Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

Archive for the category “storage”

Divide and freeze

I was talking to my sister the other day, and the topic of cooking came up. She’s single, and trying to save money, so she’s trying to cook more instead of eating out. The topic of food going bad before you’re able to use it came up, and I realized that I’ve never shown you how I keep perishables like cheese and meat from going bad before I can use it up.

To that end, I give you: divide and conquer freeze. (It will seem like conquering after you’ve done it; this is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks.)

By happy coincidence, today I just so happened to purchase the 3 primary categories of things that I freeze: brick cheese, buttermilk and ground beef.

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(It really helps to have a video playing in the background, because this stuff is BORING.)

First, the cheese:

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Cut the cheese into the amounts you usually use. I cut pounds of cheese into quarters; 4 ounces is a really versatile size. It really helps when you have a recipe that calls for 12 ounces of mozzarella, for example; you just grab 3 pieces to thaw. But for a single person, 2 ounces would probably be better. Depends on how much you like your cheese!

To keep the cheese moist, I wrap each piece in some plastic wrap:

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And then bag it by type:

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And toss it into the freezer. Hard cheeses do really well this way, especially if you’re using them for cooking. The only problem is that they don’t grate very well: if you really, really need pretty, perfectly grated cheese, get some fresh. After being frozen, it tends to crumble when grated.

By another happy coincidence, I happen to be thawing some other cheese out right now!

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I select the pieces I want to thaw (in this case a cheddar and a Monterey jack), put them into a clean zip-top baggie, and put them into a container of cold water. I’ll flip them over every now and then to make sure they thaw evenly, and if I have time, when they’re done thawing I’ll stick them into the fridge to re-chill (that helps with the grating).

(FYI: if the baggie isn’t air-tight and water gets in there, it’s fine. I’ve never had cheese hurt by water that got in while it was thawing.)

Next, the buttermilk.

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I prep the baggies before I start pouring; this time I’m using sandwich-size baggies. (I’d prefer the freezer ones, since the zippers tend to be better, but the smallest freezer-bag I can get is a quart, and that’s way too big for this.)

Since all my buttermilk recipes call for 1 cup of buttermilk (well, after I split them they do), I measure out 1 cup of buttermilk:

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Then pour it into the baggie (which is supported by another bowl or measuring cup):

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If I were smart, I’d weigh the buttermilk and just pour it straight in here without having to get a measuring cup dirty, but I haven’t taken the time to weigh a quart of buttermilk yet.

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I squeeze out as much air as possible, then carefully lay the bags flat (this is the time to make sure the zippers are closed!):

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And carefully stack them in a little basket for the freezer:

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If you freeze them flat, then they store and stack much more easily (as opposed to the weird, random shapes you get if you just jam them into the freezer). The thin profile also makes them thaw faster.

Then just slide it into the freezer!

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You can’t stack anything on them until they freeze hard enough to maintain their shape, but eventually you will have a freezer full of flat quart baggies:

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I’ve got cassoulet, tomato sauce, split pea soup, potato/leek soup; I think there’s pumpkin puree back in there, and carrot soup… I should probably inventory my freezer. This is also how I freeze my concentrated stock.

Finally, the ground beef:

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As with the others, I prep and label the baggies before I get food all over my hands. Plus, once the bag gets filled, the condensation makes it really hard to write on, so just do it in advance. I used to write “gr. beef / .5 lb. / 7%” on it, but now I can usually tell all that information by looking at it, except for the fat percentage.

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I freeze 7% beef in 1/2-pound parcels, so I divide a 2-pound pack into quarters:

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Then I just stick the quarters into the bags, squeeze out the air, and seal them:

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If I need more than 1/2 pound, then I just pull out two, and they thaw that much more quickly because they’re smaller.

Could I freeze this stuff whole? Yes, technically. I do that with things like kielbasa, since I usually use the whole thing at once. (I have been know to divide bacon before freezing it, but not as often.)

