Archive for March, 2016

Seven Fishes Italian Christmas Feast

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

For a change of pace that fits the festivities of the season, try the Italian tradition called The Feast Of The Seven Fishes Dinner.  This a large, family style-meal that generally takes place on Christmas Eve. 

Start the meal with an antipasto platter.  This can include Italian cold-cuts such as salame, mortadella or prosciutto.  Cheese is another important component, be sure to include a good mozzarella and a sharper cheese such as pecorino.  Other great appetizers for the antipasto could be olives, pickles, giardinella, artichoke hearts and more.

No Seven Fishes feast would be complete without a pasta dish.  However, the meal is about the seafood, so the pasta should not overshadow those dishes.  Perhaps a great lasagne, or homemade linguine with a clam sauce would be a great addition without taking away from the seafood.

Te star of the show is the seven seafoods.  This might include crab legs, shrimp dishes, shellfish such as clams, oysters or mussels and seasonal fish that can be baked, fried or steamed.  The type of seafood served is up to the cook and as to what types of seafood are freshly available, but the most traditional of these dishes is baccala.

Every family has a different recipe and of course, their recipe is the best, but they don’t want to share it with you!  What follows is a good starter recipe, take it and make it your own by changing out or tweaking some of the ingredients.  Some cooks add raisins for sweetness, some sauté red bell peppers along with the onions, or toss in capers for added twang.

Baccala

4 pounds salt cod

2 pounds potatoes

2-3 stalks celery, chopped

1 onion,  diced

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

½ c olive oil

1 c good quality Italian olives, coarsely chopped

3 cans tomatoes

1 tsp oregano

Salt, crushed red pepper to taste

Chop the salt cod into good-sized chunks, two to three inches.  Place in a dish and cover with water, place in the fridge.  Once every twelve hours, pour off the water and add fresh, making sure the fish is covered.  Continue to do so for at least three days, or until a small sample of the fish no longer tastes salty.

On the day of, peel and cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until partially done, ten or fifteen minutes.  Drain and set aside.

In a saute pan, heat the olive oil, and cook the onions and celery until the vegetables are soft and the onion begins to caramelize.  Stir in the garlic and spices.  Hand crush the tomatoes, add to the vegetables along with the olives, allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

Layer the potatoes, fish and sauce in a casserole, finish with a drizzle of olive oil and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 oven.

Serve over pasta and/or a good, thick bread to sop up the juices.

Finish the meal with a good strong coffee or liqueurs and an array of desserts. Fresh fruits and cheeses are a good meal-ender.   Pizelle cookies are a nice Italian touch and not too heavy after such an indulgent meal.

Best Red and White Wines to Pair with Seafood

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

The popular notion of pairing white wine with seafood is not wrong. However, the way that the dish is prepared, the sauce, the spices and flavorings used must also be considered. The idea is for the wine to not overpower the food, and vice versa. A big, bold, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon will not pair well with a delicate poached white fish, as it will overpower the dish. It is correct to match the weight and texture of the wine to the weight and texture of the food.

Below are examples of wine and food pairings that work very well. The wines chosen are highly rated wines by wine experts from different wine publications.  A 100-point scale is used as the method of rating. The wines cited are rated 90 or above in the price range close to $15 to $30. Prices will vary from one retailer to the next. The prices used here serve only as guide. Every once in a while an expensive bottle will be cited next to the word “splurge”.

Most of the recipes mentioned are linked to the websites where they can be found. Follow these links if you wish to try out these recipes. The bottles of wine are picked from websites such as Total Wine, wine.com and the actual wine maker’s website. You may also visit your local wine retailers to shop these bottles of wine or other wines you like to try.

Pinot Gris/Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis

Choose Pinot Gris/Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis to go with white fish, mussels, scallops and shellfish.

Pinot Gris is the name of the grape in French; Pinot Grigio is its Italian name. New Zealand is a great producer of Sauvignon Blanc. It is the white grape of Bordeaux in France. It is also called White Bordeaux. The Sauvignon Blanc grape is also cultivated in Sonoma County and the Napa valley in California. Chablis is made from Chardonnay grapes from the region of Chablis in France. It is made in a crisp and dry (not sweet) style. Pinot Gris/Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Chablis are generally delicate, light-bodied wines that are dry, crisp and with bright acidity. Look for these qualities when pairing wine with light seafood dishes.

Tesoro della Pinot Grigio, $16.99; Italy; rated 91 by Wine & Spirits; try with Seafood Piccata

Simonet-Febvre Chablis 2009; $15.99; France; rated 90 by Wine Spectator

Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $12.99; New Zealand; rated 91 by Wine Spectator

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, $19.79; New Zealand; rated 93 by Wine Enthusiast

Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, $24.99; California; rated 93 by Wine Enthusiast

White Burgundy/Chardonnay, Viognier

Choose White Burgundy (made from Chardonnay grape from Burgundy, France), Chardonnay (from California, Australia and other wine regions) or Viognier (from the Rhone regions in France, Washington State, California, or other) to pair with lobster with butter, salmon in buttery sauce and other seafood dishes in rich buttery sauces.

