…from the California Kitchen
How you doin’? My hilltop house had a great commercial kitchen. It was time to downsize, and I was very particular about what I was looking for in a kitchen. I was excited to see that all the kitchen equipment in my new condo was Viking—a brand I often specify in commercial restaurant projects. It has always been a great company to do business with and I am not going to disrespect them now except to say available refrigerator space is at a premium. The refrigerator looks so big on the outside, but usable space is kind of skimpy on the inside. I have now become the expert on stacking stuff.
I really had to rethink my refrigerator allotment space. I used to tell our kitchen staffs, “if it isn’t cooking or on a plate out to a customer—REFRIGERATE IT!” And I l generally live by that premise—if you want something to stay fresh, put it in the fridge. Fridge freshness depends on two key factors:
I think many of us know that that bread, tomatoes and potatoes should not be refrigerated, but for other items… what are the rules?
As it turns out, there are quite a few foods that don't keep well or do not need to be refrigerated. In fact, the refrigerator can cause certain foods to deteriorate prematurely, losing flavor, texture and nutrients. Before you unload your groceries, make sure you're not storing these items in the fridge.
About the worst thing you can do with a loaf of bread is stick it in the refrigerator. Keeping bread in a cold, but not frozen, condition causes the starch to recrystallize and actually makes it stale a lot faster. Buy only enough bread to use in a week and if you must store it keep the bread in an airtight container at room temperature. For longer storage, bread can be frozen for up to 3 months in the freezer. Be sure the bag or container is airtight.
If you want your tomatoes to be ripe and juicy keep them out of the refrigerator. Tomatoes turn mealy and mushy at temperatures below 60⁰ F. Store whole, fresh tomatoes upside down on a paper-towel lined open container away from direct sunlight. I will refrigerate tomatoes if they age out and are getting a little pruney, but only for a day or so.
When stored in the fridge, the starch in potatoes will turn to sugar, resulting in a sweet flavor and gritty texture that's not desirable, even when cooked. Whole, unpeeled potatoes are best stored in a cool, dark place (warmer than the fridge but colder than room temperature) for up to two months. This could include a root cellar, unheated basement, garage, etc. Potatoes can be stored at room temperature in a paper or mesh bag for up to two weeks. If you see a little sprout on the potato, that’s okay… it’s still usable, but when there are more sprouts than potato, you’ve held them a little too long.
Unless your frosting is made with cream cheese or butter cream, storing cake in the fridge zaps all the moisture out of it and hardens the frosting. Though there are some exceptions, most cakes will taste better stored at room temperature. Frosting-free cakes and cakes frosted with fondant or ganache should be covered and stored at room temperature for up to five days. Cut cakes can also be stored at room temperature, just be sure to cover any unfrosted areas with plastic wrap to avoid moisture loss. Cakes that include fresh fruit toppings or fillings, whipped cream or cream cheese frosting should be stored in the fridge.
Storing coffee in the fridge actually causes it to lose it flavor quickly. The temperature change from going in and out of the fridge can lead to a build-up of condensation, which diminishes the coffee's flavor. Plus, coffee is known to absorb odors of other foods in the fridge. So, unless you want your cup o’ joe with a hint of green onions, don't store it in the fridge or freezer. Store whole beans and ground coffee in an opaque, airtight container in a cool, dry place.
It seems like basil begins to wilt the minute you bring it home from the store (or in from the garden), but don't be tempted to store it in the fridge. Basil doesn’t like the cold—store at room temperature. To extend the life of your fresh-cut basil, store it in a jar with a few inches of water, and loosely cover the leaves with a plastic bag. Better yet buy a living basil plant and kept it on your windowsill… name it, water it and talk to it—that’s what I do.
Storing honey in the fridge accelerates the crystallization—not a good thing. You’ve never seen bees in the refrigerator, have you? The chemical make-up of honey—acidic with a low water activity—honey is resistant to bacteria growth. In fact, if you were to take a swab with Covid germs the honey would kill the germs within 72 hours (note: that doesn’t mean that honey is a cure for Covid!). Store honey in an airtight container (the honey bear) at room temperature keeping it away from direct sun or kitchen warm spots. If you see any crystals appear, you can put your honey bear in a cup a hot water and those crystals will likely dissolve.
Hot sauce can differ from brand to brand, so be sure to check the label before storing it. In general, all that vinegar and salt acts as natural preservatives for hot sauce; there's no need to store it in the fridge. In fact, hot sauce's peppery bite is more potent at room temperature. Hot sauce can be stored in the fridge, but its flavor won't be as strong as it is at room temperature. Store hot sauce in the pantry or cabinet for up to six months after opening.
While it sounds counterintuitive it turns out the fridge can cause the antioxidants in melons—including watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe—to break down. Not to mention, melons are much more flavorful at room temperature. Store whole melons on the kitchen counter, out of direct sunlight, at room temperature for one to two weeks.
Onions, Shallots and Garlic
These root crops do not like to be refrigerated. Humid refrigerated whole onions, shallots and garlic absorb moisture and begin to soften, sprout and mold; they also make your fridge stink and that transfers to other foods in the same space. Store veggies in a cool, dry place such as a root cellar, pantry, unheated basement or garage—best at a constant 55⁰ F.
Winter squash including pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash, etc. goes to hell in high humidity and cold temperatures of a fridge. These vegetables store well for up to six months in a cool, dry place, between 50⁰ and 55⁰ F.
Yes, batteries! Someone once told me that general household batteries keep their charge better in the freezer—not true! I checked it out. There is the same amount of electrical poop in batteries kept in the freezer, refrigerator or on the pantry shelf. So, leave the that valuable cold space for foods that really need it. Caveat: rechargeable nickel cadmium and nickel metal hydride batteries do last longer when stored under cold temperatures.
ChefSecret: Don’t leave the refrigerator or freezer door open—close it before you walk away. That keeps the ever-rising energy bill down and prolongs the life of the foods stored inside.
Quip of the Day: Taylor Swift’s lyrics / “We're dancing 'round the kitchen in the refrigerator light. Down the stairs, I was there. I remember it all too well, yeah, yeah, yeah.” [my all-time favorite female entertainer / Taylor used to be my computer screen saver until I was told it was kind of creepy].
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To you and everyone dear to you, be strong, be positive, stay well, stay safe and be kind. Take a breath and count your blessings, and if you have a little extra to share with others, please consider donating to Feeding America.
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