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Storing excess food and ingredients

I've been cooking for only several months and wanted to asked everyone here at CH suggestions on storing any leftover food and/or ingredients.

I cook via recipe and a lot of times i will have excess herbs, cheese, stock, meat, fish, sauce, etc...

Now, i know storage and longevity of each item varies greatly according to the item. But i was wondering does anyone think its worthy to invest in jars and also in things that suck the air out of bags and such? will the food really stay fresher this way?

Also could everyone just give me a small idea of where to keep certain things... E.g. should herbs be kept in the fridge? or just in an room temperature area of the kitchen? Can most sauces be frozen and then taken out of the fridge when you want to use them?

I always have an issue with having excess sauce when using recipes and many times the sauces go to waste because i cant use it all up within the amount of time i keep it in the fridge in a glad container, before it goes bad...

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  1. I work during the day and am the family cook when I get home. This means that I'm kinda busy so I plan our menu for the coming week on the weekend. One thing I have been doing is leftover planning. Not just "Ooh, that meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy is going to be great for lunch," but things like "If we have meatloaf on Sunday, I can use the leftover to make chili on Thursday." As a result I have a lot less stuff going bad in the fridge. Something to consider.

    1. I live alone and so I tend to have a lot of leftovers. One thing I do is make 'tv dinners' for a future meal and freeze them. It's great when you come home late and too tired to cook. Cheese - well, I just try to eat it up. I'm not big on preserving it by freezing. I just wrap it snugly in a ziploc bag, usually. Stock and meat, I freeze if I'm not going to use it within 2 days. Most sauces can easily be frozen and I do it a lot. Just try it and you will learn what works. Experiment with freezing your sauces. Herbs can be dried. I just keep mine in the fridge but I tend to waste a lot of herbs because I think I will use them up and I don't. That is my weakness. I think you could freeze them for short term use (less than a month).

      As far as jars, I just save jars from other products I buy. I have a ton of canning jars, too, because I do a lot of canning, and they are great.

      1. I love the Reynolds Handi-Vac and use it almost daily for most everything.
        http://threedogkitchen.com/ has a recent post about how happy she is with hers.
        I keep herbs in the fridge in an opened plastic bag that I've added a paper towel to, they seem to last longer that way for me.
        I would be careful with freezing cream sauces but most others should be just fine frozen.
        I have a white sauce in the freezer now as an experiment to see how well that freezes.

        I find that cutting a recipe in half helps with having too many leftovers.


        1. One way to make leafy herbs (such as basil, parsley, cilantro) last longer is to wash them as soon as you bring them home, then, without drying, lay them out in a single layer on paper towels. Roll up the towels with the herbs inside, and put them in the fridge.

          8 Replies
          1. re: jlafler

            Do you ever freeze them? I seem to have a lot that go to waste.

            1. re: sarah galvin

              I freeze coriander - just wash it, chop it finely and stick in the freezer in plastic bag. It's defrosts pretty much on contact with hot food, so is very handy to have around.

              1. re: sarah galvin

                I've never tried freezing them, but it's worth a try. The traditional preservation method for herbs is drying, of course, but you need room somewhere to hang them up.

                One thing I do when I have fresh herbs I need to use up is make a pesto-style condiment. I throw the herbs in a food processor with garlic, olive oil, and whatever other flavorings seem appropriate. Just don't mix too many different types of herbs together, or it may not be edible.

                1. re: jlafler

                  "The traditional preservation method for herbs is drying, of course..."

                  Not necessarily, it depends on the herb. Drying works well for herbs like oregano and thyme, but try it with basil or cilantro and you'll end up with a near-tasteless powder. And others, like tarragon, acquire a very different flavor when dried - not bad, but so different that you generally wouldn't want to substitute dried for fresh (or vice versa) in recipes.

                  1. re: BobB

                    Oh no! I have a big bunch of cilantro hanging on my back porch right now from last fall's farmers market. I don't use it often, so I dried it. I hate to throw it out - I think I'll try a little bit and see how the flavor is.