Why don’t I? The buttermilk demonstrates the principle best: if you freeze a whole quart of buttermilk but you only use 1 cup at a time, then every time you need some, you’d have to chisel a frozen chunk off of the big one, or thaw the whole thing and then re-freeze the remainder. Chiseling off a chunk of frozen food is hard, and you probably won’t get the correct amount you need. And every time food thaws and re-freezes, it affects the quality and increases the chance that bacteria will grow. For any food, you want to freeze and thaw it as few times as possible.

Thawing: I thaw pretty much everything the same way: make sure its baggie is secure (if it’s not, put the whole thing into a new baggie), then immerse in cold water, turning the food and replacing the water (if necessary) until it’s thawed. This is much faster than letting it sit in the fridge or on the counter. I know some people will tell you you’ll die of food poisoning if you do this, but I’ve never had a problem. The main thing to remember is to only thaw the food out right before you need it; I never go earlier than the day before. And then cook it thoroughly, use basic food preparation precautions, etc. etc. etc.

Libbey Vibe Jars: replacement parts

I recently had a commenter inquire about replacement gaskets for her Libbey Vibe glass jars. I contacted Libbey, and while they don’t sell the gaskets separately, they do sell replacement lids. Here’s the info!

Small: $0.99 each

Medium: $1.40 each

Large and Extra Large: $1.60 each

Order by calling 888-794-8469, Monday through Friday, 9:00-5:00 Eastern Time.

They accept credit cards and ship via UPS.

Update: make your own vanilla extract

It’s been almost exactly ten months since I started my batch of homemade vanilla extract. I’ve been using it for several months now, and have to say it’s been a rousing success. The extract has a wonderful, rich flavor that’s accentuated by the bourbon, and it’s full of the lovely specks from the beans. I’ve gone through about 2 1/2 four or five ounce jars, and I gave one to my mother-in-law. She loves it!

For infusing the vanilla, I initially used half-pint canning jars like the one in the foreground here:

all vanilla containers

It’s just a super-short canning jar, and four of them stacked perfectly into my oatmeal container, where I kept them so they wouldn’t be exposed to light. But when it came time to use the vanilla, I didn’t like the two-part lid when I was trying to bake. I needed one hand for the jar, one hand for one part of the lid, another hand for the other part of the lid, and a hand for the measuring spoon. (I often don’t have the counter space to set down more than one thing at a time.)

So after a while, I went up to The Container Store and picked up a little Italian jar of about the same size, but that came with a one-piece lid. I really like this jar, and the size was just perfect to store in my spice cabinet and to reach in with a measuring spoon. (Since then, I’ve gotten more of these jars in larger sizes for keeping stock and iced coffee concentrate in the fridge.)

Italian jar with vanilla

Then, a little while ago, I started reading/watching The Pioneer Woman, and I noticed her super awesome and kewl vanilla in a glass flask. You can buy what she uses here, and the company even offers a do-it-yourself kit (they supply three beans and the cool flask, and you add your own vodka). I decided that $16 was a little steep for three beans and a glass flask, so I decided to make-my-own do-it-yourself kit. (Is that a logical impossibility?) I had the beans, I had the booze, all I needed was the super awesome and kewl glass flask. And I found it! It’s not exactly like The Pioneer Woman’s, but for $4, it’s close enough. I think hers is round, but this one is truly shaped like a flask: thin and flat with an indent in one side. It actually makes it really easy to store in a crowded cabinet, and it hold about 1 1/2 of my little canning jars.

flask with vanilla side

At this point, I didn’t actually make more vanilla; I just poured in my last Mason jar and about half of the little Italian jar. I have a funnel with a little strainer in it, so it was as easy as setting it up and pouring them in.

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The strainer holes are a little on the big side, but that’s perfect for this, because I wanted the vanilla seeds to go through, just not the whole bean. If a bean had managed to get into that flask, it would have been a huge pain to get out.

beans in funnel

I figure that these beans still have some flavor to them yet, so I don’t throw them away at this point. A lot of the seeds have come out, but the pods still have some flavor and are soaked in bourbon, so I decided to make vanilla sugar!

