In addition to pantry stores, I am guilty of keeping a hefty stash of frozen goods on hand at all times. The chest freezer in the garage helps this endeavor and it’s not uncommon for food to languish in the cold for years. Part of the trouble comes from me not remembering how long items will stay good in the freezer, especially meat. We often buy in bulk at Costco and then freeze what we can’t use in a couple days. I run into problems months later, not knowing if what I’m pulling out will actually be edible. So when faced with a steak from June 2011 and a steak from February 2010, I’m likely to put the old one back and cook up the new one because I don’t want to waste time on something that won’t taste good. The elder steak will sit for another year until I know it’s definitely too old to eat, and then get tossed out. What a horrible system, you say? Umm, yes!
A little bit of research on the USDA Food Safety web site tells me that kept at 0 degrees, frozen food will actually remain “safe” indefinitely, provided it was safe (not spoiled/rotten) to begin with. (The exceptions being canned food and eggs-in-shells apparently.) It is quality that suffers over time. To remain fresh, foods should be frozen quickly and with as little air as possible to prevent freezer burn. One day, I’ll invest in a vacuum food sealer dealiebop, but until then I double wrap items in foil and hope for the best.
Here’s a guide from the USDA on how long to keep meats in the freezer:
Frozen Food Storage- How long things will keep fresh at 0 degrees:
Bacon and Sausage- 1 to 2 months
Casseroles- 2 to 3 months
Egg whites or egg substitutes- 12 months
Frozen Dinners and Entrees- 3 to 4 months
Gravy, meat or poultry- 2 to 3 months
Ham, Hotdogs and Lunchmeats- 1 to 2 months
Meat, uncooked roasts- 4 to 12 months
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops- 4 to 12 months
Meat, uncooked ground- 3 to 4 months
Meat, cooked- 2 to 3 months
Poultry, uncooked whole- 12 months
Poultry, uncooked parts- 9 months
Poultry, cooked- 4 months
Soups and Stews- 2 to 3 months
Last night’s pantry-clearing adventure actually focused on perishables and freezer stock. I used up two steaks from June 2011 (yes, the February 2010 NY Strip is still sitting in the freezer), two giant potatoes from mid-December, and snap peas, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers that were on the way to no good anymore.
The result? Utter deliciousness in the form of a romantic Monday night steak dinner with twice-baked potatoes and a medley of onions, peppers and mushrooms. I’ll share the latter “recipe” with you.
Sauteed Mushrooms, Onions and Bell Peppers with Red Wine and Balsamic Reduction
NSFD Ranking: *
Prep Time: 5-7 minutes
Cook Time: 20-45 minutes
1 large onion
1-2 large bell peppers
10-16 ounces whole mushrooms (baby bellas, button, cremini, whatever moves you)
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped
Tablespoon olive or canola oil (or butter if you’re feeling crazy)
1/4 cup red wine or beef broth
Couple tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
1. Prepare vegetables. Cut onion in half and make long half-moon shaped slices. Chop bell peppers into 2-inch slices. Quarter mushrooms. (You’ll want the onion and pepper widths to be a bit on the thick side.)
2. In a hot frying pan over medium-high heat, saute the onions in a bit of olive oil. Cook for a minute or two.
3. Add the bell peppers for a couple minutes, tossing around frequently.
4. Add pressed garlic, stirring well to keep garlic from burning.
5. Toss in mushrooms.
6. Let mixture cook until the mushrooms start turning brown and release their liquid*.
7. Add the red wine or broth, vinegar, and spices.
8. Reduce heat and let simmer until moisture is absorbed.
– The cook time is variable. The quickest I’ve gotten this off the stove was about 20 minutes in. Last night, I was busy with other parts of the meal and left it on the stove for nearly 45. Just keep stirring it on occasion and add more liquid if the pot gets too dry. It tastes better the longer it simmers!
– In case you haven’t worked with mushrooms much, I’ll let you in on a funny mushroom secret… they leak! About 3-5 minutes into the cooking process, they start to release liquid. I’m guessing this is why they shrink up so much when cooked. It was surprising to me when I first started cooking, especially when trying to roast them with other vegetables and coming out with a soggy mess!