I am guilty of it, too. You are headed home from your bi-weekly grocery rounds and you think forward to getting off your feet and out of traffic and throwing the kids into their rooms to have a little “quiet” time. Then you get home and it occurs to you slowly–and again!–that you still have much of your chore ahead of you. But here’s what I want to say: avoid shirking. You have to get those groceries inside and stored properly before you can rest. It is so important that to not do it will end in disaster throughout the coming weeks. Do it now, and do it right.
When I get home from buying the groceries, I bring all the bags inside. Then I put the groceries into piles near their destination (fridge, freezer, cupboard, pantry, etc.). This is an important step not only because it gets me organized, but it also keeps me from opening the fridge and freezer several times, lowering the internal temperature more than necessary. All piled? I also have a pile near my sink and/or on my cutting board which consists of things that need to be “prepped” (that’s the internal conversation going on there). There are spices and bulk foods that need to be dumped into jars and containers. There are foods that need to be separated into serving sizes before freezing. There are dipping veggies and salad ingredients that I like to chop right up front. But most importantly, there are fruits, veggies, and herbs that need help before they can be properly stored.
As time progresses, I will have more to say about storing individual fruits and veggies and herbs. I have already addressed the storage of carrots. But for now I want to stress the importance of getting those things stored right, and to also share a few of my favorite storage tips.
- Cheese keeps best stored in cheese paper. There is no better way. In a pinch, throw in a zipper baggie with some paper towel.
- Celery will stay crisper much longer if you wrap it in aluminum foil and keep it in the crisper drawer of the fridge.
- Both avocados and tomatoes should not be refrigerated unless they are about to rot. Refrigeration makes tomatoes mealy and tasteless and avocados watery and tasteless.
- Lettuce should be cleaned, dried, and kept in the fridge in a sealed container, again with a paper towel.
- I always buy some very ripe bananas, peel and break into thirds, and store in a freezer zipper baggie in the freezer. They are a must-have for smoothies.
- Apples, out of the bag.
- The absolute best way to store fresh herbs bunches is to cut a little off the bottom and stand them up in a jar with water in the bottom (like you would flowers). Then put in the fridge. (If storage does not permit, you can line the jars of herbs up on your counter or windowsill–it looks pretty–but it’s not nearly as effective.) Change water occasionally.
- Mushrooms in a brown paper sack, loosely closed, and in the fridge. Use quickly, anyhow.
- Onions and potatoes need to be kept from each other. Onions and apples need to be kept from each other. In our home, I keep onions, shallots, and garlic in one place, potatoes, squash, avocados, and other miscellaneous, counter-top veggies in a second spot, and fruit in a bowl on the kitchen table. (This serves a dual purpose of making fresh, raw fruits tempting to people wandering through the kitchen.)
- Nuts and seeds, nut butters, oils, and even whole grains and whole grain flour should be refrigerated unless you are going to use it up very fast. I know this is a space issue, so either buy small enough amounts of what you can not refrigerate, or buy an old fridge, place it in your garage or basement or something, and keep larger amounts of these foods in there.
And just for kicks, I will give you a couple recipes that I like to make on grocery day. The first one is great because you can whip it up super speedy from ingredients that you have just grabbed at the grocery store. The third is good because you use fresh fish right away without having to freeze it, and we all know we are supposed to be getting a couple doses of brain food every week. For the fish, you will need to add some sort of quick grain side and a veggie side, all of which you will able to locate on this very blog, with time.
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
- Coat an approximately 15×10 inch baking pan lightly with olive or safflower oil. I use a slightly larger, steel, roasting pan.
- Unwrap room-temp, pre-made pizza dough (meant for 1 large pizza) and stretch it out into a rectangle shape as well as you can in your hands. Place in the pan and press outward and down, to cover the pan and go up the sides a bit.
- Spread 8-15 ounces pizza sauce (or marinara works, too), to taste, across the pizza.
- Grate 8 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese and scatter over the sauce. You can also add other cheese, such as Parmesan.
- Top with whatever pizza topping you love (or none at all): sliced lunch meat, chopped, cooked meat, fresh or dry herbs, and whatever veggies you can imagine. When it comes to veggies, however, I find it difficult to keep them from making the pie watery and cooking them thoroughly, so I think it best to saute and dry first. For an “extra special” touch, sprinkle Parmesan, garlic powder, or sesame seeds along the crust area with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of oil.
- Bake for 20 minutes or more, until thoroughly cooked through and browning on top. While waiting, whip up a green salad. Movie night!
Once you get used to this preparation, it is a great recipe to have up your sleeve for any ol’ fish filet you might need to make. It cooks up real mellow, and the kitchen tends to smell more like lemon than fish.
- On a deep plate or in a pie pan, combine 1/4 cup flour (preferably unbleached, all purpose), 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
- Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
- Meanwhile, toss 4 small (or 2 larger) filets of whitefish (such as tilapia, flounder, trout, or mackerel) gently in the flour mixture. When pan is hot and before butter browns, place fish in the pan.
- Cook until lightly browned on bottom, about 2 minutes, and flip carefully. Cook another 2 minutes. (I find that if the fish is sticking to the pan, it is not yet properly browned.)
- Pour 1/2 cup white wine into the pan and squeeze the juice of 1/2 of a lemon over the fish. Slice the other half of lemon and set slices prettily on the fish with a couple of bay leaves. (Do all this rather quickly.)
- Cover pan and steam until fish is flaky and opaque, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook. Remove bay leaf and serve.