Kitchen Intuition: Storage
April 13, 2010

Hey all,

Wow! What an enthusiastic response to raw rehab! Please, keep ’em coming. The only thing I ask is that you not send me scenarios that are very personal; this isn’t an open call for dietary advice, but a chance for you to share practical stumbling blocks (culinary, social) that you think others might be experiencing, too.

Since the questions came flooding in, I thought I’d answer one in today’s post. This comes from Jen, who originally requested that I bring raw rehab back:

I am getting pretty good at meal planning and I actually attribute that to the little bit of prep that raw meals require…my problem is that even though I am doing all of this, I feel like I am wasting a lot of food. Vegetables go bad, dressings/pates look questionable and I’m unsure if they are still good enough to eat, or I just am plain not creative enough to throw leftover ingredients together to make a meal of my own (not a recipe.) I really don’t know how to fix this, but maybe if you can offer tips on how long you should keep things like dressings and pates before they should be thrown out and how I can maximize all my ingredients? Maybe I just need to go shopping twice during the week to have more fresh produce. The only problem I see with that is that if I don’t have healthy food ready in my house in the middle of the week, I’m likely to eat some crap I’ve got in the back of the freezer or order out.

Good question, Jen!

I am always astounded by the number of times readers write in to ask me about storing nut pates and dressings. So before I get into specifics of food storage, let me clear this up:

Most nut pates will last 2-6 days in the fridge. The time span is highly variable, and that’s as it should be: different nut pates and seed pates take different amounts of time to spoil. Here are some basic rules of thumb:

  • Sunflower seed pates don’t have a long fridge life: they turn brown very quickly, which is off putting (if not actually hazardous). Plan to eat your sunflower seed pate within two days.
  • In general, seed pates tend to turn a bit more quickly than tree nut pates. Estimate that pumpkin and sesame seed pates will probably be good for three days or so in the fridge.
  • I find that pates made with softer nuts (like cashews, pignolis, and even walnuts) will go off before pates made with macadamias, almonds, and brazil nuts. Estimate 3-4 days in which to eat them.
  • I find that almond, macadamia, and brazil nut spreads can easily last for a week in my fridge without any spoiling.
  • Store all of your pates in tupperware or mason jars, and in the fridge (I prefer mason jars because they’re more environmentally friendly!).
  • If you’re making a pate that you don’t expect to last long (such as a sunflower pate), cut the recipe in half! No need to make any recipe in excess.

What about dressings? Well, in my experience, most raw dressings that are oil or nut based have quite a long fridge life. I would say most all of the ones I use regularly keep for a week in the fridge. The one exception I’d make is for avocado based dressings; these can keep for a long time if there’s a lot of citrus or other acid, but they’re more likely good for three or four days, rather than six or seven.

Hope that gives you a good idea of what to expect! Before we move on, though, a brief pause to discuss a favorite topic of mine: kitchen intuition.

You know how we all like to go on and on about intuitive eating? Well, I’m afraid that intuitive eating is only one part of healthy living. Another huge part is intuitive cooking–the capacity to prep, cook, and store food with a sense of confidence, ease, and spontaneity. If you’re constantly looking to recipes and blogs for prescriptive advice on how to make food, and if you don’t learn how to flex your own kitchen muscles, I can guarantee that kitchen time will always remain daunting. Here are the sorts of questions that make me want to teach a class in kitchen intuition:

  • How long does _________ keep in the fridge?
  • Can I substitute [ingredient #1] for [practically identical ingredient #2]?
  • I don’t like [ingredient that appears in an infinitesimal amount]. Can I leave it out of the recipe?
  • I like spicy food. Can I add [spice of choice] to the recipe?

The more you cook, the more you realize that small substitutions and omissions won’t make or break a recipe; that customizing spices and flavors is perfectly fine; that a tiny bit of detective work will easily allow you to see whether or not a food has gone off. The joy of cooking (as opposed to baking, which is a little prescriptive) is that it allows you the freedom to customize and experiment! You’ll have some terrible flops and missteps (we all do) but you’ll learn from them, and emerge a far more self-assured cook.

And part of being a self assured cook is having the guts to figure out which leftovers are still tasty and which have become sketchy. Guys, listen: if you’re not sure if something has gone off or not, do a little recon: look, sniff, and taste. Has it changed color? Is there mold anywhere? If so, you want to steer clear. Does it smell sour, bitter, moldy, or otherwise nasty? Obviously, into the trash it goes. And if the food looks and smells fine, then simply taste a tiny bit to see whether or not the taste is still normal. I’m not saying you ought to dig into questionable leftovers with a fork and knife; I’m saying that a tiny lick or nibble ought to tell you right away whether or not the food is good; of course, you’ll spit it out if it’s not. Very few foods won’t indicate through smell or taste when they go bad; a small bit of exploration will point you in the right direction quickly.

