Monday, May 18, 2009

6 Tips for Buying and Storing Fresh Herbs

Last week I went grocery shopping at Whole Foods with the film-maker couple behind Soul Fabric Films.

Zac and Alyssa wanted to learn how to reduce their weekly expenditure on groceries.

I'm loving teaching people how to shop on the lean; it's fun and rewarding because everyone I've shopped with has learned how to shop smarter.

For Zac & Alyssa that simply meant sticking to their shopping list, being mindful of price, and making choices within their budget.

When we rendezvoused at WFs, Alyssa produced a computer printout of their shopping list and Zac his iPhone.

Grocery IQ which Zac had downloaded, is an iPhone application that has a database of over 130,000 grocery items plus features that allows the user to
  • create a list,
  • find what aisle the item is found in,
  • add a note,
  • add items to favorites,
  • and it creates a history of previous lists.
Additionally, Zac had Epicurious on his iPhone, which he checked against his Grocery IQ list to make sure he'd listed ingredients he needed to make Sticky Rice with Mango.

After noting how organized they were, I wondered why their self-professed challenge was reducing their grocery bill.

Then I watched Alyssa, list in hand, wander into the produce section of WFs and become immediately mesmerized and side-tracked by the choices. In other words, I could see she had a tendency, like many of us, to impulse purchase.

That was easy to rectify, I simply proposed she look at her list, and if the item she'd just selected wasn't on her list, then she should ask herself if she really needed it. If the answer was "no," then she should put the item back!

Because Zac had said they were on a spring-cleanse diet, I encouraged them to buy the bulk of their groceries in the produce area, selecting Good Stuff For Less produce.

Once on target, with impulse purchasing under control, they did really well buying:
  • strawberries, raspberries, mangoes, apples, pears, beets, celery, broccoli, spring onions, white onions, fingerling potatoes, mixed lettuce, braising greens, mini bell peppers, mushrooms, asparagus.
Alyssa had concerns about storing all the fresh produce. She said they often ended up throwing it out brown, wilted and inedible. In particular, she wondered about fresh herbs, like basil, and greens like lettuce or spinach.

I responded with these tips:
  1. Fresh herbs on tough stalks, like thyme or oregano, can be frozen. They do go brown when frozen, but they maintain their flavor. Herbs that have been frozen are best used for cooking, rather than unfrozen and tossed into salads.
  2. Parsley, basil, and cilantro do well stored in the fridge in water. Stand bunch with stalks down in a cup or jar with enough water to come halfway up stalks.
  3. Basil can also be whizzed in a food processor with oil (as though you're making pesto) then stored in the freezer. You can use the frozen oily basil (the oil doesn't freeze it just turns solid) as a base for pesto, or you can toss spoonfuls into pasta or over cooked veggies, fish, chicken etc.
  4. Lettuce and spinach store well in salad spinners. I tend to wait till I'm going to use the salad before I wash it, and then of course I spin it well. Once leafy greens are wet, they will deteriorate faster, unless you're able to successfully drain them of all excess moisture.
  5. If you don't have a salad spinner, another way to store salad is to wash it by hand, drain it in a dish rack, then roll it loosely in a linen cloth (or paper towel) and store it rolled in the cloth in the fridge. The linen absorbs the moisture and keeps the lettuce fresh.
  6. I've mentioned a number of times in this blog that asparagus is best stored in the fridge with the bottom of the stalks in water, though you don't want to fill the cup / jar with quite as much water as you would herbs, just enough to keep the stalk-bottoms moist.
Check back tomorrow as I'll be sharing more on Z & A's purchases as we moved from produce to seafood to dairy to bulk and then into the middle aisles of WFs.

And you'll want to find out just how the pair reduced their grocery bill by 1/3 following my tips and tricks (and gentle finger-wagging), despite Alyssa disappearing and returning with one, then another, not-on-the-list items -- the price of which made my jaw to drop!

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