Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘freeze’

If you garden like me, this is the time of the year that you can start looking back at your harvest and really begin to appreciate the fruits of your labor, literally. And no one can deny the popularity of the tomato…they are tasty and versatile! I’ve been busy with my tomato crop for the past month and today I’d like to offer some tips on how to organize your own harvest. With a little creativity, you can get the most out of all your hard work and hopefully save some time and money in the future.

The possibilities are endless

There’s nothing better than slicing up a tasty vine-ripened tomato at the end of summer. Toss it in your salad, include it in your sandwich, make spaghetti, or just eat it plain. But if you’re like me and go crazy with planting (I grew 16 plants this year), you probably have more than a few fruits to figure out what to do with beyond just the occasional addition to a lettuce salad. And of course that’s exactly why I grow so many tomato plants in the first place: I love the endless possibilities with respect to how you can cook with them right away and store them for later. Below I’d like to outline several of the ways you can creatively manage your tomato surplus so you can get maximum enjoyment out of these delectable fruits.

I want to eat them now

You’ve got a lot of tomatoes and they’re fresh out of the garden. How can you use them right away? I’ve already mentioned the obvious: eat them plain, put them in a salad or in a sandwich, make spaghetti sauce, etc. What else is there?

  • Make soup (or chili). Set aside the Campbell’s for a second and consider the flavor explosion of a homemade soup. It’s a lot more work, yes, but it pays off! You get to enjoy a tasty soup now, plus you have the option of freezing the leftovers for later. My family loves eating homemade soup in the middle of winter and it doesn’t get much more convenient than simply grabbing a tub out the freezer and thawing it. It’s also a special treat for someone who has a cold or the flu. I have two recipes in particular that I make each fall with my tomato surplus—Spicy Tomato Dill Soup and Tomato Basil Soup.
  • Make salsa. Here’s an opportunity to use even more of your garden vegetables in addition to your tomatoes and prepare a salsa you love that you can eat right away or save for later. In addition to being a staple at potlucks or parties, salsa also makes a great gift!
  • Get creative. Step out of the comfort zone of your regular recipes and try some new ones. Prepare slow-roasted tomatoes, tomato dumplings, tomato preserves, or bruschetta. This last one is one of my personal favorites and allows me to use some of my fresh basil too.

I want to save them for later

I love stocking my pantry and freezer with vegetables and fruits I harvest from my garden all summer. That way you can enjoy your garden in one way or another all year round. That’s not to mention the convenience and money savings involved with growing and storing your own tomatoes. Here are a few ways you can prepare your tomatoes now in order to enjoy them later:

  • Can them. My family canned tomatoes every summer when I was growing up and I can still remember watching my dad pulling extremely hot glass jars out of a large pot on the stove. I don’t personally can my tomatoes due to how involved the process is, but if you have the time or desire, canning is one of the best ways to preserve your tomatoes without having to rely on a power source to sustain them…you simply store them on a shelf!
  • Freeze them whole. This is what I do because it is so simple and we have a large freezer. After I get a load of ripe tomatoes, I wash them, dry them, and cut off the tops. I then spread them out evenly on a cookie sheet (so they aren’t touching) and set the sheet in the freezer. After the individual tomatoes freeze solid, I just drop the “rocks” into labeled bags of any size. Whenever I need tomatoes in the future, I just grab as many as I want and seal the bag back up again. Thawing is easy and after a few chops with your knife, they are ready to be added to your favorite sauce or soup. It’s important to note that frozen tomatoes do not slice well…they are best used as stated above because the consistency is fairly mushy under the peeling after some time in the freezer.
  • Dehydrate them. Dehydrating is a unique storage option and if you have the equipment, it can be a real space saver. Simply slice up your fresh ripe tomatoes and stick them in a food dehydrator. After they are fully dehydrated, bag them up. Keep them at room temperature in a cool, dark place or freeze them for longer storage. The benefit of dehydrating is that dried tomatoes are concentrated and take up much less space. As far as cooking with them, they make great additions to sauces, soups, breads, casseroles, pizza, and much more. Finally, if dried enough, the tomatoes can be crushed into flakes or a powder for seasoning.

Green tomatoes and the perils of frost

Last year our first killing frost came on September 14. That’s early…too early. This year I hoped for more time for my garden to progress, so you can imagine my frustration when our weather forecaster called for a frost advisory on August 24! Fortunately, we didn’t get frost that night (it got down to 33 degrees). After several close calls throughout September, our first killing frost finally came on October 3. The point I’m trying to make here with all this temperature data is that sometimes gardeners are forced to harvest tomatoes while they are still green due to the fact that a hard freeze will likely kill any fruits hanging on the vine, covered or not. So to prevent waste, you need to pick them before they are ripe. But what in the world can you do with green tomatoes?