What about keeping produce fresh? This is a great question, Jen. I have two major tactics:

  1. Store veggies properly
  2. Know what lasts, and what doesn’t

As far as (1) goes, I store all of my vegetables in Debbie Meyer‘s green bags. No joke. I know it’s easy to mock anything that gets sold in infomercials, but hear me out: these bags really do a remarkable job of keeping produce fresh.

My only qualm is that they’re plastic. I also don’t know if they’re BPA free (does anyone else know?). What I do know is that they help keep my veggies crisp and remarkably fresh; this, in turn, prevents me from wasting money by throwing out wilted greens and moldy broccoli. This, to me, outweighs the fact that the bags are plastic. In addition, they can each be reused 10 times, and they can also be recycled. Score.

As for (2), I tend to group my veggies into three loose categories:

  1. Broccoli, cabbage, zucchini, celery, cauliflower, fennel, beets, carrots, root veggies, brussels sprouts, onions (if you’re into that)
  2. Tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, avocados, sprouts, radicchio, endive
  3. Greens

I buy all veggies in the first category once weekly, in abundance, and feel confident that they’ll last all week. I buy veggies in the second category, which are slightly more delicate, in small amounts, and I replenish with a second shopping trip if I need more (which I don’t always). I live in a city where produce is easy to pick up on the way home from work or in passing, and I know that many of you don’t have that luxury. If you don’t, I still think you might try as best you can to work a second grocery trip (if needed) into your schedule; doesn’t the chance to cut down on wasted food AND the motivation to consume only healthy, fresh foods make it worth it?

What about greens? Since I eat more of these than any other veggie, I find that my shopping patterns are a little variable. I can usually keep kale, chard, collards, romaine and bok choy in green bags for a solid week. I buy mesclun and spinach in smaller amounts, and I simply pick up more if I need them. An average week in Gena-world means at least 2 heads of kale/chard/collards, 1 pack of 3 romaine heads, 2 boxes mesclun, and possibly a giant bag of spinach, too. Yes, that’s a lot. Yes, I eat it all. And, to answer another question I often get, no, I don’t fret about the money. My leafy green bill each week is about 25 bucks (sometimes 20), and it’s all 100% worth it. Keep in mind that I never spend money on fish, cheese, meat, poultry, or alcohol, and that grains and legumes are cheap; my veggie expenses, at least in my own hierarchy, are worth it.

Last but not least, what about nut storage? I store nuts in glass mason jars in my fridge or freezer, to prevent rancidity. Many of you ask me whether I soak, sprout, or dehydrate nuts. The answer is that I usually soak them before using them in recipes, but if I happen to forget, then I forget. I never sprout or dehydrate them (unless I’m making a special recipe, like candied or spiced nuts). But if you have the patience to sprout them or dehydrate them, believe me, I commend you.

So. Does this help? I know that issues of storage can be a little overwhelming. It’s easy to spend money on vegetables and feel confident that they’re worth it, but when you’re spending and seeing much of it go in the garbage, it can feel very discouraging. Take heart! With a little planning (like one very short second grocery trip) and a little intuition (like tasting a nut pate and realizing that, even though you expected it to have gone off, it’s still totally OK!), you’ll find that raw prep isn’t quite as daunting as it may seem.

Happy Tuesday, friends.

xo

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    52 Comments
  1. See you at the next Concert Tickets Luke Bryan of the Bridgeport, Stamford and Waterbury Symphonies.
    M the Summer Solstice Series goes al fresco, moving from Hartford’s Old State House to the Elizabeth Park Rose Garden. The concert tickets luke bryan fantastic guys of The Rampage Trio say they have a long discography behind them.

  2. Gena,
    In regards to the “Green Bags” and BPA’s. According to Debbie Meyer’s product info on HSN’s site, the Green Bags DO NOT contain BPA’s. I checked this today. I like your site so much, I went and bought those green bags from HSN; (if I don’t like them or feel they don’t work, I can return them for a refund.) I’m betting on your advice that they’ll work well.
    I’m new to your site, re-learning a lot, and I’m loving it already.
    Thanks for doing great write ups on everything ~ 😉

  3. Gena, as per usual a timely post. I am at 105degrees right now learning about food preparation but not necessarily how long it will all last either the finished product or the vegetable, fruit, nut or see itself. Thanks again, girl. You are doing wonderful things.

  4. Thanks, Gina! I’m printing this post out and cutting and pasting it into a little fridge card. Very handy info, you rock!

