Preserving Fresh Broccoli in the Freezer

How to Freeze Fresh Broccoli :: Five Little Homesteaders

I love growing our own produce. It is convenient, healthy, fun and (can be) cheap.  However, when the harvest comes in and you are up to your ears in one kind of vegetable or fruit, it can also be overwhelming.

I’m working on learning to preserve each type of vegetable and fruit that I grow so that I can make better use of it, realize less waste, and enjoy our produce for more of the year.  Last fall I took on water bath canning with our homemade applesauce and learning to properly store our bumper crop of winter squash.  Now I’m working on learning to effectively freeze vegetables, like broccoli, that don’t easily lend themselves to other types of preservation.  In this post I will teach you about preserving fresh broccoli.

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Preserving Basil 101: Tips, Tricks and The Basics

Fall is beginning to set in and cooler weather can be felt in most of the country.  We’re even below 100 degrees this week in Phoenix!  Finally!  Some relief!


For those of us who garden, this immediately turns our minds to our gardens and what the change of weather means for our plants.  One plant that I ALWAYS have much success with each summer (despite the ridiculous temperatures) is basil.  Basil is my best friend in the summer.  This year I had three big bushes (and several smaller globe varieties) growing.  This allowed me to look out my back window each day and at least see SOMETHING that was green and growing.  

However, as most of us know, the cold is basil’s worst enemy.  One night of close to freezing temperatures and you’ll come out to your garden to find a black, wilted mess.  So sad.  However, the trick is to harvest and preserve the basil BEFORE the cold temperatures come.  There are many ways to do this and in this post, I’ll look at some of the most popular ways to go about it. 



I’m going to start with MY favorite way to preserve Basil:

Pesto
I LOVE pesto.  My husband is a little iffy about it but pesto is one of my favorite things.  It makes a great gift and it freezes well.  Here’s my recipe for pesto: 


Ingredients:
1 cup firmly packed fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese 
1/3 cup walnuts
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
salt, to taste

Directions:
1.  Combine all ingredients except olive oil in food processor.
2.  Pulse until a paste forms, stopping machine several times to scrape sides down.
3.  With machine running, gradually add olive oil.
4.  Refrigerate 1-2 days or freeze up to one month.
Variations:  You can sub pine nuts for the walnuts and the flavor is delicious.  I just find pine nuts to be too expensive for the frequency with which I make pesto.
Pesto can also be made with other herbs.  I’ve made arugula pesto and loved it!

Basil Butter 
Yum!  Butter and Basil together!?  Who wouldn’t be in heaven.  Here’s my recipe for basil butter and it, too, can be frozen:


Ingredients: 
1/8 cup fresh basil – minced
2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 tbsp lemon zest

1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter

Direction:

1.  Gather ingredients and allow butter to soften at room temperature

2.  Mince all the ingredients that you will be adding to the butter

3.  Stir the butter and other ingredients together, or pulse it altogether in a food processor.  

4.  Place the mixed butter on a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Roll into a tube-like shape and twist the ends of the paper.  If you want to get fancy, you can also invest in some  butter molds - http://amzn.to/1bCzJiN .
5.  Place in the refrigerator and allow to harden.  (You can also place it in the freezer and it will harden more quickly.)
6.  Unwrap, slice, and enjoy.


Dry
Basil is pretty easy to dry and store.  I’ve found the best way to do it (without a food dehydrator) is to pick the leaves off of the stem (discard the stem) and lay them out on a screen (or paper towels if you don’t have a screen).  Stir them periodically and let them air dry fully.  Once they are dry, store them whole (or as whole as possible) in a wide mouth jar.  The basil you buy in the store is crumbled but that is an unnecessary step until you go to use it.  Crumbling the leaves prior to using them causes the leaves to lose essential oils that are necessary for a full flavored herb. 
Freeze
There is a lot of advice out there about freezing basil.  Some say to blanche the leaves first and then freeze it.  Some say you can just freeze fresh leaves. Others recommend freezing the leaves in oil or water. 
My favorite method is to put the leaves (removed from the stems) into a food processor and add a little oil.  I start the food processor and add a little more oil until a thick paste forms.  (The ratio of basil to oil should be roughly 3:1 or 4:1.)  Then I put a tablespoon of the paste in each of the compartments of an ice cube tray and freeze it.  Once frozen.  I pop the cubes out and put them in a ziploc bag.  Then I know that each cube is a tablespoon and can use it accordingly in recipes.  Works like a charm!
Salt
This is pretty unconventional for our culture but for some cultures today and certainly throughout our history, salt has often been used to preserve.  I read articles about making a basil salt (where the basil is crumbled/minced in the salt) and also where you can preserve whole leaves between layers of salt.  I’ve never done either of these methods but if this is something that sounds interesting to you, a quick google search will bring up many results. 
Did I miss something?  Are their other methods that you enjoy?  Please don’t hesitate to leave your own tips and tricks in the comments below!