White Burgundy/Chardonnay and Viognier are medium-bodied wines. Medium to full-bodied Chardonnay wines are often smooth, creamy with buttery texture and exhibit hints of vanilla due to oak barrel aging. They go well with an oily fish like salmon and other heavier seafood dishes as well as seafood accompanied with melted butter like lobster and crab legs. Viognier is a  good alternative to Chardonnay. The Viognier grape is white wine grape from France’s Rhone Valley. It is also grown in Washington State and California. Viognier is medium-bodied wine; aromatic like its close cousin Gewurztraminer wine. Viognier wines have rich and creamy mouth-feel.

La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2010, $22; California; rated 91 by Wine Enthusiast; serve with Crab Risotto with Fine Herbs

Robert Oatley Mudgee Chardonnay 2009, $15.99; Australia; rated 90 by Wine Spectator

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2010, $19.79; California; rated 92 by Wine Enthusiast

Ch. Tahbilk Viognier 2010, $13.29; Australia; rated 90 by Australian Wine Companion

Splurge: Guigal Condrieu 2010, $58.99; France; rated 93 by Robert Parker

Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Vouvray

Choose off-dry Riesling, Gewurztrminer or Vouvray to off-set the heat in spicy Szechuan, Thai and Indian seafood dishes.

Germany is best known as the producer of an off-dry (semi-sweet) style Riesling. Gewurztraminer is one of the primary grape varieties in the Alsace region in France. It makes highly aromatic wines with fruity and spicy flavors and styles ranging from dry to sweet dessert wines. Vouvrays are wines made from the grape Chenin Blanc. Vouvray is the name of the town where these wines are from. Vouvray is located in the Loire River Valley in France. Vouvrays are also made in dry to slightly sweet styles like Rieslings and Gewurztrminers. Off-dry Rieslings, Gewurztrminers and Vouvrays provide good balance to spicy foods.

Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2011, 13.79; Australia; rated 91 by Wine Spectator

Dr. Loosen Dr. L Estate QbA 2010 (Riesling), $13.79; Germany; rated 90 by Wine Enthusiast

Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling 2010, $19.99; Washington State; rated 92 by Wine Enthusiast

Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2009, $25.99; France; rated 90 by Wine Spectator

Clos Le Vigneau Vouvray, $16.99; France; rated 90 by Robert Parker

Splurge: Philippe Foreau Vouvray Moelleux “Clos naudin” 2008, $45.00; France; rated 96 by The Wine Advocate

Burgundy/Pinot Noir

Choose Pinot Noir to go with grilled or smoked salmon, tuna or swordfish and seafood dishes in mushroom sauces.

Burgundy is red wine made from Pinot Noir grapes from Burgundy, France. Old World wines or European wines are named after the region where the grapes are grown, so we hear of Burgundy (from Pinot Noir grapes), Bordeaux (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes), Chianti (from Sangiovese grapes), Rioja (from Tempranillo grapes of Spain). New World wines such as American and Australian wines are named after the grape varietal. One will not say that one is drinking a Sonoma Coast; instead, one may say that one is drinking a Chardonnay which is the grape varietal. Pinot Noir wines are known for their elegance, velvety texture, earthiness and smoky flavor. Pinot Noirs are also produced in Oregon, California, and other wine regions with cooler climate. Try Pinot Noir with Cedar Plank Salmon.

Heron Mendocino Pinot Noir 2010, $15.29; California; rated 90 by Wine Enthusiast

MacRostie Pinot Noir, $26.99; California; rated 91 by Wine Enthusiast

Splurge: Chateau de Chamirey Mercurey Rouge 2007, $34.99; France; rated 90 by Wine Spectator

Rose, sparkling rose, sparkling wine, Champagne

Choose a rose wine (still or sparkling) or Champagne when there is complexity of flavor in the food. Roses will go well with Mexican and Greek seafood dishes. When you can’t decide which wine to choose, pick a rose, sparkling wine or Champagne. These wines go very well with different types of foods and are not easily over-powered by certain seasonings or sauces. Provence, France produces some of the best roses around.

Only the sparkling wines from the region of Champagne in France can technically be called Champagne, the rest may only be labeled “Sparkling Wine”. In Spain they are called Cava, and Asti in Italy.

