Vacuum pack it!

Reynolds Handi-Vac and bagWe all know about “freezer burn” that can happen when you put opened bags of stuff back into the freezer.  I’ve found something that ameliorates that. We’ve all observed that products that are vacuum-packed hold much better than those that are not. So–when I put opened bags vegetables back into the freezer, I use a clever gadget from Reynolds®.  Lest you cringe thinking expense–I’m not talking about the “big” vacuum sealing system.  I’m talking about the little hand-held pump and bags with a valve on them.

This is the Reynolds® Handi-Vac® system (reported to be discontinued, but still available from eBay and Amazon). It operates on AA batteries. For storing opened frozen products, I put the original bag, folded and air squeezed out into the vacuum bag, and vacuum! This is not as “hard” a vacuum as achieved with the counter-top vacuum sealing products, but it hides in a drawer and is inexpensive–no lost counter space which can be important.

vacuum sealed cornIt does help extend the freezer-life of opened packages of frozen products. If it’s something I use a lot of (e.g the petits pois, or “baby” peas that only come frozen–we’re ignoring canned), then I may buy the family size package and portion and vacuum those in serving size.  For the most part, I leave the veggies in the original bag–this way I can reuse the vacuum bags. For meats or seafood, I generally don’t reuse the bags. I just don’t feel I can be sure that they are sufficiently clean.

Here is a partial bag of frozen corn (another thing I like to buy in bigger packages). I confess that I’ve not done any scientific studies here, but using this seems to have decreased the number of times I dump a partial bag because of the freezer burn.

I’ve also discovered that using this really helps with the celery dilemma common to single-serving cooking: wash and cut celery into length that fit into these bags (you can also get bigger bags), wrap in a damp paper towel, and vacuum seal. It’s’ amazing how long it lasts that way. When you wish to freeze servings of big-batch cooking you can use these if there is not much liquid, but it can be tricky. What I usually do for those is to put the food into a “light” storage zipper-lock bag, squeezing out most of the air, and then into one of these.  Again, I can reuse the bags; they seem to stand up to reuse quite well.

corn in vacuum sealed bagMy only experience has been with the Reynolds® Handi-Vac® though I’ve noted that Ziploc® and FoodSsaver® both now have hand-held systems (as well as the counter-top). Just from trawling the internet, I can’t tell if the Handi-Vac can be used with the Ziploc® or the FoodSsaver® bags; there’s contradictory information (what a big surprise).  Of note, the Ziploc® pump is manual rather than battery operated, and I would suspect that it will create a less strong vacuum than battery-operated pumps.

There’s an advertisement for an adapter for the Handi-Vac® pump to be used on Ziploc® bags. It’s called the “ReynLock Adapter™”; I’m NOT including a link because of the contradictory information I’ve found, and the price of the gizmo, and I’ve not used it so I don’t know anything other than the advertisement. (See My Opinion page, please).

Updates when I have more information because I will be looking for another product to do this.  Maybe I’ll be lucky and the Ziploc® bags will work!

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Moroccan-Style Quinoa with Chickpeas and Kale redux

Frozen kaleIn my post about trying a recipe from an America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) I expressed my dissatisfaction with the balance between the kale and the rest of the ingredients.  I think I may have stumbled on a partial solution.

I’m admitting that in single-serving cooking I use frozen vegetables. One reason is that I can put the “leftovers” back into the freezer and not be pressured to use the rest of it right away–I’ll also admit to being a picky eater, par excellence as you’ve probably figured out.  Note my comments on meal planning.

Another is the nutritional value and quality of GOOD frozen products–we’re not talking “heat-‘n’-eat” here.  We’re talking fruits, vegetables, perhaps fish, etc. I don’t mean that I don’t buy fresh from local suppliers, but probably frozen is better than not bringing home fresh kale because it’s packaged (even at the Farmers’ Market) in a huge bunch that just doesn’t work for me.  (Cat just doesn’t eat enough vegetables for that to work, just like he doesn’t help with dust-bunny control).

I made this again, adjusting the seasoning–mostly just adding more of what was called for–but using the frozen kale from Stahlbush Island Farms and it was not overwhelmed by the kale. (Their website says it’s curly kale, but it must be younger leaves that what I had before.)  There will definitely be more of their kale in my freezer and I’ll make this again with these adjustments.

