Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It's Freezer Month

Clean up your freezer and restock it to make it easier to eat pure on busy days.  (That would be every day, right?) As we make the move from highly processed foods to more pure alternatives,  it is still convenient to have prepared meals in the freezer. Every household is different but it is not hard to make double recipes of favorites and eat part this week and freeze the rest in family- and individual-sized portions.  Here are five frozen favorites we like to have on hand:

Top 5 Freezer Foods  (recipes below)
Soup or Chili: try Southwestern Chicken Soup
Homemade cookie dough: try Dried Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies
Quick bite: try Rice and Bean Burritos
Pasta- or grain-based casserole: try Muscle Memory Creole Spaghetti
Party food that can also go with soup: try Cheese Crackers

We also store frozen homemade bread and pizza dough, filo, plain vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds for salads and baking, meats and ice.  Items get stored by category.  They are easier to find and, by storing like items together,  I can prevent  cross-contamination in the event of a power  outage.  I store uncooked foods like raw chicken and beef on colder shelves at the bottom and ready to eat breads and cooked soups on higher shelves.  The temperature of a freezer should be zero degrees.  A hanging freezer thermometer  allows me to check the temperature.  I move it around to different areas to check any temperature differential.  My stand-up freezer is not large and I rarely see much fluctuation but I still check it.  

ServeSafe food safety guidelines used by the National Restaurant Association instruct restaurants  to refuse deliveries of frozen foods that have partially thawed or have thawed and refrozen.  Indications are fluids of frozen liquids on package bottoms and ice crystals on the package.   Follow this advice for your family and check for these indications at the store.  Pick up frozen items last and if you have a long drive home consider bringing a cooler with a frozen pack in your car’s trunk to prevent "milage meltage." (I do this in the summer.  It’s so darn cold here other times that placing frozen foods in the trunk is sufficient at other times of the year.)

What is not in my freezer?
No frozen prepared pizza,  no HFCS-sweetened pop-sicles,  no pre-processed frozen foods like sauced vegetables,  no whipped dessert topping, no French fries.  Yet we can put on a great meal fast and concoct a pretty great dessert with little notice with the supplies at hand.  No frozen prepared pizza could compete with our simple Neopolitan version, pop-sicles and ice cream take little notice to create from scratch, vegetables with olive oil, butter or even a little cream just plain taste better and oven baked fries are simple enough already.  If you feel guilty about eating real whipped cream, whisk it by hand and get a free bicep and deltoid workout. 

Top Five Freezer Foods - Recipes
(Double recipes to have freeze half and
enjoy half now.)

Southwest Chicken Soup
By varying a few ingredients, you can give chicken soup a southwestern identity. 

2 quarts low-sodium (or homemade) chicken broth
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery,  sliced
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 small onion, diced
2 plum tomatoes,  cut in large chunks
optional: 1 tomatillo, diced
1 jalepeno pepper, seeds and veins removed and diced
juice of 1/2 lime
hot sauce to taste
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 14-oz can low-sodium black beans, drained
Optional garnishes: avocado slices, fresh cilantro and strips of crisped corn tortillas (Slice corn tortillas into strips with a pizza cutter and heat in toaster oven at 350˚F for 5-6 minutes turning once.)

  1. Cook carrots, celery, onion, zucchini and tomatoes in simmering chicken broth until carrots are tender, about 15-20 minutes.  
  2. Add remaining ingredients and heat through.  If serving immediately garnish with  thinly sliced avocado, fresh cilantro and tortilla strips.  
  3. To freeze, allow soup to cool and refrigerate.  Once cool, package in smaller servings and freeze.  Thaw before reheating and add finishing garnishes. 

Dried Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies

Dried cranberries are also good in these classic cookies.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup chocolate chips (dark or semi-sweet)
1 cup dried cherries, chopped if larger than the chips
optional: 1 cup chopped nuts

  1. Sift flour, baking soda and salt into small bowl. 
  2. In a large bowl, combine softened butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract and beat by hand or with an electric mixer until mixture is light and creamy. 
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, incorporating well before proceeding to next step.  
  4. Stir in flour mixture, about 1/3 at a time.  
  5. Stir in morsels, dried cherries and nuts until distributed throughout the dough. 
  6. Divide dough in half and roll each half into a log.  Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap.   
  7. If baking immediately, refrigerate for 30 minutes.  If freezing, place rolls in a freezer bag and store. 
  8. To bake immediately preheat oven to 375° F. while dough rests in refrigerator.   Slice roll into 1/2-inch-thick pieces and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Space dough about two inches apart. 
  9. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes before removing to a wire racks with a spatula.   Cooled, baked cookies can also be frozen.
Allow frozen cookie dough to thaw to a slicing consistency and bake as above from step 8.