         

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Water Bath Canning: Tips for the True Beginner

I had the good fortune of spending this past Friday with my dear, sweet, talented mother (and it was her birthday!).

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that canning has been one “homestead-y” thing that has intimidated me.  Well…. intimidate me no further!  My mom was kind enough to pass on her knowledge to me and now I’m hooked!  Bring on the produce!

I know that there are a lot of you out there, like myself, who are slightly intimidated by the prospect of canning.  So, I’m going to do some posts over the next few weeks as I learn to can different things and we can learn together!  Read below for my five tips for the true beginner.

 1.  Have Someone Teach You

If you know someone who has canning knowledge, ask them to come teach you how to do it.  If there is a class given in your area, take it.  If someone is willing to let you come watch them do it, take them up on the offer.  Once you’ve seen someone do it, a lot of the mystery is gone.  I’m lucky that my mom lives near by and knows what she is doing.

2.  Start with Easy Food

Starting with foods that are safe to water bath can is your best bet.  These are acidic foods like jams, jellies, applesauces, fruits, etc.  Using a pressure canner to can lower acidic foods takes a lot more skill and knowledge.  Start simple and then move on.

3.  Start with Small Quantities 

At least in my case, I tend to have the “go big or go home” mentality.  What I mean is, I don’t want to can just 20 lbs of apples…. I want to can 80 lbs of apples!   I often feel like I should jump right in and go wild.  In the case of canning, I want to learn one day and then stock my entire pantry the next.  However, this is just not practical.  It is better to start small.  It can be a ton of work to can, especially when you are just learning.  So my first day of canning I made just 4 quarts of applesauce.  It was a lot of work for just 4 quarts but it gave me a chance to focus and learn.  I’ll work my way up and hopefully it will keep me from getting overwhelmed.

4.  Get a Good Book

You cannot overestimate the importance of having a tired and true recipe to go by.  Canning food for long term storage is not the time to go around experimenting.  Women for generations before us have done that hard work, now let’s just pay them the respect of following their recipes.

Here’s a few that I recommend:
Blue Book Guide to Preserving - http://amzn.to/18NYORs
Stocking Up  - http://amzn.to/17Qmw0L
Blue Ribbon Preserves - http://amzn.to/15IodBi

5.  Buy the Gear

Now, I tend to be a thrifty one (to put it mildly).  I shop for most everything at Goodwill and don’t ever buy anything that is not on sale.  That being said, when it comes to canning, I recommend just buying the gear that is meant for the task.  If you can find it secondhand, great!  If you can’t, then buy it new.  It will last forever and the gear that is designed to do the job can be trusted to work and to work well.

Here’s a list of the “gear” that I think is most important:
Canner with Rack - http://amzn.to/13y43Gy
Wide Mouth Funnel  - http://amzn.to/18NZyX0
Canning Tongs - http://amzn.to/1dUbFZG
Magnetic Lid Lifter  - http://amzn.to/19z1Hb9
Air Bubble Remover - http://amzn.to/18NZR3Q
Food Scale  - http://amzn.to/18NZUwz

There you have it!  Five tips for the true beginner.  For those of you with more experience, what tips would you add to my list?

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Cooking with Dried Beans: Why and How

I used to cook exclusively with dried beans.  Then I got lazy and went back to canned.  Now I’m trying to get “un-lazy” and go back to dried.  I’ve learned a little more this time around so I’m hoping that this approach will stick.

In this post I’ll give you the why and the how of using dried beans.


So, first you ask, why should I use dried beans?  With all the cheap and easy canned beans available in the store, why should I bother with using dried beans?

Well…. let me tell you:

1.  Cost – It doesn’t get much cheaper than dried beans.  You can usually buy a bag of beans (which yields 4-5 cans worth) for about the price (or less) of one can of beans.  And don’t even get me started on buying from bulk sections or buying bulk bags yourself.  Dried beans = cheap.  Period.

2.  Salt – Canned beans generally have A LOT of sodium.  You can buy some “reduced” sodium canned beans but unless you are adding salt to your water, your dried beans won’t have any salty issues.  Dried beans = less salt intake.

3.  BPA – Bisphenol A – Generally found in the lining of MOST canned foods, BPA is thought to have many negative effects on your health.  Dried beans = no BPA.

4.  Less Waste – Yes, cans are recyclable but if you don’t have to create the waste in the first place, why do it?  Dried beans = less trash.

Now that I’ve convinced you that using dried beans is all around the best option.  Let’s talk about how to use them.

