Chilling out in Mississippi

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After composting fresh vegetables in my refrigerator one time too many, I’ve sworn off buying fresh veges – unless I buy them from a Farmer’s Market at their peak.

casserole

March is National Frozen Foods Month, and I’m in. I learned that by the time you buy a hunk of broccoli in the store, it may be three weeks old after being transported across the country.  I figure the frozen variety will provide the best nutritional value, and I don’t have to worry about it growing old and dying in the icebox.

I’ve also begun doubling recipes such as chicken spaghetti, lasagna and casseroles and putting one in the freezer.  Here’s a tip… make your own freezer pans by lining a casserole dish with foil. Put the food in on top of the foil, freeze the meal until it’s solid, and then remove the foil and food from the pan.

Finish wrapping the meal and put it back in the freezer. When it’s time to serve the meal, simply place the foil wrapped meal back into the original pan that was used to mold the frozen meal. Thaw and reheat in the original pan.

This method keeps your pans available for other uses during the month.  Pretty cool, huh?

I also learned that you can freeze basil. Freezing this wonderful herb is a great way to preserve its deep, unique flavor to enjoy in the depths of winter when its taste brings to mind happy thoughts of summer gardens.

Unlike other green herbs which suffer little from freezing, basil requires one extra step if you want it to emerge from the freezer as green as it was when it went in: blanching. Simply bring a pot of water to a boil, dip the basil leaves in for 30 seconds, drain the basil, and squeeze out as much liquid as you can (rolling it in a clean kitchen towel does a lovely job, but so, too, do a pair of strong hands).

At this point you can simply double-bag the basil, pushing out as much air from the bags as possible, and pop it in the freezer. I prefer, however, to whirl the basil in a blender with a bit of olive oil to make a thick puree. Freeze this in small covered containers or in a clean ice cube tray (once frozen through, transfer the basil cubes to a sealable plastic bag for long-term storage).

If your favorite way to use basil is in pesto – go ahead and make the pesto when the basil is fresh and freeze the pesto itself. You’ll be glad you did on the snowy/rainy night in November when traffic getting home is a bear and you’re in need of a delicious but extremely easy dinner!

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