Chateau d’Eslans Whispering Angel Rose 2011, $19.99; France; rated 90 by Wine Spectator; goes well with Provence-style garlic-y cuisine

Tablas Creek Tablas Estate Rose 2011, $28.99; California; rated 90 by Wine Spectator

Louis Bouillot Rose (Sparkling), $15.99; France; rated 91 by Beverage Dynamics

Mumm Napa Brut Rose (Sparkling), $16.99; California; rated 90 by Wine Spectator

Juve Y Camps Rose Brut (Cava), $19.99; Spain; rated 90 by Robert Parker

Splurge: Pertois Moriset Grande Cru Brut (Champagne), $39.99; France; rated 92 by Wine Spectator

Albarino, Tempranillo, Sangiovese

Another useful guideline to follow when pairing wine and seafood is to match the wine’s place or origin to the food’s place of origin, such  as matching Spanish paella with white Albarino wine or red Rioja. The same goes with matching Italian seafood in tomato-based sauce with a Chianti wine. Albarino is white wine grape planted on the northwest coast of Spain. They make dry crisp wines with lemony flavor. Use Albarino in the same way you use Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. Drink Albarino with Spanish seafood tapas, like fried calamari rings. Tempranillo is red wine from Spain’s Rioja region. Sangiovese is the primary grape used in Chianti wines.

Martin Codax Albarino 2010, $16.99; Spain; rated 90 by Wine Enthusiast

Bodegas Fillaboa Albarino Rias Baixas 2010, $18.99; Spain; rated 90 by International Wine Cellar

La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi Reserva Tinto 2005, $21.99; Spain; rated 90 by International Wine Cellar; perfect with tapas and grilled fish

Marques de Murrieta Rioja Reserva 2005,  $23.99; Spain; rated 91 by Int’l. Wine Cellar

Castello D’Albola Chianti Classico, $13.49; Italy; rated 90 by Wine Spectator

The perfect pairing of wine and food should enhance the enjoyment of both. When all is said and done, drink what you like with the food that you like. Enjoy!

Easiest way to Freeze Blueberries

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Freezing blueberries isn’t hard or complicated. Put the berries into one-quart, zip-lock freezer bags, and place them in the freezer.

That’s it. Really that’s all you need to do. When it’s time to defrost them for a recipe, rinse them, let them drain, then place them on paper towels to eliminate most of the moisture. Perform your quality control at this point making sure there’s no leaves, stems or unripe berries. They are now ready for use.

Some people favor washing them first. Then a long period of draining and drying them. Then placing them on a cookie sheet and freezing them. Then bagging them. Then putting them back into the freezer.

Few people have that much freezer space, especially during the summer when produce is cheap and people are stocking up on good sales. Plus blueberry growers usually do not recommend washing berries before freezing.

In fact, the US Blueberry Council ( www.blueberry.org) specifically says: “Be sure to not wash the blueberries before freezing. …When you are ready to use your blueberries, take them out and wash prior using.” Too much moisture will turn your berries into mush and by putting water on your berries you can damage the natural protection they have on their skins – the substance that makes berries appear to have a frosty look.

Now that you have bags of beautiful, frozen blueberries, here are two recipes that you might enjoy.

Maw’s Blueberry Muffins

1-3/4 cups sifted flour minus 2 tablespoons you set aside
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons large crystal sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, well beaten
1 cup milk
1/3 cup oil
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in 2 tablespoons of sugar. Mix beaten egg, milk, and oil, and add to dry ingredients. Stir only until moistened.

Toss blueberries with remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour and fold into batter with care.

Fill greased muffin tins about two-thirds full. Sprinkle batter with large crystal sugar. Bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. This recipe makes a dozen muffins.

If you don’t have large crystal sugar, you can use 2 tablespoons of table sugar instead.

These muffins are light and lovely for breakfast or dessert.

Another favorite recipe of mine is this quick and easy blueberry jam.

No-Cook Blueberry Jam

1 qt. fresh or frozen blueberries
4 cups sugar
1-1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 bottle liquid pectin (3 ounces)

Mash clean, fresh or frozen berries with large spoon or potato masher. Add in sugar and mix well. Mix lemon juice with pectin and add to blueberries and stir about 4 minutes.

Pour into containers; both jars and plastic containers work well. Keep the containers on your counter overnight, then freeze or refrigerate in the morning.

So easy to make and so good on English muffins.

Ramen Noodles Feast

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

There are hundreds of combinations you can make with Ramen noodles! I will give you the how-to-guide to make a feast from what I have learned from my experiences with noodles. When I was a college student, I was taking a full load of credits and so I didn’t have much time to sit down and make a meal. Furthermore, even if I had the time, I would have had a small selection of meals that I knew. However, I learned quickly how to make Ramen noodles. Here is one of the combinations that I learned and the steps to doing it:

1) Choose two flavor Ramen noodles that you like from the store! The flavors can include chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, oriental, etc… I will choose beef for this article! Once you have your two beef noodles, crush them up nice and hard while they are still in the bag and then pour them into a bowl.

2) I then take some lunch meat that I bought from the store and slice it up into small pieces, and put them in the bowl. I have found ham or turkey to be the best tasting in the Ramen beef flavor. Usually, three pieces of lunch meat is sufficient for one person.

3) Don’t forget the tuna! Personally, I like tuna in water but I realize some people like it in brine or vegetable oil. Either way, tuna is a “must have” in this combination. I open the tuna and drain the juice out before pouring the tuna into the bowl, along with the lunch meat and noodles.

