Spring is here again, and that can only mean one thing: spring cleaning! You may be feeling the urge to rid your house of unwanted items, and we are feeling the same here in the Test Kitchen. Most likely, your kitchen isn’t where you start your spring cleaning, but it is probably one of the places that needs it the most. And we aren’t talking about cleaning the grout between your kitchen tiles. Take that burst of spring cleaning energy and spend some time get rid of some easily overlooked food items as well.
In the Test Kitchen we have many projects and people sharing space. As much as we try to get rid of ingredients at the end of each project, some items do escape our careful watch. Let’s start in the refrigerator. It is easy to clean out things like produce or leftovers that are past their prime, but we often overlook the shelves on the door, aka the land of the forgotten condiments. (You mean salad dressing doesn’t last forever?) Check the “best by” dates on everything and toss those that are past or getting close to the date listed on the package (unless you know you will use it soon, like today).
When you finish scouring the condiment labels, give the freezer a quick look too. Frozen foods last a long time, but not indefinitely. Air penetration through packaging and the natural temperature fluctuations in the freezer (generally more in older models) can cause freezer burn. Freezer burn is all about how water molecules behave—a bit more technical than we need to get into here. Signs of freezer burn are a buildup of ice crystals on the outside of foods or dry-looking patches on the food. If you are just seeing ice crystals but not dry spots yet, then cook up and eat the food fast. Once you see dry patches on the food, chances are the flavor and texture have changed, too. It’s probably best to toss it out. You can’t completely prevent freezer burn, but you can minimize it by wrapping foods tightly, not storing the food too long and minimizing temperature fluctuations. (Don’t keep the door open too long!)
Next, we move on to the pantry and cupboards. The Test Kitchen is equivalent to about five standard home kitchens, so we have our work cut out for us. One really important thing to check periodically is the date on leavening agents, like baking soda or baking powder. If these are past the date on the package they might not do their job, which means you could have flat cakes or muffins.
Another thing to keep an eye on is dried herbs and spices. These don’t necessarily go bad, but they do lose flavor and pungency with time. A general rule of thumb is to toss dried herbs and spices after one year. Try to buy smaller jars of those spices you don’t use often, or look for stores that sell spices in bulk so you can buy just want you need. That not only guarantees a fresher product, it saves space in the pantry, too.
In the Test Kitchen, we develop many recipes when out of season. In fact, just last month it looked like Christmas around here. As a result we buy extra holiday-themed candies and sprinkles in season so we have them to use when we need them. However, sometimes these get forgotten and they hang around longer than just the next season. We find this happens at home, too. How many of you find Halloween candy hiding in the back of the pantry when you are looking for Fourth of July sprinkles? Sometimes hiding candy from the kids means you forget all about it yourself!
What’s on your spring cleaning list?