                    I dry flowers to make potpourri, so I have a couple of clotheslines hung in my back porch. I just strung the cilantro up alongside the roses. :-)

                    1. re: BobB

                      can you do anything with excess cilantro or Italian flat leaf parsley?

                  2. re: sarah galvin

                    I froze fresh basil and it was beautiful and fragrant when I took some of it out recently, for use in lasagna; that was from nine months ago (basil has not progressed enough in herb garden to use it yet...) I've frozed sage and thyme, too.
                    I just wash them and freeze them.

                    When I'm not growing it, I try to buy herbs with roots (or at least the bulb or base intact) on them. I trim them, (removing and using the least fresh parts first) and get them into water as soon as I can. If they are loose cuttings I re-trim the ends. I tent plastic over them (to keep the humidity up) and set in the warmest part of fridge. I have done this for close to ten years and haven't found a better method of prolonging the life of cilantro or parsley.

                    1. re: Scargod

                      I am going to start freezing my herbs. I waste way too much.

                2. I'm a big advocate of freezing. I'd suggest getting some small containers for those extra bits of sauce. With meat, I think it's better to avoid cooking what you don't need. Freeze it raw and use it later. I freeze stock in cup-sized portions (though it's pretty concentrated because I boil it down) to use in soups, etc. Cheese also freezes well, though it also lasts long enough in the fridge that I never have to freeze it.

                  For me, the way to keep cilantro and parsley is to wash, trim the stems, and keep like a bouquet in a jar of water in the fridge. They literally stay fresh for weeks that way. I haven't had the same luck with basil, for some reason, so I prefer to keep a basil plant around and just clip what I need.

                  1. As far as cheese goes, the only time I would freeze cheese is if you're going to then put it into a dish and bake it. Freezing changes the texture of cheese and once defrosted, it turns grainy in the mouth, so I would never serve it as a table cheese. If you're going to melt it or otherwise cook with it, it doesn't matter as much.

                    We keep our fridge to shelf pretty cold, and cheese lasts for an incredibly long time- months really-- occasionally there's white dotty mold on the outside of hard cheeses, but we just scrape that off or cut off the molded part and eat the remainder.

                    1. Most things do stay fresher in the refrigerator. Two items that do not do will in the fridge are tomatoes and bread - both suffer in flavor/texture. Many things freeze well. Cream sauces, potatoes & hard boiled eggs don't fare so well though.

                      This is one of the harder parts of menu planning. If you always have a particular item left over, say dill - start to keep a list of recipes that use it too.Then use this resource as a menu planning aid each time you buy the ingredient. With herbs many recipes only need a little. If there is any way to grow a few herbs in the window, it will be very useful. Do you have a friend who cooks & likes similar foods? I had one where I used to live with whom I split many perishable items. We usually mentioned the ingredient (its on sale, or one of just wants it) and decided ahead of time. It worked very well for us both - also leads to some great recipe exchanges.

                      As you gain experience you will have less of this. You will also be able to know where you can adjust a recipe without changing the end results in a negative manner.

                      BTW, I do feel a vacuum-bag appliance does extend the life of many ingredients. The Reynolds product is a good way to experiment without investing a lot of $.

                      Soups are a handy way to use odds and ends. But keep notes - I've had greet experiments that I never could replicate because I couldn't remember what bits & pieces I had used!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: meatn3

                        Most breads freeze beautifully. I just leave them in a plastic bag, squeeze out as much air as I can, and then pull out a slice or two when I need it. I have an upright freezer 1/2 full of all different types of breads.

                        1. re: Catskillgirl

                          I do too (freeze my bread) - It takes me awhile to use a loaf. I love it when I find places that sell 1/2 loafs. While I enjoy having a variety of bread, my freezer space is rather limited.

                      2. Hey Blizzard854, I'm impressed that you are even thinking about these issues so soon into your cooking career!

                        I've cooked for years, and I am only now seriously considering how to be more frugal with leftovers. I can tell you that I have committed nearly every kitchen crime imaginable. I have wasted untold amounts of food, I have eaten very dubious leftovers, I have pushed the limits of best-before dates to beyond reasonable. Slowly, slowly I am emerging from the funk, and improving my habits. This board is an incredible resource. If you haven't already started doing so, lurk on the home cooking board. I have gotten some fabulous ideas there. There are some very generous and talented people hanging out here!

