Monthly Archives: September 2012

Freezing Produce and Baked Goods/ Ice Cream Cake Vegan Vegetable Recipes

To wrap-up frozen foods,(pun intended), let’s talk about fruits, vegetables, and baked goods.
Fresh fruits and vegetables have enzymes which cause them to break down badly when frozen; most need to be cooked or at least blanched before freezing. [To blanch, take produce and plunge it into boiling water for a few minutes. Times for different fruits and vegetables can be found in canning books, cook books and online] Grapes and some berries can be frozen individually, but must be eaten frozen or, in the case of berries, folded into batter, as they will be quite soft when thawed. Soft fruits and berries can be macerated, that is, broken down by sprinkling with sugar and allowed to sit until they have release much of their juice. They can be then frozen without being cooked. As in all attempts to successfully freeze, as much air as possible must be removed.
Place firm fruit, cored and sliced in simple syrup, that is equal parts sugar and water boiled for 5 minutes, (or heavier syrup, 2-to1 ration of sugar to water), after it has cooled to ‘warm’. A little lemon juice can be added; vanilla extract rum or brandy can be substituted. Submerge all of the fruit. I seldom bother to try t freeze fruit, except when it comes to berries, then I use the syrup or macerating technique. Don’t even think about trying to freeze watermelon,(although I knew someone who used to dehydrate it).
We have a peach tree behind my garage. It has broken several times from the sheer weight of the fruit. A few years ago I trimmed off every branch under 3″ in diameter and every leaf I could find, hoping to put it out of its misery. It came back and flourished. We never spray it and it becomes buggy; my husband harvests most of the fruit, cutting away the bad parts… and I have wanted no part of it. This year I have quite a number of badly frozen bags of peaches taking up a great deal of space in my freezer. Never one to admit defeat, my husband has been trying his hand at eating the mushy fruit . He has finally deciding it is best in oatmeal. I cooked one package down and made glaze with honey for pork. My ex-daughter-in-law’s grand mother brought something akin to apple butter to me a few years ago and it was delicious. It was made with peaches and I think I may try to throw some of the bags of peaches into my slow-cooker and see what comes of it…then I may freeze it.
I have made apple pies and frozen them, both baked and unbaked. I was surprised that the baked ones actually were not soggy but the unbaked ones were after they came out of the oven. Freezing fruit is not for the fearless.
Fresh vegetables can suffer the same fate; they usually break down. It is best to at least lightly cook, or blanche these, as well. I personally have no success with freezing corn. I came up with a few recipes that are easy to make and freeze well; a few will be posted at the end.

Now on to baked goods. I like to have different kind of bread on hand. I pack two sandwiches a day in my husband’s lunch and there is no excuse for bad lunches… (I will have a post on lunches in the future). Breads, rolls, flavors and textures make a big difference between choking down food and being nourished in body and soul. Food should give you energy in body and in mind, so I buy different types of rolls, (Kaiser, or sourdough; hamburger or wheat; potato or hoagie) and freeze some of them, so there is a rotation .I wrap the rolls in ones or twos in plastic wrap, and then pop them into a zip-close bag, squeezing all the air I can out; I do the same the same with Italian or French breads, or rye and pumpernickel. I find that slice breads to not work as well; too much surface is exposed to air no matter how well it is wrapped.
I freeze cakes the same way, usually un-iced, ready to be turned into dessert when the weather is too hot to bake, time gets away or I have unexpected guests. Mini cakes, cookies, (iced or not), I layer in plastic wrap; seal as tightly as I can and put into freezer bags. I have a couple of types of cookies and about three types of mini-muffins in the freezer right now… (Gee, I better eat them since ‘baking season’ is almost upon us again… I guess I didn’t have much company this summer to use them up.) I had to scramble for a cake this summer, though. My husband’s birthday is at the end of July and his favorite dessert is my ice cream cake, but the granddaughters ate the cakes I had ready and frozen. At the last minute I spotted a perfectly nice Pepperidge Farm coconut cake in my freezer and used that .It worked. [Directions below.]
Remember, air is the enemy of frozen foods
I do, at times, use my vacuum sealer for baked goods, but there are drawbacks. The bags are stiff and there can be a lot of air left around the goods, or conversely, if you really suck the air out from around your baked goods, they can be easily crushed and that is not good. If you have the time, you can place your baked goods in the freezer, unwrapped or lightly wrapped and as soon as they are relatively hard, vacuum seal them. However, if you have a million things on your mind and people in and out of your house like I do, you’ll end up leaving them there too long and they will freezer burn. That, too, is not good, trust me.
Pie and pastry crusts freeze well, and should be thawed slowly in the refrigerator.
Most cookie dough freezes well; cake batter would not. I know people who risk yeast-rising dough, but I have not. Buttercream icing freezes well, but sticky icings do not. Whipped cream freezes well but only if it is kept frozen as in an ice cream cake. Droplets, small dollops or piped rosettes of whipped cream can be frozen, (on a tray, then placed in a zip-bag as soon as they are solid solid), can be placed on top of hot cocoa, coffee drinks or on desserts immediately before serving. Dairy products and sauces made with them often break down and do not freeze well. Neither do non-dairy milks, such as rice, soy and almond. Cream cheese and also, hard cheeses freeze well, but some tend to get crumbly. Sliced cheeses want to stick together upon thawing. Shredded cheeses are good in the freezer. If thawed slowly in the refrigerator, they should stand up nicely. Shredded mozzarella over lasagna or stuffed shells, shredded cheddar in layered casseroles or cheeses made into sauces are good uses for frozen cheese.
Now, try your hand at these:

Ice Cream Cake

One cake, any flavor, any shape {I usually make a deep one-layer cake and split it, as in
Easter Egg-shape, or I have a Lamb mold I also use for Easter; or other
times I use two
thinner layers. I usually make a citrus flavor “Fiore di Sicilia”, light spice or
Chocolate
Ice cream {any flavor; I usually use vanilla
Whipped cream, lightly sweetened

Make cake, (or buy cake), split in two.
Slightly soften the ice cream. Cut it and place a thick layer between cake layers, leaving a short margin before the edge. (If the ice cream is too soft, freeze the cake at this point). Prepare whipped cream and thickly cover all the surfaces of the cake, filling into meet the ice cream inside; it can be piped on if you are familiar with the technique. (In the case of the Pep.Farm coconut cake, I only iced the sides where the cake was split to fill in to the ice cream.) Freeze unwrapped just until hard. Cover tightly with foil and if possible, place in freezer bag.
One New Year’s Eve I made individual cakes by pre-slicing a sheet cake and layering ice cream and cake; I iced them completely with whipped cream and threw candy confetti on them before the whipped cream froze. You can decorate the cake in that manner, (with jimmies or decors, edible glitter, candies, etc), before the whipped cream is set hard, or pipe edging with more whipped cream. Use standard icing or decorator tubes to write on the cake AFTER it is frozen. Do not use the gel type; it may run on the whipped cream.

Fresh Carrots and Chinese Pea Pods, or Italian Flat Beans (Vegan)

Place one package of each vegetable in a strainer or colander over salted, boiling water.
Sprinkle with no-salt herb blend (optional)
Cover, cook until slightly softened. Remove from heat, cool. Freeze in freezer bag.

Carrots in Glaze (With Vegan options)

One cup + of sliced carrots or (more) of baby carrots .Boil in salted water until tender,
Or use canned sliced carrots. Reserve.

Sauce

1 Tbsp. butter (or margarine)
½ cup orange juice or preferably, 2 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate and ½ cup of water
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. ground Ginger
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 Tbsp. Brandy, (optional)
1 Tbsp.corn starch mixed in 2 Tbsp. water

Melt the butter; add the orange juice or concentrate and water. When warm, add the honey and spices, plus brandy, (if using).
Simmer for 10 minutes, add the corn starch mixture and stir constantly until the mixture is thick. Add carrots and stir to coat. Remove from heat but allow the carrots to remain in the warm glaze until all are cool. Seal in container or bag and freeze.

Vegan: Omit honey and use 1 Tbsp. sugar, corn syrup or other sweetener

Baked Autumn Vegetables en Croute (in crust) (With Vegan options)

Vegetables: One large sweet potato
Two large parsnips
One large turnip
Two large carrots or 1 cup of baby carrots
Boil individually until barely tender; peel and slice into short, thick strips.

Glaze:
¼ cup butter
2 Tbsp. Honey
dash of salt
1tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Vegan: omit butter and honey; use margarine and sweetener of choice.

In a saucepan, melt the butter with honey; add salt and ginger, plus vanilla extract. Pour over the vegetables, toss them to cover. You can bake these as they are and freeze them to serve them alone or to fill pastry with them later. You can also place them in the pastry, bake it and freeze it, ready-to-go.

Rustic Pastry

1 cups of flour
6 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. cream
Egg wash (white of an egg, beaten with 1-2 tsp. water)

Mix all the four and butter, (in processor or with pastry cutter). Add the salt and cream. Knead into smooth dough and roll into a round-ish shape, keeping the pastry about ¼ inch thick. (It should not look perfect; it’s ‘rustic’. Brush the inside with the egg wash. Place glazed vegetables in the middle. Pull the sides up toward the middle, pinching in as needed. DO NOT TRY TO MAKE IT MEET IN THE MIDDLE. Press the ends down and around and press down on the top’ brush with more of the egg wash. Wrap well and freeze, or bake at 375F until the pastry is well-browned. Cool completely and wrap well, zipper-bag store and bake warm to serve.

Vegan: Substitute margarine for butter, 1-1/2 Tbsp Almond or Rice milk for cream.
Omit egg wash, use melted margarine.

Italian Baked vegetables (Vegan)

Three medium-large potatoes, baked or microwaved until barely tender (approx. 35 minutes @400F in oven or approx 3 minutes on high in microwave)

Two bell peppers, seeded, cored and cut into eighths

Two large onions, cut into eighths

3-4 med-to-lg tomatoes, seeded and drained and quartered,
6 halved Roma tomatoes, seeded or approx 6-8 canned tomatoes, drained and halved

3/4 cup olive oil,(regular or Extra Virgin)

Salt and pepper, preferably coarse ground

Place vegetables alternately in a large, flat baking dish,(pie plate may do; do not crowd them).
Pour oil over all surfaces of the vegetables; sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake in a hot oven,(400F), basting occasionally, (spoon the oil over the vegetables), for about 40 minutes or until the vegetables are very well done. Serve as a side dish; the remaining flavored oil can be used as a dipping oil for crusty bread, or reserved in the refrigerator to use over wilted greens, (gently pan-sautéed lettuces, or spinach), as salad dressing , or a dressing over baked or boiled, cubed potatoes. These freeze cooled and well-wrapped. Heat and serve.

