March is Frozen Food Month. In fact, the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA),Inc., likes to suggest that there is MEALTIME MAGIC in the FROZEN AISLE. I could not agree more!
March is Frozen Food month. Photo Source: with permission from Frozen Food Alliance
Frozen foods are a smart choice. Frozen foods are always in season, last much longer than their fresh counterparts, are convenient, economical and full of variety. Plus, frozen foods can be portioned and packaged in ways that don’t leave anything to waste.
A lot has changed since 1925 when Clarence Birdseye was issued U.S. Patent #1,773,079, to freeze fish. This U.S. Patent marked the beginning of today’s frozen foods industry. In 1927, he extended the freezing process to quick-freezing meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables. Birdseye’s initial introduction of 26 frozen foods has morphed to so many frozen products that the NFRA boasts over 3,700+ different choices. There is something FROZEN for every taste and every budget!
The modern day frozen product is generally supercooled at temperatures below -54°F. This supercooled fast freezing process produces smallish ice crystals that help foods retain their personal characteristics. Additionally, a lot of research goes into commercially frozen food’s packaging. Many frozen products can go directly from freezer to microwave, oven or even a pot of boiling water. Packaging must also consider the constraints of the home freezer knowing that its average temperature is around 0° or a bit below.
Although cold temperatures like 0°F or below puts a temporary hold on many biological processes microorganisms are not always killed off during freezing. It is important to recognize that proper care must be taken preparing some frozen foods.
In addition, when foods are frozen for extended periods of time or are frozen improperly, freezer burn can begin to develop on the food’s surface. Freezer burn happens when moisture in the outer layers of the food evaporates into the dry freezer air, leaving behind empty pockets in the tissue of the food. Freezer burn on meat is visible as brownish-white discolorations and on other foods dry, white spots. While it is not harmful to eat, freezer burn can adversely affect the flavor and texture of food.
It is easy to prevent freezer burn. One can easily reduce the food’s exposure to air through the use of correct wrap before storing food in the freezer. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze.html) has excellent information on how the use of proper packaging materials can protect the flavor, color, moisture content and nutritive value of foods from the arid climate of the freezer.
Frozen food packaging depends on the type of food to be frozen. In general, packaging materials must have certain characteristics:
- Moisture vapor resistant
- Durable and leakproof
- Not become brittle and crack at low temperatures
- Resistant to oil, grease or water
- Protect foods from absorption of off flavors or odors
- Easy to seal
- Easy to mark (with both content and date)
Additionally, a full freezer is the most energy efficient.
Posting a frozen foods inventory (list) near the freezer and keeping it up to date by listing the foods and dates of freezing is helpful. Remembering also to rotate foods in the freezer. An easy acronym for this is FIFO… First-In, First-Out. In other words, use the food stored the longest before you use the newest.
Moreover, purchase a thermometer if your freezer does not have an automatic temperature display. A freezer should be maintained at a temperature of 0°F or lower. At higher temperatures, foods lose quality much faster.
Most recently, a woman from North Carolina, Sheila Pulanco Russell, is credited with bringing a lifehack to the masses with her “how to” Facebook posting. I think it is a good thing to know. It is called the One Cup Tip. All it entails is putting a cup of water in the freezer, freezing it solid, and then placing a quarter on top of it and leaving it in the freezer.
When you return from an extended out of town trip you know if your power was out. It the quarter is sitting at the bottom of the cup you know your power was off too long and that your frozen food is not safe to eat. If the coin is in the middle of the cup, the outage was fairly short and your food should be good (frozen foods that still have their crystals are safe to eat and refreeze). If the coin is still on the top, then there was no power outage or just a quick one and all is well. Note: no one wants food poisoning, so if you are in doubt, throw the food out.
Have questions? Don’t hesitate to call your local county extension agent from the Cooperative Extension office; they’re free!
Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, III
University of Florida IFAS Extension
615 Paul Russell Road
Tallahassee, Florida 32301
The Foundation for The Gator Nation
An Equal Opportunity Institution
Storing foods in aluminum foil is a not a good food safety practice since it does not form a tight enough seal to keep out air, moisture, or microorganisms. Use air-tight containers or zipper plastic bags to store leftovers safely. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)
This month, I would like to focus on leftovers, more specifically, using and storing leftovers responsibly.
