruit, leeks, lemons, mint, oranges, oregano, parsley, peaches, pears, plums, spinach, tomatoes, watermelon
INTO THE NEXT WEEK: Apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, garlic, onions, potatoes, winter squash
Now, we will turn to freezing yet again. Like I said last week, I think the freezer is the best thing to happen to the apartment-dwelling segment of America. The bread aisle is a great place to start. Bread is an easy freeze: just pop it in the freezer and it’s good to go. When you’re ready to use it, just pull it out and warm it in the microwave for about 15-20 seconds, depending on your microwave.
The other grain I like to freeze is pasta. Pasta can be kind of tricky to freeze, but if its done right, it’s worth the extra effort. Pasta must be slightly undercooked to be frozen well. I like to cook about a pound of pasta and freeze half. After you drained the undercooked pasta, toss all of it with olive oil to keep it from sticking. Then, portion out about half of the pasta into a large gallon freezer bag. Label and fold into quarters to make defrosting simpler. To defrost, run under warm water in a colander until the noodles separate. Then, drop into boiling water for a minute or two to warm and drain immediately to prevent it from overcooking.
Tomato paste is another item that can go to waste quickly. Typically, a recipe calls for a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, at most. So what happens to the other 4 Tablespoons left in the can? It sits in your fridge, slowly gets pushed to the back until you clean your fridge, at which point you pull out a disgusting green furry mass-in-a-can that you quickly discard. Freeze tomato paste by spooning out into about tablespoon measurements on a lined cookie sheet and put in the freezer. Pop off and then put into a labeled freezer bag.
Finally, eggs are your best bet in the supermarket. They last forever, even past the “sell by” date. Eggs have natural microbial barriers, so mostly what deteriorates past that printed date is the grade of the egg. If you start with a Grade A egg, good for frying and pretty presentation, and keep it for a couple months, it will probably end up as a Grade B, which is more suited for scrambling, baking, or something where pretty isn’t as important.
Today’s recipe is a quick egg casserole dish. Pretty much, I had eggs in my fridge to use and I kind of wanted an egg casserole.
I Need To Use This Up Egg Casserole
1 potato, sliced very thinly
2-3 slices of bacon, diced
A few small slices of Canadian bacon or ham, diced, optional
4-5 small mushroom caps
1 small onion
Almost any other vegetable to use up (e.g., asparagus, bell peppers, spinach), diced or small chunks
1 container plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
2-3 eggs, depending on how eggy you want it
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Prepare all vegetables according to above specifications. Add about 1-2 Tbsp. of olive oil to the pan and add potato slices. Cover with a lid, taking off periodically to flip/stir, for about 4-6 minutes or until mostly tender. Remove from pan and reserve on a plate. Add bacon and ham, if using, to pan and brown. Put onto plate with potatoes and reserve. Add a little oil if the pan is dry and sauté veggies until tender. Season with thyme and basil. Drain on a paper towel. Mix cheese and yogurt in one bowl and scramble eggs in another. Season both bowls with pepper and a little salt.
Layer half of the potatoes into a 1 quart casserole dish, followed by half of the veggies, all of the cheese mixture, the rest of the veggies and the rest of the potatoes. Pour the eggs over the layers and gently lift the layer to make sure the eggs get underneath. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the eggs are firm and slightly browned. Let the casserole rest for 5 min. Cut into fours and scoop out with a large turner/spatula.