I’ve got another wide-mouthed glass jar, so I just put these beans into it, and poured over some sugar:

beans in jar with sugar

Next time, I’ll show you the final step in the beans’ life cycle!

P.S. After I wrote this post, I went to the Container Store and saw this load of awesomeness:

glass bottles the container store

Any type of glass bottle you could ever want! They’ve got the one I have (at a MUCH better price than Crate & Barrel, I must say), as well as round ones like the Pioneer Woman has, and several more besides! They have colored ones, different shapes, different sizes, different designs on the glass… I wish I had more things that needed to be kept in bottles!

Food storage: plastic edition

If you recall, a while back I spent a good amount of time transforming my food storage from plastic totes to glass jars. While I don’t regret that decision, I have repurposed many of my old plastic containers, and even purchased some new ones, as my storage needs evolve. Here’s some of what I’ve got going:

sterilite bins

These were my original food storage containers; I think I got them mostly from Wal-Mart. While the specific names and designs are often changed, you can normally find them under the Sterilite brand, sometimes called ‘Ultra-Seal’ or ‘Ultra-Latch.’ They come in a variety of sizes, and all feature a sealing gasket and four latches on the lid to make sure it’s secure. The lids themselves are color-coded; no matter what size the actual container, if the lid color matches the colored rim, it will fit. For example, all three of the red-bordered containers have the same size lid:

sterilite red lids

What originally drew me to these containers was the helpful information on the label. As I’ve mentioned before, choosing the correct size for food storage containers can be problematic. For instance, I know that a regular bag of flour weighs five pounds, because that’s how it’s sold. But what volume is that? For the eyeballing-impaired (me), it is bewildering to stand before an aisle of containers with no idea if the cool-looking container is going to prove (barely) too small for what you need. Sterilite solved that problem for me! In the top photo, the large red container has a capacity of 16 cups, and the label reads ‘Holds one bag of flour.’ Genius! The small blue one reads, ‘Holds one box of baking soda.’ (That one actually held considerably more than that, but it’s the thought that counts, right? At least it wasn’t too small.)

Before I upgraded to glass, I had almost everything in these containers: flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, powdered sugar, corn meal, etc. Now, I’m using them for 1) lesser-used items, or 2) refrigerated items.

#1 When I upgraded to Libbey glass jars on the counter for my most-used things (flour, sugar, oatmeal), I started putting the specialty stuff in the plastic bins in the cabinets: bread and cake flour, and whole-grain flours in the fridge (whole grains go bad faster at room temperature). I guess I don’t mind the using the ugly containers as long as I can’t see them.

#2 I’m not sure why I feel it’s important to keep refrigerated stuff in plastic. Maybe my aesthetic expectations are lower for stuff that’s in the fridge? And it’s probably better to use plastic for stuff that’s going to have condensation on it, so if it slips out of your hand it’ll just bounce.

Speaking of refrigerating flour, I recently bit the bullet and bought several bags of specialty flours from Bob’s Red Mill. They offer a great selection of unusual flours, and they sell small bags so you’re not committed to using up a whole bag of semolina flour, for example. Each bag holds between four and five cups, and the small red Sterilite container was perfect at 5.3 cups. Plus, they stack perfectly and are short enough to easily fit on the shelves of my small fridge. I’ve got a large red (16-cup) container of whole wheat flour in my fridge, too.

In the cabinet (room temperature), I have bread flour and cake flour in a large red (16-cup) and medium red (12.5-cup) containers. The green square is nearly identical to the red medium at 12.6 cups, and the small blue holds 2.5 cups.

Now that I’ve established how much I don’t like plastic bins out in plain view, allow me to completely contradict myself:

flour bin

Since I’ve been doing a lot more baking, I’ve found that a 5-pound bag of flour just doesn’t last me long enough, so I’ve started buying 10-pound bags. The volume of that is over 30 cups, and if it was tricky to find a container for 5 pounds of flour, then it’s even worse for a 10-pound bag. Flour containers seem to come in 5-pound capacity or extra-huge-ginormous-professional-bakery-holds-50-pounds-of-flour-and-is-super-expensive capacity (this is cool, but out of my league). I considered a nice, special flour container like this one, but wondered if I could find something a little cheaper.