Many times, leftovers are saved with the best intentions. We really do plan to eat last night’s lasagna for dinner tonight, but then something better comes along and suddenly that lasagna gets pushed to the back of the refrigerator where it gets forgotten until the fridge is cleaned out two months later.
That dried out, fuzzy lump covered in foil? Well, it used to be lasagna. Now it is inedible, unsafe, and a waste of food and money.
I say, stop the madness! Show those leftovers a little love. If properly stored and handled, those boring leftovers can once again dazzle your palate.
First of all, proper storage is key. Whether being put in the refrigerator or freezer, wrap or store leftovers in an air-tight container. This will not only prevent cross-contamination by microorganisms, but will also help maintain flavor and quality.
The only exception to this is whole, fresh fruits and veggies, which need to be stored in the crisper drawer or on the countertop to allow air flow. Cut fruits and veggies should always be refrigerated.
The best materials for food storage are air-tight plastic or glass containers and paper or zipper bags made for freezer use. When using paper, be sure to wrap the food tightly and completely.
Aluminum foil, wax paper, and plastic wrap do not make effective wrappers for the freezer since they do not form a tight enough seal to prevent freezer burn.
Always label all leftovers, especially when freezing them, with the name of the food and the date it was stored. To ensure safety, discard refrigerated leftovers after five days and frozen leftovers after six months. Foods frozen longer will suffer significant quality loss.
Leftover foods like soups, stews, and casseroles make terrific quick meals for lunch or dinner. Simply divide the leftovers into single portions and freeze, or refrigerate if all portions will be eaten within five days.
Foods like leftover roasted chicken or breakfast bacon can be added to a salad or made into a sandwich. Today’s leftover pancakes can be tomorrow’s pancake parfait or breakfast sandwich bread.
Leftover scrambled eggs can be added to tonight’s fried rice. Last night’s chili can be made into today’s baked potato topping.
The possibilities are endless.
“Leftovers” does not have to be a dirty word. With a little planning, knowledge, and ingenuity, leftovers can easily become a family favorite. And the best part, saving leftovers means saving money, too.
For more information on food storage tips, try these publications from UF/IFAS Extension:
Healthy Eating: Food Storage Guide
Preserving Food: Freezing Vegetables
Extension classes are open to everyone regardless of race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations.
Youth learn food preservation skills. Photo source: Melanie Taylor
At this point in the summer, many parents are at a loss for what to do to keep their children engaged and “off the couch.” How about a focus on healthy eating and food preservation? If you have a backyard garden be sure to pick the fruits and vegetables at their peak readiness. If you do not have a garden make a family trip to the local farmers market and/or a local u-pick farm.
Of course, fresh fruits and vegetables are full of nutrition and taste, but if you have or buy more than your family can eat in a few days’ time, be sure to make preparations to teach your children how to preserve those foods to eat later in the year. There is nothing more enjoyable than having fruit jam on biscuits or summer vegetables in your soup during the cold depths of winter.
There are six different methods of food preservation to teach your children. They are boiling water/water bath canning, making jam, pickling, freezing, drying, and pressure canning. The easiest method being freezing and the most complex and time consuming being pressure canning. No matter which ones you choose to teach your children be sure to follow valid recipes and procedures. Family and Consumer Science Extension Agents always recommend using the most current recipes and procedures from The National Center for Home Food Preservation, which are maintained at https://nchfp.uga.edu/. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is your source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. The Center was established with funding from the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (CSREES-USDA) to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods. Many of the recipes are available for free on the website, or you can order the 6th edition of the “So Easy to Preserve” food preservation book at https://setp.uga.edu/.
Specific to children, there is also a Put It Up! Food Preservation for Youth curriculum through the University of Georgia, which is a series of informal educational lessons that guide youth to explore and understand the science of safe food preservation. This free curriculum can be found online at https://ugeorgia.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_a5Y4IfBZ2Vh0EIt after a quick questionnaire of how you plan to use the curriculum.
Teaching these food preservation skills to your children will be a fun-filled and very educational opportunity. Be sure to use the above resources to assist you in the food safety methods to be certain your products are safe for consumption. Enjoy this special time in the garden and kitchen with your children this summer.
