Market Menu: October 14

watermelon radishes!

I honestly can’t tell most days whether it’s supposed to be fall or still summer. The leaves are just starting to change, the root vegetables are ABUNDANT, and occasionally there’s an actual chill in the air in central Illinois.

Since we’re wrapping back around, in a way, to some beginning-of-the-season offerings (greens, herbs, radishes), I thought I’d pull up selections from prior weeks. Do you have any favorites? We’d love to hear from you! Check out our Facebook page and message us!

Carrot salad w/ harissa & feta & mint

carrots

This dish is one of my favorites from Smitten Kitchen, and a great alternative to green salads when you have vegetarians to feed. It’s absolutely amazing when made with locally-grown carrots. If you haven’t had them raw, you’re in for a treat; they’re almost as surprising as a local tomato, I think. This recipe is great with or without the harissa — a spicy, garlic-y paste/spice mix. You can make your own, substitute it with another garlic-y chili paste, or just leave it out altogether.
Pantry Check / Shopping list: carrots, caraway seeds (optional), cumin seeds, paprika, harissa (optional), sugar, lemon, flat leaf parsley, fresh mint, feta cheese. 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegetable Frittata with Greens and Potato

eggsHere’s a base recipe for the frittata (from Epicurious).  To that base, add what you have! I like greens, herbs, potatoes, cheese, maybe some bacon or ground pork. If you have leftover roasted root veggies, chop them up (bite-sized) and add them as well; I think it actually works best when you have pre-cooked potatoes (or carrots or sweet potatoes)!

Pantry Check / Shopping List: chives, spinach or kale, eggs, potatoes, milk, sausage (optional), goat cheese (chevre).

Soups:

(Be sure to check out this post on soups generally)

Thai Carrot Sweet Potato Soup (Cookie and Kate, from the Oh She Glows Cookbook) – with red curry and peanut, lime and cilantro!!

Irish Carrot Soup (Food and Wine) – onion and potato, and lots of butter and cream

Polenta with Greens

So easy, though it does call for a lot of stirring. There are a lot of recipes out there for polenta with a braised or steamed green (try beet greens!). This recipe from Food.com has swiss chard and a topping with dried fruits and nuts, as well as cheese (which is a must for polenta, in my opinion).

 

Pantry Check / Shopping List: Swiss chard, crushed red pepper flakes, golden raisins, yellow cornmeal, milk, grated parmesan cheese, pine nuts.

Green Chickpea & Chicken Curry w/ Beet Greens

Green Chickpea & Chicken Curry w/… The recipe is written for swiss chard, but did you know that beet greens are like identical cousins? They’ll do very nicely in this recipe.
Pantry Check: chicken thighs, shallots, green curry paste, chili paste, ginger, coconut milk, chickpeas, greens

Extras:

Magic Sauce – From 101 Cookbooks, this stuff is like liquid gold… use it on eggs, pasta, potatoes, just about anything.
Pantry Check: fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, fresh oregano, paprika, garlic, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, lemon juice

 

 

Be sure to check out Jen’s post on beets — we can’t get enough of beets in my house, even though at least half of them end up pickled

Market Menu: October 7

It’s time for another Market Menu!

While fall brings some cooler-weather items back to the market, the list of offerings is HUUUUGE compared to spring! I don’t ever get tired of roasting root vegetables, and I could probably eat them every day, but I might not say that in a couple more weeks. So I definitely want to put some casseroles or soup into the freezer for busy weekdays later on. The roots don’t freeze so well, but most everything else does!

I’d love to get another batch of red pepper soup together, and maybe some chicken and vegetable. Neither are very labor-intensive, and they’re super tasty in the middle of winter. I’ll post recipes on our facebook page, such as they are.

So, what else is on the menu for the week?

Breakfasts:

Fall marks the return of some hot cereal options in my house:

whole wheat berries with fuit and honey and a splash of cream or yogurt. Once cooked (and they take quite a while to cook!), these keep well in the fridge for a second day, so I like to make a batch on the weekend. They’re even tasty cold, in a pinch.

