The Frozen Veg

Some evenings… ok, most evenings, become hectic in my house. My son finishes school and must be zipped downtown for an after-school-something class; my daughter is starting to get cranky, stuck in the stroller; my son needs to be picked up from his after-school-something class; the bath needs to be drawn; and then there’s the dinner that needs to be made. Phew! I am sure that many of you can relate.

Of course, an easy answer might be to pick up the phone and order take-out. But, to be perfectly honest, I love to cook for my family, and I like to know exactly what is going into our bellies. (Don’t get me wrong. This gal does enjoy a great meal at a good restaurant from time to time!) I do need to have a few items on-hand, though, which can aid me in the stressful evening hours. One of those items happens to be frozen vegetables. Fortunately, most everyone around the country now has access to a grocery store carrying organic frozen veggies. And honestly, the cost difference between organic and un-organic is not too great when you think of the total cost on your body and the environment.

Some of you may turn your nose up at frozen vegetables, and I can totally understand your potential reservations. But frozen vegetables and fruit are often nutritionally superior to their fresh counterparts that you find in your supermarket. Of course, when a certain vegetable or fruit is in season, particularly at your local farmer’s market, there’s no question that fresh is better. Fruit and veggies, which are produced for sale in supermarkets, are picked prior to full ripening so they may be successfully shipped throughout the world, and thus, never achieve their full nutritional potential. Frozen fruit and vegetables, however, are picked at their peak ripeness, locked in a relatively nutrient-rich state throughout the flash-freezing process. Yes, some of the water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins B and C, are broken down or leached out when the first process of freezing, which is a blanch in hot water, takes place. (This quick immersion into boiling water removes the enzymes which operate even in sub-zero temperatures, “breaking down” the food in such a way to alter its color and flavors. In no way are they harmful to your body.) I guess that’s a small price to pay for the convenience and opportunity to eat produce out-of-season?

One of my favorite frozen veggies is sweet corn. From time to time my food market even offers a discount. At which time, I stock up on five or so bags since they can last for months, or in my case, a few weeks, in the freezer. I have been known to buy un-organic frozen veggies when there is no other option, but when it comes to corn, I absolutely do not deviate from organic. Corn is one of the most widely grown GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) crop in the United States. The only way to be absolutely sure you are not consuming a GMO product is to buy organic. That way you never have to guess what’s in the bag.

Whenever I am in a pinch to make a side dish, or salad, for dinner, I whip out a bag of sweet corn from the freezer, and put it in a large bowl on the counter to unfreeze. If you happen to be running short on time, however, you can add the corn to boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drain, and then run under cold water. Once you have the base, the corn, ready, you can add anything your heart desires. Colored bell pepper, grape tomato, green onion, cucumber, cilantro, and parsley, are just a few of my favorite vegetable additions. In the summer months, I even add blueberries. Sometimes I add ground cumin with the salt and pepper to the seasonings, with lemon, lime, or a balsamic vinaigrette. It’s totally up to your liking, though. This salad is extremely versatile and can be altered to effectively pair with almost any style of main dish you are preparing.

I have been known to use frozen peas for a warm side dish, sautéed with garlic and ginger, or as an addition to a quick stir fry. (Not to mention my daughter loves eating them straight out of the freezer, still frozen! I guess they’re like little vegetable freeze pop balls to her.) I also like to use frozen asparagus tips because asparagus, which I love, has such a short growing season. I tend to broil them in the oven with a little soy sauce, garlic, and sesame oil. Yum! Once thawed, they are extremely fast to cook; about 6 minutes in the broiler. Spinach is another great frozen vegetable to have on hand. I also will sauté it with some olive oil, onion, garlic, and ginger, making a quick, delicious side dish that my kids love. You can thaw the spinach and use it to top pizza or use as a filler inside filo dough. Just be sure to drain as much of the water as possible because spinach retains a LOT of water. Who wants to eat a soggy pizza???

I think that pretty much covers all the different vegetables I use frozen. As for fruit, I don’t use it as much, but I have used it in pies and it makes a fantastic topping for ice cream. Just be sure when you are buying either frozen fruit or vegetables that no sugar or salt has been added. You should be safe if you are buying organic products, but it doesn’t hurt to look.

I hope this might be of some use to those of you strapped for time, and at least, inspire you with some new ideas for the occasionally un-loved frozen veg!


Homemade Jam

Since we discussed peanut butter earlier, (and what’s PB without the J?) I think it only fair to include a small piece on the topic of homemade jam. I know, I know…’s much easier to pick up a bottle of jam or preserves at the grocery store than it is to make your own. Or is it? Honestly, it’s not so hard. And there’s nothing more divine than biting into a PB&J sandwich with homemade summer strawberry jam! If you are lucky enough to have a farmer’s market near your home during the summer months, pick up some fruit of your choice, and just see how easy it is to make your own jam. Jam lasts for about six monthsin the refrigerator, so once you’ve made it, you will be set for a while. (That is, unless your family consumes copious amounts of jam!)  

**Of course, since we’re now in the thick of dreary winter, and that summer strawberry seems like a distant memory, there is always the option to use frozen fruit instead. Most grocery stores carry a wide variety of different fruit. If you are planning on using frozen fruit, first let it thaw out. You also will not have to cook it as long as you would if you were using fresh fruit.**

My favorite jams to make are strawberry, apricot, and fig. The beauty about making jam is that you really don’t have to measure anything accurately. Before you go to bed, cut up your fruit, put it in a heavy bottomed pan, add a splash or two of whiskey (you can omit this if you like), some sugar, and then cover the lid.

Depending on the sweetness of the fruit, either add more or less sugar to your liking. For example, if I use a pint of strawberries, which is 2 cups, I would add 1-1 ½ cups of sugar. However, if I am making apricot jam, I would add at least 2 cups of sugar to 2 cups apricots. It truly depends on your palate. I don’t like jam that is too sweet because, in my opinion, I lose the flavor of the fruit.

In the morning, you will see that the fruit will have released a majority of its liquid. Place the pan onto a stove burner and turn the heat to high. Keep a close eye on your liquid to make sure it doesn’t boil too long, resulting in a super sticky burned bottom, which is practically impossible to scrub clean. (Obviously I am trying to teach from my own mistakes!) When the jam begins to thicken, turn off the heat. Allow to cool and place in a clean glass jar. Voilá! C’est magnifique! You will now know exactly what ingredients are being consumed by your family. And it feels great to be able to boast to your children that they are consuming PB&J sandwiches with their mother’s homemade jam!