Tag Archives | jars as storage

Buying Feta in Bulk From Di Bruno Bros.

jar of feta cheese

Yesterday afternoon, while in the midst of making a giant bowl of this quinoa salad to take to a potluck, I realized that I had forgotten to buy feta cheese. In most cases I am entirely satisfied to substitute one ingredient for another, but not in that moment. I wanted the creamy tang of feta and I had nothing else in the fridge that would do.

I put my chopping aside, grabbed a pint jar and dashed down the street to Di Bruno Bros. (I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate to live a block and a half away from such a terrific gourmet/cheese market). The reason for the pint jar was that I hate the idea of using a disposable plastic tub for all of ten minutes in order to get the cheese from store to salad. They sell their feta cheese from giant, brine-filled crocks, so a container of some sort is necessary.

This was the first time I’d taken a reusable container to Di Bruno Bros. so I wasn’t sure how they’d respond. However, I swallowed my minor embarrassment at making an unusual request and asked if I could buy half a pound of feta and have it packed in my jar. They said yes and proceeded to weight the cheese on a sheet of parchment paper before putting in the jar.

I kept a plastic container out of the recycling/trash system and the sticky label peeled off easily to boot. All in all, a successful jar experience!

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Skip the Plastic in the Bulk Section, Use Jars Instead

jars filled with bulk goods

I have been a bulk section shopper for most of my life. Growing up, my family was devoted to the bulk bins and it was always a great thrill when my mom would let me fill up the bags with rice or granola or grains. As I got older, it felt natural to keep buying oatmeal, dried fruit and beans that way. Of course, the bulk section has its inconveniences too. At Whole Foods, it’s far to easy to rip the plastic bags on the conveyor belt at check-out, leaving a trail of flour, sugar or quinoa all over the check stand. And, being that I’m not the most spatially minded person, I’ve never been good at determining exactly much product is going to fit in the assigned jar at home.

Lately, I’ve been taking clean, empty jars with me to Whole Foods for my bulk section purchases. This solves both issues of ripping bags and overestimating jar volume. It does require a bit more advanced planning than a spur-of-the-moment dash into the grocery store, but saves on plastic and frees me from some of those bulk section frustrations. I just pack up the jars and make a quick stop at customer service so they can weight the jars and make note of their tare prior to being filled, so that I’m not paying for the weight of the jars. Oh, and if I can just add a tip here, I recommend bringing a wide mouth funnel with you to the store. It will make your jar-filling life so much easier.

reusable bulk bags

In addition to my jars, I have a few of these very lightweight, reusable bulk bags that I try to bring with me each time I go to a store with a bulk section. They’re designed to hold bulk section food and be light enough so that they don’t need to have their weight subtracted from that of your food. They’re also washable, so I just toss them in the laundry after each use, to ensure I don’t mix nutritional yeast with my whole wheat pastry flour. These bags allow me to make a few bulk section impulse buys without reaching for a plastic bag, which I like.

I’m certain that there are some of you out there who have been shopping like this for years. However, it’s a very rare day that I see anyone else at my urban Philadelphia Whole Foods store with their own containers. Thing is, I think this is the direction more of us should be headed. It prevents waste by keeping plastic bags out of the system and means that you’re not buying more food that you can use (I confess that there were times in the very distant past when I would just trash the few spoonfuls of grain or fruit that made the storage jar overflow instead of bundling it up and saving it to use up). And it’s just one more chance to show off all those gorgeous jars I know so many of you have!

Let’s hear from you guys. Do you take reusable containers to the grocery store with you?

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Where I Store My Homecanned Goods + Giveaway

dry sink

The reasons I preserve food are many. I like knowing what’s in my dinner (and if it’s too sweet or too puckery, I have no one to blame but myself). I appreciate knowing where the food came from and having a relationship with the people who grew it (even if that relationship is confined to Saturday mornings, a few words and exchange of money for goods). I also find it to be quite life affirming. Canning is a way of reminding your future self that she matters and that, barring any unforeseen events, you intend to be on the planet for a while longer.

jars in the dry sink

There’s also something so cozy about having a stockpile of good things to eat. Lately, I’ve been enjoying seeing the ways in which people stash and store their home canned stuff. There was a period there where I was posting at least one link to the Food in Jars Facebook page a day, sharing the various pantry pictures I found or was sent. I was particularly tickled when I got to see Heather’s kitchen shelves in person when I was in Portland last month.

front hall closet

I figured that it was only fair that I finally share with you all where my own extended pantry lives. I’m reluctant to confess that when it comes to pantry management, I am not the most organized. I like to imagine that if I had a dedicated space in which to store these filled and sealed jars, I might be better about maintenance and categorization, but deep in my heart, I recognize that I will never be Martha-like in my devotion to scrupulous neatness.

front hall closet

At the moment there are three primary spots where my pantry resides. The first is in a dry sink in my dining room. That’s the piece of furniture you can see at the top of this post. It mostly contains jams and fruit sauces, although I do keep the pressure canned stocks on the bottom-left shelf. I think the jars like it in there, because it’s nice and dark.