  • Eat them! Everyone’s heard of fried green tomatoes, but there are also other ways to cook with green tomatoes: traditionally these unripe tart fruits can be used in soups, salsas, and even desserts.
  • Ripen them indoors. Not a fan of eating green tomatoes? No problem. With the right conditions, unripe tomatoes can be ripened indoors. Here’s what I do: I grab a cardboard box or a paper bag and set the green tomatoes inside. I then close the box or bag so just a little air and light can enter. I store the box in a room with low humidity (to prevent rotting) and comfortable temperatures (tomatoes need warmth to ripen!). If ripening isn’t evident after several days, I add a few red tomatoes to the bunch because ripe tomatoes give off a gas that encourages other tomatoes to ripen. You can also use a banana or an apple. While the tomatoes start to turn red, I move them to the window sill in the kitchen and let them finish the ripening process there. That way I can keep track of their progress a little better and use them before it’s too late. Keep in mind that tomatoes ripened indoors aren’t quite as flavorful as vine-ripened, but when you have no alternative, you’ll take what you can get!

Reader Reflection

I’m no ‘top expert’ when it comes to tomatoes and I certainly haven’t created an exhaustive list of tomato uses here in these few paragraphs. I’d love to hear what each of you do with your tomato surplus, from storage methods to your favorite recipe!

Read Full Post »

I’m a cheesehead. For those of you unfamiliar with this strange term, it means I’m from the Dairy State, Wisconsin. I used to have an actual cheesehead, a spongy wedge of cheddar that you wear on your head to Green Bay Packer games…but I digress. What I really want to talk about today is just plain cheese. My family eats a lot of it. In fact we pretty much eat it everyday. When I met my husband, I noticed he had a creative way of solving a common problem with cheese: mold. We’ve all seen it, that ugly otherworldly green fuzzy stuff growing on our old food in the fridge. Cheese always seems to attract mold, mainly because it is sold in large bricks that take a while for the average person or family to consume. So anyways, back to my husband. I saw his idea for combating mold on cheese and I liked it. When we got married, I tweaked it a little to suit our needs and now I have a solid system in place to grapple with the green. So what in the world am I talking about? Read on.

The Problem

You buy a brick of cheddar. After opening it, you slowly begin slicing pieces here and there for sandwiches and crackers. A few weeks later, you notice mold growing on the remainder of your brick, and unless you’re my dad (he’ll eat anything), you decide to toss it. Food has been wasted, and worse, you’ve actually tossed away one of your most precious resources, money.

The Solution

The secret my husband discovered as a bachelor was that he could freeze cheese. Let me explain, because if you’ve ever tried to freeze entire bricks of cheese, you’re probably about to complain how crumbly and annoying it was after you thawed it. This is why you need to slice it first. Here’s what I do:

  • Buy cheese, lots of cheese. We like all kinds of cheese at our house (who doesn’t enjoy a little variety), so every few months when our cheese supply is getting low, I splurge. I may buy 6 different kinds, all bricks. I prefer 8 oz bricks because they make better slices, but we’ll get to that later.
  • Slice Slice Slice. This step is tedious and I admit that it is my least favorite part. But trust me, it pays off in the end and you only have to do once and a while. After I’ve arrived home with my cheese loot (lets say 6 bricks), I promptly open each package and line them up on my counter (or if you don’t have time right away, feel free to do this later as unopened cheese in the fridge lasts for months). For 6 eight-ounce bricks of cheese I need 12 little sandwich baggies plus a sharpie marker, a cheese slicer, and a cutting board. Each brick will slice easily into approximately 16 slices (cutting the short way) if I cut each slice the thickness of about 2-3mm (about the thickness of my standard cheese slicer tool).
  • Bag & Freeze. After my cheese cutting frenzy, I stack the slices 4 high and then place 4 piles side by side into each baggie, labeled of course with the date and type of cheese (we keep our cheese types together in the same bag, but feel free to mix it up for even more variety!). In the end you have 12 bags, each containing 4 oz of cheese. After I get all the baggies full, I stack them and place them in my freezer for later.

The Definition of Convenience

So what good does all this work do you? Simply keep one bag in the fridge at a time, pulling out the next frozen bag when the current bag gets empty. The slices thaw nicely and are right there ready for you to use. The mold problem is solved because it doesn’t take very long to eat 16 slices of cheese. Finally, never waste time slicing cheese when you are busy with other meal preparations, because the cheese is already sliced!

Wait a Minute, I Don’t Eat That Much Cheese!

Not a cheesehead like me, you say? That’s fine. It’s really easy to make the necessary modifications to this system to suit your family’s needs. If you don’t eat that much cheese, or if you eat more, then simply change the amount of slices per bag. I found that 16 slices works for us, but a different number might be better for you.

One Last Money-Saving Tip

Cheese isn’t cheap. If you can time it right, try to buy your load of cheese when it goes on sale at your grocery store. Also consider buying whichever brand is currently the least expensive, generic or not. We’re not too picky about cheese brands at our house, so I buy whichever brand has the least strain on my wallet.

Reader Reflection

This idea is just one way of tackling moldy cheese. Anyone else ever think of a creative solution to this problem? Please share!

Read Full Post »