Whether you’re on lockdown or trying to reduce trips to the supermarket, or even just wanting to know how to reduce food waste, these tips on how to extend the life of your pantry goods can make a big difference. You’ll be surprised what new and delicious creations one can make with ingredients we usually dispose of, and what foods can be preserved for much longer than we think.
Food in the refrigerator may extend its storage life for a few days but here’s what you can do to extend it for weeks or even months. This one may seem obvious but apart from foods that already come frozen in a store (peas, French fries, premade meals etc) there’s a lot you can freeze to make your ingredients last.
1. Raw Meat
Meat has a really short shelf life in the refrigerator. However, if frozen, most meats can last up to a year in the freezer. Raw minced or ground meat can be frozen for up to 4 months, while bigger cuts like raw steak or chicken thighs can last up to 8 months in the freezer. Make sure to freeze the meats when they are fresh. Basically, the bigger the cut, the longer it lasts in the freezer, but around the 4th-6th month mark, the quality and taste starts to deteriorate.
Remember that the temperature of your freezer is very important to ensure your frozen meat is safe and preserved well. According to the FDA, a temperature of 0°F or lower will stop the growth of unsafe microorganisms that will otherwise jeopardize the quality and safety of your meats.
When defrosting meats, the best way is to transfer them to the refrigerator to defrost slowly at a constant and safe temperature. This make take hours so its best if you do it overnight or first thing in the morning when you plan to cook the meat for dinner. However, if you’re in a rush, place the meat in a Ziploc bag, making sure to seal it with as little air inside as possible. Place the bag in cold water (not ice cold), changing the water every 25 minutes or so until it is fully thawed.
2. Vegetables and Fruit
We’re all used to seeing frozen peas, carrots, and sometimes corn in the supermarket, but there are actually many other vegetables you can freeze, so long as you place it in the freezer while it is still fresh. Many can be frozen up to a year. Make sure to wash the vegetables thoroughly before the following steps.
Thicker and less leafy vegetables like carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, or turnips should be cut into smaller pieces, blanched (placed in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes), drained, then placed quickly in cold water to halt the cooking process. After that, place in an air tight Ziploc bag in the freezer immediately
Leafier vegetables like kale or spinach should also be blanched before freezing, but only for about a minute. Then placed in an air tight bag in the freezer.
Onions can be frozen without blanching but it’s not recommended that you eat them raw after being frozen as they lose their crispiness. Use in a stir fry or a stew but not maybe in salads.
Fruits do not need blanching. They just need to be washed and cut into small pieces and placed in the freezer in an airtight bag. Frozen fruit is a fun summertime snack or a great addition to smoothies. Alternatively, they are great for baked goods such as blueberry muffins or a cobbler.
This one may not be new to some of you. But bread freezing is an awesome life hack. Fresh bread can be frozen for up to 6 months. Around the 1-month mark, the taste may start to deteriorate, but no fear! Use for a bread and butter pudding or French toast.
When using bread for toast or sandwiches, take out of the freezer and leave to thaw at room temperature. The thawing time can depend on the size of the loaf or slice.
If you wish to freeze bread that is freshly baked, remember to wait till it is fully cooled before placing it in the freezer. This can take about 3-4 hours.
Using food that we usually throw away
There are some parts of our ingredients that truly cannot be eaten such as egg shells or avocado pits. Reduce food waste by composting these. HOWEVER, there are a few ingredients we tend to throw out when preparing a meal but these can actually be used for a whole different meal! Here’s what we mean.
1. Liquid from canned goods
Beans, corn, pineapples, sardines. You name it, you can find it in a can. Usually we drain the liquid from the solids and only use the liquids. But there’s so much you can do with those liquids and we’ve listed our favorite ones here.
Ok this one does not taste great on its own but did you know it can be used as an egg white substitute? For those who are vegan or have an egg allergy, chickpea water aka aquafaba is the answer to your chiffon cake and meringue cravings.
To make aquafaba, drain the chickpea water into a separate bowl, making sure there are not any excess solids in the liquid. It can be hand whipped or done using a stand mixer. We recommend a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer which will take about 3-6 minutes to form stiff peaks. If you wish for a true challenge, whip manually by hand. May the odds ever be in your aquafavor.
Canned corn water
This one’s pretty straight forward. Canned corn water is essentially corn stock. After separating the corn kernels from the liquid, the liquid can be used for thinning out corn chowder. We used it for this purpose in our Lemongrass Turmeric Corn Chowder recipe. Check it out here. Use it in other soups and stews as well! Add a lovely and slight sweetness to your chicken or vegetable stew with canned corn water.
Like canned corn water, this is basically a stock or concentrate. Sardine oil/liquid is a fantastic addition to a bouillabaisse (seafood stew), a seafood gumbo, or a seafood curry. This is quite strong in taste and salt content, so use sparingly and pair with strong spices and flavors. We recommend using it to enhance the umami taste of a spicy seafood curry. A red curry is best because the strong spice and sharp flavors help balance out the fishiness of the oil. Check out our Organic Red Curry Paste here.
Canned fruit liquid
There’s quite a lot you can do with liquid drained from canned fruits like peaches, pineapples, or mandarins. You can freeze them into ice cubes and add it to fruit punches for an ice that makes the drink cold without diluting the flavor overtime. Or we love putting them in black teas like Ceylon tea or Darjeeling tea to make an awesome fruity iced tea! Alternatively, you can just add it straight to fruit punches.
You can also boil and reduce the liquid to create a syrup to pour over cakes, ice cream, frozen yogurt and more! Canned fruit liquid is a great alternative to artificial concentrated fruit flavorings.
2. Slightly Spoiled or Almost Spoiled Food
We’re not talking about food that expired months ago that has formed a colony of mold. We’re talking about food that is either about to go bad or a few days past its expiration date. These are still safe to eat but should not be eaten raw or on its own. Here’s some of our favorites.
Again, not moldy bread, but bread that has lost most of its springiness and softness. This kind of bread is not great for sandwiches or toast, but its perfect (in fact better than fresh bread) for making Bread & Butter Pudding or French Toast. Stale bread is great at absorbing all the flavors and liquids for those recipes.
Besides that, toasted stale bread is awesome for making breadcrumbs or croutons. It’s much crispier than fresh toast bread and absorbs soups and sauces wonderfully.
In all these options, the staler the bread, the better.
The mouthfeel of overripe bananas can be a bit off putting. But these are amazing when used in baked goods like Banana Bread. The sweetness tends to be more concentrated and the texture much easier for mashing. They also can be used in smoothies or homemade ice cream! Simply cut and freeze the bananas overnight. Take them out and blend them with some of your favourite ice cream ingredients like chocolate or caramel. Easy as that!
Slightly Spoiled Milk
Emphasis on SLIGHTLY. We’re talking milk that is a few days past the expiration date and has developed a very light sour smell. Do not drink this raw.
It can, however, be a substitute for buttermilk when marinating chicken or in buttermilk pancakes. These are instances in which the milk will be subject to high heat, therefore the end product will be safe to eat. Like buttermilk, the acidity of the milk can add a slight tanginess to chicken or pastries. It can also further tenderize the chicken.
Another way to use spoiled milk is to make cheese, specifically cottage cheese. There are many recipes online that you can choose from that recommend using slightly spoiled milk to make cottage cheese. It curdles much easier than fresh milk making the process much easier.
Stretching your pantry is not just for darker times like these when we are in lockdown. Overtime, forming these habits can result in less trips to the supermarket and very low food wastage. This helps the environment and saves so much time. Stay safe everyone!