                        My two cents (and in these recession times, probably only worth half a cent, but I am in Canada, so our money is worth a bit more these days...):

                        The menu planning and the use of leftover ingredients in meals the same week is probably the best way to go. It is not worth investing in storage containers with vacuums if you aren't organized enough to remember to use the stored items. Start by trying to use up ingredients as fast as you can, as fresh as you can. Once you have this very good habit under your belt, then you can go onto storing ingredients.

                        The problem with storage in cupboards, in freezers, in pantries, in cellars: You have to be very organized and disciplined to remember to use all the stuff you store there. Too often, I pull something out of the freezer and say "What is THAT?" If I'm lucky, there is a date on it, so at least I can have some idea of whether it might be edible. It is amazing how fast 6 months, 1 year or 2 years can go by.

                        Also consider infestation. After one episode of larvae, mice, cockroaches, whatever, it becomes much less interesting to store foods. We had larvae in our dried goods a while back, what a waste! Not to mention, the whole clean up was very traumatic.

                        We have recently started "cooking out of the pantry/freezer". We see what we have and try to cook only from ingredients in the house. I have started trying to break free from recipes, and I am trying to develop my skills in using techniques instead of recipes. We are wasting a lot less food (especially produce), we are spending much less money on groceries, and we are having fun! Some meals are a bust, but overall, the food has been quite good. I have also started trying to decrease the crap in our freezer and pantries, so I went through and checked the status of the goods. You would be surprised what you find when you systematically look through your stuff. I now have a large pile of frozen and canned/jarred goods that are in the "Find a creative use for..." list. I open one really old item per week, and if it is inedible, it gets tossed. If it is still edible, I try to find a creative use for it. I only do this once a week, because it is the highest risk for yucky food. But doing this exercise has really opened my eyes to al the junk I have collected over the years, and motivated me to use up fresh ingredients and stop storing (and forgetting about) food.

                        We are getting much better at it. Yesterday, we made a really great simple pasta out of leftover pancetta, cocktail tomatoes, a remaining chunk of Parmesan and some pasta in our overflowing pasta cupboard. Didn't have to leave the house, used up all the bits of things, and it tasted really great!

                        Now if you are one of these very organized and motivated people, hats off to you, go ahead and buy the vacuum bags, you can really take advantage of storage methods. But for us mere mortals, I find storage methods are just a method of keeping the food for a longer period of time before I toss it in the garbage. Out of sight, out of mind!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: moh

                          One little tip that requires minimal investment: I keep several sheets of 1" x 2" stick-on labels on my refrigerator door, along with a marker pen. Aside from giving my wife's collection of refrigerator magnets something to do, anything that goes into the freezer gets a label with the contents and date. Sometimes I use them on Tupperware containers in the fridge as well. I find that it helps my family use things up if they can easily see what they are and how old.

                          1. re: BobB

                            BobB, thanks for the tip! We use labels for stuff we put in the freezer, and that has been very useful to know just how old something is. But I never considered putting the stuff on the fridge to make it easier to remember to it every time. I shall also put my fridge magnet collection to use :)

                        2. My favorite tip, also mentioned in another recent topic: When you roast a whole chicken, there's usually a little package in the cavity with the neck, gizzard, heart, and liver. Most of this can be used, along with the rest of the carcass, to make stock -- but you don't want to use the liver for that. At least, I don't. But there's not a whole lot you can do with one chicken liver. So (here's the tip, finally), a while back I put a container in the fridge marked "chicken livers," and every time I roast a chicken I put the liver in there. When I have half a pound or so of livers, I defrost them and make chopped chicken liver or pate.

                          1. When one has an embarrassment of riches of herbs, make compound butter. The resulting unctuous delight can be wrapped well and frozen, then chunks cut off the roll as needed.

                            2 Replies
                              1. re: WCchopper

                                herbs in vinegars, but remember that most you cannot put in oils unless you cook them in the oils (like with the butter).