Yesterday I spent half the day running around reprovisioning, a new paycheck having landed in my checking account at the start of business. A large part of that trek was devoted to the big once-a-month Costco run. Often when you see blog discussions of Sam’s Club and Costco, you’ll find one or more commenters remarking that they can’t cope with the lifetime supplies of this, that, or the other arcane product. And I have to allow, when you’re single and none of your friends want to split up bulk purchases with you, taking advantage of the quality and price available at these outfits can be a challenge.
Over time, I’ve developed two strategies:
1. Divide and conquer the perishables
2. Convert every nook and cranny into storage
Conveniently, my house has a large garage with a door, and it also has a spare bedroom. A few months after I moved in, I’d squirreled away enough cash to have a guy come in and build some inexpensive garage cabinets. They don’t look bad, and they hold several lifetime supplies of Costco merchandise. The house’s previous owner also had bolted one of the old kitchen cabinets over the washer & dryer at the time he changed out the kitchen; that holds a fair amount of junk, too. One shelf in the new cabinets will hold an entire gargantuan package of toilet paper, about half a giant package of paper towels, a huge box of kitchen trashcan bags, and enough food storage bags to last me upwards of a year. The paper goods represent several months’ supply.
The rest of the paper towels end up over the washer. That industrial-sized bag of Arm & Hammer baking soda, a substance I use for cleaning, laundry, odor control, and fire extinguishing as well as in cooking, will not go bad and so lives in the garage for two or three years. Part of it has been transferred to a more convenient glass jar on the kitchen counter, where I can easily grab a fistful if a grease fire starts on the stove (note the actual fire extinguisher next to it, though—in behind the vinegar bottle).
The spare bedroom serves as a gigantic storage closet. Instead of yard-saling the extra bookcases that had been serving as garage shelves before the particleboard cabinets were installed, I cleaned the old things up and moved them into that room. They serve conveniently not only for craft supplies and books that won’t fit in the front room but for a month’s supply of Corona. We’re thinkin’ outside the box here…
All well and good, say you, but what about food items? How can you eat 30 bushels of green beans before they turn to a pile of mush and mildew?
And the answer is…the freezer! After hauling the loot inside yesterday afternoon, I spent another hour or so preparing, packaging, and storing fresh foods in the freezer. No law says you have to eat all those steaks as they are cut, for example. For one little old lady, about a third of a strip sirloin will serve for a dinner. So, I cut the steaks into serving size pieces, wrapped them individually in plastic wrap, and stashed them all inside a large Ziplock freezer bag. A single package of four steaks morphs into 12 meals for me. Ditto things like shrimp and scallops.
Yesterday I found some nice brussels sprouts, perfect for the holidays but in an amount meant to serve all the guests at a big fat Greek wedding. Costco also sells tasty little French green beans in massive quantity, and I also picked up some very nice sweet corn on the cob.
It’s easy to freeze fresh produce, and the result is much better than the frozen veggies you buy in bags from the grocery store. Flavor is better, and you know what’s in the stuff. The trick is to blanch the vegetables briefly before you put them into the freezer. “Blanching” means dropping them into boiling water briefly, until their color brightens or deepens, and then immediately transferring them to ice-cold water. So, I brought a stockpot full of water to a rolling boil and started with the beans.
As soon as they turned bright green, I dumped them into a mixing bowl full of ice and water. This stops the cooking—your goal is to blanch, not to cook, the produce. Slosh them around in the cold water to be sure the entire batch is thoroughly chilled. After they’re all cold, drain them and then spread them on a clean kitchen towel in a single layer, cover with a second towel, and pat and roll them dry. They need to be pretty dry before you can package them.
After the produce is dried off, wrap it into serving-size packets made of wax paper. This is cheaper and greener than using sandwich-sized plastic bags, as the wax paper is biodegradable. Also, you can microwave the frozen veggies inside the wax paper, whereas it would be inadvisable to cook them (and probably even to defrost them) in plastic. Once they’re all packaged, place them inside a large Ziplock bag, press the air out of the bag, and seal it tightly shut. Now you’re ready to freeze them. They’ll keep for quite some time, and whenever you need a serving of vegetables, all you have to do is pull it out and microwave, stir-fry, or sautéto your heart’s content.
I repeated the blanch-dry-and-wrap process with the brussels sprouts and the corn. Since I’ve never tried this with corn on the cob, I decided to test only two cobs. I’d already raided the package and gobbled two of them for lunch, and so freezing two left only four pieces to eat within the next few days, a challenge to which I believe I can rise.
After this project was finished, I held out a handful of brussels sprouts to eat with a piece of ribeye that evening. Brussels sprouts are particularly delicious when they’re fresh and braised in butter with the tarragon that grows in the backyard. You can, though, use dried tarragon to excellent effect.
Butter-Braised Brussels Sprouts
Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat. There should be enough to coat the vegetables and also leave a shallow layer of melted butter in the bottom of the pan. Add the sprouts and tarragon, and season with a pinch or two of nutmeg; stir to coat well in butter.
Turn the heat to low and cover the pan. Allow to cook slowly until the sprouts are done to your taste. Season with salt and pepper.
And so that was my day. Not bad, all things considered.