For something hot and hearty, a big pan of frambled eggs with kale, magic sauce and some local sausage will do the trick. They actually aren’t bad pre-made and portioned into cups for enjoying later in the week. I like to chop the kale and sausage and mix them in with the eggs before putting into individual portion-sized containers. Add magic sauce when you reheat during the week (before putting in the microwave).

For a treat, how about some french toast (Pekara’s Paesano bread is AMAZING for this) with bacon and maple sirup? (if you still have some left!)

Lunches:

Leftovers are a life-saver for a busy October; I’m planning on making more stuffed peppers (before this amazing crop stops producing!), some casseroles and soups to enjoy for easy lunches. But I’ve also been playing with big mash-up bowls of goodies:

hummus, roasted sweet potato, lettuce, pickled beets, watermelon radishes, shaved carrots, quinoa and a little cheese, with some lemon-tahini dressing on top.

roasted carrots and parsnips, toasted bread, hard-boiled eggs, garbanzo beans, and feta or chevre.

Autumn Market Salad – Bon Appetit. With butternut squash, arugula, walnuts, oj and lemon.

Now playing at the market: Winter Squash!!! If you’re a fan of the acorn, butternut, hubbard, kabocha, delicata and other squashes, this is your time!

Dinners:

Potato-Leek Gratin – something to do with your leeks and potatoes besides soup!

Roasted Vegetable Pizza – the combo is up to you! I love little bits of things: pickled fennel, olives, dried tomatoes, sauteed onions (slow and low, to get them caramelized), chevre and pork sausage, with a little shredded mozzarella on top.

Butternut Squash, Apple and Onion Galette w/ Stilton – Food Network (but many versions of this recipe are out there, including this one without the apple, and this one with brie). A galette is a sort of pie with a freeform crust. Instead of baking in a pie plate, galettes are usually baked on a pan, with the edges folded over the ingredients (but not all the way to the center).  Don’t be intimidated by the pastry! A quick trip in the food processor will combine the ingredients, and a large ziploc bag works wonders at bringing the pastry together without making a mess. Galettes are fantastic to have in your repertoire, because you can use the pastry to wrap sweet or savory ingredients. And just like pies, you *could* freeze them for future baking.

Enjoy the last few weeks of the market! And don’t worry – – we’re not going away when the outdoor market shuts down for the season. We’ll be talking to our farmers about their winter cover crops and planning, writing about working through stored produce, and hunting for those elusive winter crops!!

Market Menu: September 30 – The EAT LOCAL Challenge!

Throughout September, the central Illinois chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local is hosting the Eat Local challenge.  The challenge is to spend $20 a week on locally grown food during the month of September.

A week of meals based on $20 of local food? We’ve got this!

Five Days of Breakfast:

Carrot and apple smoothie – from Oprah.com
Market items: carrots, apples

Local oats (or wheat berries!) with your favorite toppings – from Epicurious. Oats are inexpensive and store easily, and it just might be chilly enough this weekend for a hot breakfast. The next time I make oatmeal, I’m going to try adding in some of my homemade applesauce — which is basically just chopped up apples left in a crock pot until they’re soft.
Market items: Oats! 

Crispy egg on toast – from Smitten Kitchen
Market items: eggs, bread

Scrambled tofu with greens – from Yup it’s Vegan. This is a great way to incorporate vegetables in your breakfast, if that’s a thing you want to do. You can also add in leftover roasted vegetables – sweet potatoes are delicious in a breakfast scramble, too.
Market items: greens!

Freezer-friendly breakfast burritos – from The Kitchn
Market items: eggs, potatoes, peppers, bacon or sausage

 

Five days of Lunches

Carrot Salad – This is a fantastic grated carrot salad with parsley and lemon, from Once Upon a Chef. While not a meal on its own, it would go well with some cheese and fruit and/or another assortment of things.  I’d put money on this going well with feta cheese, in particular. 
Market items: 
carrots, parsley, cheese, apples

The Peppers and Sausages below make great leftovers, if you chop up the sausages before packing into individual serving containers. Add some rice or bread for a hearty lunch.

