Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How to Freeze Your Fresh Produce

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There's nothing as wonderful as fresh produce from your garden or the farmer's market. But what do you do in the cold months of fall and winter, when fresh produce is astronomically expensive or difficult to find? Put in a little bit of extra work and freeze your fresh produce for healthy eating all year long.

Wash and Prep Your Fruits and Vegetables
Before you can freeze anything, you have to thoroughly clean your produce. Hard produce, like carrots and bell peppers, may need to be scrubbed. Berries and soft fruits can often just be rinsed. Dry your produce off.

Now it's time to prep the produce. Some fruits and vegetables can be frozen whole—if you choose to freeze items whole, you don't have to do any more prep work. Produce that you can freeze whole includes blackberries, strawberries, asparagus, tomatoes, and bananas.

Produce that needs to be prepped before being frozen includes mango, bell peppers, peaches, apples, squash, and peas. Bell peppers can be thinly sliced, while mangoes, peaches, apples, and squash can be diced. Remove peas from their pods before freezing.

Blanching
Blanching is a fast cooking method that preserves the taste, crisp-tender texture, and color of beautiful fresh vegetables. The vast majority of vegetables do need to be blanched before they can be frozen. Besides tomatoes, onions, corn, potatoes, and squash, almost everything else must be blanched.

To blanche your veggies, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Keep a large bowl of ice water nearby. Drop the veggies into the boiling water. After 3 to 4 minutes, remove them with a slotted spoon and immediately transfer them to the bowl of ice water. This stops the cooking process and keeps vegetables looking fresh. Once the vegetables are cold, you can dry them off and get them ready to freeze.

Freezing Produce Flat
It's easiest to eat and cook with frozen produce when you can pull individual pieces out, rather than a lump of icy produce. That's why it's important to freeze things flat. Lay a piece of parchment paper down on a metal baking tray and spread out your vegetables in a single layer. Pop the tray in the freezer and don't disturb it by checking it every hour.

Check your produce after 24 hours—if it's frozen, you can pop it into a freezer bag. If not, give it another day. Immediately put the freezer bags into the freezer to avoid thawing and mushiness. Be sure to label each bag with what's inside and when it was frozen. Vegetables can last up to 1 1/2 years (or even longer) and fruit typically lasts about one year.

With this easy guide, you can enjoy healthy, delicious produce year-round. Whether you eat your veggies straight out of the freezer or toss them into a soup, you'll love the fresh quality you just don't get from canned vegetables.

What is your favorite produce to prepare, freeze then enjoy in the fall and winter?

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