First, you’ll need to soak them.  Generally speaking, dried beans are soaked for two reasons:

1.  Soaking removes indigestible sugars that are the cause of the *unsavory* side effects of beans (i.e. beans, beans the musical fruit……)

2.  Reduces cook time.

You can do a quick hot soak or an overnight cold soak.  I soak mine overnight.  I let them soak for at least 6-8 hours, with more than an inch of water covering them.  Then in the morning or mid-day, I rinse them well, and transfer them to a pot of water.  Depending on the type of bean, they will need to cook for 1-2 hours.  I haven’t tried my slow cooker - http://amzn.to/16HlPUw yet, but I think that will be next.

You’ll want to be careful to not try and soak/cook beans that are too old.  If your beans are too old, they will never rehydrate fully and you’ll be left with hard or crunchy beans even after you cook them.  Try to use your beans within a year.

As for how many beans you cook at a time, you can cook just what you need for a recipe or you can cook more.  If you cook more, you can can them (using a pressure cooker - http://amzn.to/13UYsfC ) or you can freeze them.  I’m planning to start cooking them (especially black and pinto beans) in larger batches and try freezing them.   I’d love to can them but as you all know, I’m intimidated by regular canning, so pressure cooker canning?  Ha!  Forget about it (for now).  For reference, about 1 1/2 cups of cooked beans is the equivalent to a can of beans.  (Handy to know for recipes that call for “a can” of beans.)

What do you think?  Do you always use dry beans or have you been a canned beans cook lately like me?  What is your favorite thing to make with beans?

           

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Fresh Homemade Ketchup Recipe

Homemade Ketchup Recipe :: Five Little Homesteaders

Have I mentioned that I froze a bunch tomatoes last spring?

Yeah, I know, I’ve mentioned it only a million times.  Well, you should know, they’re gone now.  I’ve used them all!  My freezer has never felt so empty!

Originally I made pasta sauce, then I made pizza sauce and now I’ve made homemade ketchup!  And let me tell you, it is amazing!  I was so impressed by how ketchup-y it came out.

Check out the homemade ketchup recipe below.

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How to Store Your Winter Squash

If you recall from posts I made late last spring, we had a bumper crop of buttercup and butternut squash.  We even got a few acorn squashes.  It was a beautiful thing.

Fast forward to now.  
Last week I went into my pantry to use a few of the buttercup squashes only to find that they had all become incredibly soft and that a soft, white mildew-y layer was growing all over them and all over the bin they were in.  Yuck.  Homestead fail.  
However, my loss is your gain.  I started researching to figure out what I had done wrong and how to fix it.  Luckily none of my butternut squash were affected but I did compost ALL of the buttercup squash.  Bummer. 
Harvesting for Storage
When you harvest your winter squash for storage, be sure to do the following: 
  • Wait until vines begin to dry and the rinds are hardened. 
  • Test the hardness of the rinds by pressing a thumbnail into the skin.  It shouldn’t leave a mark. 
  • Cut the squash from the vine leaving three inches of stem.
Curing 

Here’s where I dropped the ball.  I did not cure my squash.  When you cure, do the following:
  • Place freshly picked squash in a warm area with good air circulation. 
  • Placing the squash on a screen is a good idea.  
  • Let it cure for 10-14 days. 
The reason for curing is to allow some of the excess water to escape, thus extending shelf life.  It also concentrates the sugars in the squash for a sweeter flavor.  Finally, it allows the skin to further harden for storage. 
Storing

Once cured, store your squash.
  • First, wipe it down with a vinegar and water solution to kill/remove any fungus spores (obviously I did not do this). 
  • Place it in a cool dry place – 55 degrees is perfect but not lower than 50. 
  • Allow for good air circulation. 
Length of Time
  • Acorn - http://amzn.to/1aiDQzS , Delicata and Spaghetti - http://amzn.to/13KLSdv – Use within 1-2 months
  • Hubbard, Pumpkins and Buttercup - http://amzn.to/13KLOuk – Use within 4-5 months
  • Butternut - http://amzn.to/14sske3 and Cushaws – These last a really long time and may last longer then 6-8 months if stored properly. 
How about you?  Do you have any other good tips and tricks for getting winter squash to last longer?

         
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Refrigerator Pickles – Super Simple

Simple Refrigerator Pickles - No Canning Required :: Five Little Homesteaders

I normally try and post about something garden related on Thursdays, but alas….. things are going downhill in the garden department.  We are descending into Arizona’s equivalent of winter….. but instead of snow and ice, we have hot and hotter.

Today it was 108 degrees in the shade.  My chickens are panting on the regular and my garden is all but fried.  I have a few hold outs – armenian cucumbers, some sad looking pumpkin seedlings, okra, and some yard-long beans.  Other than that, we are well on our way to kaput.

However, now is the time that I am trying to preserve the harvest.  I’m freezing tomatoes for making sauce later on.  I’m making and freezing pesto.  And today, I tried my hand at making refrigerator pickles.

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