4) Add sardines or shrimp and drain them before adding! Sardines in mustard sauce is my favorite, but I know many people prefer shrimp. You can get the can at the store or you can buy fresh shrimp and peel them yourself before adding. Either way, a twist of seafood in addition to the tuna, is always an added blessing.

5) Add boiling water to the bowl until it reaches the top of where the ingredients are! Notice I didn’t say to add the seasoning pack from your noodles. If you do this, your feast is ruined! Put something over your bowl to keep it hot and leave it alone for three to five minutes.

6) Drain your noodles! Get all of the water out of your bowl and make sure you only have the ingredients!

7) Add seasoning and mustard and/or mayonnaise. This is your last step before mixing everything together with your spoon!

8) Once you have everything mixed together, take out a pack of saltine crackers and load up your cracker with a spoonful of delicious Ramen and eat until finished for best results!

This is a very inexpensive feats and one that will surely leave you satisfied for hours!

Choice Cuts for your Carvery

Monday, March 28th, 2016

A traditional English roast or carvery lunch as  it is sometimes known is served at pubs and restaurants across the UK as a standard choice on their daily menu. A carvery lunch is usually served buffet-style where your choice of meat is carved in front of you and placed on your plate by one of the chef’s assistants; then it is up to you to add the vegetables of your choice and other accompaniments such as gravy and sauce.

Variations on the everyday carvery are the Sunday lunch and Christmas dinner. The meal usually consists of a variety of cooked meats and vegetables and is one of the best meals you can eat either at home or dining out. Based on value for money and sound nutritional content, a carvery lunch is hard to beat.

Usually a carvery meal at a reputable eatery provides a choice of roast pork, gammon, turkey or beef. When recreating this meal at home you can choose virtually any meat you like providing it is a large enough piece to carve well. Joints suitable for a carvery can even be bought boneless if you prefer. Ensure that your knives are ultra sharp or invest in an electric carving knife for added assistance.  Having a good selection of appropriately sized platters will allow you to present the meal as expertly as in a high class restaurant.

If you have a conventional oven, a traditional English carvery lunch can easily be recreated at home wherever you live in the world, if the necessary ingredients are available either fresh or frozen.

Stuffing, Yorkshire pudding and onion gravy are other food items not to be omitted from any self-respecting carvery meal. Regional variations and choice of vegetables in season will allow a little scope for you to experiment in the preparation of your lunch. Everyone has their favourite sauces but traditionally there is apple sauce with pork, cranberry sauce with turkey, mint sauce with lamb and horseradish to accompany roast beef.

To make a traditional Yorkshire pudding is simpler than most people imagine. All you need are some good quality baking tins, a hot oven set to 220 degrees centigrade and a batter mix consisting of plain flour, eggs and milk. Just mix enough of each for the mixture to pour into the tins easily without being too runny – it should be of a similar consistency to the batter you would use to coat fish. Of course you can buy frozen Yorkshire puddings but nothing is quite as good as home made. The trick is to ensure that the cooking oil in the tins is really hot before you add the mixture. The puddings should rise and cook perfectly in 20 minutes allowing for variations in the size of the baking tins. Your crisp and golden freshly-baked Yorkshire puddings should be the last items to be placed on the plate once everything else is served.

Suitable vegetables are honey-glazed parsnips, cabbage carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower cheese (the latter is a firm favourite when served with roast lamb) but again your individual choice can enable you to create a carvery lunch unique to the requirements of your family or guests.

Vegetarians need not miss out; there are many recipes available nowadays for nut roasts that carve easily and even appeal to the taste buds of meat eaters!

Roast potatoes are easily prepared and can be roasted with their skins left on to save time. The beauty of a carvery lunch is that virtually everything except the boiled vegetables can be cooked in the oven while you are seeing to other things.

Select good cuts of meat from the butcher that will be ideally suited to roasting. A good roasting joint should have a reasonable amount of fat on it to protect the lean meat during the cooking process and good quality tin foil is also useful. Roasting a meat joint is easy and whether you choose to add water or fat to the roasting pan is purely down to personal choice.

Gravy granules can be bought and instantly made with boiling water but for something unique and more appealing to the taste buds use your own favourite range of herbs to go with the meat of your choice. Thicken the meat juices with corn flour to suit individual taste.  Onions can be added to the gravy or served individually.

It is also personal preference as to which type of fat is used to cook your carvery lunch. Before the availability of cooking oils such as vegetable oil and sunflower oils the only option was to use an animal fat such as lard or beef dripping to prepare a roast dinner but now the choice of healthier options is virtually limitless.

Ensure your carvery lunch is served as piping hot as possible by warming the plates beforehand as you add your selection of meats and vegetables.

And last but not least – don’t forget a good bottle of wine or some fine ale to accompany your traditional English meal.

