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Garage Refrigerator / Freezers, Winter, and Your Food

Dear Home-Ec 101,
I have a refrigerator in my garage and for the last few weeks I have noticed the freezer isn’t as cold as it should be.
Should I be worried?
More importantly, is the food safe? The vegetables seem a little soft.
Sincerely,
It’s Frickin’ Freezin’ , Mr. Bigglesworth

Heather says

Garage refrigerators can be very useful for food storage, if you have a bunch of kids, they are also useful to keep the kids from running in and out every time they want a drink.

Unfortunately when the temperature drops below 40°F or 4°C the freezer may not maintain the proper temperature.

Why?

Refrigerators are designed for typical household use. The “average” house is expected to be in the general vicinity of 70°F or 21°C or “room temperature.”

Unless you have a high-end refrigerator freezer combo, which is unlikely in a garage refrigerator scenario, the freezer does not have its own thermostat.

The thermostat in the refrigerator portion of the appliance controls the temperature of the entire unit with the logic being, if the refrigerator portion is 40°F the freezer will be at 30°F or below.

In the winter your garage may be much closer to 40°F. Over time the thermostat in the refrigerator tells the motor, hey, we don’t have to run so often. All is well in the refrigerator portion of the appliance, but that freezer is going to slowly approach the temperature of the garage. There is no thermostat back up in the freezer to say, “Hey, we have a problem here, we should be running more often!”

If the garage temperature is only close to 40°F to 30°F for a day or two, it’s really not going to matter. Refrigerators are very well insulated to keep the cold air inside.

The food in your freezer has been beginning to thaw. If it has been over a short period, this won’t matter food safety-wise. If the freezer has time to thaw completely, you’ll need to follow the guidelines in The Freezer Was Left Open, Now What. (Observing whether or not there are ice crystals etc)

Food that is safe is not always good.

Repeated thaws and freezes will destroy the cells walls of the food destroying the integrity and texture of the food. While it may be perfectly okay to eat, I would understand calling it a loss and starting over with the most compromised ingredients, unless you have recipes where the ingredients are cooked to the point that texture is not an issue.

Sometimes life is a series of annoying lessons; I hope that this one wasn’t too expensive.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

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Sausage and Sweet Potato Soup

Heather says:

I saw some version of a sausage and kale soup floating around on Pinterest. Last week I wanted soup one night instead of whatever was planned*. The soup was so good, it became something that I had to be able to replicate. Around here, soups are made willy-let’s throw everything we want into a pot and then we can never have it again. Last week I paid attention and this week I replicated it and wrote down the recipe.

Loaded with kale and garlic, I plan on breaking out versions of this anytime I hear a sniffle from the kids and the Parmesan for garnish is completely optional. Oh, and if you hate all things hipster and kale, use spinach, just toss it in about a minute before serving. Kale is a much hardier plant and it takes a little time for the fibrous leaves to soften.

The sausage, onions, and garlic provide enough flavor that you don’t need to fiddle with a lot of seasoning. You may add black pepper, if you would like, but I wouldn’t add any more salt, unless you are using a low sodium sausage AND stock.

You are going to need a 6 quart stock pot, please don’t attempt this in anything smaller, you’ll run out of room. I love that there are plenty of freezable leftovers.

If you don’t like brothy soups, feel free to reduce the beef stock by a quart.

*If I change the menu, my mental guideline is that I need to have everything on hand. This helps reduce extra trips to the grocery store.

Hearty Sausage, Kale, and Sweet Potato Soup

Sausage, Kale, and Sweet Potato Soup

  • 1 lb bulk sausage -you may use Italian, I don’t.
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2″ inch cubes
  • 3 quarts beef stock (I use Better Than Bouillon)
  • 3 cans white beans (Cannellini or Great Northern)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced *increase or decrease depending on the likelihood of vampires
  • 5 large handfuls of kale
  • shredded or grated Parmesan cheese *optional

Instructions

  • Brown the sausage over medium low heat and add the onion, bell pepper, and celery. (You may substitute 2 cups of frozen, seasoning blend). Continue to stir frequently until the onions are translucent)
  • Add the diced sweet potato and just enough stock to cover the potatoes in liquid. Turn the heat up a little and cover tightly. (This allows the sweet potatoes to cook quickly.)
  • As soon as the sweet potatoes are fork tender, add the beef stock, beans, and garlic. Depending on your stove and cookware you may turn up the heat, if your stock pot isn’t thin. ( Thin cookware increases the likelihood of scorching).
  • When the soup reaches a simmer add the kale and cook until the greens are as tender as you prefer. (About ten minutes)
  • Ladle into bowls and garnish with Parmesan.

*Slow cooker variation – brown the sausage and then add it to the crock. Add all of the ingredients, except the kale and cook on low at least 5 hours. Turn the setting to high, add the kale and cook for an additional 45 minutes.

Enjoy!

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Weekly Menu Plan #22

Heather says

I promise this site isn’t going to change into what are those weirdos eating this week. I’m trying to get back into the habit of writing more consistently and unfortunately or fortunately for you, Monday morning is a really good time for me. (I’ll try to knock out a few reader questions this week, too.)

I’m pretty jet-lagged and punchy from a work trip to Las Vegas (and there was no wifi on any of my flights, what are we? Savages?) Dinner tonight will be simple or takeout. We still have to firm up how many people will be fed this evening. 2? Takeout. 5? Mustgo soup.