National Center for Home Food Preservation https://nchfp.uga.edu/
“So Easy to Preserve” https://setp.uga.edu/
Put It Up! Food Preservation for Youth https://ugeorgia.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_a5Y4IfBZ2Vh0EIt
Tomatoes are abundant this time of year and you have many options to buy local and fresh. Tomatoes are one of the most popular home garden vegetable to grow and should now be providing the home gardener with fresh ripe bounty from now until summers end. Our local farmer’s markets are also selling tomatoes home grown and in many colors like deep red, bright yellow and green. Our climate is great for growing tomatoes. In fact, Florida is the nation’s largest producer of fresh tomatoes.
Nutritionally, tomatoes are packed with vitamin C and A. Low in calories and high in flavor, this succulent vegetable is a favorite all year long. Tomatoes are great served sliced and also in cooked dishes. Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature away from direct sunlight. Ripe tomatoes should be used within 3 to 4 days. For best flavor, do not refrigerate. Ripe tomatoes will give slightly to gentle pressure
If you want to preserve the summer’s tomato bounty, try your hand at canning. Remember to use USDA recommended practices for safety and long term quality. For a complete listing of how to safely can tomato products you will find the USDA guide here: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/usda/GUIDE03_HomeCan_rev0715.pdf
Farm Fresh Salsa
Fresh salsa is a low-fat, low sodium, treat that is packed with flavor and essential nutrients. Adjust the salt and oil to your taste and diet.
6 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ seeded and minced jalapenos
1 red bell pepper, finely dices
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 lime, juiced
Chili Powder, salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh scallions, cilantro or parsley, to taste
In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Place in refrigerator for up to 12 hours for flavor infusion. Serve with your own baked chips.
Baked Tortilla chips
1 package medium or large tortillas
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 375˚ F
On a cutting board cut tortillas into 8 – 12 pieces using a pizza cutter.
Place aluminum foil on 2 or 3 baking sheets.
Place tortillas pieces in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
Lightly coat tortillas with cooking spray on both sides.
Sprinkle tortilla pieces with salt to taste – or with salt-free alternative for dietary needs.
Place in oven and cook 10-15 minutes until crisp.
It is that time of year when we think about giving special gifts to the people in our lives that mean the most to us. Your list might include teachers, neighbors, friends and co-workers. Gifts don’t have to be expensive, it is the thought behind the gesture that means the most to your friends and family. Whoever is on your list this year, think about using your kitchen as grand central for gift making. Gifts of food are heart felt and send a message that you spent time making something special that looks good and tastes yummy. These gifts say thank you in a thoughtful way. Don’t forget to include your kids in the process of cooking and assembling gifts to teach them something about budgeting and enjoying the simple pleasure of gift giving.
The way the gift is presented can be just as important as the food itself. Try to pair up containers with the food gift that will be used after the food is gone. This can be a gift that keeps on giving. Examples are a decorative plate filled with cookies, pie plate filled with your favorite pie or a trifle bowl filled with goodies. You get the idea. Another thought is to put together items that say “sit and take a break” like a loaf of quick bread paired with a pound of coffee, homemade salsa with chips and a favorite beverage. The main goal is to show that you put thought in the gift and spent time preparing the presentation.
With everyone watching their budgets this year, plan ahead to get the creative juices working by purchasing ingredients on sale and found locally. Local products in December include pecans, sweet potatoes, honey, peanuts, persimmons, satsumas and jams and jellies sold at local farmers markets. So get going and unleash your creativity, and give a few gifts from your kitchen and your heart. Have fun making these gifts, and remember to enjoy the process.
One of my favorite festive cookie is the Chocolate Crinkle. The crackle on top with the chocolate and white sugar says it is holiday time. These cookies make a good food gift as they stay firm and will last up to a week. They also freeze well if you need to make ahead of time. Package the gift by placing on a nice festive plate and wrap with clear wrap and decorate with ribbon.