Pack a Portable Feast in the Lunch Boxes

Monday, March 28th, 2016

The size of your lunchbox will determine what you could pack inside for lunch. Lunchboxes, due to their small sizes, can be difficult to pack what you want inside. In most cases, it could be difficult to pack a feast in a lunchbox; but, it is doable. One should look at the Japanese for a good example with the notable “bento box lunch.” The most important factors are the spacing of the lunchbox and the quantity of the foods you are going to prepare. A feast is not necessarily one big thing. A feast is usually having a variety of different food items. To pack a feast in your lunchbox, you have to consider how much available space there is.

But, the Japanese have broken that down into a science and refined it into an art. The end result is the Japanese bento box lunch. A bento box lunch is a feast of its own as common dishes include meatballs, slices of meatloaf, fried chicken, small salads, vegetable slices, chopped up fruit, rice, noodles, and many other entrees.

Regardless of how many lunchboxes you are carrying, the main issue is still the spacing. In bento box lunches, there are smaller containers or compartments that help allocate space. With the smaller containers, you can decide what you want to put in them. With enough containers, you can completely fill your lunchbox up. Thus, you have a feast in a lunchbox. If you carry at least two lunchboxes, then you have a bigger feast.

You could have two wide containers with one of them containing a sandwich and the other containing turkey slices. You can have a small container that holds a nice salad or pasta dish. Another small container could be used for something like fresh fruit or a cupcake/brownie. A large container could be used to hold a few slices of pizza and two smaller containers can be used to hold a salad and a couple of chicken wings. That in itself would be a feast of its own. You would want to have a main dish and a few side dishes.

For a major feast, you could have a few lunchboxes. Again, it is the matter of spacing. If you cooked a large enough piece of ham, you can always slice and/or dice it into smaller pieces. That would fit into one of the lunchboxes. Another lunchbox could be used to contain half of a turkey completely sliced and diced. Other lunchboxes can be used for side dishes such as scalloped potatoes, salads, rice dishes, pastas, cheese cubes, stuffing, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, and more.

Feasts on an ethnic level can also be done with lunchboxes. A Mexican-themed feast using dishes such as tacos, burritos, and fajitas can be packed in lunchboxes. Tortillas can be packed in one separate lunchbox, the meats can be packed in another lunchbox, and the other ingredients can be in the rest of the lunchboxes. Even if it is a feast for one, it is still doable.

Another important detail, in the case of hot meals, is making sure that the lunchboxes and compartments have the proper insulation to make sure that food keeps warm for a longer period of time.

The size of the lunchbox does not matter, it is what is inside the lunchbox that matters. Again, it is all about how you use up all the space. If you can use up all the space in your lunchbox, then you can pack up a feast.   

How to Freeze your Garden Fresh Vegetable

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

How to Freeze and Keep the Vegetables You’ve Grown

Your garden is bursting at its white-picket-fence line with all its bright and colorful bounty, just waiting for you to get busy. How does one go about harvesting and storing all those delicious, healthful vegetables? Freeze them! Here in this article we will unearth a common- sense approach to preparing and freezing the luscious rewards of your gardening labor. We will examine freezing peas, carrots, zucchini, sweet corn, and green beans, thus covering a wide array of garden produce.

Always look for fully mature items to harvest.
Some harvesting tips:

-Peas and green beans should have at least 6 to 8 beans in each pod/shell and be plump as well as crisp. Pull a few pods/beans off random plants and test for these things. Peas mature much faster and will be ready to harvest long before any beans have formed.

-Carrots are ready to harvest when you can just see some orange tops above the soil. Harvest when the carrots are at peak condition. Young, small to medium-sized carrots are the sweetest. Older carrots may get withered and soggy or become woody. Pull a few “test” carrots and do a crispness test by breaking them in half. Peak quality items should resist and then have a nice snap when it does break. To freeze, harvest carrots that are four to six inches long and about as big around as your index finger (1 to 2 inches). Carrots of this size will be tender but firm, and perfect for freezing.

-Zucchini plants will garner you bushels of tender, thin-skinned, dark green or speckled produce. Be careful not to over-plant or you will have far too many-and your neighbors will get tired of seeing you coming to their doors with more zucchinis! One or two plants will produce all the squash you can eat, bake, freeze, or give away. Zucchinis should be harvested while young and slender. The best zucchinis are small, about six inches in length. Pick them often and be sure to use this delicious vegetable when fresh.

-Sweet corn is a late summer-treat that can be frozen at its peak of freshness and enjoyed all winter long. Harvest when silks have turned brown and dry; this is when sweet corn is ripe.

Supplies needed:

Clear plastic zip-lock or twist-tie bags, or
Plastic (Tupperware or Rubber-Maid) containers with lids, or
Clear plastic vacuum-seal bags, such as Seal-A-Meal. This method of bagging is highly recommended; it is easy to use and removal of all the air from the bags guards against freezer-burn and adds greatly to the lifespan of your frozen produce.

Large, deep stockpot or canner for blanching. To blanch: plunge the produce into boiling water and allow to simmer for 1 minute. Remove and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and dry well.

