If you're like most of us during this unprecedented time of sheltering at home, your grocery shopping and cooking habits have had to change. No more stopping for dinner supplies on the way home, last-minute meal planning, or grabbing a spur of the moment takeout meal. We've had to limit our excursions to supermarkets or compile a well thought out list for a grocery delivery service. Now our refrigerators and freezers are filled to capacity, and we don't want our fresh fruits and vegetables to be wasted.
Who would be better than cruise ship chefs to advise us on how to keep our fresh produce delicious and appealing? On a much larger scale, of course, these chefs plan menus, purchase ingredients, and ensure that their supplies are in perfect condition when they're needed. We gathered ideas from the experts at Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, and river cruise line AmaWaterways.
We might find, when we're once again free to go out into the world, that some of the habits we picked up during our forced time at home will stay with us. We're cooking, baking, and sharing recipes more than ever, and efficient meal planning and shopping could become a new timesaver. Here are some of the ideas shared by cruise ship chefs that might work for us.
Keeping Fruit Fresh
Chef Robert Kellerhals, culinary director at AmaWaterways, suggests keeping fresh fruit in its original packaging and storing it in the crisper section of your fridge. Also, plastic bags with tiny vent holes that release moisture keep fruit such as grapes and berries fresher.
Fruits like apricots, avocados, guava, kiwi, mangoes, melons, and peaches should ripen on your counter, and once ripe, they can be stored in the refrigerator.
Freeze fruit if you find you have too much to eat right away. Frozen fruit is perfect for adding to smoothies, yogurt, muffins, hot cereal, or syrups for pancakes and waffles. To freeze berries, wash and spread them in a single layer. When the berries are hard, place them into a freezer bag or container. Most fruit will be fine for up to a year.
Selecting and Storing Vegetables
Carnival Cruise Line chefs advise buying less processed vegetables. For example, select whole broccoli over cut florets which will not last as long. In addition, stems can be used for stir fries and soups. For salads, the chefs suggest a mix of greens like iceberg, kale, spinach, endive, and radicchio, some of which can also be used as cooking ingredients. Rinse and air dry leafy greens, wrap in paper towels, and store them where they won't be crushed.
Chef Andy Matsuda of Holland America Line's Culinary Council advised storing onions with the skin on and wrapping them in plastic to keep air out. Wrap cucumbers in newspaper and place in plastic bags in the vegetable compartment. Keep broccoli in a tightly closed bag as it releases ethylene gas, which causes other vegetables to ripen too quickly. Matsuda suggests cooking some vegetables or meats before freezing them, being sure to wrap tightly to keep away air, which will damage the food.
Making the Most of Dessert
Pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres of Holland America's Culinary Council offered advice about storing everyone's favorite sweet: "The best place for chocolate is in your stomach," he told Travel + Leisure. "Chocolate has volatile flavors and every day it changes. The moisture goes away a bit every day, changing the flavor." He suggested buying only a small amount at a time.
Torres also offered his advice for using your time well. "When I make dough for a pie, I make it for two or three. Then I flatten it out, wrap in plastic, and freeze in a Ziploc bag. I might make a tart today and a pie tomorrow, using different fruits. If you have fruit that is getting too ripe, use them up in a pie."
He does the same with pizza dough. "I love to make pizza with my son. I make dough for three or four pizzas. Then I flatten it and freeze it."
Turning Food Into a Hobby
Users of Instagram, YouTube, and other social sites are showing a renewed interest in food that may continue when normal life resumes. For some home chefs, it might become more than a way to fill the time while sheltering in place. If that sounds like you, Thomas Kamil, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line's executive chef, has some ideas for you based on historic methods for preserving food: "Our grandparents and the pioneers were pretty incredible at providing for themselves, and we can learn a lot from them," he said.
Canning can be done in a few different ways. Water bath canning, ideal for acidic fruits, jams, jellies, and syrups, involves immersing food-filled canning jars in boiling water. Pressure canning, for non-acidic food like vegetables, meats, and soups, allows jars to reach higher temperatures than boiling water.
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Fermentation, a long-practiced form of preservation in many countries, uses salt water brine and a culture of good bacteria, creating foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles. These foods provide health benefits as well as preservation.
There's also dehydration, salt curing, freezing, and cool storage in a dark area for vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beets, and cabbage. Immersing foods like herbs and fruit in alcohol can create extracts (for cocktails and flavoring). Kamil creates his own mint, vanilla, and lemon extracts using this method.
Keeping It Simple
OK, shopping, preserving, and cooking might not be for everyone. Even chefs are changing their routines, like chef Ethan Stowell of Holland America's Culinary Council, who told us, "If I'm being honest, I'm not pickling or canning things to make them last longer right now. My meals tend to be a piece of fish, poultry, pork, or beef with a salad and some marinated vegetables. I'm trying to eat pretty light right now with enough for one meal. Then I'm not having to think about leftovers and other things."