Mini Meatball Soup and Stew/Broth

In continuing with the last post’s theme, here are two recipes using tiny ground beef meatballs that are homemade, easy, comforting. The Stew was a specialty of my favorite uncle-by-marriage, a brave Welshman who joined the crazy Italian side. It has always been a hit with family and friends. And it needn’t be a fiesta day to enjoy the Fiesta Day Soup; it was a staple for luncheon in my bakery/restaurant.

To make basic meatballs, take one pound of ground beef, sprinkle with salt and roll into balls approximately one to one and a half inch in diameter. (do not make them large but don’t worry too much about how big they are as long as they are of generally consistent size.) Pan-fry in 2 Tbsp. butter, margarine, regular olive oil or peanut oil, turning often to brown on all sides…or if you wish to make a larger number or have other irons in the fire, bake them on buttered, oiled or cooking spray covered foil-lined baking pan @350F until just cooked through. Drain of oil and fat, and place in a container or freezer bag. Cover with beef broth, (homemade broth recipes below), or bouillon reconstituted from cubes or granules. Freeze flat or in a square container if using bags, so that they might store more easily when solid.

Thaw slowly in a pot when ready to use and you can have homemade one-bowl meals in short time with the recipes below, just in time for cooler weather, when you are pressed for time or for unexpected company. These are great for after winter activities to warm you from the inside–out.

Baby Meatball Stew*

 

One pound prepared small meatballs with broth (or bouillon)

One cup of sliced carrots

One cup of green beans

One cup of diced potatoes

Salt and Pepper

Dash of thyme {optional

1 Tbsp. corn starch

Place all ingredients in a heavy pot; simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Mix corn starch with two Tbsp. water and add to simmering stew; stir to thicken. Serve with buttered bread, preferably whole-grain or crusty French or Italian breads.

EASIER  Baby Meatball stew:

 

Prepared meatballs with broth

1 can sliced potatoes {drained

1 can green beans {drained

1 can sliced carrots (undrained

1 Tbsp. corn starch

Mix or match fresh vegetables with canned, (if using any fresh, cook in broth with meatballs until tender before adding canned). Simmer all until thoroughly warmed and the flavors mix. Dissolve cornstarch in two tablespoons of water and blend into stew while it is simmering to thicken. Serve with breads, as above.

Fiesta Day Soup

1 Tablespoon of butter

One medium onion, diced

2/3 cup carrots, sliced

½ cup bell pepper, diced

1 cup tomatoes, diced, (can be canned)

1 cup tomato sauce

1 lb. prepared mini meatballs

Enough water to make 2 cups of liquid with the broth

2 cloves of garlic, crushed (or 2 tsp. dried garlic chips

1 ½   tsp. dried Basil

1 Bay leaf

½ tsp. paprika

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup tiny pasta (pastina, stars, achini di pepe, etc.

or ½ cup cooked rice

Melt butter and sauté  the fresh vegetables until soft. Add the meatballs, broth and water (if needed); add herbs, spices, tomatoes and  tomato sauce. Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add the pasta, stir and cook until the pasta is done. Remove the Bay leaf and serve.

(If using cooked rice, add after the soup has cooked for 30-45 minutes; add rice and simmer for 10-15 minutes .Remove Bay leaf and serve.

[Note: The pasta or rice will continue to absorb the liquid in any left-over soup. It will become thick, but the flavor will not suffer. If it becomes too thick, add a little water when  re-heating]

 

Broths are simple and easy and you should make them.I will focus on beef broth in this post.

I save any bones and trimmings from beef that I buy  and freeze them until I have enough for broth…or I will buy  beef ribs ; they are THE best, robust  flavor for broth.Either way, take whatever beef you’d like to use and place it n a large pot..Cover with at least 4 quarts of water.Add on chopped medium onion, 2-3 ribs of celery, 1/8 cup dried parsley, 1 Tbsp. salt and either 1 tsp. ground black pepper,(preferably course ground), or 5  whole  peppercorns. Do not chop the vegetables; they will be easier to remove when the  broth is cooked.(They will have spent their flavors and be useless afterward.)  Although many people do,I do not add carrots.I believe that it imparts too strong of a flavor into the broth.

Simmer until the liquid is reduced to one-third of it’s original volume.Taste for  salt and add more if necessary, re-taste to check for strength and cook longer if it is weak . Strain the cooked broth into a large bowl.If there are any good, lean pieces of meat you can remove them and add them to the strained broth; discard vegetables, bones, fat, cartilage. Chill.This is an important step; it will bring all the fat to the top and it will solidify, making it easy to remove and leaving you with practically fat-free, protein-filled, calcium  and vitamin-enriched broth. If there is meat, you can add vegetables, and noodles, pasta, rice or barley to a hearty  make soup.If plain,  you can freeze it in small batches and use it for gravies or as a base for other soups. Enjoy!

