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.

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(I did mention this quite a few posts ago but I thought it was worth mentioning again)

Did you know that you can freeze zucchini?  According to the Will It Freeze book by Joan Hood, it is best to use young zucchini about 3 in. (7.5 cm.) long.  Wipe zucchini with damp cloth, trim ends and then cut into 1/2-in. (1 cm.) slices.  You can either blanch for 1 minute, cool in ice cold water for 1 minute, drain and open-freeze or you can saute in butter for 1 minute.  If you use the saute in butter method, cool in fridge afterwards.  Once these processes are done, pack into rigid containers leaving 1/2-1 in. (1-2 cm.) headspace or put in freezer bags.  Can freeze up to one year.

When ready to use, cook the blanched, frozen zucchini in boiling water or thaw in a colander so they remain firm (and not soggy).  You can then prepare the zucchini as your recipe dictates.  If the zucchini was sauteed in butter, finish cooking in butter until tender and golden brown.  

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I just used some of the frozen zucchini from my garden this summer in last night's meal -- Vegetarian Chili or many times I'll just  throw some in the pot when I am making soup.  Of course, if you shred the zucchini just freeze in rigid containers or freezer bags (no need to blanch first). When ready to use, unthaw and use in your bread and muffin recipes.

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I freeze tortillas all time  -- this comes in handy when you want to make a quick meal and don't want to run out to the store.  It's also great to stock up on them when you can get them on sale.

All you need to do is place wax paper between each one as well as at the bottom and again at the top of the stack. Place in a freezer bag, lay flat and freeze.

When you're ready to use them, just unthaw on your countertop for 12 - 14 hours.

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I freeze my coconut all the time, mainly because I don't use coconut too often when I'm baking.  All you need to do is pack the grated or shredded flesh of the coconut into small containers after moistening it with its own milk.  Make sure to leave about 1/2" space near the top to allow room for expansion.  You can also toast the coconut first and then freeze it in your containers.

If you are like me and just buy the coconut already shredded (in a bag at your local grocery store), you can just throw the coconut into a covered container as well and freeze.

To use just thaw at room temperature for one to two hours before using.  The freezer life for fresh coconut is about 6 months, for toasted coconut it is about 2 months and for bagged coconut it is one year.

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If you tried making the Chicken Cordon Bleu and have leftover cheese, note that the cheese can be frozen if you will not be using it up right away.  Just divide your cheese into the portion sizes that you would like and pack in freezer bags.  Do make sure that you get all the air out and make sure that your cheese is wrapped well.  This will prevent your cheese from drying out.  When you are ready to use it, just unthaw overnight in your refrigerator (leave in wrapping and freezer bag).

Please note that blue cheese can be frozen but it can be crumbly once it is thawed.  Also cottage cheese is one of the cheeses that cannot be frozen unless it is used in an already made up dish such as cheesecake. Cream cheese can be frozen for about 6 weeks but then has a tendency to get hard and yellow after that time period.  Again if it is used in an already made up dish, it can be frozen for a longer time.  Grated cheese can actually be used straight from the freezer if so desired.

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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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Did you know that cake/cupcakes actually freeze really well? The ones that don't freeze as well are ones that use synthetic flavorings (they will develop an "off" flavor) and those that use a lot of spices. They can be frozen with frosting and those that are filled; however, they will keep longer if they are not. You can freeze them whole or as slices.

If your cake is small enough, you can freeze it whole in a plastic bag.  However, if it is frosted, place your cake or cupcakes in boxes, cookie tins or an airtight container. If you prefer to freeze your cake in slices, use wax paper between the slices so you can remove as much or as little as you desire. I would not fill your cake(s) with fruit or jam as freezing them this way, will make them soggy.

When it comes to the frostings, buttercream works best. Boiled frostings, custard cream fillings and soft meringue frosting do not do well.

The freezer life of plain cakes is 4 months; for those that are frosted it is 3 months.  All you need to do is unthaw at room temperature, usually for an hour or two.  If the cake is frosted, remove from container first so it won't stick to the top and sides.

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This is the best time of year to find pie (or sugar) pumpkins if you plan on cooking your own pumpkin for your recipes.  (Find directions here to see how to do this.)  You can usually find them for $.99 or less.  

If you end up buying more than you need or would like to have some fresh pumpkin down the road, you can freeze your cooked, mashed pumpkin.  Cool the pumpkin and then pack it into rigid containers making sure to leave a little space (about 1/2 to 1 inch) near the top to allow for expansion.  It will actually keep up to a year.

When you're ready to use the pumpkin, all you need to do is unthaw it in the fridge and then add it to your baking recipe (for pumpkin pie, pumpkin cake, pumpkin bread, etc).)  If you are planning to serve it as a vegetable, thaw it in top of a double boiler.  Season it as you would normally and then eat it!