Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Greetings from Minnesota!
Hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season so far! I know I have with plenty more fun to come before I head back to Pennsylvania.
I started off my trip back home with a bang—my mother’s cookie party. What do you get when you put gallons of liquor, booze-infused cupcakes, hundreds of cookies, party games, and 25 hilarious women together in a house? A fun night. There were definitely some stand-out cookies made by my mother’s friends; I’m not patient enough to paint scenes on cookies or place almond slivers on sugar cookie birds like feathers. We had cases of wine and beer and cosmopolitan, margarita, and blue moon cupcakes that are a constant presence at our table at Christmas. If you can’t be extravagant at Christmas, when can you be? Breakfast the next morning for those who spent the night featured the chocolate swirl rolls and holiday strata!
After cleaning up after the party and a marathon of shopping, my mom took me to a fashion photography exhibit in Minneapolis featuring women photographers of the 20th and 21st century. As someone that was constantly putting up magazine picture collages on my bedroom door since I was allowed to get magazines, I was pretty damn excited. Sure the magazines changed from Girls Life and Cosmo Girl to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar…but it’s easy to say that fashion and fashion photography have almost as much of my heart as food. For example, Cherry Bombe is one of my favorite publications because it combines fashion, food, and beautiful images all in one sturdy package. While the gallery staff were celebrating the impending holiday in the basement, I snuck pictures of the fabulous exhibit.
Family Christmas was celebrated with dinner out at an incredible Italian restaurant just down the road from our condo in Saint Paul and gifts my mother very stressfully finished wrapping 20 minutes before we ripped the paper open. There has to be something unsatisfying about that.
I had one of the best Christmases yet receiving Izy and Gabrielle Hamilton’s new books (at the top of my list), a mortar and pestle (eek!), and a pearl bracelet from India (thanks dad!). Just a small selection of excellent gifts. Christmas day was spent at my grandmother’s house on my dad’s side with the whole family. We had snacks all day followed by a ham and prime rib dinner (sorry no pictures—I was too busy eating it all). Highlights of the day were personalized paintings from my young cousin (mine featured lots of sugar, candy, and glitter…perfect!) and embroidered aprons for the whole family from my aunt reminding us all to constantly ask “What would Betty do?”—our grandmother who is a hard worker in the kitchen. Of course I noticed this year that the discipline has changed slightly seeing that the mashed potatoes came in a bag from the grocery store. They were still amazing though!
Needless to say, Christmas so far has been amazing, and we still have my mother’s side of the family tomorrow and New Year’s to go! I sure could get used to the comforts of home including venison burgers and fresh farm eggs. I always get worried about leftovers and food safety at this time of year, however. Don’t dozens of platters of food sitting out at room temperature make you nervous too?
First of all, the basics. The temperature danger zone for microbial growth is 40-140⁰F—basically the whole temperature span between refrigeration and cooking. This means that as soon as your food starts to cool down, you better act fast if you want to avoid getting sick. Those temperatures provide the perfect environment for pathogenic bacteria to grow. Of course, conditions other than temperature such as salt and sugar content are important for microbiological growth, but it is often considered the most important. As a general rule of thumb, don’t leave your foods out at room temperature for more than 2-3 hours. If your kitchen and dining room are considerably warm (exceeding 75⁰F) as most are bearing in mind the close quarters of family and oven heat, you should stick closer to the 2 hour side of the time span. If your food remains in the 90⁰F window for an hour, don’t even try to save it. Throw it.
Because of this temperature restriction, you should cool your food as quickly as possible. Often we think that putting your leftovers in the fridge or freezer right away is the best way to go. It makes sense but there are a few problems with that. First, your fridge and freezer adapt to changing temperatures fairly slowly. The more food in the fridge, the slower everything acclimates. Obviously this is a problem during the holidays when fridges everywhere are bursting at the seams. Another issue with putting hot or warm foods in the fridge is that surrounding foods start to heat up as a consequence (see above photo–top is food right after placing in fridge, bottom is fridge one hour later). That may not seem like a big deal but that can put not only your leftovers but other foods in the danger zone for more than 2 hours.
There are several things you can do to cool your foods quickly. First, you can increase surface area as much as possible. This is really only possible with predominantly liquid foods like soups and sauces. The shallower the layer is, the faster it will cool. Second, you can seal foods and dunk them in ice water for several minutes. This immersion will be much more efficient at cooling your foods than the air convection cooling in your fridge. Third, if a water bath isn’t possible, leave your foods on the counter to cool if possible and time allows. Otherwise, if it’s cold outside like here in Minnesota, you can put your sealed foods outside for some time before refrigerating it. When you put your leftovers in the fridge or freezer, it’s best to put foods toward the middle of the interior or in the crisper drawers—these places stay the coldest.
As a side-note, cooling your foods quickly is best for the quality too! Flavor stays in your foods where they belong and juices thicken and gel. Overall, the food retains a fresh flavor.
Reheating your leftovers is tricky too. The biggest problem is disappearing water. Sealing your food so that water can’t escape is crucial. Obviously if you did this in your microwave, the food would explode. That’s why the ideal warming trick is heating your food in a sealed bag immersed in a hot water bath. Another way to keep the water level optimal is to reheat your foods with some vegetable stock or gravy smothered over top before microwaving.
Now that you know the best way to store and reheat leftovers, here are my favorite links to use up those yummy foods! Obvi Christmas meals are a little more varied than Thanksgiving, so I hope at least one link will apply to your feast!
Fridge infrared and turkey photos from Modernist Cuisine
Sandwich photo from Serious Eats