My favorite and most reliable lunch these days is chicken and sweet potatoes and applesauce. We’re in the heart of sweet potato season now, so I suggest that you stock up. I like to peel and cut my sweet potatoes into large chunks and boil them (and then mash), or else cut in small-medium (1/2″) cubes and roast. I’ll bake the chicken with a glug of italian dressing and foil over the baking dish, and then retain some of the liquid that remains after cooking (otherwise the chicken can get dry). If you’re going to chop the chicken up after cooking, be sure to let it rest first — otherwise, you’ll definitely have dry chicken.

 

Five days of Dinners

Spicy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls – filled with rice, spicy pork, and fresh napa cabbage. Made by the Serious Eats folks, in their “Cook the Book” series, from Faith Durand’s Not Your Mother’s Casseroles. As the Serious Eats staff note, the filling can easily be customized for your family’s tastes:  less or more spicy, different vegetables, substituting ground beef for pork, etc.
Market items: Ground pork

Peppers and Sausages – done in the slow cooker, to serve in a bun or over rice.

The recipe is dead simple, and takes only 10 minutes in the morning.  Slice the peppers and onion (I’d probably do this the night before, and wrap gently – who wants to go to work with onion hands? not I!). Then you add whole-grain mustard and beer, and put the whole sausages on top, and let it cook for the day.

Not only has the weather turned perfectly just in time for hot dinners, but this has been an AMAZING season for peppers! Just check out these beauties at the market!!
Market items: Peppers, onions, sausages

 

 

Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs and Cabbage – from Food52. This calls for a head of green cabbage, and chicken thighs or drumsticks, and a simple quick marinade of sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sriracha and salt and pepper. The cabbage goes in later – this is the key with sheet pan dinners, is getting the timing right. If you haven’t roasted cabbage or brussels sprouts before, you’re in for a treat. If it were me, I’d make some mashed potatoes to go along with this hearty dinner.
Market items: cabbage, chicken, potatoes

Roasted Root Vegetables and Hummus – if you’ve ever felt like making a dinner of appetizers, then this is your recipe. A combination of roasted vegetable chips and three different hummus recipes, to which I’d add some cooked quinoa and roasted broccoli, and maybe a hard-boiled egg. Some crusty bread, maybe.
Market items: beets, turnips, radishes, broccoli, eggs, bread

Vegetable Mulligatawny Soup – I adore this recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. I’m not a vegetarian, but I make this at least once every fall, with an array of local vegetables. It calls for a long list of vegetables, but a small quantity of each: potatoes, carrots, turnips, basil, garlic, onion, plus fennel, cumin, coriander and peppercorns that you dry-roast in a pan and then grind fresh. It calls for vegetable stock, but chicken would be just fine if you eat chicken.
Market items: potatoes, carrots, turnips, basil, garlic, onion

The Eat Local Challenge: Eating Well at the Market, On a Budget

Throughout September, the central Illinois chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local is hosting the Eat Local challenge.  The challenge is to spend $20 a week on locally grown food during the month of September. When Buy Fresh Buy Local asked us to collaborate on the Eat Local Challenge, Steph and I jumped at the chance to share some resources and ideas for eating well at the market without breaking the bank.

Deals at the Market: Buying in Bulk

September is an amazing time to get deals at the market. Vegetables like summer squashes, peppers, and tomatoes are nearing the end of their season but are still producing at a prolific rate. Traffic at the market also sometimes slows down, so farmers find themselves with a lot of produce that they are willing to sell in bulk, which is a boon to shoppers.

Keep your eyes peeled for signs that offer “two for one” bunches and “bulk” anything! The key is knowing which veggies are “bulk-ready” and using those items in your meal planning.

Prices on vegetables at the market can also change over time. According to Katie Bishop of PrairiErth Farm, when a crop first comes into season, there isn’t much of it but there is a lot of demand – think of those shoppers lined up for first-of-the summer tomatoes. Farmers may leverage this demand (that is, charge a little more). After a few weeks, they will drop the price because the supply is so much greater and they need to sell it. Tomatoes that were $4 per pound in July are now $3.25 in September – and they are probably available for far less if you’re buying in bulk. (Click here and here for ideas on preserving bulk tomatoes for later use.)