All it took was a little thinking outside the box: what you see in the picture is actually a pet food container, sold at Wal-Mart or Target for between $10 and $15. I already had one for the dry cat food (that stuff REEKS), and it really works great. The lid is hinged, so you can just toss it back, and it has a gasket and a sturdy latch. They stack pretty well (I’ve got one for all-purpose flour and one for bread flour), and the plastic is even tinted a little, so some of the light it kept out. There’s room for 10 pounds of flour and then some, so scooping will be easy. They’re light and tough, so leaving them out around a toddler and a cat shouldn’t be a problem.

The pet food container people have the labels figured out, too: instead of volume, they list capacity as ‘4-pound bag of food,’ ’10-pound,’ ’25-pound,’ etc. This is the 10-pound bag capacity (coincidentally).

They also work great for dry pet food. 🙂

The continuing saga of the butter dish, part 2 or something

I never really thought of myself as a butter aficionado, but then I looked back and realised that a butter keeper is what got me started on this blog in the first place, and it keeps popping up.

As you can see, I found the best butter keeper ever, but I’m still in the midst of a search for a good, pretty butter server. This is harder than it sounds, since living on the West Coast I have short, fat sticks of butter, and most butter dishes are designed for long, thin sticks of butter (East-Coast style).

For special occasions, I am set with this lovely thing:

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This is the butter dish from the Mikasa French Countryside pattern. It retails for $56 (gack! *gasp, choke, cough, passes out onto the floor*), but I found one in brand new condition on Ebay for $10 (YAY!). It’s beautiful, and it brilliantly holds both sizes of butter stick. To wit:

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That’s my short, fat stick of butter, and the lid fits over it fine. And it’s plenty long enough for East-Coast style butter sticks.

However, since this is my ‘nice’ butter dish, I am reluctant to keep the butter in there permanently, especially at room temperature, where it really needs to be for easy spreading. I had a very unpleasant experience with a butter dish from Ebay in my Pfaltzgraff pattern. In addition to being shaped for long, thin sticks of butter (not their fault), it was saturated with the smell of rancid dairy. Blech. It was worth $7 to learn that letting butter go rancid will DESTROY the container it was in.

I had briefly considered this adorable item from Anthropologie. It’s so cute, and I love the color, but it is actually shaped for HALF of a stick of long, thin butter. Some people complained that it was too short, but I thought about it, and it actually makes a lot of sense: how often do you serve butter and a whole stick gets used up? Would you not rather just set out half a stick and preserve the rest in the fridge for later? If I had butter that fit this, I would totally buy it. Unlike this other one, which not only requires you to cut the stick in half, but actually carve off some of the top before the lid will fit. I cannot figure out what they were thinking when they designed it.

My last option, which I have yet to purchase (still researching styles), is a butter bell. Sometimes called a French butter dish or butter crock, this device holds softened butter in a dome, which is inverted into a container filled with water. The water keeps the butter airtight and prevents it from going bad, but allows you to leave it on the counter so it stays soft. I really like the color of the Le Creuset Butter Crock in Marseille, but have read great reviews of the Norpro Stoneware Butter Crock, which is much less expensive than Le Creuset (what am I saying? there are HOUSES that are less expensive than Le Creuset.  I kid; it’s supposed to be great quality stuff). And then there’s the ‘official’ Butter Bell Crock, which splits the price difference, and comes in all kinds of cute styles.

Hopefully I’ll get to try at least one of these butter crocks soon, and I will be able to move on in my life (and blog) to some non-butter-related topics. 🙂

Fruit basket: tiny apartment kitchen edition

I have a small apartment. Not New York City small, but small for three people and all of our accumulated junk.

As you can imagine, this puts a crimp in many of my grandiose plans for having an amazing kitchen full of wonderful gadgets and amazing meals – I don’t have room for the appliances, the extra pots and pans, the extravagant ingredients that only get used a couple times. But I still want to provide tasty, healthy, REAL food for my family, especially my daughter, so that she will grow up knowing how to eat well. And in my kitchen, that means fresh produce.