 

Dandelion greens for supper

soon to be supper

soon to be supper

Yesterday, it was sunny, a bit breezy, but warm enough to have the doors and windows open (in spite of the pollen).  Today, that warmth and sun is somewhere else, so I needed some sort of cool weather, one-pot meal.  (One-pot particularly since I’m right in the midst of a big indexing project, too.)  My rapid trip through the local Harris Teeter left me with a lovely big bunch of dandelion greens, and a pair of Sicilian sausages to play with.  Add onions, red bell peppers, and a little garlic and it will be supper.

Although the  dandelions are blooming (and that’s good–my bees will be here soon) I didn’t go out and forage for the greens.  I took the wimpy way out and bought them.  But they still taste good.

The dandelion greens from the supermarket are going to be older, tougher leaves than I’d pick were I out foraging.  The really young  leaves can be used as salad greens, uncooked.  These need cooking. Whether cooked or raw, dandelion greens are bitter–in a good way that makes them pair particularly well with the “sweetness” of Sicilian or Italian sausages.

Sicilian sausages

Sicilian sausages

The Sicilian sausage is similar to Italian, but has orange added so  it is “brighter” and not quite as “sweet” as Italian, nor as spicy as hot Italian, but the contrast between the sweet spices of the sausage and the bitterness of the greens is lively–certainly not bland.  Since these sausages are not hot, I added some hot red pepper flakes when I was seasoning the greens.

The sausages were browned (as described by Nigel Slater in his Real Food:

all in the pot

all in the pot

Very, very slowly and gently in a bit of olive oil.  (If you’re cooking for one, at least get some of his books from the library–they’re fun, easy reading, and have some good advice about food, and cooking in general, and one particularly.)

I added two medium onions thinly sliced, a red bell pepper cut into strips, and three large cloves of garlic (chopped), to sweat with the sausages for a bit, and finally, the chopped dandelion greens (with the very bottoms where there was only stem and no leaf removed with a hefty  pinch of kosher salt.  No extra liquid is required as the onions and peppers will give off some liquid, and the moisture left on the greens after washing is enough for cooking in the covered brasier. The domed lid will accommodate that pile of greens until they wilt down to not much volume like most greens.

Other than a pinch of kosher salt, garlic, and the red pepper flakes, I didn’t add other herbs or spices as I thought the seasoning of the sausages was enough contrast to the bitterness of the greens.

sausages and greens

ready to serve

I would really have liked to add some cannellini beans, or other white beans, but since I’m trying low-carbohydrate eating to lose some weight, I just couldn’t do it–though it was tempting, and I love beans. (A small display of will power, here.)

As you can see, there’s no recipe for this–you just use peppers, onions, and greens so that it looks right, keeping in mind that greens do really cook down to less than you expect when you look at them raw. I would have used a smaller amount of vegetables had I been adding the cannellini (or garbanzo) beans to this–or added another sausage.

That second sausage and the rest of the veggies have been popped into a heavy-duty freezer bag, with as much air removed as possible, to await another chilly, rainy day when I need something warming to eat–my version of the TV dinner.

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Wine?  But of course! Nothing really fancy. Just part of a bottle–my last one unfortunately–one of my favorite “everyday” Chateau d'Oupia Les Heretiques, IGP Pays de l'Herault, France labelwines: Chateau d’Oupia Les Heretiques.   It’s a blend of old-vine Carignan (90%) and Syrah (10%) that has some bright clean, cherry, plum, and spice that goes nicely with a lot of my casual cooking–even just a burger, or just sipping without food.  It’s also in the price range to make it “everyday”. It’s time to go to the Wine Cellar at Sutton Station and get some more of this.

plate of sausage, veggies

A son goût!

 

…and now it’s turkey soup!

Remember those turkey thighs that I roasted a couple days ago? They have really been a bargain.  I spent about $5 on the package of thighs–two small-to-medium ones.

