Food Storage Issues
So, I've been getting local produce delivered. It's great in the summer, but because I am a picky eater and do not care for winter greens or turnips, radishes, etc., I now have a backlog of onions, lemons, carrots, potatoes and apples.
I can applesauce and make pies for freezing, so that is not a big deal.
And for the lemons, I have been juicing them and freezing the juice in ice cube trays (although I did make some lemon curd and it was great!).
But when I got so many onions/potatoes I put an three drawer plastic storage bin in the bottom of my utility closet for the onions/potatoes. They are in separate drawers, but apparently that is not enough because my potatoes spoil (turn to liquid) much quicker than I've ever seen. Plus the onions start to sprout really quickly. I know the produce (at least when i get it) is fresher than my grocery store, so I am assuming my issue is storage. So, how far apart do I have to store my onions/potatoes from each other? Different rooms? The only other spot I have handy is on top of my fridge, can I store one or the other up there? Or is it not dark enough?
Based on advice from this board, I know potatoes can't be frozen easily. But can I freeze the onions and carrots after they've been chopped? I know the kind you buy in the store are flash frozen, so I was wondering if this would be an issue, since all I have is a regular side-by-side fridge/freezer. I do have a vacuum sealer, so I would probably chop everything up, then vacuum seal it, then freeze. In the summer I have an abundance of squash/bell peppers, I'd like to try to freeze these, as well. Any tips?
So to sum up my questions:
1. How far apart do onions and potatoes have to be stored from each other?
2. Can I use the top of my fridge a storage area for onions or potatoes (I'd leave the other in my utility closet)
3. Can I chop and freeze vegetables and get good quality like the freezer section of my grocery store? Or is it a no-go because I cannot flash freeze them? How long can they stay in the freezer if I vacuum pack them?
I store my onions in a large bowl on the third shelf of my walk-in pantry. Potatoes are in a open topped box on the floor. Onions keep just fine for months, potatoes it varies, but usually at least a month. I've had sweet potatoes last for months on end. I'm wondering if part of your problem is ventilation. Those plastic storage drawers seal things up pretty good when closed... so maybe either try cutting holes in the drawers or switch to open boxes.
I'm not real knowledgeable on freezing so no advice there, sorry :)
Lemons can be frozen whole. I might grate off, and dry, the zest from some before freezing.
Apples will be fine in the fridge for several weeks.
Potatoes can be made into "freezeable mashed potatoes" with (full fat) cream cheese and cream, rather than butter and milk. Freeze in small portions for ease of use.
Rather than vacuum packing the frozen chopped vegetables, I prefer to use heavy-duty resealable zip-style plastic bags. Don't fill the bags too much, as you'll want to be able to break off a bit, as needed. I have successfully frozen onion, carrot, celery, leek, bell peppers, squash for use in cooking.
If you end up with chili peppers, I would suggest drying... in a sunny window on a rack.
If you have the smaller sized vacuum sealer, then you could vac-pac the vegetables in 1 or 2-cup bags.
Top of the fridge is usually too warm for vegetable storage.
Onions and potatoes could be in the same room, just not the same drawer.
The plastic drawers may lack ventilation. You might have more success using baskets rather than drawers.
You might also check with your delivery company to determine how they store onions and garlic. If they store in a cool/cold storage, then you should, too. As soon as the bulbs move from a cold to a warm environment, they think it's time to grow, and start to produce shoots. Ditto for potatoes, sweet potatoes, sunchokes.
Oh my gosh, I didn't even think about the bags they come in....the onions I always take out of the plastic bags they come in but the potatoes I usually leave....they are definitely not getting much ventilation.
I will try getting rid of the bags first...if that doesn't work I will try baskets. Thanks!
As my mother did it, I had been keeping onions and potatoes in the same refrigerator crisper drawer for 3+ decades before I ever heard that they had to be separated, and not refrigerated - so I knew that was balderdash! I live alone so the only time I don't refrigerate them is in the winter, when it
is cool enough to keep a large, more economical bag, on the lower landing.
Perforated plastic bags do not provide enough circulation for potatoes or onions. I save the net bags and transfer the contents from the plastic ones. It's also important to store them out of the light.
Carrots are supposed to be blanched before freezing. Ditto corn. Peppers, onions, and squash can be chopped/diced/sliced and frozen raw, This is a time-saver, especially in the case of onion. Because freezing ruptures cell walls, onions cook faster from frozen than fresh. Freeze in baggies (suck out as much air as possible with a straw) in the amounts you typically use when cooking, then put all the little baggies into a larger freezer bag or container. I have not found a big difference in quality or ice crystals between baggies and vacuum-sealing. There's going to be ice because of all the water in vegetables and fruits.
Don't even think of using the top of the fridge. Much too warm.
Dry, cool and dark is the important thing for storing potatoes and onions - they'll keep for a long time that way.
As far as freezing goes, freezing tends to make water rich foods mushy (the water expands and forms crystals, which cut through cell linings). And often you blanch (ie toss into boiling water briefly) vegetables before freezing, which makes them freeze much better for various reasons. Freeze cut up vegetables on a tray in a single layer before packaging, so you don't end up with a solid mass of stuff.
Onions - I don't think I'd freeze them raw. Try cooking up batches of sauteed or carmelized onions and freezing those (a fast shortcut for cooking later, or for using in a slow cooker).
Carrots - chop and blanch, and freeze as described above. You can use the same for corn (cut off the cob), peas, green beans, etc. This works very well - we had a huge garden when I was a kid, and those frozen vegetables were actually much nicer than the ones at the store.
Winter Squash - Cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and bake in a tray with a bit of water until soft (~ an hour). Scoop out the squash, mash it, and freeze that. You can serve it as is, or use in soups.
Bell peppers - definitely don't freeze raw. For red/yellow peppers, what works really well is to roast them first, and then freeze - you can use them in pastas, sauces, dips, with eggs, etc.
For other veggies
- Tomatoes I'm make into sauce and freeze the sauce.
- Roasted vegetables freeze well. This can work for root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, etc), red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, onions, etc. You can serve them as a side dish, puree and use in soups.
- For winter greens or spinach, definitely cook before freezing. I'd cook them briefly in boiling water (whole leaves), drain, and squeeze out excess water before freezing.
There is no reason not to freeze bell peppers that will be used in cooking (except that purple ones turn green in freezer). Supermarkets sell frozen peppers - I buy mark-down fresh ones and make my own.
As already mentioned, frozen onions (also available in supermarkets) are likewise usable, and faster-cooking. I freeze both raw and cooked.
I freeze chopped-up onions and raw bell peppers all the time.
I cut them fairly small, put them in a single layer in a metal pie pan, and freeze until solid (the metal seems to help speed this up. Then just bag 'em in a zip-top freezer bag.
I also freeze whole chiles (habanero, serrano). If you're going to cook them, the loss of texture doesn't really matter.