Thursday, October 16, 2008

Aging well? Don't let the mold get you down

So unlike most blog posts having to do with food and aging, I'm not actually going to talk about the effect food has on your aging process. No no no. Rather, I'd like to take a moment to discuss how food ages. Like a fine wine, getting better as the days go by? Or like chicken left out of the fridge, going spectacularly rancid. On that last note, I encountered my first rancid chicken breast over the summer (the scary thing is that I cooked with some of it, and it tasted fine, but when I defrosted the rest it was entirely gone. Blech). Not a sensory experience I'm looking forward to repeating.

This topic was brought on by some pumpkin cookies I baked on Monday (the recipe is here). For the last two weeks (and the next three), we're having Cookie Mondays at work. So two or three people bring in cookies to share with the floor. I decided to try a new recipe and made these pumpkin cookies. And as I was baking them, I tried them as they came out of the oven and man they were realllly bland. Embarrassingly bland. Such that I seriously considered going to the store and buying cookies. But I just made the icing and it sweetened them up a little, and I brought them in. Tuesday they were ok, a little better than I'd remembered from Monday. But I had two tupperware worth of leftovers to do something with. So I brought one to kickball for my teammates. I made some excuses, saying I thought they were pretty bland (I hadn't iced this bunch). But then I tried one, and they were really yummy! No more excuses, wow those cookies age really well! They were still very moist, and the rum-soaked raisins (I used regular rum because I didn't have the special flavored rum the recipe calls for) added some definite extra flavor. Note to self: next time I make this recipe, wait 2-3 days before serving.

On another occasion was my experience with an avocado. Over the summer, I made my tomato caper ziti recipe, which calls for avocado bathed in lemon crumbled on top. What I normally do is bring in the tomato ziti in a tupperware, and bring in the whole avocado to work. Then I slice the avocado in half, put the other half in tupperware for the next day. But on this occasion, I didn't eat the avocado the next day. In fact, it wasn't until friday that I pulled it out of the fridge (it went in on monday). And looking through the opacity of the tupperware, it looked very strange. I opened it up it had a blanket of mold growing up out of it. Blanket isn't the right word, that sounds thin. This was more like a shag carpet, like grass left too long without mowing, like a nice spongy moss. It was dark dark greenish bluish gray and covered the avocado so completely that had I not known there was an avocado in there, I wouldn't have been able to identify it. I threw out the tupperware without even washing it (well, of course I had to gross some co-workers out with it first...).

Meat is interesting with age. Pork does not deal with with reheating, even the next day. It's not bad for you, not rancid, it just doesn't taste good. Chicken is usually ok for a couple days (and may even be better the next day once the flavors have a chance to sit and enhance), but then it starts to glisten and get a funky flavor before it goes bad. Beef reheats very well, and again there's the flavor enhancement issue with letting it sit overnight, but I had an experience with stuffed grape leaves (beef and lamb) which I had cooked on Saturday and when I finished it up on Friday it gave me a pretty blinding headache.

People deal with aging dairy in different ways. For me, if milk (or cream) even has a hint of a bad smell, it's down the drain, no two ways about it. I did this once, however, and then had to deal with the shock of being told that "you can still cook with chunky cream." Ok, so it wasn't said exactly like that. But the gist of it was that cream can be used for cream sauce even if it's curdled. No thanks, not for me. However, I'll happily lop off the mold from cheese (I'm talking not normally moldy cheese) and eat the rest. I figure it's like penicillin. A little mold on bread? No worries, I'll just pick it off and toast it up.

What are your experiences (good or bad) with aging food? Anything you were surprised weathered time well? Or alternatively, were surprised at just how fast (or funkily) it went bad?


GroundedFitness said...

Cookie Mondays? I think we should submit this for a National Holiday.

Kelly Turner

The Lethological Gourmet said...

I like that idea! National Cookie Day! Woohoo!

Romny said...

In England they have clotted cream. It's basically chunky milk and it's gross and full of calories! They usually serve it with a scone. The first time I saw it was when my mom put it on her scone, I thought it was cream cheese. I'm so glad I asked her about it first because I almost took a huge serving of it.

I like to make a big pot of spagetti sauce and usually put ground turkey or chicken in it. If I don't use it up within 3 or 4 days of making it, I toss it out.

Barbara Gavin said...

I agree about trimming the mold off of cheese and bread.

I also agree about dumping milk or cream that doesn't smell fresh.

And. . . I would never dare to contradict Ms. Romny, but clotted cream can be quite lovely and is not spoiled-by-mistake cream, but rather was made that way.

The Lethological Gourmet said...

I can't say as I've ever tried clotted cream. Is it like cottage cheese?

I have made mozzarella before, which requires boiling the milk with citric acid and rennet until it chunk-ifies in the pot. It smells nasty and looks even nastier, but it came out tasting rather good in the end :)