Sunday, September 4, 2011

Winter Supply of Freshness!

Hello to my friends and followers! I know its been awhile since I've blogged but things have been hectic around here! We have experienced a terrible heat wave this summer and it seemed it would never end. Unfortunately for our local farmers that means most of their crops have suffered the full effect of the sun, limiting our seasonal supply of fresh summer fruits and veggies. The local farmer's market here in Oklahoma still had a good variety of items, but mostly they had to be brought in from regional areas that were not hit as hard with the weather. No worries, I get what I can as locally as possible! That being said, summer has finally appeared to be leaving us with temperatures in the mid 80's this week. Believe me, mid 80's temps feel like winter compared to our 110's we've had for 4 months!
With fall around the corner, I am left pondering my options for staying healthy and fresh during the winter with the lack of variety available in my area during that time. I mean I love winter squash and all, but one can hardly make a squash smoothie! I always miss clean fresh tastes of berries, melons, corn, and okra when winter rears its ugly head. HAVE NO FEAR! I have come up with a plan of action! The answer to these problems is in the FREEZER! Such a marvelous invention that has made my life as an aspiring vegan so much more convenient and cost efficient. In fact, I believe homemade frozen products are the healthiest "convenience" food around! With the correct techniques and a bit of prep time, you too can easily turn your freezer into the ultimate go-to for healthy year-round meals.
Let me break this down into sections. First here are the different food groups and my way of prepping and freezing each specific food. Once you get down the techniques you can apply them to preparing and freezing all of your favorite foods to enjoy later!

I love smoothies. There is nothing better for breakfast or even a late-night snack than an ice cold nutrient dense drink that not only fills you up but nourishes your entire body. When we blend our smoothies, the blades of the blender completely destroy the cell walls of the ingredients, making them easier to digest and absorb the nutrients. They also taste great!! One fantastic way to enhance any smoothie is to include frozen makes the smoothie ice cold without having to dilute the flavor with water! My favorite fruits to use frozen are berries, peaches, and bananas. They are all simple to freeze.
Berries- Simply rinse and dry the berries of your choice, then lay out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Freeze for about 30 minutes, then transfer to a freezer bag, remove air, and seal.
Peaches- Wash and dry the peaches, then slice. Soak them in a bowl of cold water mixed with the juice of 1 lemon for about 30 minutes. Remove the peach slices and allow to dry. Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze for about 30 minutes. Transfer to a freezer bag, remove air, and seal.
Bananas- I buy the "over-ripe" bananas on sale and freeze in bulk to save money. Peel and slice, place in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Freeze for about 30 minutes, transfer to a freezer bag, remove air, and seal.

Make your own mixed veggie bags that can easily be thrown into chili, soups, stir-fry, or sauteed to enjoy as a side dish. My favorites to preserve for winter are zucchini, squash, okra, corn, and fried green tomatoes! Yes, I know tomatoes are technically a fruit but since I don't add them to smoothies I have included them in this section :)
Zucchini and squash- These are easy to do. Think about what you will be using them for...if for a stir-fry, you will want to cut them into slices or half-moon shapes. If for soups or chili then my preference is a small dice. For the grill, its best to cut into lengthwise quarters. When you decide what shape you want, prepare them accordingly. At this point you can either blanch and shock or leave raw. I like to blanch all shapes except for the small dice. Dry and place into freezer bags, remove air, and seal.
Okra- Of course in Oklahoma the only way to have okra is fried! Its my guilty pleasure, and not the healthiest food, but as long as its homemade its definitely healthier (and tastier!) than in a restaurant. Remove the stems without exposing the seed pods and blanch/shock while whole. Slice into 1-inch pieces. Dredge and flour using your favorite recipe like you normally would before frying. Instead of frying, lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Transfer to a freezer bag, remove air, and seal. Then all you have to do is heat up your oil and fry those tasty suckers up!
Corn- My preference is to leave the kernels on the cob and freeze as is. Some like to cut the kernels off of the ear and freeze, either way is great! Shuck the corn and blanch/shock. Dry and transfer to freezer bags, remove air, seal.
Fried Green Tomatoes- A Southern delicacy! Prepare the tomatoes for frying using your favorite recipe. Instead of frying, lay in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Transfer to a freezer bag, remove air, seal. Oh soooo good!!!

Chili/Soup/Stew- I cannot stress enough how cost-effective this is. You can buy your ingredients in bulk, make a huge batch of veggie chili or soup, and freeze most of it for later! Simply make your choice stew/soup/chili and cool to room temperature (or close). Transfer to a freezer bag, leaving about 1/4 of the bag empty for the liquid to have room to expand when frozen. Lay flat in the freezer...this makes it a handy flat shape that you can stack when frozen, which maximizes freezer space. This method of freezing works for most anything in a liquid or even saucy form. A friend of mine used it for chicken tetrazzini and it worked great! You can also portion out into smaller bags if you are only feeding 1 person at a time. Great for portion control!

A word about blanching/shocking: To correctly blanch you need a large stockpot of boiling water. The time of blanching varies with the veggie, but typically its done when the color is enhanced, around 5-10 minutes. Shock in ice water for an equal time to blanching.

Removing air: Ziploc makes special bags with an air remover you can buy, however the bags are pricey. Of course if you have invested in a vacuum sealer you can use that! I of course have devised my own cost-effective technique. I seal the bag almost all the way, then push as much air out as I can. Then I insert a straw into the open corner and suck the remaining air out and seal quickly. It works great! Be advised, only use this technique with DRY ingredients such as fruits and veggies. I am in no way responsible for the inhalation of veggie chili, you have been warned! lol

I sincerely hope this has been helpful and inspirational to you. While fresh is ALWAYS better, freezing is the next best option we have to keeping our diets rich in variety and fresh in taste. Happy freezing everyone, and good health to you!