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Waste Not Want Not - Savings in the kitchen Part 2

The first part of Waste Not, Want Not
concentrated mainly on the benefits of the freezer. I realise, however, that not everyone has one, and the small compartment at the top (or bottom) of the fridge doesn't have the capacity to hold large quantities of frozen food. Even so, there are other ways to preserve fresh food for longer. Admittedly, having to prepare and cook food from scratch isn't as convenient as re-heating a pre-cooked TV dinner in the microwave, but it generally tastes better and at least you know what went into it. More importantly, you can control the percentage of each nutritional element put into a meal, so the amount of carbs, fats, protein, salt, etc. in the daily intake can be adjusted to suit individual requirements. With some extra thought and time, the health benefits are obvious.

Even when you have a deep-freezer, there is still a need to keep certain items either in the main section of the fridge, or in a cupboard or pantry. The best chance you have of storing these in good condition for longer periods is to buy fresh. That may sound easy, but when the word itself is misused, "fresh" doesn't necessarily mean what we think it does. Unless they are in season and straight from the farm, the fruit and vegetables on display could be out of cold store, and the price you'll pay will include processing and storage costs. In some cases, especially with fruit, the crop would have been picked slightly green for storage, then gassed - yes gassed! - to ripen it prior to sale. This is why the skins on your bananas look anaemic and, even after they have turned black, the fruit inside still tastes like plastic. Those powdery apples and pink, tasteless tomatoes probably came out of cold store too. If you try keeping them for any length of time, I guarantee they won't improve with age.

The answer is to buy fruit and vegies when they are in season and at their best. These are the times when the crops of smaller growers are entering the market, pushing prices down. Test the item for freshness before you buy. Lightly press the top of onions - if soft, they are likely to start sprouting before long. Forget potatoes with cuts and bruises; and be careful when buying unwashed ones - they may be cheaper, but the dirt hides the true quality. When buying broccoli, you want a tight head with good, deep colour and no yellowing. Brush the flowers lightly with a finger, in particular around the edge of the bunch - if they fall off easily, this one is on its way out and not for you. Carrots need to be firm, not soft and bendy, and have a good colour. With fruit, check for dents and soft spots, which will show up later as bruising. One last thing - just watch out towards the end of a season when some fruits and vegetables are approaching the end of their use-by date. Don't get trapped into over-buying, or you'll end up throwing food, and money, into the trash!

Once you've managed to buy your fresh fruit and vegies, you want to keep them that way for as long as possible. Store potatoes, sweet potato, onions and whole pumpkin in a cardboard box, then keep this in a dark, cool and dry place. Similar for cucumbers and melons - they need to be kept in a cool, dry place with plenty of air. Avoid storing them in an enclosed environment where they can gather moisture and go off very quickly. Consign to the fridge once they have been cut. Citrus such as lemons and oranges last fine in an uncovered bowl.

The vegie drawer is handy for storing the larger, awkward items. Place a layer or two of kitchen towel in the bottom to absorb moisture. Replace this occasionally and wipe any condensation from the inside of the drawer and the shelf above. If the drawer has a gizmo for ventilation, open it to allow the contents to breathe. Spinach and silver beet seem to keep quite well if placed loosely in the drawer, but cabbage and lettuce last longer in cling wrap, or a plastic bag with the air excluded. Instead of cutting across the head, or heart, peel as many leaves as needed from the outside, then re-wrap the remainder. Both of these will keep up to a month this way.

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