Don’t Panic: Food Tips and Hints

By Maurice J. O’Brien, ITT Tralee

Covid-19 / Corona Virus and the associated emergency measures that have been introduced have been a big shock to us all, and certainly nothing we are familiar with throughout Ireland. The government introduction of restrictions throughout our ordinarily normal lives have also been a big shock to us. We are not used to these type of measures and restrictions as, thankfully, we live in a pretty good country with good democratic values and freedoms to move around, live our lives to our own standards and desires, and free to shop and purchase goods as we see fit.

We have also hit unemployment figures not seen since the 1970s and 1980s – this is of course a very hard scenario to have been imposed upon us and to have to adapt to. While money is not the most important thing in life, and I am sure we will all reassess our values when this is over, it is important to buy food, pay for our bills, save a little for ourselves and our children’s futures and as importantly, for us to ensure we have enough so as not to affect our mental well-being and life-stress.

These are strange and very unusual times. It is ok to feel apprehensive and afraid – we are all afraid together. We are all unsure of the future after this is over. We are all asked to play our part in ensuring that those that we love and care for are safe. We are all discovering our new lives – whether we are together as families or on our own, whether we are still working or temporarily unemployed, whether we are getting to know each other properly or getting to know ourselves properly – it’s probably all new to each of us. This is ok, so don’t fret or panic. The schools will reopen, the non-grocery shops will reopen, and the pubs will reopen. (Take note: expect a surge in socialising after this is over; we are after all social creatures, and even the most non-tactile of us will appreciate the handshake, hug or general back-slap when we meet up again soon.)

With all this in mind, let’s talk about the food that we have bought. Obviously, as evidenced by some of the social media pictures circulating and our own observations, we have slightly panicked as regards buying food supplies. (We shall ignore the panic buying of toiletries – s**t happens after all!) This is normal during times like this, so firstly, don’t feel too guilty if you bought 10 packets of porridge – it will last, albeit until November probably, so let’s hope you like porridge. A lot!

We need to think about how we manage our rather full cupboards and fridges. The last thing we want to do now is dump half the food we have bought. Don’t freak out, we are not talking about becoming a professional chef or cook, we are just going to show you some tips and hints on how to manage your cupboards and fridges. Smart stuff, not silly stuff. Get everyone involved also, this will help alleviate the hours spent indoors and encourage everyone to think about our food. There is a limited and finite amount of joy to be had in jigsaws, Monopoly, art and crafts, TV and social media. Especially social media!

Thinking about our food stocks and what the heck we are going to do with the 24 tins of peaches can be intimidating. No need for it to be. We are allowed to laugh at our panic buying – I bet the deal on 24 tins of peaches doesn’t seem quite so good now. The following can be done to help us enjoy our food without feeling we have to each peaches for the next 24 days in a row.

Food Cupboards / Pantries:

Start by getting everything out of the cupboards. After you have picked yourself off the floor from actually seeing how much food you bought, we can begin. Now that we have everything out, sure we can give the cupboards a clean – saves doing when this is all over as we’ll be anywhere else as opposed to still stuck in the house! Check all the dates on your food items. These are usually found on the labels and normally give a clear date. The key now is to put everything back in order of the longest date being behind the nearest date, and preferably in some sort of order so as you can see what you have. We don’t have to become OCD about it, but we should try to be as careful as possible so as we see what we have. No point in buying another 24 tins of peaches, deal or not, because they were hidden behind the cereals, tinned tomatoes and pasta. A really good tip here is also to make a list of what you have. Again, we’re not becoming auditors, but a defined list will let you know what you don’t need to buy when shopping next. To include the kids, make a little competition of it. Kids will be diligent in getting the dates in order for you, especially if there is a little treat at the end of it. (Little treat means a little treat, so don’t go overboard.)

Fridges:

Where do we start? (Time to give yourself a break on the 24 tins of peaches – at least they weren’t fresh and going green at this stage.) Because most food in the fridge is perishable i.e. goes off quickly, then this will be the most difficult assignment. Simple rule, if it talks to you, winks at you, breathes, or is furry and green in colour, then it probably should not be in the fridge any more. Ring David Attenborough’s team and see can a new documentary be undertaken. Aside from that, let’s start by getting everything out of the fridge first and check the dates. As with Food Cupboards / Pantries give the fridge a clean and place everything back in the correct date order – longest date being behind the nearest date. Ensure that raw meat, raw poultry (most things with feathers, not just chicken) and raw fish are on the bottom shelf of the fridge and never above cooked meats or other food items. Make a note / list of what you have. Also, you need to do this as quickly as possible as we have approximately 90 minutes to ensure the high-risk food we put back in is safe to eat afterwards. (High-risk foods include dairy & dairy products, meat & meat products, ready-to-eat salads, fish & fish products etc.)