I am the first to admit that I don’t know a lot about cooking fresh vegetables and fruits. We always had fresh fruit (apples, pears, bananas, grapes, oranges, peaches) when I was growing up, but most vegetables were frozen or canned. Edible, certainly, but not anything that I would make for pure pleasure. I have started a collection of recipes that treat vegetables as if they were meat or poultry: not something to be steamed and eaten plain, but seasoned and prepared so that they will be delicious and revisited again and again.

That means that I have to have plenty of fresh produce on hand. Produce really isn’t that expensive, especially when you buy in season and get the basic stuff. You can eat very healthily on very little money if you know what you’re doing; sure, you might have to save up to get that unusual ginger root or special apple hybrid, but the basics – carrots, potatoes, broccoli, inexpensive apples, lettuce, onions – are good for you and easy on your wallet.

Since it’s only the two of us adults and one toddler, I usually don’t buy very much produce at a time. I’ll get four potatoes, max, a couple of onions, a couple of sweet potatoes, some apples and pears, and a few heads of garlic. I live in a fairly damp area, too, so if stuff sits around too long, it starts getting mushy or taking on a life of it’s own (potatoes). I like to keep certain things at room temperature, ideally with some air circulation, so that they won’t think they’re in the moist ground and it’s time to make a new plant.

That’s where this comes in:

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This is my new 3-Tier Fruit Basket by Miles Kimball. I received a nice Amazon gift card for Christmas, so I decided to take a chance on something I’d had my eye on for a while.

I was initially apprehensive about ordering this, because multiple reviewers complained that it was way too small. But I was locked in to a standing fruit basket (can’t put holes in rental apartment ceiling), and wanted a 3-tier to maximize my space. Several similar baskets on Amazon were $40 and up, and I didn’t want to spend that much.

I am glad that I got this one! So far, it has held up just fine, and holds the exact amount that I need it to. If I purchase more than fits into this basket, it’s going to go bad before I use it (wish I could take it to the grocery store and shop directly into it!). It doesn’t count as an additional space-taker on my counters because everything that it holds was already ON the counters – usually spread over a larger surface area, smothering in its plastic produce sacks. I used to spend half my cooking time searching under things for my garlic, and the other half shuttling bags of loose produce around so that I could use the counter. Now I can easily move everything around, plus, I can see at a glance what I have so I know what I need to use up.

Does this basket hold bags and bags of potatoes, apples and oranges? No. But if you like to purchase your produce for only a few days at a time, and you have limited space to keep it, this basket will be a great asset to your tiny kitchen.

THAT’S why the butter changed shape!

I just found out something that has been bugging me for a few years now: why did they change the shape of a stick of butter?

When I was growing up, we got butter or margarine in long, thin sticks; the shape that most butter dishes are made in. But starting a few years ago, I could only find these shorter, fatter sticks of butter. They are the same weight, but the shape is different. These short, fat sticks don’t fit in ‘normal’ butter dishes.

Turns out that it’s an East-West thing: dairy companies actually make different shapes of butter for the regions east and west of the Rocky Mountains. My confusion began the same time I moved from east of the Continental Divide to the west.

While I have a utilitarian butter keeper for the butter I use for cooking, I’ve been stuck looking for a pretty one to use for the table. The eastern styles are too short for my western butter, so now I have to hunt for a western-style one. Anthropologie sells a short butter dish, but I don’t know if it’s fat and tall enough. I may have to pick one up and try it; I’ll let you know how it turns out. Either that, or I’ll transition to a butter bell, which is something that I just recently learned existed. Basically, you pack softened butter into a hollow dome, which then rests inside a cup which you fill with water. It keeps the butter soft and airtight at room temperature for easier spreading. I don’t know if I use enough butter to justify one of those, though, because being at room temp does shorten the life of the butter…

I feel better, though, knowing that I’m not going crazy and imagining butter in a different shape. 🙂 Thank you, internet, for being there to answer my abstruse questions in the middle of the night.

