How do I manage excess cooked food? Freeze or not?

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Freezing food is a good way to have meals on the go! Whether it be leftovers or extra big batches made for future consumption, it is important to know how to store different foods. Here are some steps to make sure that frozen/refrigerated food is safe to eat and the taste is well preserved for your next meal:

      1. Freeze any fresh cooked food only once it cools down and reaches room temperature. You can quicken the cooling process by placing food in a shallow container on a cooling rack to allow air to circulate all around the container. Limiting the depth of food in containers to 2 inches or less leads to quick cooling.
      2. You can refrigerate practically any recipe of fresh cooked food if you are not going to use it for the next 2-3 days. If you plan to use the cooked food within this time, it is perfectly safe to keep it in fridge, it does not need to take up freezer space!
      3. thumb_IMG_0290_1024Store/freeze excess cooked food in small differently sized containers or freezer bags (not storage bags) so that you only reheat/thaw the amount needed for that meal. thumb_IMG_0105_1024

If using freezer bags try to flattened the food into a thin layer. A lumpy or rounded shape takes longer to thaw through to the middle.
Flat packages are also better for stacking in your freezer.

4. If you had to freeze a large container but want to eat a part of it at a time, be careful when refreezing partly thawed food. The thawed food can be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals. Try to reduce the time between thawing and refreezing to ensure that the food to be refrozen does not thaw completely.

Also check- How best to thaw frozen food? and Facts to know with freezing and thawing cooked food.

Is your freezer empty? Save energy- fill it up!

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Did the title surprise you? I am sure it did, but it is a fact that it is more economical and energy efficient to have a full freezer. Getting rid of empty space ensures that the cold air doesn’t need to circulate as much, so less power is needed and consumed!

Consider filling up all this free space with anything you can freeze. Everyday items such as frozen herbs/vegetables or breads are good options, as well as course chopped garlic, ginger and green chillies. If you do not have much to freeze though, you can also fill plastic bottles half full of water and use them to fill gaps.

It may sounds crazy, but a third option is to fill the freezer with your unwashed jeans! They would need to be properly wrapped in plastic covering, with all the air released from the plastic bag. This is actually the latest method of washing jeans that Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh advises. Freeze your jeans to kill the germs that make them smelly! People are getting on board with this whacky technique, and you can too!

Whether it’s everyday food items, space fillers or unwashed jeans, get that freezer filled up and save on energy!

 

Why Spices?

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Spices offer exotic flavours to food, and flavourful food is divine. But spices are not just used to appease our taste.In fact, some spices can be a real boost to the body, and help rid it of toxins. Here are some benefits of spices used in most of my recipes:

1. Turmeric (haldi): Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. Arthritis, joint pains, and Alzheimer are some of the known medical problems that turmeric helps in curing. It has been used in India for ages for cosmetic benefits like bringing radiance to skin, curing acne and skin related medical problems.
2. Cloves (laung): Anti-viral, Anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, aphrodisiac, source of many minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids
3. Cumin seeds (jeera): helps remove toxins, helps with digestion, lactation, common cold, diabetes, insomnia, prevents memory loss.
4. Bay leaf (tez patta): boosts immunity, improves nervous system function, protects oral health, regulates body metabolism and prevents blood-related conditions like anemia.
5. Star Anise (chakraphool): antioxidant, rich in vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium, copper, and manganese. Has stomachic, anti-spasmodic, antiseptic, digestive, expectorant, and stimulant properties. Helps to increase the circulation and oxygenation of body parts.
6. Caraway Seeds (ajwain): improve digestion, reduce constipation, lowers blood cholesterol, reduces bloating, belching, gas and gas pains and improves blood pressure. A source for thiamine, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and niacin, iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc and magnesium. This is most commonly used as a safe treatment in India for stomach related medical problems for infants and kids.
7. Cardamom (elaichi): Aids in digestion and increased frequency and volume of urination, reduces spasms, lowers blood pressure and increases metabolism. A source of vitamins and minerals like riboflavin, niacin, vitamin C, iron, manganese and potassium.
8. Cinnamon (dal chini): Reduces inflammation, eliminates pain and infections, manages diabetes, reduces bloating, belching, gas and gas pains , increases cognitive function, good for bones, prevents cancer and good for the health of eyes and skin.

These are all mild flavoured spices used commonly in an Indian household. All of these are easily available in asian grocery stores all over the world. It is also good to know that they are quite inexpensive.

Spices should be used according to personal preferences/palates and in moderate quantities.

Facts to know with freezing and thawing cooked food

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  1. Always discard any items in the freezer that have come into contact with raw meat juices.
  2. Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for too long before freezing. Remember, we freeze food because bacteria develops when its left at room temperature.
  3. Thawing completely and then refreezing food not only loses taste, texture, and nutrients but could also result in the development of bacteria due to frequent temperature changes.
  4. Never taste food to determine whether it is safe to eat. You also should not rely too heavily on appearance to determine whether the food is safe. If in doubt, throw it out.

Also check- How do I manage excess cooked food? Freeze or not? and How best to thaw frozen food?

Why do I still not use a pressure cooker?

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It might be because you have heard a horror story about old-fashioned pressure cookers. Trust me pressure cookers today are very different from those outdated aluminum models, and are perfectly safe to use as long as instructions are followed.

I am on a mission to make people around me to think differently about this kitchen equipment that can save both time and money. I know all of us understand the need and importance of green cooking, smart energy saving and cutting our carbon footprint on this beloved planet.