Freezers:

These are usually the places where food goes to hide forever more, especially food that seemed like a great idea at the time. They are often more akin to a graveyard as opposed to a place where we store food. Freezers are actually great. They keep our food for longer and if used correctly, can ensure we don’t run out of most things. (Unfortunately, you can’t freeze the 24 tins of peaches while in the tin, but some good peach news at last, you can freeze the contents of the tins. See, there is always a solution. Even when it comes to 24 tins of peaches.) As previous, start by getting everything out of the freezer first and check the dates. As with Food Cupboards / Pantries and fridges give the freezer a clean. If the empty freezer looks very similar to an Antarctic Ice-shelf and has penguins nesting, then a cleaning was kind of due. Knock off any excess ice and get rid of. No need to take it apart, just a good cleaning with plain hot water will clear any other excess ice. Place everything back in the correct date order – longest date being behind or below the nearest date. Make a note / list of what you have. As with fridges, you need to do this as quickly as possible so as food doesn’t defrost – if food defrosts, never re-freeze. Eat it.

Preserving Food in the Freezer:

Preserving sounds complicated and quite simply something that our great-grandmothers, jam makers or biological scientists do. If that’s the case, let’s call it saving food. Because it is saving food, and saving money. What we are trying to do is ensure we get the most value from our food. Saving food is all about understanding that it is not complicated, but may take a little bit of extra time. Let’s face it, time is something that we have. Here are some ideas for saving your food:

  • • Bread: this can be saved in the freezer. Breakdown the sliced pan and dependent on how much you normally use in a day, place the appropriate amount slices in a freezer bag and put in the freezer (this could be 2 or 4 or 8.) If it’s a full sliced pan you use, then just freeze the whole sliced pan.
    • Vegetables: if you have gone a bit over-board with vegetables you bought, then no problem. Prepare any excess veg you have as normal and cook in boiling water for about 5-6 minutes. Immediately place under cold running water until the veg is fully cooled down. If you want to be very posh, we call this blanching and refreshing. Freezer bag the veg into normal portions like the bread and put into the freezer. Don’t do this with potatoes as they are not good for freezing. You can keep them in a cool, dry place out of sunlight. An added bonus is that this current experience will enable us to understand that there are only so many fresh carrots that your house requires!
    • Hard Fruit: this is similar to vegetables and includes apples and pears and the like. Just ensure to prepare them first and apply the same process. You can also go one step further and cook them until fully cooked, add a spoon of sugar, mix well and then freezer bag – you’ve just made a purée. Congratulations!
    • Soft Fruit: make purée out of them as outlined above, freezer bag and pop into the freezer. You can also fill ice-cube tubes with the fruit purée and this will be a lovely healthy treat for your most precious darling little helpers. Also good for your little monsters.
    • Milk and Cream: if you bought 20 litres of milk, then a good chat with yourself is in order first. Covid-19 doesn’t affect cows. Still, a solution is to freeze any excess milk or cream. The key is to thaw it out and shake well fully before using again.
  • • Meat, Poultry and Fish: you can freeze these raw, just ensure to wrap well. If it’s 4 or 6 or ‘more-than-you-could-eat-in-one-sitting-but-seemed-a-bargain-at-the-time’ items in a packet, just open it and portion accordingly i.e. what you would actually eat in one sitting. Wrap tightly in cling-film and freeze. Try to remember which was the furthest date and place this at the back or below.

These are just some tips and hints for preserving / saving, excess food in the freezer. Just be careful when thawing out – always ensure that you thaw out food in your fridge. Not on the kitchen work-top, the windowsill or the hot-press. Apart from learning that our families can be very annoying at times and that social media is not real, we have enough to be dealing with Covid-19. The last thing we need, besides a call from Revenue of course, is to get ill from food poisoning because we decided the hot-press was a good idea! (For the majority of men out there, or at least men like myself, the hot-press is the magic cupboard where all our lovely clothes and towels magically get aired and where our endless stream of hot water is generated – check it out.)

We’ll keep sending out food saving tips and hints and recipes to you, and, we’ll keep trying to ensure that we all get a healthy, nourishing meal at good value.

As we mentioned earlier, this is a strange new world we live in, but we will get through it together. Us and the peaches. Just a note regarding our food supplies – luckily we live in a country where we are in the top 5 in the world when it comes to food supplies. Known as food security, which I am sure you have heard mentioned over the past while, it indicates how a country would cope if a world crisis happens. We on this island are not going to run out of food. Honestly, we’ve tonnes of it. We may run out of tinned peaches, but I am sure there are some of you that will think that may not be a bad thing.
You know who you are!

In the eternal words of Douglas Adams – Don’t Panic!

PS
How about sending in your Tinned Peach Recipes – we may make a book out of it for posterity. It could be called ‘Peaches-24’.

Keep safe and eat well – Culinary Arts Team.

By Maurice J. O'Brien, ITT Tralee