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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cheap & Cheerful suppers for the week

Thursday (this was one of the hot days, here. A cold dinner was much appreciated)
Pesto pasta salad -- cooked rotini pasta, garbanzo beans, cooked chicken, olives, canned diced tomatoes, pesto dressing, topped with dollops of pesto, served on lettuce
rhubarb crisp

Friday (not so cheap -- about $6 or $7 for all 5 of us -- but far cheaper than the usual $25-30 at Ivar's fast food fish bar)
fish and chips
carrot-raisin-peanut salad

Saturday (cloudy day, was great for pie-baking, and it cheered us all up, as my son left for out of town for a week, this morning)
leftover carrot-raisin-peanut salad
Swiss chard and garlic frittata
rice cooked in chicken broth
blackberry-rhubarb pie

Sunday (I had leftover refried beans to use up, which became the base for the soup. It was thick and hearty)
chicken-chili soup
bread and butter
leftover blackberry-rhubarb pie

Monday (It looks like it should be a good year for the beets, and we all enjoy them cooked and added to salads)
chicken-noodle soup
grilled cheese sandwiches
leafy green salad with julienned beet and cucumber (all from the garden)
fresh raspberries

Tuesday (this year's rhubarb, but plums from the freezer from 2 years ago, still fine!)
Tex-Mex black beans and rice, with 1 hamburger patty, cooked and crumbled into the skillet
topped with cheddar, diced, canned tomatoes and olives
rhubarb-plum crumble with whipped cream

linguine and meatballs in marinara (with the beet greens added, from the beet added to the salad)
leafy green salad with julienned beet, cooked garbanzo beans and cucumber
leftover rhubarb-plum crumble

I am trying to clean out the freezer a bit, to make room for summer produce surplus. It's tight in there right now. This week, I found some canned tomatoes, canned tomato paste, chopped plums, blackberries, marinara sauce and sliced, sharp cheddar cheese in the freezer, needing using up.

One of my daughters asked me yesterday evening, if foods ever go "bad" in the freezer. As far as I know, if the temp of the freezer is kept at 0 F degrees, food doesn't really spoil, but loses quality of texture and taste. The frozen plums in the crumble this week were from 2 summers ago. Mostly, the container just had a lost of frost inside. Have you ever heard of food actually spoiling in the freezer (if kept at 0 F)?


  1. Sounds yummy! I think you are right about things going bad in the freezer--it's a loss of food quality but you won't get sick eating it. Biggest thing to worry about is a power outage.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I know some areas of the US are prone to major power outages. That's the one huge drawback to freezing surplus food. I think I'd need to get more into canning if our area was one of those prone to outages. We do have occasional outages, usually due to winds knocking out local lines. But where we are, the power usually comes back on within a few hours. So, not long enough to lose food. The other possible complication is an electric cord/plug accidentally being knocked out of the outlet. this has happened to a friend of mine more than once. I do get a little anxious when all 3 freezer spaces are full to the brim, and fear one will fail due to age of appliance. I could maybe cram some of the extra food into the other 2 freezers, but we'd still have a lot to use up quickly. "Turkey, ham, fish or hamburgers, anyone? Eat up!!"

    2. I laughed at your last comment, Lili. We had our power go out one summer for THREE DAYS. My husband had to go out of town, and tried to set up the generator to run the biggest freezer before he left; but we had some sort of catastrophic fail.

      As the outage stretched on and on, our sons and I had two plans-- cooking a lot of steak/grind meat dishes on our gas range and starting up the camper's propane fridge to store it until the power returned, and cutting up all the roasts for sun-dried jerky! :)

      Thankfully, since we were super-prudent about not opening the freezers any more than absolutely necessary, the packed-full freezers acted like super-ice-chests; and actually not a thing thawed out. We were sooooo relieved!

      I'm not sure how long is too long for power outages and freezers, because we lost everything in a freezer twice -- once to a freezer that quit working, and once when one was unplugged accidentally. I'm pretty sure that both times I didn't realize for at least a week. However long it was, the stuff was VERY thawed and VERY warm by the time we found it, so we figured we couldn't risk trying any of it, and just dumped it all. :cry:

      On freezer burn, we've had some pretty tasteless and colorless stuff, but never anything that smelled bad or seemed to harm us in any way. Sara :)

    3. Hi Sara,
      Oh that would be painful, to lose an entire freezer's contents. But things like that happen.

      Most food safety experts say that it isn't so much how long the power is out (appliance disconnected, not working), but the temperature inside when power restored, or appliance discovered to not be working. If the inside temperature all through the freezer is 40 degrees F or below, the contents should be safe. For a lot of people/conditions, if leaving freezer completely shut, this can be about 3 days, if the freezer was about 3/4 full to begin with.

      If foods still contain ice crystals, and food is at 40 degrees or cooler (refrigerator temps), it can be safely refrozen, according to Even meat and dairy items. If food is completely thawed and held above 40 degrees F (like around 42 or so, not 60 or so) for a couple of hours, throw out *any* foods containing animal products (meats, dairy, eggs, custard fillings, casseroles), with the exception of hard cheeses. And if meat juices have dripped on anything, toss those items too.

      But, thawed fruit, bread, vegetables, flours, grains and nuts, and hard cheeses can all be refrozen. Loss of quality might be there, but food safety is okay.

      It sounds like you and your sons had a good back up plan, though. That sun-dried jerky sounds interesting and inventive! :-)

  2. I put things in my freezer for what I call a short-term holding point meaning that I tell myself it will get used very quickly so don't bother labeling with a date. The joke is on me. Sometimes the item gets forgotten and I don't know how long its been in the freezer.