  5. I cant wait to stop being scared and try some of your recipes 🙂 They just look so refreshing. Since I have started eating almost all natural (in the past year) and cutting out almost ALL processed foods, I just always feel “good”!! 🙂
    Sara

  6. The green bags really do work. I forgot about some broccoli I had put in one, and almost two weeks later it was still as good as new. Great post- the categories of veggies was super helpful.

  7. Hello,

    I really enjoy reading Choosing Raw. Though I am not a raw eater, I get inspiration from people that are consciously aware of what they put in their body. Since you seem so knowledgeable about foods, I was wondering if you knew the difference between coconut oil and coconut butter? I saw both at the grocery store and they both looked very similar. Thanks.

  8. Excellent tips – thanks! Quick question though – could you store excess nut or date-based dressings and sauces in the freezer so that you can keep them for longer?

  9. I’m joining in on the herb-questions. One thing I have learned is to keep cilantro fresh longer: Rinse and clean the herbs you have. Dry them well. Then put them in an airtight container with something sligthly moist in the bottom, like a moist napkin or cloth. They’ll keep for a week at least. Basil gets wilted very easily (just by the slightest touch) so I usually buy them in a pot, or freeze them immediatly. Still curious on how to best keep parsley.

  10. Thanks for the awesome tips Gena! I usually will eyeball the product then smell it if it’s been in my fridge a couple days. If it has no smell sometimes I’ll taste a small amount before ruining some perfectly good food by pairing it with something that went bad.

  11. The one thing that I have that always goes bad is herbs…I get so mad that supermarkets only sell large bunches of them! I find they keep longer if I put them in some water. Any suggestions? I have considered freezing them, but not sure if it would work?

  12. I also use green bags for my produce, and Gena is totally right – they keep produce fresher SO much longer! One time, some celery got lost at the back of my fridge, and even 2 or 3 weeks later, it was super crisp in the green bag! You can even find a cheaper version at the Christmas Tree Shops, and they work just as well as the Debbie Meyer’s brand. I bought a box of like 16 or so (maybe more? I don’t remember) for like $3.

  13. I love the phrase “kitchen intiution”! Well written post, as always Gena, but then again I thought everybody already knew this stuff… Common sense, as Avery so nicely put it! 🙂

  14. Thanks Gena!

    With nut/seed pates and cheese if I see that I won’t eat the whole thing in a few days, then I usually freeze 1/2. It defrosts nicely and nothing is lost the 2nd time around (taste, texture, flavor all remain even after defrosted).

    This is also great for time saving. If I have extra nuts and time, I make a big batch of pate or cheese, freeze some, and when I’m short on time in the weeks to follow, I’ve already got something made in the freezer.

  15. Common sense is a beautiful thing, isn’t it. Sadly, I wonder why it seems missing much of the time. Thank you for reiterating common sense information that clearly, judging from both of our inboxes, apparently needs and bears repeating!!!! amen girl.

  16. Mason Jars, they’re amazing for everything. I store just about anything in them, and Ry calls them ‘hillbillie drinking pitchers’ when they’re empty!

    Best tidbit, if you store something hot in a mason jar (I bake banana bread in the jars, or use it to store my homemade soups), it will often seal and help keep it from going bad for just a LITTLE longer!

  17. Glad to know nuts are okay stored in glass in the fridge. I always worry about them going rancid in the heat here (even when running the a/c).

  18. With the dark leafy greens (parsly, spinach, kale, chard), you can always juice them as the yield is really small. You might not be able to eat the bunch of parsley that’s about to go bad, but you can definitely drink it. Ditto the baby spinach. You’ll have the problem of what to do with the pulp (you could make pesto and freeze it), but at least you’ll have extracted something (versus throwing the stuff away). You could also freeze the greens (just destem the kale/chard leaves first) for smoothies (if you drink smoothies). Nice if you like them cold and don’t have frozen fruit in the house.

  19. Good tips! Some people don’t have any kitchen intuition, i.e. my grandpa. He kept Thanksgiving’s sweet potato casserole in his freezer for months and was using it to top his waffles come Easter. (smacks palm to forehead)

  20. It’s great to have that much confidence in the kitchen with cooking (and baking if you’re into chemistry) to play around with recipes and create new, awesome, and entirely “you” recipes from scratch. Nothing like it indeed.

  21. This is a GREAT post! Thanks so much. I’m always wondering how long those nut/seed pates will last, etc….and how to store vegetables without them going bad. Really helpful (I’m starring this one in my reader so I can keep it handy!)