Freezing Meats/Ground meat Recipes

As promised, I will continue to give you the benefit of my “expertise” in freezing foods…that is to say, I will try to save you some heartache by keeping you from making the same mistakes that I have made.

 

First and foremost, if you buy anything in bulk, break it down. My husband and I spent most of our engagement in separate states. When I got to his apartment a week before the wedding, I found a seven-pound  lump in the freezer; it had once been a ‘family-sized’ package of ground beef. I had to thaw the entire thing and cook, cook, cook, making several types of dishes for just the two of us. We have always eaten well, despite our rather tight budget. Buying in bulk, stocking-up during sales or grabbing fresh but marked-down foods have kept my family and friends eating well, and I can afford to indulge in spices and other accompaniments.

When freezing ground beef, try to divide it into as close to one-pound sections as possible. Have a package that is just over 2 and a half pounds? Split it in half. Three and three-quarter pounds? Eyeball it; divide it into four parts about the same size…it’s cooking, not rocket science. It doesn’t matter if you are a little off; your kitchen will not blow up. Shape into flattened rolls or disks and wrap them in plastic. Place these in zipper-lock bags with as much air as possible removed.

Never freeze meats in store-wrap alone; place them in zip-closure bags. I prefer to take them out of their store wrappings, then place steaks, chops, ribs, chicken breasts, etc. with freezer paper or plastic between them and freeze in zip-bags, in portions that I am likely to use at one time. (Before I was married, I lived at home and never cooked for less than six people; we usually had a lot of left-overs until I learned to adjust…except when I’d cook a steak or large chicken breast  each for the two of us. Those would usually be the nights that my husband would make an impromptu invitation to someone for dinner….wouldn’t you know.)

The only time I advise freezing meats in their packaging is when they are already  in thick plastic, (often poultry and poultry pieces, corned beef, pork loins and others), that are factory processed and shipped to stores. Even then, if the packages are bigger than you would want to cook at one time, cut them down to size. You save nothing by buying in bulk if you don’t use all of what you have purchased…and it is just wrong to waste food.

With that thought in mind, I will add that I generally trim fatty areas and bones before freezing meats, and I toss those into freezer bags to save to make soups. When chilled, the fats rise to the top and can be skimmed. There is nothing like homemade soup or to have broths for soup bases and gravies…and it’s simpler to do than you know. A blog on soup will be up in the near future.

 

While you are dividing meat before you freeze it, you might consider taking a little time and pre-cooking some of the meat, especially ground meat. It helps you make meals very quickly. One pound of ground meat is enough for one small batch of chili, one batch of tacos, one meal of Hamburger Helper, [God help you].  I usually brown ground beef, drain it of melted fat. I cool it and   place it in a freezer bag, pressing as much air out as possible. While I’m at it, I often use a good packet of taco mix and freeze ready-made taco meat. It makes a quick meal or snack easy. The next posting will be on mini-meatballs…how to make and recipes for quick, homemade comfort dishes fit for company and family.

Below will be recipes I made for ground turkey and pork. I know some people like to use turkey for chili but as far as I am concerned, there is not enough chili powder in the world to disguise the taste of the turkey.

 Of course, if you have a vacuum sealer, use it if you intend to keep the meats frozen for more than a couple of months. If you intend to use them sooner, don’t waste the money on the bags.

 

Taco Salad

 

One pound of ground meat prepared with your favorite taco seasoning; heated thoroughly

One half pound of shredded mild-to-sharp cheddar or shredded ‘Mexican-style’ cheeses

2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce

One half-pound large, restaurant-style tortilla chips

 

Options :{ taco sauce or salsa

                Sour cream

                Diced black olives

 

 

 

Place a layer of tortilla chips on each person’s plate; add a layer of cheese, then the meat, (to semi-melt the cheese), add lettuce and whatever options to suit each person’s taste.

 

 

Turkey burgers and pork patties are grand if you aren’t expecting them to taste like a hamburger. I developed the following recipes with that idea in mind:

 

Turkey Burgers

 

One pound of ground turkey made into burger shapes.

2 Tbs. butter, margarine

One-half to three-quarter cup sliced onion

White pepper

Salt

Mayonnaise

Onion buns, Kaiser buns or Italian bread

 

Sprinkle turkey burgers with pepper and salt; pan-fry in butter with onions over medium-high heat until browned; lower heat and add 1/8th cup water. Cover and cook thoroughly. Serve with mayonnaise on buns or Italian bread with the caramelized onions.

 

Pork Patties

 

One lb. ground pork

Salt

White pepper

1 Tbsp. butter or margarine

Pan-fry pork patties until just done, (do not over-dry). Make white sauce:

 

 

White sauce:

 

2 Tbsp. butter or margarine

One-quarter cup diced onion

White pepper

Salt

Dash of  Nutmeg, (optional)

1 ½ -2 Tbsp. flour

 

Melt butter. Add onions and sauté until tender, but not browned. Remove from heat and add flour to make a basic roux, (smooth paste). Slowly add milk to keep from lumping then add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Return to heat and stir constantly until thickened. Adjust seasoning and pour over pork patties.

Serve with rice, mashed or baked potatoes, small pasta or noodles.