I had my roast turkey with sides of potatoes and cabbage (with juniper berries). Then I had two full-size sandwiches, and a half sandwich for lunches. Now I’m finishing the turkey thighs with a very hearty bowl of soup (and a  glass of good wine).

small Rival Crockette

a crockette

I popped those thigh bones (with what meat wasn’t easy to carve for sandwiches) in to my tiny little single-serving crock-pot to make some stock–I just added a little salt, a bay leaf, the brown stuff that I deglazed from the roasting pan, and enough water to cover the bones. After slow cooking overnight, I removed the thigh bones.  The meat just fell off into the pot.

In the same little crock-pot (don’t want extra dishes to wash), I added a small handful of barley, some dried mushrooms of various sorts–including shiitake, chanterelle, and porcini. The other things that went into this soup were the leftover cabbage (with juniper berries) and a few potatoes that were roasted with the turkey.  (You may be thinking that this is pretty heavy on starch, but to finish the soup, I added some green stuff.)

small leaves of greens

mixed greens

About half an hour before I was ready to eat, I went out to the garden (which I share through the good graces of a neighbor) and picked a good size handful of small kale, turnip, and mustard greens.

After washing, I cut these in bite size pieces (though that was almost unnecessary as they were really not as big as my hand). They went into the crock-pot; in about 20 minutes they were still bright green but tender.

I did a final adjustment of salt using French Grey sea salt, and finally added several drops of black truffle oil to finish the soup.

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I’ve had my bowl of soup for supper this evening–and it looks as if I’ll get one more meal out of those turkey thighs–with the barley, and the amount of meat that was left on the bones, there is easily another serving of this soup for lunch or supper tomorrow. (I’m sure that by the time I reheat it, those greens won’t be quite so bright green, but the flavors may have melded with the other ingredients so it should be good–maybe even better than this evening.

bowl of soup with greens

a warm, hearty supper

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I opened a bottle of wine this evening that was a completely unknown to me. It was a limited release called “Dark” from Apothic. I was completely beguiled by the description that said that it “blends dark fruit flavors of blueberry and blackberry with opulent notes of coffee and dark chocolate”.  How could I possibly pass that up? (I found it while shopping at Harris Teeter–just after I had bought a case of something called “Besieged”–more about that one later.)

I was surprised how dark it was when I poured it into the glass! (I even tried to take a picture–but it just looks almost black–so forget that.) It is definitely a “big” wine and right out of the bottle it was fruity and mellow–but after breathing for a bit it lives up to its description.

I thought it might overwhelm my bowl of turkey soup, but with the juniper berries, the rather emphatic mushrooms, the flavors of the greens, and the truffle oil, it turned out to be a great combination.  Fortunately there is some of the wine left for tomorrow’s soup! This is one time when I’m looking forward to the “leftovers”.

A pork and kale braise

It’s been chilly, cloudy, and grey–just the kind of weather for soups, stews, and braises. It’s also time to get the freezer stocked with some quick, easy food as I’ve got indexing projects coming in–some while I’m still teaching this Fall term.  With lots of grading to do as well, I wanted something that would take care of itself while I worked–so out comes the all-purpose “rice” cooker for some slow-cooked food.

I’m a great fan of pork almost any way you fix it so when I found a package of boneless pork ribs–just the ticket for the slow-cooker–while I was doing my grocery shopping on Thursday it obviously went into the cart. Big package, but on special, so it came home with me to make a lazy meal, and some to go into the freezer for quick meals when I’m really busy, or when I need comforting, peasant-style food. Can’t pass up inexpensive on something I really like.

Braised pork and kale from the slow-cooker

Ingredients

  • boneless pork spare ribs, about 2 pounds
  • 1 packaged of frozen, chopped onions
  • chopped kale, one frozen “family” pack
  • 6 large garlic cloves
  • 1 14.5-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of Hatch chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, adjust to taste as needed when cooking is finished

Preparation and cooking

  • cut pork into about 2-inch pieces
  • add half package of kale and onions, mixing
  • layer in pork, sprinkle with salt, chili powder
  • add remaining kale and onions
  • add fire-roasted tomatoes with juice
  • close the lid and set for 8 hours
  • shred pork using two forks (if desired)
  • check seasoning and adjust as necessary.

No, no pictures as  this is NOT a photogenic dish, but it sure is tasty! And there’s certainly nothing like complicated technique involved here.