Pretty things

As I’ve mentioned, making my home more attractive has become a higher priority for me. We live in a rented apartment, so there’s a limited amount I can do to the foundation, but I’m finding that even tiny things can make a big difference, especially in the spaces that I use the most often.

One of the things that surprised me is my set of espresso cups. I bought them on Ebay, even though I’m not a big coffee drinker, just because they were a discontinued item in my pattern. 🙂 I honestly figured they wouldn’t get used that much, but it turns out that having my qahwa in one of those beautiful little cups is the highlight of my morning. I love holding the saucer and the tiny cup handle, and the lined, slightly geometric pattern is pure pleasure to look at. I wish I had a nice place to display them while they’re not in use, but there is no way we have the space or the moving weight allowance for me to have a china hutch. Yet. 😉

For aesthetic enhancement for slightly less money, I have also made the following improvements:

Item number one:

When I was growing up, we always kept the dish soap under the sink, so whether or not it was attractive didn’t really matter. But when I moved in with my husband, he was adamant that the bottle be kept out, sitting on the sink. This bugged the crap out of me for a long time, until I discovered this. I found it in the kitchen section at Wal-Mart. It only holds sixteen ounces, so I still have a bottle of dish soap, but I can keep it under the sink out of sight. Given the amount of time I spend standing in front of the sink, this has really made a big difference to me. It changes colors whenever I get new soap, and it actually helps a lot with portion control. I don’t have to buy it as often, and it only takes one hand to squirt two pumps into the sink.

Item number two:

This was another issue with keeping an ugly box sitting out on the sink, bathroom edition. We don’t really have much storage in our bathroom, so everything we use is either 1) sitting on the sink or 2) in the bedroom and we carry it in and out every time. This cute little thing is called the Qube, and I got it at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $3.99. Yes, they actually have something that only costs $3.99! I was shocked, too.  Once again, inexpensive, clear, plastic storage container, and it has made looking at my bathroom so much better. It doesn’t hold the entire box of cotton swabs, so that box still lives under the sink, but I don’t have to look at a soggy, dusty cardboard container every few minutes all day, either.

Given our lack of space, I don’t really have the opportunity to do a lot of extraneous decorating. But I can transform what we already have into something that makes our house a little bit more into a home.

Kitchen storage: Bell Jar edition

If you have been following this blog for more than five minutes, you know that I have an obsession with Libbey glass jars, especially the Vibe style. My kitchen is full of them, and they hold everything from my smallest jars of seasonings to large cartons of oatmeal and pasta. I love the glass because I can tell at a glance both what is in them and how much I have left, and the sleek design is very attractive. They have plastic seals to keep them airtight, and I can’t recommend them enough for anything you could ever want to store.

The only problem with the Vibe style jars is that they don’t come in a large enough size for things like sugar and flour. The largest Vibe jar is 62 ounces, or about half a gallon. After we do the calculations to convert the volume (by which containers are sold) to the weight (by which food is sold), we find that five pounds of flour needs a gallon-sized container. Five pounds of sugar is a little bit smaller, but a gallon-sized container is best for that, as well.

Enter the Libbey Bell Jar in the 1.25 gallon size:

These things are HUGE. They weigh almost ten pounds apiece, and are made of very, very thick glass. Which is good, given the amount that they hold. The sides are straight, and the mouth of the jar is very big, so it’s really easy to scoop out the contents. The lids have those nice knobs to make them easier to lift off, as well as the air-tight seal.

This will give you a slightly better feel for the size:

This jar has one 5-pound bag of sugar in it.

This jar has a little less than one 5-pound bag of all-purpose flour in it. Notice that there are a lot of air bubbles, so once it settles there will be even more room. Previously, when I was using a 1-gallon bin for my flour, whenever I poured in a new bag I had to stop every few cups and tap the container down so it would all fit. With the extra space in this one, all I had to do was pour it in.