Freezing Foods,pt.2/Ranch Chicken

As promised, more on how-to-freeze….foods…or maybe I am just feeling cold today. The meteorologists blew today’s forecast. I was drenched to the skin this morning, and I was in a raincoat. [Prediction was for 40 % of scattered afternoon showers. Tell the people who had flooded areas ay 9 AM.]

 

There are several ways to go about successfully freezing foods, so let’s look at them

The original way was with ‘freezer paper’, something you don’t see much of any more. Freezer paper is thick and coated to keep out air and moisture. It is also a bit stiff and because it needs to be taped with ‘freezer tape’,(made specifically for this purpose when other tapes lost  their grip because of the cold and moisture of the freezer), the paper does not make an air-tight seal so it only worked well for short-term freezing, if it truly worked well at all. Its best use today is as a separator of layers of frozen meat.

Aluminum foil was the next-best,(worst), way to freeze foods for basically the same reasons, except that if you fold and crush the foil ends, it makes a better seal, if it doesn’t tear.

Enter plastic wraps and bags, and thank Heaven for the zipper-closures and improved thicknesses of the bags. Most of the time, you can use ‘food-storage’ bags and not even bother with ‘freezer’ bags, unless you want to keep your food frozen for some time.

 

 I have a vacuum sealer. It is my second one,(neither are/were top-of-the-line.) Although vacuum sealer bags are fantastic, they are not necessary and not the only thing the foods in my freezer are stored in. More on plastic bags and wrap later in the post.

 

I love the vacuum sealer for many things; you could probably keep foods frozen in them for years; (however, rotate your stock). One drawback is the price of the bags or rolls to make bags. If you do what I do, buy a lot when things are on sale or cook in bulk and so you freeze a great deal, it can get very expensive if you use the sealer bags for everything. They can be washed, dried and re-used IF the foods were not raw, or had any sort of oily residue,(cooked meats, stews, etc.), or anything that would leave an odor. You can re-use them to a much smaller size than most manufacturers tell you,(after all, they want to make money. I keep down-sizing to very small, as long as I can.

If you do a lot of freezing or buy in bulk, this is the way to go, though. If you cut the rolls  into over-sized bags, you can re-use them; (there will be some waste as there is about a two-inch top area where the bag goes into the sealer and the air is vacuumed out. This is where you want to do your labeling if you anticipate being able to re-use the bag.

I  make my own ‘TV Dinners” with left-overs. Even as we speak I have a turkey dinner or two with potatoes, gravy, dressing and vegetables; Salmon with rice with some sort of mixed vegetable dish, cod with pasta and vegetables, barbequed boneless ribs with potatoes and mixed vegetables and Southwest chicken with pasta and a bean dish. If you can get your hands on sectioned dishes from prepared frozen meals,(you can get them from family and friends, or buy separated ones that are designed as lunch containers, use them lidless with your vacuum bags. Sometimes, I just freeze an entree and one side, (such as pasta , rice or potatoes, that do not matter if the flavors blend), in small container.

I also have entire meals ready, in sections, as well as ‘nuke’n’go’ food. Right now I have three types of chicken wings, ham and bean soup, spaghetti sauce, sliced ham in gravy, a whole chicken,(I don’t remember right now if it is one that I made or a rotisserie one from the supermarket) and Swedish meatballs…and maybe more, all in vacuum-sealed bags.

There are prepared vegetable dishes, as well.

I have an open, plastic box with small left-overs, enough for a sandwich…prepared filet of fish, sliced meats, salmon patty, turkey burger, large sausage patty, etc. ready to thaw,  add a little embellishment  and go into my husband’s lunch, or for one of my sons to eat quickly.(I will do a lunch blog soon).

Another good use for the vacuum sealer is even if you don’t use the vacuum, the sealer is good for closing bags of pancake mix, baking mix, cookies, (such as bags of animal crackers or vanilla wafers), crackers, cereals or chips. At least, put them in zipper-close gallon plastic bags and squeeze the air out to keep them fresher longer.

 

If you don’t want to use a vacuum sealer, I use zip-closure gallon bags and the stretchy-type of plastic wrap . It is the best and your local, famous discount store that is EVERYWHERE has their own brand which is very affordable. It clings well and stretches over the foods to truly seal. You need to use several, overlapping layers, but it works. I have a few plates in the freezer now; off the top of my head I can think of a pie plate with a White-bean, Asparagus Polenta wrapped just that way, ready to heat and serve. I have some of the left-overs for lunches in the wrap and then zipped into a sandwich bag. Many rimes there have been whole rotisserie chickens so wrapped in there. You can often put foods wrapped in the plastic in a zipper bag with as much air removed as possible for longer-term freezing.

 

I have been discussing cooked foods.  In the next post, I will talk about raw foods, plus fruits and vegetables.

 If you have bones from the next recipe, they will be meaty. Freeze and save for soup.  A soup and broth post will come soon.

 

Today’s Easy Meal:

 

Ranch Chicken

 

You’ll need:

 

6-8 boneless chicken thighs {or cut out bone by slicing halfway through of both sides;

                                             keep the thigh whole.  