  22. Very helpful! I’ll be looking into those bags. One of my biggest problems is herbs- I buy basil or parsley, which seem to be sold only in giant bunches, and don’t use it up- it also seems to go bad pretty quickly.
    As for kitchen intuition, I’ve never been afraid to substitute- in fact, I have the opposite problem- trusting my inner cook to generate completely novel recipes from scratch. Disaster! It’s like asking a 5 year old how to make something, and then making it. I think it is very true, though, that cooked recipes require more adherence to the recipe. Baking soda vs baking powder makes or breaks a cake, but garlic for dill (my most common sub in your recipes) is never a problem for my palate! I’m always leaving out ingredients I don’t have and adding more honey, garlic, spice, whatever. Yesterday I made more of that amazing raw-lafel and experimented with shredded carrot instead of half the shredded coconut. The texture was sloppier, but taste was still great!

  23. This is a GREAT post Gena! Thanks so much for sharing! I definitely have wondered a lot about best practices for storage techniques myself, and I look forward to implementing some of these tips. I keep my nuts in the cabinet – perhaps it is time to move them into the fridge to keep them fresher. And I definitely need to look into getting some of those green bags – I bet they help a ton in preventing those emergency last minute recipe attempts as produce is spoiling (like when you aren’t in the mood for tomatoes but they are going bad so you have to use them, hate that)! As always, you are a wealth of knowledge. 🙂

  24. This is a great post! Thank you. I totally concur with using the green bags to keep produce fresh. They’re amazing! With respect to BPA, fatty and acidic foods are more likely to encourage the leaching of BPA (and other toxins) from plastics. So I keep all acidic produce away from my green bags.

  25. Another amazingly informative post, thanks! This is something I had to get used to when I switched to more fresh ingredients. Basil is still a challenge for me, no matter what I do the fresh stuff seems to turn brown after a couple of days in the fridge so I’ve been keeping basil plants around and dehydrating excess.

    • Hi Christine,
      I work in a grocery store, and our Produce manager says that fresh Basil should never be stored below 50 degress F. That’s why yours is turning brown, most likely. If you have to keep it in the fridge, put the stems in water and wrap the leaves in a few layers of plastic bags. Basil is really fragile and extremely cold-sensitive. Hope this helps!

  26. THIS was a very informative post. I like it. I am impressed about the $25 a week for that amount of greens. Awesome. I am lucky enough to belong to a CSA, so my greens are very fresh. And they will often keep for 2 weeks in the fridge (they rarely last that long because we eat ’em, but sometimes they do).

    The storage info was great. I also have a book called “Dr. Richters guide to fresh produce” that I found at a grocery store that is great for learning how to buy, store, and prepare produce.

  27. I love your new look by the way, it DOES match all your material much much more!

    I have a question that you may have already covered elsewhere, not sure…but how do you feel about all the research going on that is showing some foods are better off cooked, for example broccoli: when broccoli is steamed it increases its content of glucosinolates, a group of plant compounds touted for their cancer-fighting abilities. There are several other examples out there as well. And, maybe this is why you don’t follow a 100% raw diet? But, it would be interesting to hear/read your perspective on what foods should be cooked to increase nutrients and what foods should never be cooked period because it nearly wastes the nutritional value of the food.

  28. This is very helpful. I am always on stilltasty.com to figure out if something is good or not but I am still figuring things out!

    I am finally at a place where I can substitute ingredients without freaking out. It took me a while to get here though.

  29. Great tips! My rule of thumb is to never eat anything prepared that’s over a week old. Ick! But if the food is good, it won’t last that long anyhow. The only stuff that sits are the things that I didnt care for in the first place. That’s what compost is for.

    I have found figuring out how many veggies to buy really just takes time and practice. It also varies on how much I am juicing. I juicer is a great way to use up veggie that you are not sure you can use any other way.

  30. Wow– awesome post!! Very informative. I love the part about kitchen intuition. I’m finally at a point where I feel VERY comfortable changing recipes or just making up my own recipes (which I do 90% of the time). But, this tends to freak out my husband, lol. He always acts like there’s going to be a kitchen disaster if I leave something out or change the recipe 🙂

  31. Thanks for this post, Gena. It’s really helpful. I made your walnut and lentil pate on Friday and I’m still enjoying it. Glad I’m not alone in using the look, smell and taste approach to determine whether food is still edible 🙂

  32. that was very helpful! thank you gena!

    there is one dressing i make with avocado…i find that it tastes REALLY different (not good at all) after a day of sitting…so i know to make one or two servings of it! i’ve also fund that certain nut cheezes last for more than a week in the fridge, as well as hemp seed cheezes last for a pretty long time as well!