Consider the fact that pressure cooking saves 70% or more energy than conventional methods of cooking. YOU can make a positive difference to the environment and also save considerable cooking time by switching to this method. So, take this small step to help save earth. Watch how easy it is to use one.

I have seen people scared to death with the idea of using a pressure cooker. Often it is the fear of high pressures and accidentally blowing a hole through the kitchen ceiling. For others it may be the sound, which can seem similar to a jet taking off. Or then it might be the geysers of steam shooting out of this contraption that make people uncomfortable .

Despite these seemingly frightening aspects of the pressure cooker, it is an easy to use and effective piece of equipment, and with the right instruction you can definitely get over your “exploding disaster” fears!

Facts about Pressure Cookers:

  1. Modern pressure cookers are all about the safety features, which include a top that locks on securely, a pressure indicator, and a safety pressure release valve.
  2. In terms of steam heat, it is hot, but quickly cools.  It is not as dangerous as cooking something with grease.
  3. Ways of releasing the pressure
    1. Quick release
    2. Running water
    3. Natural release

To get over the fear.

  1. Choose the right model for you. Stove or electric, loud whistle or no whistle.
  2. Read a reliable pressure cooker cookbook that will help you get over some of your safety fears.
  3. Take notes on cooking times, so that you’ll know what to adjust next time.
  4. Take time to get a feel for how it works. Every stove is a little bit different, and every pot is a little bit different, too. There’s a bit of a learning curve. You will soon discover how wonderful it is for cooking things.

What not to do:

  1. Do not add too much liquid -Don’t cook foods that “foam” and don’t fill it more than half way.  Then, don’t worry about it.(the pressure cooker has a very low evaporation rate-about one tablespoon per 10 minutes of cooking vs one cup of evaporation in an uncovered pot). This can be easily fixed by decreasing the cooking liquid significantly. You can even go as low as your cooker’s minimum requirement (which is usually a cup) – check your manual to make sure.
  2. Do not over-cook. The pressure cooker infuses flavours up to a point, after that point the food is over-cooked and the meat becomes tough and tasteless because all of the juices have been squeezed into the cooking liquid – making a delicious stock (if there wasn’t too much water ; )
  3. Do not ignore the manual or do anything they say NOT to do.

Practice by just boiling water until you get the hang of it.  In general, once it starts releasing pressure on its own, just turn it down and “cruise” from there.

Safety features pressure cookers already have

  1. If the top is put wrong – it won’t reach pressure. If you do get it on and do not turn down the heat right away, the valve will release the extra pressure and will activate. If this value is accidentally blocked, a secondary valve (usually a little silicone or rubber stopper) will kick-in. Should THAT fail, the gasket (silicone or rubber circle that seals) will buckle and THAT will release pressure – I have never gotten to that stage but at that point it can get messy and may spray food on your cook top but not the ceiling.
  2. A self-locking handle keeps you from accidentally opening the pressure cooker while the contents are still under pressure.

I hope you consider pressure cooking – not just for the speed but for the flavour, the health benefits and the planet (it’s ridiculous how little energy it needs to operate). I’ll gladly help you navigate the process of getting acquainted with your pressure cooker – just make the decision to buy one!

Meals that can be made in minutes take the pressure off of home cooks who want to make good food but may be pressed for time.

 

How to use a Pressure Cooker?

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After the required number of whistles, the stove should be turned off. Once the heat is off, all the steam releases naturally in 5-10 minutes. This is the best way of cooking as it retains all flavours and nutrients. However, steam can also be quick released by using the steam release valve or by gently lifting the whistle (depends on the model of cooker and instructions that came with it). Check out my video to see how steam can be released early before its usual time.

In general, perform these safety checks and you will be good to go:
1. Check to make sure there are no dents or cracks in your pressure cooker or the rubber gasket before using it.
2. There must always be some sort of liquid in your pressure cooker before you close the lid.
3. The pressure cooker should never be more than ⅔ full as there needs to be room for the steam to accumulate.
4. Never try to force open the lid of the pressure cooker when there is steam inside. You can get seriously burnt.
5. Even when it is safe to open the lid, lift the lid away from your face, as the contents will be steaming hot.
6. All pressure cookers have a quick release valve/system. Follow the instructions to make sure you are doing it correctly.

Which Pressure Cooker to buy?

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A few quick buying tips:

  1. Go with a spring valve for quieter more efficient operation or finger-tip pressure release that prevents clogging of the steam vent.
  2. You can also go for one with two pressure levels (High and Low) to keep you from pulverizing fish and veggies while you’re infusing them with great flavour
  3. I prefer the black hard anodized stovetop model over the electric one. Particularly because it makes the pressure cooker absorb heat faster making it more energy-efficient. And the pressure cooker stays looking new for years.
  4. Start with a 5-6L (that is the most versatile size) but if you can afford it get a set that uses the same pressure cooking top with a smaller 3-4L pan (for making side dishes, rice for one, pasta sauces, etc).

Are high-end pressure cookers worth the money?

Yes, and no. You get what you pay for and if you pay a lot you get a lot of hard anodized metal, stainless steel, bells & whistles and accessories. This extra metal retains heat like you wouldn’t believe and needs less energy to operate and makes things stick a little less.

No, in the sense that all that extra metal takes a few minutes longer to reach pressure, you can make accessories with things you might already have in your kitchen. The end the result is the same: pressure cooked food. Do not let budget get in the way of getting your first pressure cooker!