Prepared (boxed) dry bread crumbs, [reserve the remainder

butter or margarine, ¼ cup milk or 2 Tbs. sour cream,

water  plus the following:

 

1 cup of milk

2 Tablespoons plain yogurt, sour cream or mayonnaise

1 Tbs. Onion powder                                                  

1 Tbs. Dried chives  

1 teaspoon celery salt

1 tsp. paprika

 mixed

 

OR:

1 ½  cups Ranch dressing thinned with 2 Tbs. milk {reserve when done

 

Moisten the thighs inside and out with the milk mixture. Fold in half and cover in breadcrumbs. Brown the two sides quickly in the butter or margarine, then add a small amount of water, lower the heat and cover until just cooked though; this will not take long. Remove cover and cook longer let the excessive moisture evaporate.

Remove thighs and keep warm.

Drain excess oils from pan, return to heat and add the reserved ranch mixture and left over bread crumbs; heat to a boil, as the mixture has been exposed to raw chicken. Lower heat and  add the ¼ cup milk or 2 tbs. sour cream; heat thoroughly and stir to thicken. Season to taste. Spoon a small amount over the chicken and mashed or baked potatoes, pasta or rice. Add salad or favorite vegetables on side.

Freezer Tips 1/Easy Boston Butt Meals

There’s a chill in the air! Autumn has arrived; my favorite time of year. Colorful leaves, Fall flowers, cool nights, clear days…at least, that is the perfect Autumn/Fall for me. Now heartier food comes into play. Soups and stews, roasts… and anything in the oven! In my current house, I have a wall oven. It warms a great deal of my ranch-style house when used, which makes it wonderful for this time of year. A bit cool in the evening? Let’s throw in a pizza! Chilly in the morning? We’ll put in a batch of biscuits. Conversely, once the air conditioner starts running in the Spring, I never use the oven all Summer. Why have the two fight it out, (heat and cold), when the electric company will be the only winner? So I warm up the house by supplementing the furnace-heat all winter and bake cookies, breads, cakes, and even a few entrees and freeze them for use in the good old Summertime….or anytime. You never know when you may need ‘company food’.

Right after we moved to Kentucky from the Denver area, a woman I knew called me while traveling around the country. She was in a city about 80 miles from me, (considerably closer than her home in the mountains of Colorado), and wanted to come by with her family on their way back to say ‘Hi”. I told her to come for dinner,

and then I scrambled, because she has nine children.

She and her husband are both half-Italian, as I am, so I knew I could pull out a large batch of frozen , homemade spaghetti sauce, cook a few pounds of pasta,(which I have on hand; I may have even had enough of one type. Right now, I must have seven or eight styles of pasta in my kitchen.).I knew I had several types of homemade cookies in my freezer and I lucked-out in two ways. One was that I had lettuce and a few other vegetables for a salad in my refrigerator and I actually had a garden that year that had a few more vegetables to add. I made pitchers of lemonade and iced tea .I did not know until then the father of the troop was allergic to corn in any fashion and fortunately, none were sweetened with corn sugars; the second bit of luck.

So my husband came home to, “Hi, Honey! Look, eleven people you hardly know dropped in for dinner!”, and I had a nice visit with lovely people whom I had missed, instead of just a ‘hi and a hug’.

 Successful freezing of foods is easy if you take the time for one crucial action; removing as much air from around the food as possible. This can be done in several ways. Clinging plastic food wraps are very helpful. They may cost a little more, but not by much and they truly help keep air from hitting the surface of foods. If you place your soups, stews, sauces, etc. in freezer containers, you need to remember two things; one, when food freezes, it expands, so if you fill a container to the top, the lid will come off or the container will break Number two, the surface needs to be protected from air. Place a layer of plastic wrap, freezer paper or aluminum foil over the surface. I like to then wrap the container in stretchy cling wrap, or place it in a zipper-close food bag with as much air a possible squeezed out for extra protection.

 Now that zipper-locking food bags are being made better and better, there is no reason not to use them, even for soups, stews, gravies and other non-solid or partially-solid foods.

With these, you should squeeze all the air before closing, and place them in a square container or lay them flat as they freeze solid. Then you can remove them and store them more easily in your freezer. If you put them in standing or bunched, they will, of course, freeze that way. Corners may tear, you may have trouble thawing them and most of all, storing them will be difficult.(If you put them on racks in a freezer while in a non-solid state, you may have trouble removing them from the freezer; they will sink and freeze around the wire racks…trust me on this one!).

 Next time, I will discuss freezing other foods.

 

Easy meals from this week: featuring Boston Butt Roasts

Boston Butt roasts are very flavorful by way of being very dark meat with a rather large bone in the middle. It is moist because it is in sections with layers of fat, which will cook off and can be skimmed if you look for the very leanest roast; one that has obviously sold sections of  fat-free meat.

 

Teriyaki Pork over Rice with Pod Peas and Baby Carrots

 

Take one lean Boston Butt roast, sear it in a pan of olive or peanut oil, (or other vegetable oil), by heating the oil, sprinkling it with salt and fennel seeds. Quickly brown the outsides of the roast. Transfer the roast to a roasting pan or slow cooker. Bake covered at 350F, or on high in the slow cooker. Deglaze the pan by putting a few Tablespoons full of boiling water in the pan and using a spatula or wooden spoon, loosen all of the cooked-on portions of the roast and fennel and pour over the roast. Cook, 2-3 hours in oven or 7-8 hours in slow cooker or until very tender.