Potatoes also tend to cost less as the season goes on. “New” potatoes must be hand-dug and washed, says Katie Bishop. It takes a lot of hands-on labor to get those beautiful spuds out of the ground. But potatoes in October are mechanically harvested and machined washed. There is less work for the farm, so they can drop the price. (And who doesn’t love potatoes?!)

Ask For Seconds

Most farmers put only their most beautiful products out at the market – but they’ve probably got a few bins in the truck that hold less-than-perfect but still perfectly edible items. Farmers would far prefer to sell those items than to compost them (especially if they don’t have to haul it back to the farm). Ask your favorite farmer if they can offer any deep discounts on these veggies. With a few extra minutes of prep (to cut off bad spots, for instance), you’ve saved a lot of money but still ended up with great food.

One great item to ask about is carrots. “Juice carrots” might not look beautiful but can be pureed, juiced, peeled, shredded, etc. – and the taste is just as good as the cosmetically perfect carrots. Peppers are another item that can be incredibly cheap in bulk and as seconds (try cutting them up and freezing them in small amounts to use later in soups, a stir fry, or chili).  Peppers can also be roasted and frozen for a range of uses later.

Resources for Eating Locally On a Budget

Our blog focuses on easy meal preparation that features great, fresh, local food. For that reason, we love Lee Ann Brown’s Good and Cheap – a cookbook designed for families utilizing SNAP benefits (formerly known as good stamps). Shoppers can use the Illinois Link card to purchase items at The Downtown Bloomington Farmers’ Market every Saturday.

Good and Cheap is available at no cost here. Brown’s website is also fantastic, featuring an extensive recipe index and other great tips. Her recipes are for everyone who likes tasty food with easy prep!

Buy Pantry Staples in Bulk, Too! Other good things to buy (and cook/prep/freeze) in bulk include:

Both Green Top Grocery and Common Ground Natural Grocery in Bloomington have extensive bulk selections. (Green Top is a cooperative grocery, and is owned by members – and anyone can shop there, no membership needed.) We’ve got some great ideas on prepping and freezing in earlier blog posts, too. (More tips on buying in bulk here.)

Recipes for the Eat Local Challenge

You might be surprised how far you can make $20 go at the market. We are also happy to feature a number of recipes from Good and Cheap below.

Five Days of Breakfast:

Lunches and Dinners:

Did you accept the Eat Local Challenge? We would love to hear from you.

Have a great week, and see you at the market!

 

 

 

Market Menu: September 16

by flickr user simpleprovisions

While there’s plenty of grain, flowers, lavender, meat and other produce at the market, the theme of this week’s Market Menu focuses on all those hearty late-summer vegetables that we love to ROAST.

Pretty much everything you could ever want in your midwest farmer’s market is available right now, and it’s getting to be the last chance for some of the summer vegetables, so seize the opportunity! Gazpacho season is passing quickly. But personally, I’m excited to see all the winter squash and cooler-weather root vegetables, because they all take to roasting so well — and it’s such an easy way to enjoy fall flavors.

So instead of our usual breakfast / lunch / dinner arrangement, I’m going to separate this into some vegetable-specific groups that include roasting:

Carrots:

Winter Squash:

Turnips:

Sweet Potatoes:

Brussels Sprouts:

New Potatoes:

Beets:

What I really love to do with roasted veggies is use them throughout the week as the primary ingredient in Buddha Bowls. Along with homemade hummus or beans, some greens if they’re handy (even finely-chopped kale will work), and some brown rice or farro (or the grain of your choice), they make a really hearty lunch or dinner. If you want more protein, roast up some chicken or bake some tofu and add it to the bowls. A nice garlicky lemon-tahini dressing brings it all together nicely.

Roasted vegetables are also good for quick panini or doctored-up grilled cheese sandwiches. You can toast some nice hearty ciabatta or other bread (the Paesano loaf from Pekara would be amazing for this) and spread hummus and some warmed vegetables, or add the veg to a grilled cheese before putting the second piece of bread on. It’s the one place where I prefer provolone cheese to all else, but I’m sure others like gruyere would be amazing.

 

Bits and Pieces: A New Series on Local Readers’ Perspectives on (Local) Food

Today’s guest: Me (Stephanie)!  Because if you need a guinea pig for a new series, best to try it out on yourself first instead.

what does local food mean to you?

