The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

April 2, 2014

Cheryle Finley: Freeze it now for easier cooking later

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Spring is definitely here with all the blowing winds and the grass turning green and soon needing to be mowed.

With thoughts of spring, I also get thoughts of not cooking so often.

My preference is to spend less time simmering soup all day or baking a big batch of cookies. Just seems like warmer weather calls for an easy salad or sandwich, so looking in the freezer for partially or already prepared dishes is perfect for this time of year. Who doesn't like cutting down prep and cooking time?

Epicurious.com offers some surprising foods to keep in your freezer, and some of these ideas make spring and summer cooking easier and more flavorful.

First up, we have nuts. Keep nuts too long and they turn rancid, so if you have some nuts you aren't going to use soon, wrap them in plastic then place in freezer bags before placing in the freezer for safe keeping.

Fresh herbs are nice to have handy. Sometimes we buy a bunch and end up just using a little bit. Pack leftovers in olive oil in ice cube trays then remove from the trays and place in freezer bags so you have them whenever needed. This tip assures those who grow their own herbs will have the benefit of fresh taste long after growing season.

Raw bacon freezes well and defrosts fast. My grandson Atlas frequently requests bacon, so keeping a couple of packages in the freezer is essential for me. And a BLT is one of my favorite sandwiches, so once the nice tomatoes start showing up at the farmers market, this is my ideal breakfast Ñ and bacon in the freezer is a bonus I can count on.

Find a sale on butter? Stock up, then keep it in the original package, wrap it in plastic wrap and it's ready for the freezer. Seems like we go through more butter than two people should so I keep at least two boxes in the freezer so I don't have to substitute at the last minute.

If you have really ripe bananas but no time for baking banana bread before the fruit flies appear, place the bananas in a freezer bag and remove all the air before closing. When ready to use, blend frozen with yogurt for a smoothie or thaw them one hour for banana bread.

Berries can be frozen overnight in a single layer on a baking sheet then placed in freezer bags for use whenever the mood strikes. These are especially good for dropping in frozen for a smoothie or making a nice sauce to cover a big bowl of ice cream.

Grapes are a popular frozen food idea, maybe the best. Treat them the same as berries for freezing and enjoy frozen as a cool snack.

Bread can be frozen, and while some of it doesn't lose its integrity, some may not be as fresh after freezing but can be toasted right from the freezer for breakfast or sandwiches. And it's nice to know you don't have to run to the store to pick up a loaf late at night. French bread will be just fine after being frozen once it's slathered in garlic butter.

What to do when your recipe calls juice from half a lemon or lime? Fresh lemon or lime juice can be squeezed into an ice cube tray, filling each cube with 1 to 2 tablespoons of juice. Once frozen, store in freezer bags so you won't be wasting the rest of the juice and will have it available at all times. I've bought many a bottle of lemon juice, used a small amount, then not used it again before the expiration date, so having frozen juice cubes in the freezer is a real money saver.

Cooked pasta can be boiled until barely al dente then frozen. Thaw in the microwave or just add to hot sauce for a super quick supper.

When you bake cookies, bake a double batch and freeze the extras so you always have a sweet treat at the ready. Unfrosted cakes, meat sauce and casseroles are great for freezing, too, if you have the room. Makes me want to clean out the freezer and stock up on some items I will actually use. There's unmarked packages in there that hold unknown contents and need to be discarded when I have the time. Don't be like me. Clearly mark and date items put into the freezer. Surprise bundles just don't get used, but if I see a package marked chicken, it gets me to thinking how I can take that chicken out of the freezer and put it to good use for that springtime dinner I'm not wanting to spend too much time on.

My husband, Chris, and I hadn't been out to eat with Frank and Betty Saferite for too long so we fixed that last Friday night by heading to Stewart's Cafe in Duenweg. We should have gotten together sooner for that trip because we have really been missing out! With my friend J.R. in the kitchen and all the nice servers in the front, Stewart's is the place to be for delicious food. All four of us ordered the beef tips special and they were cooked exactly as each of us had ordered. So tender and flavorful with a baked potato that was just right, not tasting like it had been hanging out in the oven for too long. Betty and I topped off the meal by splitting a piece of banana cream pie. Perfect ending to a great meal. Can't wait to go back.

Saturday is the big day for Taste of Home Cooking School. I'm looking forward to seeing Jamie Dunn, the culinary specialist who's returning to share her cooking ideas and expertise. Doors open at noon at the Holiday Inn Convention Center, which means plenty of time for shopping at the vendor booths before the show starts at 4:30 p.m. I'll be there signing my new cookbook, and lots of Taste of Home cookbooks will also be available. Plus, if you attend, you can enter to win the grand prize giveaway of an awesome Branson get-away.

Today we have just a small sampling of the wonderful Taste of Home recipes. The pork chops and broccoli both are super quick and tasty. You will be glad the dessert recipe for lemon bars fills a 9-by-13-inch baking dish because anything any smaller would not be enough. Have a wonderful week and happy eating!

 

Tangy breaded pork chops

1 egg

1 1/2 teaspoons mustard

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 boneless pork loin chops

2 tablespoons canola oil

In a shallow bowl, beat the egg, mustard and garlic. Place bread crumbs in another shallow bowl. Dip chops in egg mixture then coat with crumbs. In a large skillet, brown chops on both sides in oil. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes on each side or until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees. Yields 4 servings.

 

Broccoli with roasted red peppers

5 cups fresh broccoli florets (about 1 large bunch)

1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup diced roasted red pepper

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Place broccoli in a steamer basket over a saucepan containing 1-inch of water; bring to a boil. Cover and steam 4 to 7 minutes or until crisp-tender. Meanwhile, in a nonstick skillet, sautŽ garlic in butter for 1 minute. Stir in red peppers, parsley, salt and pepper. Transfer broccoli to large bowl; add red pepper mixture and toss to coat. Yields 6 servings.

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