Saturday, August 25, 2012

Health and Life in the Kitchen, Pt. 2

This entry is a continuation of the previous, and a part of the Green Week Household Overhaul Series. 

Sufficiency of Storage
Storing things in the kitchen is an important ability for a number of reasons. For one thing, the more storage you have, the less often you should have to go out to get food - an important consideration in reducing fuel costs and associated emissions. There's really two types of storage in a kitchen - cold storage (your fridge/freezer), and dry storage (cupboards, bins, tins, and so on).

Mise en Place - Organization and Preparation
Mise en Place is a French phrase loosely meaning "everything in its place" - in professional cooking, this refers to having all your ingredients peeled, chopped, and ready to go. It's an important part of streamlining the kitchen for service, but it's also surprisingly helpful for storing things.

If you know, for example, that the only use you have for celery is making mirepoix, you're liable to do what I do - dice all of your celery as soon as you buy it and freeze it. Freezing isn't my favourite way to preserve foods, but frozen celery goes a long way - long enough that you actually get to use it all. This goes back to when I was talking about making grocery lists by making a menu for the week first. Now that you know what you're going to eat all week, do as much preparation as possible. Peel and chop vegetables, do whatever butchery you have to do, and freeze or refrigerate. Suddenly you have food that you can cook in a matter of minutes rather than inside of an hour.

Remember, there are only ever two reasons anyone eats processed foods - it's either cheaper than "real" food, or they can have it ready right away. Getting your mise en place done is a good way to cut that last advantage out of processed foods and back over to the real food.

The Fridge and You - a Study in Food Safety
One of the first things they taught us in school was food safety, and after we got through the tedium of memorizing the impacts of various biological hazards and their key temperatures, we learned that there was a right way and a wrong way to pack a fridge. Believe it or not, it's actually way easier to keep a walk-in fridge (with the volume of a 10'x10' room) than it is to keep the few hundred litres of your fridge organized. This is made worse by the fact that fridges are usually laid out wrong for this to work.

The Golden Rule - The elevation of food in the fridge is inversely proportional to the safety risk it poses. What this means is that foods you eat raw should be at the top, then produce, then meats. Ideally the meats themselves are stratified as well. This is where most fridges meet their first problem: they place their "vegetable crisper drawers" at the bottom of the fridge. For one thing, these drawers are functionally useless. You are far better off sticking your vegetables in the middle of the shelf (and knowing how to store them properly) than putting them in that bottom drawer.

Always try to keep a fridge as full as possible while still leaving room for air to circulate. Where possible, pad empty sections with containers of water - both to keep a ready supply of drinking water on hand, and to reduce the amount by which the temperature of the inside of the fridge changes when the door is open, and reduce strain and energy consumption for the actual cooling motor.

But What do I Use?
I'm a huge fan of containers of all kinds, and a part of that, I suspect, is tied to my addiction to shopping at Staples. In the kitchen, containers have every use, from holding raw to prepared foods, holding utensils, and so on. Very rarely now, does anything get stored in its own container. I immediately partition meat when purchased and freeze it in individual portions (double wrapped in Saran, until I find containers good enough to prevent freezer burn). Vegetables get cut up as quickly as possible and stored, either just in a container or in citrus-acidified water, depending on their nature. Cooked meals go into containers if there's any left over. Mason jars are perfect for soups.

I have found the use of containers, whether re-purposed from other products, being glass or plastic, to dramatically reduce the amount of garbage my kitchen outputs on a daily basis. Having a ready supply of containers has also made it easier to prepare lunches in advance and bring them to work, as opposed to eating the high-sodium, high-fructose meals of the mall food court.

The golden rule in this regard is to use containers that can be used over and over again. The more often you use a thing, the less often you're replacing it.

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