I find that its so easy for my food purchasing and consumption to be thoughtless;  thinking about local means more thinking period. It means trying to be more thoughtful about where the food I buy comes from, about what it takes to grow and get it to us, and how we use it. By learning more about our local farms, their growing seasons and some of their growing methods and challenges, getting to know their produce, adds something that feels more important to me than just eating tastier food. I recently ate a lovely small watermelon, thinking about all the rain that farms didn’t get this summer, knowing that they had to irrigate to produce this waterbomb. They have to pay for water, and I’d rather be on the side of helping them continue to irrigate if they need to, rather than relying on some bigger operation in the tropics. I have a hard time believing that just because we can turn food production into something that’s automated and divorced from the land, that we should.

what do you love most about local food?

I love the surprise of it, that nothing’s ever quite the same. Sometimes that means getting something that spoils faster than you expected it to, or finding that the weather interfered with a crop you were looking forward to. But much more often, it means discovering flavors that are more intense or complex than you expected, or getting your picky-eater nephew to eat a blackberry because he helped you pick them and he got into finding the blackest ones because his auntie told him that those were the sweetest, and that made him curious about how they tasted.

what do you use most often, and where does it come from?

Onions, tomatoes, potatoes. I grow a lot of tomatoes, but I buy the varieties I don’t grow well from the market, mostly PrairiErth Farm. It’s the larger ones, like Kellogg’s breakfast that I don’t grow; we have too many garden critters that like them, so ours don’t make it to ripening!

do you preserve any of your local food?

Yes, when I find time to plan ahead. Buying the quantity, clearing a weekend, deciding what to make and making room for it.

if so, what are some of the things that you preserve, and how?

Freezing: Marinara from tomatoes and garlic; applesauce; soups (red pepper, butternut squash, tomato); pestos and herbs frozen in ice cubes or olive oil.
Canning: Pickled Beets, Jam (berries and peaches), sometimes pickled okra or green beans; occasionally salsas.

is there anything you’ve wanted to preserve, but haven’t yet?

Dehydrating anything; I haven’t done any, really. And I’d like to find more pickled/relish things that I like.

do you grow any herbs or veg at home?

Always kale and tomatoes, basil and cilantro, usually parsley, usually beets and chard

if so, how do you incorporate that into your cooking / meals?

I often forget about the kale, but come fall I use it often. The tomatoes generally get roasted and frozen, the kale quickly sauteed or steamed with fish or meat. Cilantro and Basil gets used in pesto more often than fresh.

what’s your favorite season of local food?

Fall!! I love root veggies! Parsnips, beets, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes! Everything gets sweeter after a frost, and even sweeter in the oven.

what are some of the challenges of using local food / cooking / meals?

Keeping up with the harvest! and buying enough but not too much on Saturday at the market, so that you can use it all before it spoils. doing the right kind of prep over the weekend to be able to incorporate things into our weekly meals. Prep is definitely the thing I have the most trouble with. I like to cook, so I have to keep telling myself to cook meals rather than more jam.

what do you think you do really well around cooking/meals, and how do you do it?

I’m pretty good with making large quantities of soups and sauces and freezing them; it’s a bunch of work all at once, that pays off throughout the winter/spring. And it’s a great thing to be able to quickly defrost and take to a sick friend.

what do you want to learn more about?

Dehydrating! And other meal-prep strategies for making full use of summer produce.

if you could have one fruit or vegetable growing in your backyard right now, what would it be?

A lemon tree!

Saving Seeds, or What? How? What? Three Excellent Questions

Let’s say you just had the most delicious little cherry tomato you’ve ever eaten, and you want to preserve that exact flavor for ever and ever and ever, but you’re not sure you’ll ever find that same variety again. Well… I’m here to tell you that you CAN.

If you have a garden (or you are interested in starting one), why not save the seeds from that little tomato, and plant it in the spring? And yes, you can do that!

Tomatoes are annuals, and that means that the plant reproduces (via seeds) and dies off in the same season. The seeds of the tomato are particularly easy to save, because they’re mature when the tomatoes are ripe (clever, eh?) Smash that tomato, and grab those seeds!!

