Can I Keep It?

Can We Keep HimSo unlike the puppy that followed you home as a child, keeping leftovers in the fridge beyond their prime will make you sick and not just annoy your parents. Well, leftovers in the fridge may annoy your parents as well, but everyone has their own idiosyncrasies and it’s not for me to judge. So how long can you keep things lurking in your fridge? Sure, some things have convenient “best buy” dates written on them. Those are great as a suggestion, but you really should test that milk before tossing it. That date is the legal date that the store can no longer sell it by, and in fact may be fresh for several more days. Let your nose be your guide, but if you’re not 100% sure…. toss it! It is not worth a trip to the emergency room! Here’s a quick guide on how long (on average) some basic foods will last in the fridge:

The following foods will keep only 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator:

  • fresh (raw) ground meats and stew meats
  • gravy and meat broth
  • fresh poultry and fresh fish

These foods will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator:

  • cooked meat and meat casseroles
  • cooked chicken and chicken casseroles
  • cooked fish and fish casseroles
  • pizza

The following will keep 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator:

  • opened packages of luncheon meats or deli meats
  • fresh meat steaks, chops and roasts

The following foods have longer refrigerator-storage times as indicated:

  • fresh eggs in shells — 3 to 5 weeks
  • hard-cooked eggs — 1 week
  • commercial mayonnaise after opening — 2 months
  • opened hard cheese (such as cheddar or Swiss) — 3 to 4 weeks
  • soft cheese (such as Brie or feta), cottage cheese, ricotta and milk — 1 week
  • yogourt — 1 to 2 weeks

*photo credit from the movie “Rainy with a Chance of Meatballs 2”

How to Store Leftovers Safely

How long can you leave dinner out on the table?

A good rule of thumb for food safety is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. But chances are your dining room isn’t set up with restaurant-style warming trays and buffet servers. Take your time around the dinner table, but start packing up and refrigerating the leftovers within two hours.

The Best Way to Store Leftovers

Leftovers should be cooled down as quickly as possible. Pack them into several shallow containers rather than one large one, and make sure you don’t stack the containers in the refrigerator (this can trap the heat). The more surface area that’s exposed to the cold air, the faster your food will cool. If you have a stuffed roasted turkey, for example, remove any stuffing from the turkey cavity and store it in a separate container. Carve the meat from the bones or separate the turkey into smaller pieces and divide it among shallow containers or plastic bags. It may be tempting to keep any leftover food in the half-empty serving dish and just cover it with plastic wrap, but it’s best to put everything in a clean, smaller container. It will also save a lot of space in the refrigerator.

How long can leftovers be kept in the fridge?

You can store your leftovers in the refrigerator for up to four days. Try to reheat only what you’ll be serving at one time rather than reheating the entire portion. It’s safe to heat it all and then re-store what you don’t use, but the food will continue to lose flavor and moisture the more it’s reheated. Use a thermometer to make sure your leftovers are reheated to 165 degrees F. Sauces, soups and gravies should come to a full boil. If you’re using the microwave, cover the food and rotate it frequently to make sure it heats evenly.

What’s the best way to freeze leftovers?

Freezing keeps food safe by preventing the growth of bacteria, which can cause the food to spoil. As long as your leftovers have been frozen at 0 degrees F, you can store them indefinitely. But they’ll taste best used within two to three months. Pack side dishes like stuffing and mashed potatoes into airtight freezer containers or plastic freezer bags. Slice the meat from the turkey or a roast and wrap it in freezer paper or foil, then seal in plastic freezer bags (make sure to press out all the air before sealing). Liquids, like soup or gravy, will expand slightly as they freeze, so leave a little space at the top of the container. It’s fine to keep leftovers in the refrigerator for a few days before deciding to freeze them, but to preserve their freshness, the sooner they go in the freezer the better. If the food isn’t cool already, refrigerate it for a few hours before moving it to the freezer, and avoid stacking the containers until they’re frozen solid. Don’t forget to label and date your leftovers. Everything will look the same once it’s wrapped.

Should you let food come to room temperature or put it straight in the refrigerator?

Food never has to come to room temperature before storing it. In fact, the less time it spends at room temperature the better. Chances are that by the time you’re finished eating dinner, it will be close to cool anyway, so wrap it and refrigerate it immediately. If one of your dishes is still steaming hot, you may want to chill it uncovered until it cools down, then cover it (otherwise it will take longer to cool). It’s even fine to send hot soup or gravy straight to the fridge; the only problem is that it may raise the temperature inside your refrigerator, causing everything to take longer to cool. You can quick-chill the soup or gravy first by setting the container in a bowl of ice water and stirring often until it cools down, then cover it and move it to the refrigerator.

Leftovers Into Bestovers!

Turkey LeftoversSo, I got a request for this week’s theme to do a “What the heck am I supposed to do with all these leftovers?!” week. I thought this was a great idea, since it coincides with American Thanksgiving just happening, and there always seems to be little bits of turkey, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes leftover. Yes, you can always just re-heat and serve, but you just ate all these flavours, and good as they were, it’s boring to keep re-eating the same tastes over and over again. So, let’s see what we can do about re-working those bits and bobs and turning them into great “new” dishes!

So, you went out and bought that HUGE turkey, ’cause everyone says “Don’t worry, we’ll eat it all!” and of course, you now have half of it left. So what’s a chef to do? Well, here are some ideas: Turkey Pot Pie (see today’s recipe), Turkey Chili, Turkey Croquettes (you get to use up extra mashed potatoes with this one too!), Turkey Samosas or even Turkey Gumbo! All of these dishes use up the meat, but with a completely different flavour profile than the original turkey dinner. This way you, and your diners, won’t feel like they’re eating the same ol’ meal, again and again. Remember, don’t throw out that carcass either! It will make an amazing broth, when boiled with some onions, carrots and celery. Even if you don’t need broth at the moment, it’s a great staple to have sitting in your freezer for when you do. Just remember to label and date everything!

Through out the week, I’ll be giving you ideas (and recipes) for different spins on leftovers, some from “Turkey Day” and some from just remainders that you have lying about in the fridge. I will also be giving you some advice on how to properly store your leftovers safely, and when it’s time to say goodbye to those you have lurking in your pantry. Until then, enjoy today’s recipe!