All Over But The Leftovers

Thanksgiving TurkeysThanksgiving is tomorrow! Are you ready for it? Here’s a fun post from Cheryle Jones Syracuse that will remind your clients about food safety for leftovers, helping them keep their holiday celebrations safe and festive. Don’t miss the free quiz handout!

It takes hours — days if you count the shopping, planning, and chopping — to cook a Thanksgiving dinner. Then it usually takes less than one hour for the bountiful holiday meal to be eaten.

So, what’s left to do? The guests are watching football and it’s time to clean up (already?). This isn’t the time to forget about food safety. While overindulging can cause an upset stomach, so can eating food that was improperly handled or stored. Don’t get careless with those leftovers!

Here’s a quick quiz to use with your students or clients that can help reinforce some basic Thanksgiving (and year round) leftover practices.

Answer TRUE or FALSE to the following questions…

  1. TRUE or FALSE. Since it cooked for a long time, and you checked the temperature when it was done, and the refrigerator is so full, it’s okay to leave the turkey (and all the other goodies) to sit out for hours after the meal so that people can pick at it and make sandwiches.
  2. TRUE or FALSE. Food should be allowed to cool before you put it in the refrigerator.
  3. TRUE or FALSE. Leftover packs for guests should be refrigerated as soon as possible.
  4. TRUE or FALSE. Leftovers will keep for a week after Thanksgiving.
  5. TRUE or FALSE. A quick “zap” in the microwave is good enough to warm up your leftovers.

Answers:

  1. FALSE. Just because it’s a holiday and your refrigerator is full does not mean that the “two-hour rule” isn’t in effect. Food should not be allowed to sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Two hours is enough time for bacteria to multiply to the quantity that could cause foodborne illnesses. This is cumulative too. If you leave the leftovers on the dining room table for one hour, then later leave them out on the counter for 30 minutes to make sandwiches, you will only have a half-hour window left.
  2. FALSE. See above for the “two hour rule.” If you have a large amount of hot food, then it’s best to divide it into smaller portions and put them in the refrigerator as soon as possible. Or, better yet, cool the food by putting it in an ice bath or cold water bath before putting it into the refrigerator. On the same note, don’t store the stuffing inside the turkey.
  3. TRUE. It’s wonderful that you’re sharing the leftovers with your guests, but make sure that this food is safe too. Think about the two-hour rule. If they won’t be leaving for several hours, make sure this food is refrigerated. If they’re traveling for more than two hours, make sure that they have a cooler or way to keep the food cold for the trip.
  4. FALSE Leftovers should be eaten within 3 to 4 days. Keep them in the coldest part of your refrigerator (not the garage or the back porch). If you have more leftovers than can be eaten within the recommended leftover time (Monday), then you can freeze them. Frozen turkey, plain, will keep for 4 months at 0 degrees F or below. Turkey covered with broth or gravy will keep for 6 months at the same temperature. Stuffing and gravy will only be good for about a month. These foods will be safe for a longer time, but may become dry, lose flavor, or drop in quality. This goes for that turkey carcass too! If you don’t have time to make soup out of it right away, wrap it carefully and freeze it. Then it will be there to make soup when you have more time.
  5. FALSE Reheat leftovers thoroughly. Merely warming leftover gravy, sauces, and soups will not get them hot enough to kill bacteria. These foods should be simmered or boiled until they’re steamy hot throughout. If you’re using a microwave, cover your food while cooking and then allow standing time for a few minutes so that the temperatures inside can even out. Leftovers should reach at least 165 degrees F.

And there you have it! A quick quiz to help your clients celebrate Thanksgiving safely and happily, leftovers and all.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State Univeristy

Here’s an easy-to-print PDF copy of the quiz! Enjoy!

Leftovers Quiz

There are tons of holiday resources in the Nutrition Education Store — which will you try first?

Holiday Secrets Cookbook

Holiday Survival: Keep Off the Pounds PowerPoint and Handout Set

Holiday Poster Set

Eggplant Cooking Tips

Eggplant!I recently got the best gift from a friend — 4 small eggplants from her garden. This is the same friend who brought me several pomegranates a couple years ago. I feel so lucky that I have friends that bring me wonderful fruits and vegetables — what great gifts!

Anyway, back to the eggplant.

I don’t usually buy eggplant, largely because I really don’t know what to do with it. My husband likes eggplant Parmesan, but he usually orders it in restaurants. I’d heard so many rumors and old wives’ tales about how to cook eggplant, and found myself baffled by all the conflicting information. For example, do I need to salt the eggplant? I remember my husband’s aunt always salting her eggplants and then weighing them down with books. On the other hand, according to an archived article from Food and Health Communications, you don’t have to bother with this if the eggplants are very fresh.

So how should I treat my eggplants?

Since salting can help remove the bitterness from an eggplant, I decided to salt mine. If you’d like to salt your eggplants before you cook them, first you need to slice or dice the eggplant into the shape you want to use. Sprinkle everything with about half a teaspoon of salt (not the half cup my husband’s aunt used to use) and then let everything sit in a colander for 30-60 minutes while the eggplant drains. Once that time is up, press out any excess liquid and dry the eggplant with a clean towel. You can also rinse the eggplant to remove extra salt before drying it.