Well, not quite that fast. There’s a sort of jelly around the seed, and I can tell you from experience, that if you don’t get it off those seeds, there’s a good chance that the seeds won’t germinate when you plant them in the spring. The generally-recommended method is a little gross, but easy: smoosh the pulp into a cup, and leave it out on the counter to ferment the goo, so that it separates from the seeds. See, I told you it was a little gross. But effective.

Once the seeds sink to the bottom of the cup, just pour off the goo and rinse (well) and dry (really well) the seeds. I generally lay out a sheet of paper towel and spread the seeds on it. If they end up sticking to the paper towel, I don’t bother trying to pry them off; just tear up the paper towel and store the seed as it is, stuck on the paper. Wax paper envelopes are good for keeping over winter; plain paper envelopes are fine, too. Plastic can lead to condensation, which isn’t ideal. Seed Savers’ Exchange has a great video on the process.

An even easier seed that you can save? Cilantro. I’ve been saving and replanting the same cilantro for many years (except for that year when someone pulled all the cilantro plants from the garden just as they were going to seed!)

If you’ve ever grown cilantro, you’ve probably noticed that at some point in its development, just as you’re starting to get used to having a cilantro plant in your garden, it gets all feathery and makes white flowers. You can curse the heat, or the plant’s short life, or you can just plant some more. Eventually, flowers turn to little green balls (shown at left), which dry into mature seeds!

Once they’re light brown and dry, snip off the whole flower head, and put them somewhere dry for about a week. Once you’re sure they’re really dry, you can gently separate seeds from stems, and store the seeds in a paper or wax paper envelope.

Saving seeds from a dill plant is exactly the same. Let the flowers die off and dry; you’ll see the seeds appear at the end of the flower head — one of the most gorgeous flowers you can grow like a weed around here, imho. Snip off the whole head, put them someplace dry for several days, then gently separate from stems.

These three plants tend to have seeds that are so hearty, my garden often saves them for me. Every year, we get tomato “volunteers” that I can’t bear to kill off, so I find a place to plant them and hope they’re a variety we really like. This year, all the volunteers have been either the super sweet orange cherry tomatoes, or the large and sweet red cherry, but regardless, it’s a win!

So right now, as we’re entering the final part of tomato season, think about saving some of those precious seeds! We’ll have a post in midwinter about starting them indoors, and how to transplant (and WHEN) into your garden or an outdoor container.

Market Menu: September 8

Do you remember September?

Wait, it’s only early September…still PLENTY of veggies pouring into the market every week. (By the way, this song plays in my head every year, basically all September long. Now it’s your ear-worm. I am sorry. It’s groovy, though! Dance with your veggies…) Look, it’s been a long week (you, too?) and I offered to help Steph with the Market Menu this week and I might be a little goofy-punchy today.

But that’s because the confluence of school getting into full swing, days getting shorter, and the air getting cooler means I’m totally energized by the beautiful veggies that are available this time of year. It’s pretty amazing, because you have the tail-end of (still truly fresh and delicious) summer veggies like peppers and tomatoes, the return of more delicate greens and lettuces, and NEW potatoes, squashes, and various root vegetables. To me, that spells menu inspiration.

Steph and I were chatting about what we love to make and eat this time of year – and we both landed on soups and salads. It’s really a perfect match for that summer-into-fall mood. Maybe we’re not ready to let go of summer’s bounty, but (admit it) we’re kind of excited to see fall colors and maybe even shift our energy level to a different space. The recipes below play off the idea of combining those seasonal vegetables in straightforward, fresh ways. Serve with bread and you’ve got a great lunch or light dinner.

Summer-into-fall minestrone and roasted beet salad with goat cheese

Yukon potato soup (optional add-in: bacon) and vegetarian Italian chopped salad (any sturdy lettuce will work here; salami or other cured meat optional)

Moroccan red lentil harira soup and cucumber pepper salad

Tortilla soup and Mexican cabbage salad

Roasted Thai-inspired carrot soup and cucumber melon salad with mint

What’s that, you say? Pressed for time? Right there with you. How about some hands-off, slow-cooker recipes for weeknights?

