August 8, 2013

Freezer Fun

With all the fresh produce and vegetables in our gardens or in our grocery stores or at your local farmer's market, I thought I would start a new category. . . Freezer Fun! Maybe you're not aware that lots of produce can be frozen so you can enjoy it all year round. Much of my information will come from a book that I have had like forever!  It's called "Will It Freeze" by Joan Hood.  It has become my "go to" book when I have extra food to freeze.

As you know (I've probably bored you silly with my mentioning it all the time!), we have a fairly good-size garden.  Fresh always tastes best in my opinion so we love being able to go in our backyard and pick our salad or grab our beans or peas or whatever we're having with our dinner.  However, I also like to taste our garden even in the winter so I don't waste any of our extra produce.  I freeze quite a bit of it.  That's why several years ago we invested in a big freezer.  (It also helps when I catch a good sale on meat or ice cream, etc.  I have the space to take full advantage of the promotion.)  To us, it was worth every penny and has actually paid for itself over the years.

Most of the time you will need to blanch the food before freezing and the reason is because of the enzymes in the produce.  These enzymes break down your food and will continue working even in your freezer.  Blanching means that you will be putting the food in boiling water to help stop this process.  If you do not blanch, over time these enzymes will affect the flavor and color of your food.

Timing is really critical when blanching so make sure you have everything all ready before you start.  You will need a big pot.  A wire basket is handy (I don't have one but it would makes things a little easier).  You also need a timer and a big bowl of ice cold water. Don't forget a colander for quick draining.  Now you're ready to begin.

1.  Bring water to a full boil.

2.  Using wire basket, fill with vegetables (at this point I just drop my vegetables in the pot) and immerse in water.  Keep in mind that you should not do more than one pound of food at a time.

3.  Start your timer when the water comes back to a full boil (this is why you don't put more than a pound of produce in the water.  It would take longer for this step and make your pot too crowded.)

4.  Once the timer goes off, immediately drain your food and immerse in ice cold water. Set the timer for the same amount of time that you used to blanch the produce.  You want to stop the cooking process.  Add more ice cubes if water isn't ice cold.

5.  Drain and dry as much as possible.

6.  Lay your food onto a shallow tray and put in the freezer.  When the produce is solid enough, pack it into freezer bags or plastic containers.

You can actually reuse the same water to do more batches (up to six or seven).  Just make sure that you bring it back to a full boil before proceeding further.

An added bonus of blanching your vegetables is that once you cook them before eating, there is more vitamin C retained than those that were not blanched.

* * * * *

Tonight I will be adding red peppers to our eggplant sandwiches so I thought I would start with telling you
how to freeze peppers.  Of course, you are going to want to choose firm peppers with glossy skins, and of course, it doesn't matter what color they are (green, red, orange. . .).  First, you want to wash and dry them.  Next, cut off the stems and remove their seeds and membranes.  You can then cut them in slices, rings or even just halve them.  The next step is to blanch* them.  The time is dependent on how you cut your peppers.  If you halved them, blanch for 3 minutes.  If you sliced them or cut them into rings, you will need to blanch them for 2 minutes.  Lastly, you need to cool them, drain them and then pack into freezer bags.

If you are planning to use the peppers within 3 months, you do not need to blanch them. But if will be blanching them, they can be stored for a year.

When you are ready to use them, just add them to your casserole or stew right from the freezer.  Or you can unthaw them first and use as you require them.

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