Side Orders: Don't forget your freezer when doing your spring cleaning

Geriatrics case manager Kristin Meador takes frozen meats from a freezer to be packed for delivery to a client Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, at Partnership Elder Services in Eastgate Town Center in Chattanooga, Tenn.

While you're in the midst of your spring cleaning - in closets, under beds and other places where you've let things go during the winter months - don't forget your freezer. It's a breeding ground for broken promises - those foods you bought, promising to try a new recipe, but ended up throwing in the freezer and forgetting. Or maybe your mantra is waste not, want not. It's not a bad habit to follow if you can remember about those leftovers. More often than not, however, they end up in the back of your freezer suffering an incurable case of freezer burn.

photo Anne Braly

In a perfect world, we should wipe up any spills immediately when they overflow their sides on the way into the freezer. "And we should check expired foods weekly and wipe out and organize the freezer seasonally - about every three months," says Julie Henderson, vice president of communications for the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association.

How many of you actually have the time or inclination to do this is unknown, Henderson says, but keeping your freezer in prime working condition can go a long way in helping to keep your frozen foods safe and good to eat.

Here are some suggestions:

» Keep the freezer temperature at or below 0 degrees. Use a refrigerator/freezer thermometer to make sure the proper temperature is maintained.

» Put a purchase date on all frozen food products, then rotate foods, putting newly purchased items in the back of the freezer. Use products on a "first in, first out" basis. Keeping a Sharpee in a kitchen drawer will help make it easy and convenient to mark your food containers or freezer bags.

» Don't overfill the freezer. The freezer should be about three-fourths full, leaving room for air to circulate around food.

» The best way to minimize freezer burn is to avoid temperature fluctuations within your freezer by making sure the door is kept closed and freezer is about three-fourths full. In addition, ensure products are wrapped well in air-tight packaging.

» Try to not open the freezer or refrigerator unless it's necessary. When you do, don't linger with the door open.

» Arrange the contents of your freezer in an orderly way. Store baked goods in one section, meat and fish in another, etc. This will also make it easier when you go looking for something, thus keeping the freezer door open for as short a time as possible.

Henderson adds that certain foods should not be frozen, such as those high in water content, such as lettuce. Other foods that won't stand the cold of the freezer include:

» Eggs in their shell, which pose a health threat if frozen. Freezing temperatures can cause an egg's water content to expand, which can crack the shell and let bacteria in.

» Fresh, water-rich vegetables, such as celery, lettuce and cucumbers. These freeze easily, but when the ice crystals melt during thawing, you're left with soggy, limp greens.

» Soft cheeses with a high water content, such as cottage cheese, ricotta and cream cheese. They lose their fluffy texture when the water in them returns to room temperature.

» Food emulsions, such as mayonnaise and cream, which, when frozen, develop large ice crystals that puncture the cell walls. When they thaw, the foods separate and curdle.

The lifespan of frozen foods varies, but here are some suggested times from for some of the more-popular foods:

» Hot dogs (opened or unopened): One to two months.

» Bacon: One month.

» Sausage: One to two months.

» Ground meats (beef, turkey, veal, pork and lamb): Three to four months.

» Steak: Six to 12 months.

» Pork chops: Four to six months.

» Chicken and turkey: One year (whole); nine months (pieces).

» Salmon: Six months.

» Bagged frozen vegetables: Eight to 12 months (check use-by date).

Spring salad

Here's a recipe for a colorful spring salad. It's a delicious way to use up any frozen corn that may have been sitting in your freezer all winter long. Toss the ingredients with your favorite vinaigrette, or serve it naked as the corn, tomatoes, cucumber and cheese are so flavorful, a dressing may not be needed. When summer comes, substitute fresh corn from the farmers market.

Spring Corn Salad

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed

1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes halved

1/2 cup cucumber, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced

1/3 cups crumbled goat or feta cheese

2 tablespoons of your favorite vinaigrette dressing (optional)

Whisk together 2 tablespoons of oil, lime juice and salt in a small bowl, and set aside. Saute corn in a skillet with remaining oil until tender. Pour corn into a large bowl, cool slightly, and add tomatoes, cucumber and basil. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Right before serving, toss in the cheese, and drizzle with dressing, if using.

Flapper hour at the Read House

If you haven't visited the Read House Bar & Billiards Room during "flapper" hour, you're in for a treat for your hunger and your pocketbook. Monday through Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., the bar offers appetizer specials that will fill you up - no need for dinner. My husband and I were there recently and, not knowing how large the servings were, ordered two flatbreads - the chicken-basil with mushrooms, basil and pesto for him, and the Mediterranean with roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and red pepper for me.

I'm not finished yet. Like I said, we had no idea how large the flatbreads would be, so for good measure, we placed an order for the signature mojito wings. When our food arrived, we were a little embarrassed at our seeming gluttony. I quickly ordered a couple of take-out boxes and they were full when we left. One flatbread easily feeds two people. And the mojito wings came with celery and were outstanding with a nicely flavored sauce for dipping. And as I mentioned, "flapper" hour is easy on your wallet. Our entire food bill came to $17 before tax and tip.

Dine for the Lions

Enjoy lunch or dinner at Chili's Northgate today between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m., and the restaurant will donate 15% of its sales to the Hixson Lions Club. It's a win-win for Chili's lovers - enjoy your meal and, at the same time, you'll be supporting an organization that does so much for the people in Hixson and Red Bank.

Opening day

Chattanooga Market opens this weekend - 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday - at First Tennessee Pavilion, 1826 Carter St. It will be a celebration of spring and the market's return with food vendors, farmers with seasonal produce and flowers, local and area artists, entertainment and much more. As always, admission to the market is free. On other weekends, the market is open on Sundays only.

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