Red and Green Chili (great for those market sweet and spicy peppers) and roasted carrot salad

Sweet Potato Soup and arugula and watermelon salad

Vegetarian Black Bean Tacos with Fresh Cabbage Slaw

Got just a bit more time on your hands? Here are some things I love to make when the temperatures start to dip just a bit:

Sauteed Delicata Squash with Parmesean

Roasted vegetable lasagna (you can do it without noodles too)

Spicy green bean stir fry (you could use any protein here)

Arugula and tomato salad

We hope your fall is getting underway beautifully – and see you at the market!

 

 

 

 

Freezer Chronicles: Meal Components and Leftovers

You may have noticed that Steph and I are both posting a lot about meal prep. Now that the semester is in full swing, we’re both focused on ways to keep up healthy eating habits without being overwhelmed in the kitchen.

I’m a weekend kitchen warrior. The only cooking I want to do during the week involves a microwave or an oven and something already made.

Freezer-based prep and planning developed over time for me as way of coping with long days during the week, and now it’s a habit. It takes a bit of planning and organization so that you don’t end up with a freezer full of stuff you won’t eat.

My tips on making freezer prep work:

1) LABEL EVERYTHING with a date and description. (Trust me, you won’t recognize that container of shredded chicken in a month. You think you will, but you won’t.)

and

2) Make a list of prepped items you put in the freezer with the dates they were frozen.  Keep it wherever you do meal planning. (Hang it on the fridge, even.)

Both of these steps will help you remember what is in there (even if you have to dig for them!) and use them in a timely way.

Pantry Staples are Meal-Builders

A huge time-saver for me is to make staple items in bulk, then freeze them in amounts that match how I like to use them. An example of that is brown rice (or any kind of rice). If I am going to cook during the week, it’s going to be a quick stir fry, a salad, or something that accompanies the fish or chicken my husband can throw on the grill when he gets home.

I prefer brown rice to white; it is a whole grain and has more nutrients. However, it doesn’t cook very quickly, so having it already prepped is a real time-saver.  (Yes, you can buy prepackaged frozen rice – but it’s so cheap to buy in bulk, cook in bulk, and freeze it yourself!) I use Alton Brown’s recipe for baked brown rice so often that I really don’t need to check the recipe anymore. I double or even triple or quadruple the amount in the recipe so that I have plenty to stock for later.

Other grains that freeze incredibly well include polenta (grits) and even cooked potatoes.

Cooked beans are also great freezer staples. I am definitely a fan of canned beans as a time-and-sanity saver, but cooking dried beans from scratch yields a tastier meal, I think. My most-used cooking tools are the slow cooker and the pressure cooker (I don’t have an Instant Pot, but that’s the same idea), and beans do great in both. The Kitchn has great tips for pressure cooking beans and here’s a link to walk you through beans made in an Instant Pot. If you’re a slow cooker devotee, here’s info from the Kitchn on beans in your crock pot.

We also cook proteins (meat or vegetable) and freeze them for later use. Some favorites are slow-cooked shredded chicken and pork (you can make plain or mildly seasoned shredded pork the same way, plain, so we can adapt it to recipes later).  There are plenty of slow-cooker recipes for pulled pork, too. Make more than you need and put half away for later.

Make More, Freeze Leftovers

Basically, always cook a bit more than you need and freeze it for later. Not everyone loves to eat leftovers all week (my household is kind of weird that way). So freezing even just one or two servings will give you options during a busy week. There’s no reason to limit this approach to meat-based meals; plant-based prep-freeze/leftover-freezing is an option. Check out this list of bulk cooking ideas from The Minimalist Vegan. Vegetarian lentil, bean and pureed veggie soups form the basis of our winter meals, and I always have a container of soup in the freezer.

How to Thaw

My favorite way to thaw frozen food is overnight in the fridge. Because we do most meal prep on Sunday, I’ll take out a prepared meal (soup that we’ll eat with a quick salad and crusty bread) on Friday or Satuday…usually with a sigh of relief that at least one or two after-work dinners for the week  are, essentially, already made.

However, there are ways around that overnight thawing approach – check out the Kitchn’s tips on thawing.

Wishing you a great week. Enjoy!