Remove, allow to cool and using all the lean parts of the roast, (it may be in small sections, all the better; any hard-cooked parts on top are fine), shred and place in a deep stove-top deep frying pan or wok with some of the fennel. Add salt if needed, a little white pepper and   bottled teriyaki glaze. (Try the brands; I find the thin, soy sauce types to be overly wet and salty. I like the thicker ‘glaze and baste’ and I buy a store brand).

Add and cover the meat with the teriyaki glaze, cook until dry. Serve over prepared rice.

 

Pod Peas and Baby Carrots

Take fresh pod peas and baby carrots. Rinse and place in sieve, steamer or metal colander  over boiling salted  water, cover and steam until tender,(with a splash of Mrs. Dash, if you’d like).

 

Boston Butt Slices with Mashed Potatoes and Salsa-style White Beans

 Using the larger lean sections of the Boston Butt, slice portions. Place some of the lean drippings and some of the fennel in a frying pan, reduce, (cook down; evaporate most of the liquid).Place the pork slices in the pan, coating them on both sides with the reduced liquid. Serve over mashed potatoes.

 

Potatoes:

Peel 3 pounds of  russet or other potatoes, cut into fairly uniform cubes approximately  one –inch square;(make a few smaller for creaminess). Boil in salted water until just soft enough to insert a fork easily; do not overcook or you could end up with a very sticky, paste with very little flavor. (which has happened to me). You can mash by hand with a potato masher but the best way is to whip them with a hand mixer. Add a few Tablespoons of butter and one of cream or milk and beat until smooth.

Serve pork over the potatoes with the gravy.

 

Salsa-style White Beans*

Cook one-half pound of white beans, (methods in prior blog).

Seed and chop  and sauté’  two mild-medium  chili peppers,(banana or Anaheim),one tomato,(or 2/4 cup diced, canned tomatoes) and one-quarter cup diced onion with salt , ¼ teaspoon paprika, ½  teaspoon cilantro and ½  teaspoon  chili powder. Mix with prepared beans.

*Easy-way-out Salsa-style Beans 

Open one can of white beans, mix with the prepared vegetables or prepared salsa. Mix and warm together.

Pitfalls and Parties/Savory Bread Rolls

These easy bread rolls can be made with meat and cheese or as vegan- vegetable.They eaten warm or cold.

I know that the thought of hosting puts fear into many people. I may have jumped into telling you what to serve instead of how to serve guests.
When I had dinner parties, showers or receptions, I found that some people were downright intimidated by my offerings. You may have seen a buffet and thought, “I could never do that!” You probably can, but you don’t have to. Hosting can be fun, rewarding and make everyone think you are something, or it can stress you out, make you swear ‘Never again!” and make everyone think you are a witch, (and it wasn’t even a Halloween party.) You can make offerings short and simple, or pull out all the stops. We will approach all of these, and let you decide which is appropriate and when.  It may take me several postings, but I will try to give you tips and hopefully, some confidence.

 

Plan as far ahead as possible and do whatever you can as far ahead as possible. When you find the confidence, it will come easier each time. You will not only know the pitfalls and learn from your mistakes,( you will make mistakes), but you will have things in mind and on hand that you need, whether it be figuring out what to serve to where overnight guest will sleep. We’ll talk about it all upcoming in this blog.

 

You can over-do a good thing.

The first shower I threw was for an expectant mother. I made homemade cake with homemade filling and decorated it with blue and pink flowers. I molded flavored candy in bootie, rattle, baby bottle, (etc.), shapes in pink and blue. I made Madeline cookies dipped in pink and blue icing. I made finger sandwiches, nut cups and tea; I made coffee with all the amenities .I put up pink and blue streamers, made pink and blue sock dollies. I had several games, one of which was a basket filled with small baby items which I had the guests look at for 30 seconds and whoever remembered the most, got a prize; the mom got the items. It was something, I can tell you. But I did several things wrong:

#1. For whatever reason, when I have asked schools or churches to use their facilities, my group has been bumped at the last minute for someone else. Something about me and my plans seem to scream “Expendable”! Try to have your affairs in your home or pay for a site. In the occasion of the baby shower, I was supposed to have use of a school cafeteria. I was bumped for an Irish step-dancing class. As big as a book-lover as I am, I hated  but was desperate enough, to ask to use the school’s library. The library was on the third floor; the stairs leading directly to it were closed so the dancers’ bored-and-waiting siblings would not wander the school. So I had to all the food, decorations, gifts, etc, across the school, up one flight, across again, up another flight, then across the school again. I had to carry the hot coffee and tea from the cafeteria in the same pattern, very carefully and very slowly.

#2.I just plain over-did it.

I did not hear, “Oh, how lovely” or “How nice”. What I heard was, “I can’t believe how much you did”, to the point that a week later at another function I heard, “I kept telling Jim, (Julie, Bob), that I couldn’t believe how much you did”. It looked like I worked hard. Hosting should never look like you worked hard, and I want to see that you work as little as possible when pulling off your parties. I was not a close friend of the mom-to-be; I had taken it upon myself for the group from the school, but it may not have been my place, which may have added to the discomfort level of the others.