How to freeze fresh vegetables:
1. Pick at peak ripeness and process the same day you harvest the vegetables. Do not pick more than you can process in one day. Every hour you delay robs the produce of its fresh taste and nutrition.
2. Wash all produce before processing.
3. Most vegetables do not need to be peeled before freezing. Peas and beans may need to be shelled or “snapped”, if you prefer, but is optional. Corn can be shucked, or it can be frozen within its husks.
4. Blanching is recommended for all items before placing in bags or containers. Adequate draining is imperative; any water left on the vegetables may promote freezer-burn or cause ice crystals to form inside the container.
5. Place the vegetables in bags/containers, remove as much air as possible, and seal. Produce is measured by the serving, so allow to 4 to 6 servings per container.
6. Immediately place processed/bagged produce into the freezer in a single layer. After the items have frozen completely, they can be stacked for convenience.

Hint: Loose peas/beans/corn kernels or sliced carrots/zucchini can be poured in a single layer onto cookie sheets and placed in the freezer until completely frozen. Simply measure the amount you want in each bag and, while still frozen, place in containers. Return immediately to the freezer.

Follow the manufacturer’s directions if using a vacuum sealer and always use the recommended bags for optimum Seal-a-Meal freezing success.

Protect the nutritional value and fresh-picked taste of your hard-to-come-by garden produce by following these few simple hints and techniques. Always process when at the peak of perfection and your garden vegetables will reward you all winter long with great taste and superior nourishment.

Best Ways to Cut a Melon

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

The quick answer is in half, as all melons come from the gourd (Cucurbitaceae) family, and gourds make excellent bowls.

Melons are either categorized as muskmelons or watermelons. Melons are a botanical fruit, and are actually berries, though some varieties are considered to be culinary vegetables.

Muskmelons are further categorized by their skin, either netted or smooth.

All muskmelons have a hollow middle section, that is, full of seeds and stringy fibrous material. Think of scooping out a pumpkin before carving.

The 2 most popular muskmelons for eating are probably cantaloupe and honeydew, though there are also Christmas melons, Casabas, Crenshaws, Spanish melons, Winter melons and more. The best way to cut a Muskmelon is through the middle of the melon. This can be done vertically (through the stem) or horizontally (trough the belly). With a tablespoon, scrape out the rough fibrous material and all the seeds until firm flesh is reached.

Once the melon has been cut and de-seeded, remaining cuts should made with presentation in mind. Mini ice cream scoopers are used to make ‘melon balls’, great when chilled to freezing and use in holiday drinks or spring fizzes. 1” cubes are common for salads, as are wedges (thick or thin) as a side dish for breakfast or lunch. Wedges are also make a great display when fanned out in some design. Of course, for a quick and simple breakfast plan, use the melon in an obvious way. As a bowl. Use some of your favorite plain yogurt, add a few berries or even some granola, and you have an instant healthy meal. Wrap it in cling plastic, and you have a meal on the go. Don’t forget the spoon.

Muskmelons are typically used in soups, salads, desserts and as garnishes, and should not be cut until they are ready to be used. Both the color of the skin, and that of the meat of a melon will vary in color taste, and availability, and melons should be stored at room temperature, chilling before serving. Muskmelons like honey dew, are also high in vitamin “C” 

Winter melons are often used in soups and stews, or other wise cooked, and can taste similar to zucchini or cucumbers.

Persian melons, Spanish melons and Crenshaws are sweet melons that will favor the more popular cantaloupe or honey dew in taste and appearance.

Other melons include the Sugar Melon, Horned melon, Tiger Melon, Korean Melon, Canary Melon, Sharlyn melon, and Galia. It should also be noted that the North American Cantaloupe is distinctly different from the native European cantaloupe.

The other type of melon has been a summertime treat for many boys and girls the world around. Watermelon. These can be light green, dark green, or even have stripes. They can be as large as a good sized dog or as small as a cantaloupe. As opposed to cantaloupe, Watermelon are less fibrous and more watery and generally have less flavor then their cousin. Watermelons are native to Africa and when ripe, should have a dull, not shiny appearance, as well as sound hollow when rapped.

Watermelon is often cut in half lengthwise, and then sliced for serving. Watermelon eaters must ‘dispose’ of the seeds, and have found many interesting ways to do just that.

High in Vitamins “A” and “C”, watermelon can be further cut into cubes and make the foundation of a fruit salad, or added to a traditional salad. Having a watery consistency, watermelons are excellent as ice cubes, fruit pops or tossed in the blender for a smoothie or adult cocktail.

Of course, it you don’t want to go through all that trouble, just cut off the end, drop it in a bowl, grab a spoon and sit out by the pool, enjoying the true taste of summer.

Tips for Cooking Winter Squash

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

There are numerous varieties of what we call winter squash. To name a few that are familiar acorn, delicata, turban, butternut is just a beginning to the varieties available in grocery stores, at farmer’s markets and in seed catalogs for home gardeners. We call them winter squash because they keep well and can be stored without refrigeration through the winter. Many people are intimidated by winter squash. Their skins are hard to cut through and sometimes their size breaks the general rule “never eat anything larger than your head”. Fortunately, these are both easy challenges to overcome and it’s worth it because winter squash is delicious, highly nutritious and versatile to cook with.

