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Preserving Summer Produce…without canning

I say this year after year, this summer I’m going to spend a couple of days in the kitchen canning all the great…and yes, cheap summer produce. Do I actually follow through? Hate to admit this, but no. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to miss out on making the most of the cherries, the green beans, the berries that are sitting in the produce department and farmer’s market stands. Here are some ways I make the most of the all the bargain priced produce. And I’ve also included some tips from experts and others who just like me love to save money and eat well.

Dried Foods
Many years ago I bought a food dehydrator. I have to say it’s been a wise investment and paid for itself over and over again. Just last month I used it to dry strawberries and cherries that I plan to use as topping for oatmeal in the winter.

Food Savers
Another kitchen gadget that comes in handy is my food saver machine. I use it to store things like greens beans and mashed potatoes in the freezer. It’s also ideal for storing things like soups and sauces. Best thing is the price of these machines has fallen drastically. These days even some supermarkets sell a smaller version of these wonder machines.

Make Ahead Meals
And speaking of soups and sauces, a great way to preserve summer’s bounty is to use it to make meals ready for fall and winter. Last year I made a couple of peach crisps and cobblers and stored them in the freezer. There’s nothing better than enjoying peaches while you’re looking outside and watching snow falling.

Jars for the Freezer
I call this my wonder find. About five years ago I was looking for some new Mason jars and stumbled upon Mason jars that you can use in the freezer. It cuts down on time and the hassle of everything that’s connected with canning. Right now I’m using some to store soup and leftover shepherd’s pies. Yes, you can even use them for leftover meals.

Great Site
Okay, if you do have time for canning or looking for supplies, I found this great site. It’s very addictive so visit it when you have some time to spare. www.canningpantry.com

And now some tips from the experts-

Strawberry Jam
If the thought of eating homemade strawberry jam puts a smile on your face, but the hassle makes you frown, Maureen Smithe Brusznicki shares with us her tips for making jam as hassle free as you can get-
http://www.homemademothering.com/2009/04/stawberries.html

Cucumbers
I’ve been buying cucumbers for as little as 50 cents at farmer’s stands, and here from Linsey Knerl, a senior writer at Wise Bread (and check out www.wisebread.com, lots of great tips for Budget Smart Girls) gives us a tip for using and preserving cucumbers that won’t keep you in the kitchen for hours.

“I’ve found the “refrigerator pickle” to be a great way to use up spare cukes and make yummy treats for our family and for guests!” says Knerl. “Here is my favorite recipe.”

1.Cut them. You can slice them in any manner you choose. (I prefer short, stubby pickles for snacking, but you can slice them thin or in hamburger sized slices, as well.) If the cucumbers are small enough, you can leave them whole (but pickling time will be longer.)
2. Prepare your brine. Simply boil 3 cups water (bottled is preferred), 1/8 cup kosher or sea (not iodized) salt, and 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Once it has come to a full boil, remove from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature (you don’t want to boil your cucumbers.)
3. Add your seasonings. While the liquid is boiling, you can begin packing the jar as full of sliced cucumbers as you can fit (with room at the top). Then add your seasonings, which includes 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill (you can use less, if desired), ¼ tsp mustard seed, 1/2 tsp black pepper (whole peppercorns work well), and finely chopped garlic cloves (5 or more, depending on how strong you want them.) I also add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and will occasionally throw in a small jalapeno pepper for extra kick!

Dry Them
And from Jill Houk, chef and partner in Centered Chef Food Studios in Chicago, IL.
One of my favorite techniques for keeping produce through the winter is oven drying. This is great for veggies with a high moisture content, like tomatoes, or mushrooms, and also works well for herbs.

In addition, I make a lot of soups and sauces using a bountiful harvest, which I in turn freeze. As a result, I’m eating summer-fresh marinara and asparagus soup in the middle of January, when the veggies were harvested months ago.

Freezing is a great way to preserve fruits, and I have created granitas and sorbets, as well as pie fillings, from an abundance of fresh fruit. Freezing fruit whole and throwing it into smoothies is also a great way to extend the produce’s life.
Here are some recipes that are standards for our shop:

Minestrone with Basil

Makes 4 2-cup servings.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 16-ounce can beans (kidney or white beans), drained and rinsed (or 1 ½ cups cooked beans)
2 cups chopped frozen collard greens
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 ½ cups chopped frozen broccoli
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 medium russet potato, peeled, left whole
1 small russet potato, peeled, diced
½ teaspoon salt or salt substitute
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preparation
1. Heat olive oil in a deep, heavy pot over medium heat until hot. Sauté garlic for 30 seconds, stirring constantly

2. Add beans, chard, tomatoes, greens, celery, carrot, zucchini, whole potato, and chopped potato to pot. Add 5 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.

3. Transfer 2 cups soup and whole potato to blender and puree. Return puree to soup in pot. Add 1/4 cup basil and simmer, uncovered until flavors blend, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in 1/4 cup basil. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Minted Wild Berry Granita
Makes six servings.

4 cups grape juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbs fresh mint leaves
1 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp orange zest

1. Bring grape juice and sugar to a boil in a saucepan to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat.

2. In a food processor, add the berries and part of the hot grape juice solution. Pulse until smooth.

3. With a mesh strainer, filter the berry puree over a hotel pan. Next filter the remaining hot grape juice solution through the china cap, using the back of a ladle to expedite the process.

4. Add the lemon juice and orange zest into the hotel pan.

5. Let cool down to room temp before placing into the freezer. Ensure pan is flat. For quicker freezing, stir with a fork every hour, or use a larger pan with more surface area.

6. For serving, use a fork to scrape/shave the granita loose. Serve in a martini glass with sparkling water or Champagne.

Mixed Berry Smoothie
Makes two servings.

Ingredients
1 cup orange juice
2 cups plain, low-fat yogurt (or almond milk)
3/4 cup raspberries
3/4 cup blackberries
3/4 cup blueberries
honey or agave nectar to taste
1 cup ice cubes

Method
Place all the ingredients in a blender. Blend on high speed until smooth.

Note: If you cannot use both servings when you make the smoothie, freeze the second portion and enjoy another day.

Two Books Worth Checking Out
And here are two books that came to my attention-
Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own: Bob Flowerdew’s Guide to Making the Most of Your Garden Produce All Year Round, Sept 2009, $29.95
And also, check out Preserved by Nick Sandler and Johnny Acton, June 2009, $22.95
Both books are chock full of advice and recipes, check out www.kylecathie.com

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