Don’t be too eager to please; only host when appropriate.

#3. I presumed on help.

Now, you should have everything under control, I mean, things happen. But if you accept help, make sure it is something that you can do without, or have a back-up plan. A friend of the mom’s volunteered a special punch. I planned on it; she changed the type without telling me.  What she made did not go with the food I had and the guests drank it because it was too warm for the coffee and tea. I felt stressed; it was a problem as the taste combinations were really being off.

AND I failed to be sure that some of those who attended, (whom I had always stayed to help), would/could stay there to help me. So I ended up doing the hallway-stair set-up marathon in reverse, by myself.

 

On the other hand, for years afterward I hosted a Christmas piano recital in my home for several years running, which were always a huge success.

Always be ready with extra food:

My sons were homeschooling at the time and they were studying with the same piano teacher as some of their homeschooled friends. The piano teacher had stopped having Christmas concerts but I decided that the kids needed to gain confidence and show off their skills, so every December we had our own little recital with their friends, the parents and a few adult guests.

I made my batches of Christmas cookies, candies and bread early, and froze either some of the dough or some of the finished goods for Christmas; (I did this up to a week in advance; the candy, maybe earlier.)

The day before the recital, (or the day of, if I held it on a weekday evening instead of a weekend afternoon),

I took the coffee table out, gathered every chair I could find and even a bench, (on which I put a folded quilt), and made several layers of seating in the living room behind the piano. We do not have a large living room; everyone understood when they sat knee-to knee at times.

While people gathered, I had Christmas music playing softly in the background on a CD. And I had small gifts for the performers.

Just before everyone arrived I made tea and coffee and spread them out on my dining table with the goodies for after the recitals. The children did whatever made them comfortable besides playing the piano; some sang, one played the guitar, one read a poem as well.

After one of the afternoon recitals a few of the guests lingered. I could see that the cheese ball and few other non-sweets were gone and the folk looked hungry. Fortunately, I was ready. I knew that I had savory bread roll-ups in my freezer. I pulled them out, warmed them in the microwave them and they were a hit, as expected. These are so handy and good. Make more than one type at a time. Slice, wrap well and freeze. These are great for snacks, late company, late-night movie watching, brunches and are our family’s traditional holiday morning breakfast. They are easy to get ready, are not messy, are a little special and will hold you over while you are waiting to eat a big mid-day meal. Guests will be impressed with the taste, the heartiness and the fact that you have them ready with next to no effort when you need them.

 

Savory Bread Roll-ups

 

If bread making is your thing, make basic dough. If you have a bread machine, pull it out. If not, use frozen bread dough, (thawed, of course).

Roll into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick on a floured surface. Brush with melted butter or margarine. Spread fillings (recipes to follow), to within two inches from all sides. Fold in the short sides; roll up from one long side to another, Pinch ends and press to close. Place on a cookie or baking sheet, which has been brushed with butter or margarine,(or lined with parchment paper); curve bread roll  if necessary. Slice or snip slits through top layer about 3-4 inches apart. Cover with clean kitchen towel , waxed paper or foil; let rise to double in size in a warm spot. Uncover and brush with melted butter or margarine. Bake at 325F for about 45 minutes- 1 hour, or until the bread is thoroughly browned.(Do not cook at a higher temperature; the middle will not bake).

Meat Filling Suggestions:

Chopped roast beef, or shredded roast beef lunch meat with shredded medium–to sharp cheddar cheese; (a little prepared horseradish sauce optional).

Shredded ham with mild cheddar cheese

Shredded turkey (or turkey lunch meat) with pepper jack cheese

Pepperoni or salami with mozzarella or provolone cheese

Cheese Filling Suggestions:

Any cheese, preferably with sautéed onions

Soft cheeses, (cream cheese, Neufchatel, mascarpone) with herbs and or dried vegetables:

[ Italian blend, or basil, parsley and marjoram;

Southwest blend or any favorite chili powder, (chipotle, mesquite, etc), cumin,for example]

Mixed with red or green salsa

Seeded,(poppy, pumpkin, caraway, sesame)

Mixed with red hot sauce

Mixed with sautéed vegetables; onions

Any favorite cheese spread, (pimento cheese, onion dip, avocado)

 

Vegetable Filling Suggestions:

Sautéed or caramelized onions

Hummus,( regular or vegetable, or mixed with seeds)

Sautéed vegetable combinations, (mix & match): onions, tomatoes, peppers, artichoke hearts, asparagus

Dehydrated vegetable flakes, (available often mixed in supermarkets or separate, (tomatoes, peppers), usually in specialty markets

Drained, mashed white beans (canned or homemade) with onions or garlic; chives, parsley, white pepper; dehydrated vegetables

Experiment and enjoy!

Note: Sometime after I posted this Fae, of “Fae’s Twist and Tango” posted a lovely alternative: use puff pastry instead of bread dough.Fae ‘s post with her version of fillings can be seen  here: Fae’s Savory Braided Puff Pastry.

If you have not visited Fae’s blog, please do!She not only has lovely recipes, but  photos and fascinating  stories from her many travels.

Thank you for letting me share this, Fae!

And please join me and fellow writers on a shared blog: “Four Foxes, One Hound” here, on WordPress.Four Foxes, One Hound