Winter squash can be roasted, baked, steamed or sauteed. The trickiest part of cooking with winter squash is cutting into the raw squash. One way to avoid that is to cook the squash whole, seeds and all. It’s a good idea to pierce the squash down to the cavity with a sharp knife in one or two spots for steam vents. Place the squash on a baking tray or shallow dish and bake it until it reaches the desired softness in a 350 oven. For example, if you’re going to stuff and re-bake the squash, it should be a bit firmer than if you’re going to use it in a pie or bread recipe. Cooking time ranges from about 30 – 45 minutes. Remove it from the oven and carefully cut it in half, working slowly to allow the steam inside to escape without burning yourself. Allow it to cool a bit before scooping out the seed cavity.

If you are confident and safe with a knife, and it it’s a small variety of squash, you can cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and fiber from the center, then bake the halves upside down, in a shallow baking dish with about 1/2 inch of water (enough to come above the cut edge of the squash). Same temperature and time guidelines as for whole squash method. The seeds can be removed from the fiber and toasted in the over to eat as a snack or grind up as a topping on squash soup, or rolled onto the outside of the log or ball variation of the recipe below.

At this point, you can sit down and eat squash, or stuff the squash then eat it, or make squash soup, or squash pie, or squash bread or, anything else that calls for cooked squash or pumpkin, like the recipe that follows.

I made up this recipe for a fall harvest party when I was in a pinch for hors d’oeuvres; though I’ve since browsed the internet and find I’m not the only one to have made it up. I’ve made and served it twice with slight variations and it’s been a huge success both times:

Chevre and Squash Spread – It looks a bit like processed cheese food product, but tastes much better and is much better for you because it’s real food! Goes great on crackers, bread and veggie sticks.

Main Ingredients:

1/2 – 1 pound chevre (soft goat cheese any soft, creamy cheese will work)

1 cup cooked – any winter squash will do; so far I’ve made it with red curi squash and sweet pie pumpkin.

1-2 tbsp lemon juice

Seasonings:

Herbs, spices, chilies, citrus rind – anything you can imagine to create a variation on the basic combo of the squash and cheese. Make it sweet, savory or spicy; whatever thrills you at the moment. I added piri-piri (a Portuguese chili sauce) in place of lemon juice to one batch; fantastic!

Preparation:

If you have time, allow the cheese to soften. If not, you’ll just have to work a bit harder or longer on making the spread smooth. If you have a food processor, this recipe can be made in about 5 minutes, not counting the cooking time for the squash. Otherwise it will take 10-15 minutes, depending on the tools you use.

In a bowl, mash the peeled squash with a fork or potato masher until it’s smooth. Blend in the lemon juice and any seasonings, then add the cheese a few tablespoons at a time, blending continuously until all cheese is smoothly incorporated into the squash. You can adjust the density of this spread by changing quantities of either main ingredient, depending on your taste or dietary considerations.

I kept the leftovers to snack on over the next couple of days and the flavor improved so chill it for as much time as possible before serving. Pull it out of the fridge about 1/2 hour before serving to allow the blended flavors to come out and to make it easier to spread or dip into.

Variations:

These variations may require more cheese to maintain the shape, depending on how dry and dense your squash is.

Take the chilled spread from the fridge. Shape it into a log or ball and return it to the fridge to get firm. Take it back out and roll it in nuts, seeds, herbs or spices; serve immediately or chill again to serve later. Or,

Place the log or ball in a shallow bowl or dish. Top with any number of salsas, jellies, sauces or chutneys. For example, top with warm mole sauce (spicy, savory, chocolate sauce of Mexico) or hot pepper jelly and serve with corn chips.

The spread can be applied to crackers, bread or veggies with a frosting bag and tip as a decorative topper or base for smoked meat or fish hors d’oeuvre trays.

This recipe is easy to make, and easy to make your own way. Enjoy it.

How to Freeze and keep the Vegetables You’ve Grown

Friday, March 25th, 2016

There is nothing that compares to the rewards of harvesting vegetables from one’s own summer vegetable garden. If we are fortunate enough to have bumper crops of some of our vegetables, we need to figure out what the best method for preserving our bounty.

Most gardeners are aware that canning is an alternative, but canning is very labor intensive and exacting. Canning does, however assure you that you’ve preserved the vegetables in such a manner as to prevent or eliminate possible contamination from bacteria causing microbes.

Another method for preserving vegetables is to dehydrate them. They can be dried in a dehydrator, or they can be dried in the oven. Vegetables that are dehydrated can be reconstituted by tossing them into boiling water for about 3 minutes. Dehydrated vegetables are good to use in soups, stews and casseroles.

How then, do we go about freezing vegetables?