So, there I was with salted eggplant. How did I want to cook it?

Grilled EggplantI dug further into the Food and Health Communications recipe archive and found a few articles about eggplant, along with several healthful recipes. Here are some of my favorites…

With time running short, I decided that I wanted to preserve my eggplants to cook later.

According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, eggplant can be frozen. As far as I could tell, there is not a research-tested recipe for safely canning eggplant.

So, freezing it was!

To freeze eggplant, fill a large pot with 1 gallon of water and half a cup of lemon juice (the lemon will keep the eggplant from darkening). Bring the mixture to a boil. While you’re waiting for the water to heat up, wash, peel, and slice the eggplant into discs that are half an inch thick. Since eggplant does discolor quickly, prepare only what you you can blanch at one time. When you’re ready, place the eggplant slices in the boiling water for 4 minutes. Pluck the slices out of the water with a slotted spoon and drop into an ice bath for another 4 minutes. Then drain and pack up your eggplant. If you want to fry the slices or layer them into eggplant Parmesan or vegetable lasagna, consider placing freezer wrap between the slices before freezing.

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That’s basically what I did, with one little twist. I put the well-drained eggplant slices on a tray and froze them individually. Then I transferred everything to a freezer bag. Hooray! Now I have two quart bags full of sliced eggplant for later this year!

My research also led me to discover a bunch of great eggplant cooking tips. If you ever find yourself with a spare eggplant or two, consider the following…

  • To avoid browning, wait to cut into the eggplant until you absolutely have to — don’t prep that part a few hours in advance!
  • Leave the skin on! This will help color, shape retention, and optimal nutrition. You can find anthocyanins in the purple skin of an eggplant, and since anthocyanins have a positive impact on blood lipids, it would really be a shame to remove the skin.
  • Eggplants do have a tendency to soak up oil during cooking. To keep your dish light and healthful, sauté eggplant in a small amount of very hot oil in a nonstick pan.
  • Want a quick eggplant side? Spray slices with olive oil cooking spray and roast, grill, or broil them.

Anyway, that’s a brief recap of my eggplant adventures. I hope you liked it!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Here’s a handout that features the most helpful points from today’s post. Get your copy today!

Eggplant Handout

And for more fun with eggplant, drop by the Nutrition Education Store!

Fruit and Vegetable Activity Set for Kids

I Heart Fruit and Veggies Bookmark

Vegetable Chopping Guide Poster

The Truth about Blanching

PeppersDuring a recent food preservation class, the topic of freezing vegetables came up. The big question of the day was “do you really always have to blanch vegetables before freezing them?”

Today I want to share my answer to that question with you.

But first, a quick review.

Blanching is the process of quickly heating fresh vegetables in boiling water or steam. This process is recommended for almost all vegetables when you’re going to stash them in the freezer. The amount of time that you need in order to heat a vegetable depends on the type of vegetable, its shape, and its size. Visit the homepage for the National Center for Home Food Preservation to find a complete list of recommended blanching times. A quick dip in boiling water or steam is followed by an immediate ice bath, which stops the cooking process. And that’s blanching in a nutshell.

Now, is this step necessary? Can’t you just throw raw vegetables into the freezer?

For best flavor and texture, the answer is no. Blanching improves the quality of the frozen vegetables. Vegetables that have been blanched before freezing will have better color, texture, flavor, and nutrition over the long haul than ones that have not been blanched.

So, what about vegetables that aren’t blanched? Are they safe to eat?

There is nothing mysterious or dangerous about vegetables that have not been blanched before freezing. These vegetables are safe to eat. To blanch or not to blanch is a quality issue, not a food safety issue.

TomatoesThat being said, there are some foods that seem to freeze very well without blanching. Want to know what they are? The short list features tomatoes, onions, and peppers.

  • Tomatoes can be frozen raw, either cut-up or whole. You can remove the skins, but if that feels like too much work, you can also freeze whole and well-washed tomatoes with their skins on. Thaw the frozen tomatoes under warm running water and the skins will slip right off. The texture of thawed tomatoes will be soft, but they can still be used for cooking.
  • Do you have too many leftover chopped onions? I like to pack them up in ½ cup portions that are just right for soup or that work well as an addition to ground meat. Like tomatoes, frozen onions will have a softer texture, but they’re still good in cooked foods.
  • Peppers can also be frozen without blanching. I like to freeze them in quarters or strips in single layers on a tray and then, once they’re solid, put them into freezer bags. This allows me to grab as many as I need for a recipe. If you have enough freezer space, raw peppers can be frozen whole and thawed just slightly to be used for stuffed peppers. Be sure to use freezer-quality bags or packaging — this helps keep the quality top notch (and it also keeps the pepper odors from transferring throughout the freezer).

Time is a critical component here. The longer an unblanched food is kept in the freezer, the lower its quality will be. Unblanched items should be used within 6 to 8 months of freezing.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Here’s a free blanching handout that you can offer your clients today!

Blanching

For more cooking and kitchen resources, check out these top-sellers from the Nutrition Education Store

Nutrition Apron

Cook for a Better Weigh Poster

25 Ingredients into 15 Meals DVD, CD, and PowerPoint