I forgot to mention, last week, that I did not care for the Thai inspired spaghetti squash side. I love peanut sauce, I love spaghetti squash. It just didn’t work for me. (I think it was probably the gluten-free soy sauce which is definitely not my favorite)

The coconut milk-marinated chicken on the other hand was excellent. It was just a can of coconut milk, ground pepper, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, and chopped green onions in a gallon freezer bag for a few hours. I then baked the chicken thighs just like these. If you really dig coconut you can make coconut rice (sub half the liquid with coconut milk and the other half with chicken broth) or plain white rice works, too. Add a crisp-tender veg and you have a solid weeknight meal. I’ll make it again and write it up, maybe even with photos.

Here we go:

  • Monday – To be determined
  • Tuesday – Autumn Skillet
  • Wednesday – Sausage, Kale, and Sweet Potato soup with Parmesan
  • Thursday – Tamale Pie, Salads
  • Friday – Fish (going to visit the fish store near my house and choose) there will likely be a buttery, garlic sauce, rice, and broccoli
  • Saturday – Stewed Chicken Thighs – I think I’ll go with a tomato and red pepper base, mashed potatoes
  • Sunday – Sloppy joes, sweet potato fries, sauteed cabbage

What will you be making this week? Anything new? Are there any new technique or ingredients you’re looking forward to trying? Or is it going to be one of those, just let’s make it through the week kind of weeks?

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Weekly Menu Plan #21

Heather says

This week will be short and sweet as I’m traveling for business. I’ll likely eat too much and regret it when reality comes crashing in on Monday. On a side note, the older two minions and I are planning on doing the i5k in April. I hate, loathe, and despise running, but I’ve got to start doing something and it’s what fits with my schedule. To get ready for this, the kids and I are using C25K, the older two jog and the younger one rides her bike. With 15 weeks to go we’ll repeat the first week this week, if anyone is interested in playing along I can start a Facebook group. Just leave a comment and I’ll put it together.

Hits from last week’s menu:

Buffalo chicken tacos – I thought the kids would maybe tolerate this, but I was blown away by how quickly they disappeared, I’ll need to make more for next time. I just used frozen chicken breasts brushed with wing sauce and baked until done. I diced the meat and served with tortillas and diced, peeled cucumber. The kids could add cheese and ranch if they wanted, I went for a just a little blue cheese dressing. Easy peasy, definitely getting added to the rotation.

BBQ chicken sandwiches – Before I took the kids to school in the morning I put frozen, split, chicken breasts into the slowcooker and added a little bit of bbq sauce. I set it to low and went about my business, dinner time rolled around and I toasted buns, shredded the chicken (removing bones and skin) and stirred in with a little more BBQ sauce.  There was a fair amount leftover, but this was on purpose. The chicken also really worked well in taco form.

BBQ Chicken Salad

BBQ chicken salad on Saturday took advantage of the leftovers. Pro-Tip when making a giant salad for several adults, a sheet tray makes a great serving dish.

This week:

Monday: Ground pork tacos and salad
Tuesday: Pork loin with sun dried tomatoes and Parmesan, sauteed kale, sweet potato, and onions
Wednesday: Red beans and rice – I froze the leftovers from last week.

As I said, I’ll be traveling this week, so it’s a short one from the planning side of things. What worked for your family last week —feel free to share a link to a recipe— and what didn’t?

What will you be making this week? Anything new to you?

 Photo Credit: Ray Bergman

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The Great Washing Machine Debate

Dear Home-Ec 101,

What washing machine is better top or side load?

Signed,
Wishy-Washy in Waseca

Heather says:

Isn’t it fun when someone answers your question with “It depends?”

The front-load vs top loading washing machine debate has been going on for years, about ten in the US. High-efficiency front loading washing machines hit the mainstream back in 2004 or so. Some of the lower end models of front-loading washing machines had major problems that frustrated their owners. The good news is that there have been improvements, but Once Bitten Twice Shy and people were reluctant to give these washers another chance.

So let’s take a look at where things are today.

Should you buy a top-load or front-load washer

Front-load clothes washers are still more efficient than standard top loading machines but not that much more efficient than high-efficiency top-loading washers.

Efficiency isn’t everything or we would all be driving hybrid cars, right?

Some front loading washing machines are stackable, so if you’re super tight on space, this may be an option for you.

High-efficiency top loading washers are generally easier to load and unload, unless you’re of small stature. The ease of loading and unloading can be improved for a front-load machine by placing the appliance on a pedestal.

Front-loading washers tend to remove more water during the spin cycle than their top loading counterparts which reduces the amount of energy used to dry the load of clothing. This factor won’t matter at all, if you prefer to hang your clothing to dry.

Front-loading washers are still slightly better at stain removal than the top loading variety, but it’s pretty marginal and I am willing to bet that pre-treating makes a big difference.

Top loading machines still use more energy to agitate the clothing, use more water, and require more detergent for loads of comparable size, but the gap has been shrinking over the last few years.

And of course, the final comparison is cost.

Standard top loading machines are the cheapest, but least efficient appliances. High efficiency top loading washers come in second in both terms of cost and efficiency. Finally front-loading machines are the most expensive, but most efficient machines.

When you’re making your appliance choice, factor in the long term cost of electricity and water use. If your water is heated by natural gas or propane, you’ll find your clothes washer likely has less of an impact on your overall energy costs than if you’re stuck with an electric water heater like me.

Which of these factors matter most to you?

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.