Great served with a side of spicy black beans, or garbanzo beans, or just a big bowl on its own. This particular time I had a roasted winter squash as a side with it. (Now, to turn the rest of the winter squash into another meal–maybe stuffed with some Sicilian sausage that also went into the grocery cart.)

There was more liquid than I had anticipated when this was finished cooking, so after packing some in zipper-lock bags to go into the freezer (with SOME juice), the extra juice with some kale and some shredded pork is going to turn into soup–details will evolve when it’s used–but that’s an additional meal out of that pack of spare ribs!

Turnip greens…

Loose mustard greens

While having leisurely Sunday morning coffee I was browsing through the Huffington Post and discovered a presentation on rediscovering mustard greens (though I didn’t realize that they were lost or misplaced). If mustard greens need rediscovery, then perhaps turnip greens need rediscovery (or just discovery) too. One of my favorite things to do with heartier greens (those that need longer cooking, unlike spinach) like collards, mustard, kale, dandelion, or chard is to braise them with sausages for a one-pot meal that is easy to make in any quantity–and reheats and freezes well.

Just recently I was the happy recipient of a LOT of turnip greens from a gardener who likes the bottoms–the turnips and not the green tops. Some of these were older–so a bit spicier, with some of the “horseradish” tang that you find in mustard greens as well.

Even though it was warm weather, I had just started an intense indexing project and wanted some easy food–braised greens with sausage.  No need for a recipe and certainly not labor-intensive or needing a lot of attention while it cooked. (I thought about using the pressure cooker, or the slow cooker but just did this on the stove-top this time)

hot italian sausage IMG_6092I started by dicing and sautéing a large onion, then added a mix of sweet and hot Italian sausage, removed from the casings, to brown lightly.  Of course it needed garlic–about half a dozen large cloves, minced. (The garlic mellows a lot during cooking.)  Since the greens had their own “heat” and I had used hot Italian sausage, I didn’t add the hot red pepper flakes that I would have used with other sausages, or other greens–e.g. kale or collards.

Once the garlic had sautéed enough to become aromatic, I added the washed and cut up greens (still wet from washing) and a can of diced tomatoes. In a tightly lidded pot, I left this over low heat until the greens were almost tender–about 45 minutes. (Since these were older turnip greens, I did remove the stems before cooking.)

In went one can (rinsed) of pinto beans (not on the low-carb diet, but…) and continued to cook about 30 minutes more to let the beans pick up some of the flavor of the greens and the sausage. Home-cooked dried beans would have been better, but since I didn’t have any of those in the freezer, and hadn’t planned ahead–canned ones had to do for now.

And there you have it, a quick supper, and a couple of servings for the freezer for several more quick, comforting meals.  Since the greens were spicy, the sweet Italian sausage added a nice counterpoint. I’m glad to have some tucked away in the freezer since I suspect that will be the last of the turnip greens for the summer–as the weather gets hotter the greens get a bit more assertive. If I’m lucky and there are more, I’ll probably do this again, but omit the hot Italian sausage. Or think about doing this with lamb sausage…so many possibilities, and so easy–and reasonably healthy as well.

All you need to add is a glass of a nice sassy, robust red wine, and maybe some good crusty bread (if you’re not on a low-card diet). A son goût!

Spinach and Roasted Red Pepper Hash

A very rainy day (Andrea is passing through here–or close at least)–the kind that promotes leisurely activity and thoughts of good food–warm but not too heavy. I’m being leisurely and browsing food blogs–and have found some very appealing recipes that I thought would be good to share.

In search of flavor

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So I am back to my regular routine of working in the lab.  Which means, I need to start making lunches and dinners ahead of time.  This recipe a healthy take on a classic hash….no potatoes, no oil, no bacon–but packed with flavor ! Here goes !

Ingredients:

1, 16oz bag of frozen chopped spinach

1 jar of roasted red peppers ( choose your own size based on how much peppers your want)

6 eggs

1/2 tsp of nutmeg

1 tsp of crushed red pepper

salt and pepper to taste.

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F

Sauté spinach, sliced peppers and seasonings till everything has wilted.

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Crack the eggs directly into the pan and transfer then pan to the oven.

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Bake for 10-15mins till the eggs set.  This also based on personal preference.  Some people like their yolks runny and some like them set.  So adjust your back time according.

Serve family…

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