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How to make the most of your purchased produce

If you refrigerate your squash and put bananas in your fruit bowl, you may not be getting the most out of your produce. Knowing how to store fruits and veggies can not only extend the shelf life but also maximize the flavour. This is especially important during off-season when produce may be picked before peak ripeness and endure long travel. Let’s look at some of the typical produce faux pas.

One bad apple CAN spoil a bunch

Ethylene gas can be a nasty enemy when it comes to produce as it accelerates the ripening process. Some fruit and vegetables are ethylene producing while others are ethylene sensitive, and some are both. Keep these produce separate in the fruit bowl, on the counter and in the fridge. Never keep them in a plastic or brown paper bag where ethylene gas is trapped and at its highest. Produce will spoil on its own, as a brown banana will accelerate the ripening of the entire bunch, or a slimy piece of lettuce with slime up the entire bag. On the other hand, if you want to speed up the ripening of those green tomatoes, place them in a paper bag with a ripened tomato or another ripened ethylene producer.

Ethylene producers include: apples, apricots, avocados, bananas (ripe), cantaloupe, honeydew, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, plums and tomatoes.

Ethylene sensitive include: bananas (unripe), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, leafy greens/lettuce, peas, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes and watermelon.

Leafy greens are like delicate flowers

What’s less appetizing than a slimy piece of lettuce in your salad? Greens must be handled with care; they bruise easily and require delicate preparation. They also have a short shelf life, so only buy what you need for the next few days or stick with spinach, as steaming or throwing it into cooked dishes can quickly use it up. Leafy greens like moisture but not too much. Wrap or place a moist paper towel on top of an opened bag/container of greens or around a head of lettuce. Store the head of lettuce in a sealed plastic bag. All greens should be refrigerated and do best in a crisper drawer. Only wash just before consumption.

Frozen fruit gone to mush

The trick to avoid berry soup upon defrosting your berries is to speed up the freezing time. The longer it takes for foods to freeze the larger the ice crystals and loss of texture upon thawing. Spread fresh berries out in a single layer (without touching) on a cookie sheet and place in freezer. Once frozen, place them in an airtight freezer bag.

Cooking tip: When baking with berries, do you ever find they all sink to the bottom of the baked good? Give them more “bounce” by coating them in a couple of tablespoons of flour before adding them to the batter.

Treat fresh herbs like fresh cut flowers

Fresh herbs provide much more flavour to a dish than dried herbs, but it’s impossible to use up the entire bunch before it spoils. To extend herbs shelf life, cut the ends and place, stems down, in a glass with a little water and cover with a loose plastic bag. Keep in the side of the fridge. Many kitchen stores sell a neat contraption called a herb keeper that provides the same idea but it closes up, decreasing risk for spills and keeps them fresher even longer. You can also dry them out (before they spoil) by hanging them upside down in a dry place.

Cooking tip to maximize flavour: Add fresh towards the end of your cooking, add dried at the beginning, especially when sautéing.

Squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes at their best

Refrigerating these veggies can shorten their shelf life and decrease flavour by causing the natural sugars to turn starchy. They are best stored in a dry, dark and ventilated place. Once chopped, store in the fridge for 1-2 days or freeze up to 6 months.

Roasting veggies cooking tip: To avoid unevenly cooked, burnt or soggy roasted vegetables, cut all veggies the same size, about ½ inch (1.3 cm) and toss in oil and spices (if desired). While preheating the oven to 400-450°F (205-230°C), place a heavy baking sheet in the oven. Cooking veggies on a hot pan will speed up the browning. Spread them out on the pan in a single layer and minimize touching. Turn them after 15 minutes and check them every 10 minutes thereafter until tender. They’ll take around 35-45 minutes. And voila!

Maureen Tilley is a registered dietitian and author of Hold the Salt! and Hold that Hidden Salt!

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