The next place is our front-hall closet. We are quite fortunate in that though this apartment is just 1,100 square feet, the closets are nice and roomy. The one closest to the front door is large enough that I’ve entertained thoughts of cleaning it out and transforming it into a home office. However, if I did that, both the coats and my tomatoes would be homeless. So it remains home to all manner of coats, folding chairs, coolers that primarily serve as yogurt incubators, backpacks that only get used when we fly and lots of pickles, canned fruit and tomatoes. It always surprises people when I go to retrieve their coats at the end of an evening and also hand them a jar of hot dog relish for the road.

under my desk

Finally, there’s the overflow spot, under my desk in the den. This is a space that is primarily Scott’s domain. However, he’s willing to share with me and so I use the built-in desk along the wall. When I’m not snapping photos of the space, I throw a dark towel over those jars, so that the light coming in from the window (not pictured but to the right of this desk) doesn’t prematurely age the contents of those jars.

cookbook giveaway

Okay, now that you’ve taken the tour of my closets and nooks, time for a little giveaway. A publisher sent these two Better Homes and Gardens Cookbooks to me while I was still at Slashfood (nearly two years ago now), so they aren’t the newest cookbooks on the block. They are, however, still in brand-new condition (still in their original shrink-wrap and everything) and the time has come for them to move on to a life with a cook who will unwrap them and splash a bit of butter or chocolate on their pages.

If you’d like a chance to win the pair of these books, leave a comment and share a story about a pantry you have known (good, bad or otherwise). This giveaway will close on Friday, November 5th at 11:59 p.m.

It’s Homemade Salsa Time

makin' salsa

Each year, right around mid-July, I experience an interesting shift in perception. Fresh, local tomatoes go from being a precious commodity, good for little more than slicing, salting and eating, to something just a bit more mundane. I don’t feel the same pressure to focus on every tomato-y bite. I am suddenly free to transform them, to stuff them with spicy couscous concoctions or roast them for soup. I do so adore being rich in tomatoes.

Friday night, I returned home around 7:30 p.m., after two deliciously strong drinks with the Philly-based half of Doris and Jilly Cook. Hungry, but not inclined towards an organized meal (and with no one else to feed), I decided to turn the three remaining tomatoes I had from the previous week’s farmers’ market excursion into a quick batch of salsa.

homemade salsa fresca

I’ve taken to building quickly chopped half-salads like this straight into jars (saves on washing a bowl). I top a quart jar with a wide mouth funnel and drop the ingredients in as I chop. This jar received layers of cubed tomatoes, half a finely minced onion, 2 cloves of quickly crushed garlic, a roughly chopped handful of wispy cilantro (I got a huge bundle in my CSA share this week, I’m planning to make this soup with the rest), a minced pickled jalapeno (if you pickle them, then you always have them around for salsa emergencies), salt, pepper and the juice of one lime.

Once all the ingredients are in the jar, I cap it (tightly) and give a good shake. If the contents resist incorporation, just let it sit for five minutes and try again. You do need to leave the top third of the jar empty for the shaking to work. If you’ve filled it to a brim, you’ll need to enlist the aid of a wooden spoon. It’s good to eat after fifteen minutes of mellowing (although it gets even better overnight).

I like to eat it with crisp tortilla chips (who wouldn’t!) or just with a soup spoon, like a spicy, Mexican-inspired gazpacho. It’s good heaped on scrambled eggs and has the power to lift spirits and brighten days. Just make sure to store any leftovers in the fridge.

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Just a note about salsas like this. They are not cannable. Sadly, it’s impossible to capture the flavors of fresh salsas with our existing preservation techniques. However, there are a number of cooked salsa recipes out there that are appropriate for canning. Do a little searching and make sure to find a tested recipe that’s safe for processing and storage. You’ll find that many of them are quite delicious!

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Jar Storage Tip: Rotate Your Grains

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For my entire life, my mom has kept an array of grains, seeds and nuts in a mix-and-match assortment of jars that had once held marinara sauce, peanut butter and fruit juices. One of the most useful things she taught me about storing dry goods in jars (other than always make sure your jar is 100% dry before filling) is to rotate the contents.

This means that when you bring a fresh bag of popcorn home from the bulk section, take the time to pour what remains in the jar out into a bowl, so that the freshest product ends up at the bottom of the jar and the oldest is at the top. This way it gets used in order of age. Here are a few pictures to show you exactly what I’m talking about.

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Empty the remaining contents of your popcorn jar into a bowl for temporary storage.

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Then empty the fresh popcorn into the jar. You might notice that it’s appearing that I have more popcorn than is going to fit in this half gallon jar.

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Top the jar off with the old popcorn. A wide-mouth funnel is a real help here, as it keeps your popcorn contained (unpopped kernels escape so easily).

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The popcorn jar is filled. But what’s that? There’s still some corn left in the bowl.

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That ends up in an overflow jar. I’ll make a point of using this one up first, since it holds entirely older popping corn.

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See, I even label it as such, to ensure that I remember that it’s the one that should be finished off first. Sharpies are so handy for jar labeling, as they write on the glass smoothly and erase with a bit of rubbing alcohol (I learned that trick in 12th grade biology).

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Breakfast in a Jar

Yogurt, jam, oats and pecans

My co-workers are so accustomed to me pulling jars of food out of my bag, that they don’t even blink when they hear the click of glass tapping down on my desktop. I use jars to bring cereal, soup, cut veggies, sliced fruit and iced coffee to work with me (admittedly, I eat at my desk more often than I should). One of my favorite workday breakfasts is the homemade “parfait” you see above.

One of the great things about this little meal is that it takes about 30 seconds to prepare. I make it with a half cup scoop of rolled oats, 3-4 spoonfuls of plain yogurt, a pour of runny jam and a palmful of pecans. I wait to stir it until I get to work, so that the oats don’t get too soft before I’m ready to eat.

What’s your favorite workday breakfast? Extra points if you bring it with you in a jar!

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