When freezing vegetables, the best way to blanch them before freezing is to pack the vegetables in freezer bags, making sure to let all of the air out of the bags. To blanch them, throw the bags into a large pot of boiling water. It is only necessary to blanch them for about a minute.

Vegetables with a high water content tend to get mushy when they are frozen. One way to minimize the amount of mushiness in vegetables like zucchini is to grill or roast it and then freeze it. When grilling or roasting these vegetables with high water content, the salt tends to draw some of the water out. This will make it possible to freeze these vegetables.

PEAS AND BEANS

When it comes to peas and beans, it is best not to cook the vegetables before freezing them. Snap the peas and beans, and remove the strings from the snow peas and the sugar snaps. Pack them into a heavy duty freezer bag. Ziploc makes a vacuum pump that goes with their new freezer bags. The pump will remove all of the air from the bag, and then they can be well protected while they are frozen. Blanch them in the freezer bag and then they won’t get overly soggy.

The ideal way to package your bounty is to pack the stuff in smaller freezer bags. Fill each bag with enough for two portions. By limiting the contents of each bag to no more than two portions, you will only remove what you can use at one time. This will eliminate the need to take a bag out of the freezer, remove some of the contents, and then refreeze things again. Thawing and refreezing is not a safe food practice.

If possible, use bags that can be vacuum sealed. Reynolds and Glad now make devices that make it possible to pump air out of bags in order to create a vacuum seal. The devices are relatively inexpensive and work quite well, but only with specially designed freezer bags.

TOMATOES:

Tomatoes are one of those vegetables with a high water content. It is possible to freeze tomatoes, but freezing tomatoes doesn’t provide you with the sort of tomato you would want to eat. Nonetheless, they are useful for adding to stews or other cooked dishes. To freeze whole tomatoes, cut the core out and throw them in a freezer bag.

Another way to freeze tomatoes is by turning them into a sauce or a tomato paste and then freezing that. If you make a lot of dishes that require a small amount of tomato sauce or paste, you can fill the spots in an ice cube tray with tomato sauce or paste. Each cube will be the equivalent of about two tablespoons of sauce or paste.

PEPPERS:

Peppers can be frozen after they are grilled or roasted. Bright colored peppers are delicious and because they are so expensive (even in season,) freezing them when them in a cooked state is advantageous. They don’t get soggy that way. Grocery stores regularly sell colored peppers that are roasted and frozen, and they are very expensive even in the frozen state.

BROCCOLI:

Broccoli can be frozen too. Rather than trying to freeze the entire head, it might be wiser to separate it into smaller pieces. Put the pieces of broccoli into plastic bags and throw them into a pot of boiling water for no more than a minute.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS:

Brussels sprouts can be frozen in an uncooked state. The best way to freeze them is by cutting the hard node off the bottom and removing any outer leaves that are not perfect looking. Cut an x in the bottom of each Brussels sprout. Package them into small bags with enough sprouts in each bag for no more than one or two servings. Make sure to expel all of the air from the bag.

CARROTS:

Carrots are easily frozen. Again, do not bother to wash the carrots. Cut the tops off, and while doing so, remove the core from the carrot. Peel the carrots and cut them into slices that can be used in soups, in dishes, or just cooked on their own. Put them into freezer bags, only filling the bags with enough for one or two servings. When blanching them, just leave them in the water for a minute. Anything more may result in over cooking.

BEETS:

Beets can also be frozen. If you roast them before freezing them, it will be much easier to remove the skin. Beets can be pickled and or canned.

HOT PEPPERS:

The best and easiest way to keep hot peppers is to dry them. If they are small enough, you can take a needle and thread and string a bunch of peppers onto one piece of thread or string. Put them in a cool and dry place where they will be away from too much sun. Just allow them to air dry. Once they are dry, anytime you need to add hot peppers to a dish, you can remove a single pepper.

Be careful about touching your face when you’ve handled hot peppers. Be sure not to touch your eyes after touching peppers.

ONIONS, GARLIC, SHALLOTS, POTATOES, LEEKS:

Onions, garlic, potatoes and shallots and leeks don’t necessarily need to be frozen. Onions, garlic, shallots and potatoes can be kept in a cool dark place. A root cellar is ideal. Leeks can be kept for a short period of time in a root cellar, but they can also be frozen. It isn’t the best way to keep them, but in a pinch, it’s fine.

Cut the roots off of the bottom, and remove the dry hard part that is attached to the roots. Leeks are almost always filled with lots of dirt, and the only way to get rid of the dirt is by cutting them lengthwise. Remove the dirt, by wiping with a damp cloth, but don’t get them fully wet. Put the cut pieces in freezer bags and expel the air before putting them in the freezer.

This is just the simplest way to freeze vegetables from the vegetable garden. Some root vegetables don’t require refrigeration, but most vegetables will not keep unless they are kept in a cool place. When keeping vegetables in the refrigerator until they are to be used, make sure that they aren’t kept in the same drawer as apples. The ethylene gas from the apples will hasten the spoilage.