It’s important to note that these jars are too tall to fit into my cabinets. If you have lower cabinets with a half-shelf, these would be fine in the front half. But since my cabinets have a full shelf in them, I’ll have to keep these on the counter top. Which is fine, because these are much nicer to look at than the Sterilite plastic bins that I was using before…

I’m going to get a few more of these for things like cake flour and bread flour, and I can’t wait to have a whole line of them sitting on my counter! I think it will be very pretty, and it will make baking much more convenient. I may also invest in some nice scoops to go with the jars…

I bought these jars from Wasserstrom Restaurant Supply through Amazon. They definitely have the best price, and they ship in packs of two. There was a little issue with the initial shipment; two boxes of two jars apiece were packed into one bigger box, and when they got to my house they were not so much jars as piles of tiny glass shards. Wassterstrom was very helpful and immediately shipped a replacement. I cannot say for sure whether it was the packing method or the carrier that did the damage, but in the future I will probably order these one pair at a time so the box will be lighter and hopefully less prone to being smashed.

More food storage…

As you can probably tell, I like to store things in pretty containers. I have my Libbey Vibe Storage Jars for spices and small amounts of dry goods, and my Pfaltzgraff crocks for brown sugar and coffee. The only things I have left in my ugly plastic bins are my all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, and masa harina for tortillas.

Flour and sugar storage is a strangely complicated issue. Given that they are the most widely used ingredients in baking, you would think that the best way to store them would have been decided long, long ago, and everyone would automatically accept it. Somewhere along the line, though, form prevailed over function, and many flour and sugar storage systems fail the most basic tests of practicality.

Most people are familiar with the common four-piece canister set that is designed to sit on the counter, look pretty, and hold 1) flour, 2), sugar, 3) coffee, and 4) tea. Normally, the four pieces are different sizes, stair-stepping down from the flour to the tea. A quick search on Ebay will show this pattern over and over, despite the fact that for most people, a set like this is next to useless.

The first issue is size. If you are lucky, the largest crock will hold a five-pound bag of flour, which is the most common size in the United States. The problem is that white (granulated) sugar is also sold in a five-pound bag, and has basically the same volume as flour, so it requires the same size container and will be too much for the ‘sugar’ crock in the set. That crock might hold a 2-pound bag of brown sugar, but there’s no way a whole bag of white sugar is going in there.

The second issue is labeling. If you have a set that doesn’t have the words printed on them, or even if you do, you can put whatever you want in there (if it will fit). Perhaps at one point in history people used flour, sugar, coffee, and loose-leaf tea equally frequently, but I have a hard time believing that that’s what people want most in their canisters now. My perfect canister set would be 2 large (for all-purpose flour and white sugar), 1 medium (for brown sugar), and three small (for baking soda, baking powder and salt). Perhaps the set of four was just an aesthetic decision and satisfied someone’s OCD requirements, but the way it’s designed leaves a lot to be desired.

Right now the best solution for flour and sugar storage seems to be the Libbey Bell Jar in the 1-gallon size. I love the Libbey Vibe Jars, but the largest is the 62-ounce and five-pounds of flour or sugar requires a 1-gallon container. One of the benefits of the Vibe Jars is their stackability, but for a whole bag of flour I’m fine with each one sitting on its own bottom. The Bell Jar has an air-tight seal just like the Vibe jars, which is important, especially in humid climates, as flour and sugar can really suffer if exposed to moisture. I’m talking bugs. Yech. I like clear glass jars so I can see what and how much I have in each one, as long as the food inside isn’t susceptible to light damage. Things like coffee and spices should be kept in the dark, so if you store them in clear glass, keep the container in a cabinet to reduce light.

Anchor also makes large glass jars, but in my experience, their quality doesn’t tend to be as good as Libbey’s. I have multiple Anchor items that arrived chipped in the package, but Libbey’s products are always securely boxed and have always been in perfect condition. The large Anchor jars also lack an air-tight seal; the glass lid sits right on the glass rim, which increases the risk of chipping and shattering. I’m a Libbey fan-girl, I admit. Also Pyrex, but that’s another post. 🙂

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