In lieu of the usual one-recipe format, this week seemed like the right time to talk about some super simple ideas for prepping foods for the long Wisconsin winter. As an aspiring locavore, I’ve been doing my best to find ways to keep local produce as part of my diet even when there’s nothing fresh to be had, but since we’re all students, I know many of us don’t have access to things like dehydrators. Even something like canning can seem a monumental task when your kitchen is in a dorm basement.
So for this week, here are some really simple, fun and easy ways to think ahead and take responsibility for our diets. I’ve tried to make these projects things I think are totally doable, even when living in a dorm – you may have to store some stuff in the basement freezer, but just add an extra label with your name on it. Blanching and Freezing
Seems like a no-brainer, right? All sorts of veggies can be prepped this way: I’ve currently got things like green beans, brussels sprouts, fresh “tongue of fire” beans and broccoli waiting for me in my freezer. True, I’m spending more on my produce now, but ultimately I’ll be saving money and feeling good about what I’m eating come January.
Equipment you need:
a medium to large mixing bowl
some freezer-safe Ziploc bags – something that will keep your food from becoming freezer burned. You can also double-bag things if you don’t have the double-seal Ziploc bags handy.
Prep your veggie of choice – this includes washing and chopping it into manageable pieces if you’re using broccoli, for example.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. I like to add salt to mine – it goes faster, plus you’ve already started seasoning your veggies.
While you’re doing this, fill your mixing bowl with cold water and ice.
Dump the vegetable in the water and boil it for just a couple minutes – no more than three minutes should be perfect. Many of the things I’ve been blanching are green, so once they turn a darker or brighter color than before I know it’s been enough time.
Dump the vegetable into the strainer and then transfer them to the ice water.
Once they’ve cooled off, transfer them back to the strainer, then place the blanched vegetables in your Ziploc, bag, seal and place the bag in the freezer, laying it flat and spreading the veggies in a single layer – this helps avoid big, frozen veggie clumps later.
Now your produce is ready to pull out later in the winter to be added to your recipes! It’s a lovely way to enjoy local flavors that may not be in season.
Jams, Butters and Sauces
Equipment you may need:
a pot or two
Tupperware and/or jam jars
Do you ever get an insatiable craving for tomatoes in the dead of winter? I know I do. But of course they’re nowhere to be found and those mealy, pale excuses you see sitting bedraggled and tired-looking in the grocery store produce section are just not going to cut it.
Solution? Make sometomato sauce in the summer or fall – it’s technically a little too late at this point, but you might still get lucky! – and freeze it for later. Obviously you can can the sauces, too, but if you’re afraid of accidentally poisoning yourself or don’t have the time or resources, the freezer is your new best friend.
And while we’re on the subject, don’t stop at tomatoes – make some jams! Make some fruit sauces and butters; apples are the best for this sort of thing. Not only does this make your fruit last longer in general, but you can save the jars of jam or containers of apple butter for the deep winter as well.
When making what my roommate and I have affectionately nicknamed “apple mess,” I like to add a splash of apple cider vinegar; agave, honey or maple syrup; cinnamon; nutmeg; orange zest and a pinch of salt to my chopped apples as I cook them down over medium heat. But don’t feel confined by those ingredients – it’s called apple mess for a reason. One helpful hint: if you leave in the skins and chop the apples whole – no core-ing! – you’ll get a lot more nutrients.
P.S. If you’re as much of a pesto addict as my mom and I are, freeze some in Tupperware and pull it out in February – it’s like a little bit of summer on your plate! Works as well as a SAD lamp, trust me.
I realize these are just two methods in about a zillion that can allow you to enjoy local flavors the whole year round. But I know that often the process of localizing and simplifying our foods can seem daunting, and I hope that this article jump starts some new thinking for you and gives you some ideas to mull over.
Even though many of us at Lawrence are not yet living in houses or buying our own groceries, or even doing much of our own cooking, I hope these and other techniques can show you how easy taking responsibility for our diets can be. I know I’m learning new things every day and am just beginning my journey towards a true slow food lifestyle.
Maybe take a day during this mid-term reading period to visit the farmer’s market, make some future-minded purchases, and try some new things – and keep an eye out for cooking and food prep workshops coming soon through the McCarthy Co-op and SLUG!
See you next week, and happy reading period!