Rice and Bean Burritos
Makes 12 burritos

2 cups cooked rice
2 14-oz cans black beans, drained
1/4 teaspoon each cumin and oregano
1/2 cup fresh salsa
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 –1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
12 whole wheat flour tortillas
optional: 1 cup cooked ground meat,  sliced olives

  1. Place black beans in a small pot and add cumin and oregano.  Warm beans and if using cooked ground meat, stir into beans.  Remove from heat. 
  2. Warm tortillas so that they do not crack and break during rolling. Tortillas can me warmed in a toaster oven for a few minutes on 300˚F or placed in toweling in the microwave  on medium for 15-20 seconds.  Have some tin foil or wax paper sheets on hand to wrap the burritos in for freezing.  
  3. Place a warm and flexible tortillas on a sheet and scoop a few tablespoons of rice and bean filling down center leaving a 1-2 inch border at either end.  
  4. Add remaining ingredients: salsa, cheese , cilantro and olives if using.  Fold the sides up over the filling.  
  5. Roll the bottom edge over the filling and folded sides and continue to roll, packing the filling in tightly until the opposite edge is reached.  Roll the burrito in foil or wax paper to seal completely.   Repeat process until all tortillas and filling is used.  
  6. Place wrapped burritos in a resealable plastic bag and refrigerate until firm and cold.  Label and freeze.  
  7. To reheat from frozen: if wrapped in tin foil you can place individual burritos in a toaster oven or oven at 350˚ for 20 minutes or until hot in the center.  If wrapped in wax paper, reheat in microwave for 5-7 minutes at high power.   These burritos are good plain or add a dollop of sour cream and hot sauce when warmed.

Muscle Memory Creole Spaghetti
Poor school lunches have been in the news lately.   This recipe is my adult memory of a baked pasta made every week at my grammar school that is pure and tasty.  It is an enduring favorite among alums across decades and discussed fondly at reunions.  No one in my northern school knew why it was dubbed  “creole” but I suspect the “exotic” green peppers had something to do with it. This is a robust grown-up version of what I suspect was a fairly healthy dish compared to today’s school fare.  I doubt the most excellent lunch ladies at Julian Curtis School added wine to their recipe, but this makes the sauce a bit more complex.  Skip it if you prefer to cook without alcohol. 

Serves 4
1lb ground beef or turkey
1medium onion, diced
1 cup green pepper (canned OK)
1cup roasted red pepper
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup fresh, chopped parsley
1 teaspoon each basil, oregano
salt, black pepper and red pepper to taste (good pinch of each to start)
1 28-oz can  plain, low-salt tomato sauce
1 & 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (OK to add in some jack cheese)
12 oz whole-wheat rotini  or #8 spaghetti

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚,
  2. Boil water for pasta and cook according to package directions. 
  3. Meanwhile, saute onions over low heat until translucent and quite soft. Add peppers and cook down until tender.  Remove to small bowl with parsley.  
  4. Cook ground meat and drain any excess fat.  Return onion-pepper mixture to skillet and add wine.  Allow wine to cook down to half the liquid then add herbs, salt, pepper, red pepper and tomato sauce.  Bring heat down to low and stir while sauce thickens and pasta finishes cooking.  
  5. Drain pasta and add to meat sauce.  Combine completely and remove from heat.
  6. Spray a casserole dish spray oil.  
  7. Layer half pasta and meat sauce into casserole.  Cover with half of the grated cheese.  Layer remaining pasta and meat sauce over cheese and finish with a layer of cheese.  
  8. Bake uncovered at 350˚ for 15 minutes.  Check to see if heated though (thermometer at 165˚F).  Turn oven to broil and broil 3-5 minutes until cheese begins to brown. Remove from oven and let pasta sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Muscle Memory Creole Spaghetti and other cooked pasta dishes can be frozen before or after being baked.  If baked, it must cool completely in refrigerator before being wrapped for freezing.  Many people freeze a casserole in its baking dish, then remove the frozen meal from the dish to wrap and store.  When ready to reheat,  remove wrapping and replace meal in original dish to cook.  This allows you to use your dishes instead of taking them out of commission in the freezer.  To reheat a pasta casserole, lightly cover and place in a preheated 325˚F oven for 1-1 1/2 hours until hot at the center, at least  165 ˚F.  If you would like a crisped crust, remove top during last 15 minutes and sprinkle with some grated cheese. 

Easy Cheese Crackers

This dough handles like a pie or rolled cookie dough.  In fact, you can roll it like a refrigerated cookie dough and cut slices to bake or roll it out with a bit of extra flour and cut out shapes. 

Makes about 36 crackers
1 1/2  cups all purpose flour (try white whole wheat flour)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled butter (cut in 6 pieces)
6 oz hard cheese like cheddar or swiss, grated
2 tablespoons ice water
1 egg

  1. Place flour, salt, cayenne, and butter in a food processor.  Pulse until just blended and pea-sized crumbs develop.   
  2. Add cheese and briefly pulse to combine.  
  3. Add egg and 1 tablespoon ice water.  Pulse to pull dough togethr into a ball.  Add more ice water, a teaspoon at a time until ball forms. 
  4. Divide dough in half and roll into two  discs or two long rolls.  Dough can be frozen at this stage.   
  5. To bake immediately preheat oven to 400˚F.   Either slice a roll into 1/2 inch slices or roll a disc of dough out to 1/2 inch thickness on a floured board and cut out shapes with cookie cutters.  You can also use a pastry roller to cut dough into squares. 
  6. Bake at 400˚ for 10-12 minutes until crackers begin to brown.  
  7. Cool on wire racks.  Store in an airtight container or freeze. 
    To bake from frozen, allow dough to thaw in refrigerator several hours or overnight.  Proceed from step 5.

    Pure freezers can make the switch to pure eating really easy.  Be smart about labeling, wrapping, cooling and thawing (nothing new) and enjoy your very own pure food even more (more frequently that is).