    I cleaned out my freezer early this spring and I'm sure that I had no garden veggies anymore even after I cleaned it out and had put all the stuff back. So dinner last night was meatloaf and baked potatoes and I had nothing to top the potatoes with. I laughed as I walked out to the freezer thinking broccoli would be there but knowing I had cleaned it out a few weeks ago and there were no veggies. I dug around and sure enough I found a package of broccoli and I even think there is yet one more. I have no idea how old it is since I haven't been freezing veggies for at least two years. They were just as good as if I had cut them off the plant that morning. Beautiful green and crisp--so good. We even had a 12 hour power outage Tuesday 1 am to 1 pm--12 HOURS in this hot and humid weather. Nothing spoiled. So I will attest that frozen foods can stay good for many, many years! Oh, and I'm not dead yet from eating long frozen food!


    1. Hi Alice,
      That sounds like our chopped plums. I have no idea how they hid in there for 2 years. But they did. I think there's also a package of frozen pear slices, needing using, also from 2 years ago.

      Too funny! So far, I haven't lost any of my family members to long-frozen foods, or my cooking!! Keeping fingers crossed on continued success in this regard!

  3. Lili, Did you loose power in the Chanukah Storm a few years back? I was without power for 10 days. Dry ice saved the day.

    1. Hi frugal spinster,
      We lost power for just a few hours. But I do remember some areas where the power was out for a very long time. I think it was worse on the East side. I can remember news stories of folks getting by w/o any power for a couple of weeks. Friends of ours on Camano were w/o power for 3 weeks.

      For some reason, we are in a spot where power is restored very quickly, in just about every outage. Where did you get the dry ice?

  4. I need to set myself up with an inventory system for the freezer. It's only a small chest freezer but big enough to lose things! I've never had trouble with frozen food going bad. Freezer burn occasionally sure, but then I just use whatever it is in a stew or with a cream sauce. Maybe some off flavors if I kept something too long in the freezer over the fridge, but I try to use that for short-term storage only. Unfortunately I also forget things in there as well.

    You probably already know this, but something to keep in mind is that freezers work more efficiently if they're reasonably full. When I have room, I fill old plastic bottles with water (leaving a decent amount of headroom) and place in the freezer. Not only is the freezer working more efficiently, but things will stay frozen longer in the event of a power outage. I thaw them when no longer needed and use the water for plants as I don't care for the taste the water can take on - I think it comes from the plastic. I do change the water rather than reusing it as it's a source of drinking water in the event of a longer-term disaster. I've only needed to use the bottles for drinking water once. The power had been out for 36 hours and we had no water during that time, then when the power came back on the tap water had little black flecks in it and the city advised not to drink it (of course!) I had walked up 18 flights of stairs in mid-summer heat (the elevators and air conditioning weren't working even though we had power back on) before I heard that the tap water was not yet potable. There was absolutely no way I was going to go back out and buy bottled water with all those stairs to navigate. I was very grateful to have (plastic-tasting) drinking water in my apartment.

    Thank you Lili for all your work on this site! I stumbled across it a couple of weeks ago and have been catching up on your posts. We have very different lifestyles but still I can learn so much from you. I really enjoy the way you write and appreciate how much you share.


    1. Hi Ushuaia,
      Oh, yes, a very good point to remember about keeping the freezer full for efficiency, using bottles filled with water. And in event of a power outage, everything will stay cold longer, and give you drinking water, if needed.

      I have a cleaned out jug sitting on the counter, right now, that I can fill with water and put in the freezer. Thanks for the reminder!!

    2. I totally agree with Ushuaia. about losing track of what is in our little Igloo chest freezer which we purchased on sale at Best Buy a couple months ago. I started to list what we put in there but it is so easy to take things in or out of the freezer without thinking about noting it on "the list".. I need to retake inventory and keep a clip board NEXT to the freezer. Now we have three freezer spaces (two refrigerators and one freezer), keeping track of what's in where is getting to be a guessing game. We also tend to stock up more and keep everything that is near the expiration date in the freezer.

      I also agree that keeping water in the freezer is a good idea. We bring our own large jug of water when we're out of the house and don't like using our refrigerator's ice maker cubes (to hopefully extend the life of the water filter), so we use disposable tofu containers to freeze water in the freezer for the the water jug.

      I love your menu plans...good balance and the dessert is a good meal closure. I've often avoided making desserts because I thought who needs the extra calories, sugars and fats. But I can see it really adds to making a meal satisfying.


    3. Hi YHF,
      when I was younger, I had a really great visual memory. If I saw something someplace, I remembered where I saw it. And that helped me with things like freezer inventory. Now that I'm older, that visual memory is not so great, and I often forget where I've seen things, and really should follow some sort of system for managing inventory. My current "system" if you can call it that, is to periodically go through one of the freezer spaces and reorganize everything, usually in an attempt to fit in more stuff. need a better system, I think.

      Most of our desserts are fruit-based, so I don't feel too badly about them. And I use the baking soda addition to all fruit desserts, to reduce the amount of extra sugar I add. So, all in all, the desserts aren't high in sugar. Some of them have extra fats, though, like two-crust pies. But they are yummy, and add a nice conclusion to the meal.

  5. Same here...usually I have pretty good visual memory of where I saw things. These days, I seem to have pockets of blank recall....pretty scary.

    May I ask....what is the "baking soda addition"? Does it bring out the sugars in fruits? Never heard of that before.


    1. YHF,
      if you use a tiny amount of baking soda, when baking with or stewing fruit (pies, fruit sauce, cobblers, etc), it neutralizes some of the acid from the fruit, so less sugar is needed. For a recipe calling for about 3/4 to cup of sugar, along with a quart of fruit, I use about 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, and cut the sugar to about 1/2 cup total. Here's a post I wrote about that a while back:

      I find this trick super helpful when I'm running low on sugar and waiting for a sale. And I cannot taste the soda, at all!


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