• Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Getting the kitchen ready for the holidays

    Now that we’ve switched back to the ancient, standard time, and we all get home after dark; we seem to be stuck in the house for endless hours every night. (I really don’t see much point in switching back to standard time every year; except that it makes us all appreciate day-light savings time when it comes around again in the spring.)

    So, what to do with all those extra hours trapped in your house with your family?

    One great idea is to clean out the fridge! Yay!

    With all the ‘hustle and bustle’ of the holiday season, it’s easy for your fridge to get packed in just a few short, crazy weeks. So, the week or two before Thanksgiving (right after we fall back) is the best time to clean out the fridge and get it ready.

    I always try to clean out my fridge on the night before the trash man comes, because room-temperature, out-of-date fridge contents can get pretty stinky sitting in the trash can. Check the dates (sell-by, freeze-by, or use-by dates) on all your deli meats, hot dogs, and cheeses. This is also a good chance to double-check your mayonnaise, salad dressings, and salsa, pretty much anything that’s perishable.

    I know that the dates are sometimes hard to find, so I took some pictures to give examples of where dates may be found. I can’t tell you when or where I took these pictures (for my own protection).

    Dates may be found on the back of the package or the bottom of the label. Sometimes they are on the lids of jars or the bottoms of cans. Sometimes they are not on the label at all and are printed directly on the plastic of the jar, bottle, or package.

    Mustard, barbeque sauce, frozen foods, pickled things. These all have a ‘best-by’ date. Notice that some of my examples are out-of date and some have dates that go almost two years into the future. These dates are mostly to help insure the quality of the product. If you eat them after this date, they may not taste great, but they won’t make you sick. Now, remember that this is dependent on how the food has been handled. If it has been allowed to reach room temperature after it was opened, it may not be safe, regardless of the date.
    The next set of pictures represents use-by dates, and I thought they were some good examples of where to look for dates. Again, they probably won’t make you sick if you consume them after the date expires, but it probably won’t taste very good at all. Cool whip and margarine are usually used in other dishes, so you want to make sure that their ingredients are in the best condition. If you use them after the use-by date, your final dish may not be as good. The oil in ketchup will separate out as it gets older. The artificial sweeteners in diet drinks lose their sweet flavor after a few months, so that Diet Coke may taste like bitter, fizzy water. Salsa and picante sauce may fall in this category, too. I have found that they are prone to mold growth, even in the fridge. Ick….
    In this last group of pictures, some of the dates say “best-by” and some just have a printed date. These pictures are meats or foods largely made with milk and egg products which are good places for bacteria to grow. So, for meats, mayonnaise, yogurt, cheese sauce, and those types of products, I would stick with the dates. Throw out anything that is past the date on the package. I would put ranch dressing in this category, too.

    Ok… back to cleaning out the fridge.

    Toss out any left-over’s older than 3-days old. I am guilty of keeping leftovers until they would make good science projects, but we never eat them. We just make funny faces as they go in the trash.

    Remember that you are trying to make more room. Sometimes I find two opened packages of the same food and condense them. Empty the shelves all the way to the back. Check the date on everything in the door.

    This is a good chance to wash the refrigerator shelves and the drawers with hot, soapy water. You might also want to put in a fresh box of baking soda.

    Are you planning to thaw some large meat items in your fridge on Turkey day? (You know… a turkey.) Get a big space cleaned out so you can put it on the bottom shelf. Make sure you have a tray or plate big enough to put it in to catch the juices while it’s thawing. Also, double check that the shelf above is not too low and that your turkey won’t be touching it. Most refrigerators today have adjustable shelves, so you can make the space above the bottom shelf as big as you need it.

    You will need to allow 1 day of thawing for every 5 lbs of frozen turkey. So, be ready to share your fridge with a large bird for three or four days before Thanksgiving.
    Remember that you may have to store large casserole dishes in your fridge for a while, so make sure there is room for those too. Also, they are not very tall, so you can adjust the upper shelves closer together to save room.

    Double check that your refrigerator is cold. (Remember that the temperature will rise if you have the door open, so be sure to check the temperature after the door has been closed for 20 or 30 minutes.) I like to keep mine as cold as possible without freezing my milk, but it should be set no warmer than 38°-40°F. You want to make sure that it is 40°F or cooler in every area of the fridge, so setting it lower may be necessary.

    This is a good chance to look over your shopping list for Turkey Day. Figure out the things that you need and the things that you already have. Make sure you have a meat thermometer! Food costs are going to be high this year, so you don’t want to buy ingredients that are already in the fridge or the cabinet. For example, I think I have enough salt for thirty years because I mistakenly thought I needed salt when I was planning a big meal … maybe it wasn’t me…

    I don’t have much counter space in my kitchen, so I have to spend a little time clearing off my counters before I take on a big cooking job. You also want to wash your countertops with warm soapy water. Double check that your roasting pan and casserole dishes are clean. Sometimes, if they aren’t used for several months, they can collect dust. Make sure you have at least two good cutting boards, one for food that is going to be cooked and one for food that will be eaten without being cooked. I like to use different colored cutting boards for ready-to-eat and pre-cooked foods. I also want to remind you to keep the knives and other utensils separate for ready-to-eat and pre-cooked foods.

    Or… you could spend your evenings watching TV and go to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving. Let your Mom (and, in my case, Dad) do the cooking. That’s my plan, but I still need to clean out my fridge. ;)

    1 comment:

    1. I absolutely LOVE your blog. Tons of great information and practical for moms like me trying to cook...in a hurry for my family. I love the holidays but you're right my fridge needs a good cleaning ahead of the holidays. Thanks for the reminder! I'm going to be sharing this blog on Facebook with Rockin' Rural Women!