Chocolate Crinkle Cookie
½ cup of shortening
1 2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
Two 1 ounce squares of unsweetened chocolate (melted)
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup of milk
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Cream together the shortening, sugar and vanilla. Beat in the two eggs then add the melted chocolate. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture slowly to creamed mixture alternating with the milk until thoroughly blended. Stir in walnuts. Chill for 3 hours. Form in 1 – inch balls and roll in confectioners’ sugar. Place on greased cookie sheet 2 to 3 inches apart. Bake in moderate oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool slightly then remove from pan. Makes 48.
They are now ready to put in a container and give to friends. This cookie freezes well.
Prepare this nut bread then decorate with wrapping and ribbon. You might include the loaf pan as part of the gift. Include a brick of cream cheese along with a decorative butter knife for a complete package.
Cranberry Nut Bread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 tablespoons shortening
1 egg, well beaten
1 tsp vanilla flavoring
1 1/2 cups Fresh Cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in orange juice, orange peel, shortening and egg and vanilla. Mix until well blended. Stir in cranberries and nuts. Spread evenly in loaf pan. Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely. Makes 1 loaf (16 slices). Bake loaf in decorative pan as part of the gift. Make sure you cool after cooking then replace in pan and wrap as part of the gift.
The Real Sweet Potato Pie
Use local sweet potatoes to promote locally grown produce. After baking, cool then give as a gift in a nice pie plate. Wrap, refrigerate with instructions on reheating for serving. For added effect, bundle with whipped cream and pie knife.
Prepare your sweet potatoes for the pie mix. Select 6 – 7 large sweet potatoes and cut in half or quarters. Boil potatoes slowly for about 30 minutes. Let cool. Peel potatoes after they cool. The peel should come off very easy. Measure six cups of sweet potato in a mixing bowl. Use a stand mixer to beat the sweet potatoes and do not scrape off any mixture from beaters. This will contain the stringy part and you do not want it in your pie. Discard the strings.
6 cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup evaporated milk
½ cup butter
2 tsp vanilla flavoring
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp butter flavoring
1 cup sugar
Mix all ingredients in a stand mixer until well blended. The mixture should be smooth and free of lumps. The mixture will keep in the refrigerator up to a week and may be frozen for future use. Be sure to label with date and amount before placing in freezer.
For the Pie
Place mixture in unbaked pie shell and smooth to the edges. You will need about 2 ½ cups for each 9 inch deep dish pie shell. Mini tart shells may also be used for individual pies. This recipe makes about 3 pies or 12 individual mini pie tarts. Cook at 350 degrees until puffed and browned slightly on top. About 40 minutes.
Visit your local farmers market to purchase local nuts, honey, produce and jams and jellies. Be sure to look for locally grown and support our area growers. For additional information about local produce visit: http://wfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/panhandle-produce-pointers/
During the holiday season nothing carries good cheer and holiday spirit across the miles like receiving a package full of homemade treats.
If you go to the effort of preparing food gifts, you want to be sure the contents arrive in the condition they were sent in. The first step is to pack it right.
- Select a strong sturdy cardboard, plastic, or metal container. Round oatmeal boxes or coffee cans with re-closable lids work well.
- On the bottom of the container place a generous layer of filler, such as crumped tissue paper, waxed paper, brown paper bags or plastic bubble wrap.
- Next, wrap baked goods individually or in pairs placed back to back. Begin with the sturdiest first. Moist, firm baked goods ship better than the brittle kind. Brownies, fudge and moist cookies pack well. Top with another layer of filler and repeat ending with a thick layer of filler.
- Fill the container full so the contents can’t shift when it is shaken.
- Be sure to pack several inches of cushioning material in the bottom of the shipping carton and enough material around, over and between items so that the contents cannot move easily. Brown paper bags and newspaper provide adequate cushioning for most packages. Save Styrofoam peanuts or foam packing pieces in packages for use when cushioning your packages.
- Place a card with the address of the sender and the receiver inside the carton, just in case.
- Wrap the carton in heavy brown paper, if desired, and seal it securely with transparent packing tape. Clearly label the carton; put the transparent tape over the address to keep it from getting wet and smeared. Mark it “perishable” to encourage careful handling. One of the best ideas yet is to give a gift within a gift that serves as its own alternative wrapping. Great tasting recipes become even more special when attractively packaged for giving.
- Embellish small metal coffee tins for packaging tiny truffles or other candies. Replace plastic tops to seal.
- Consider using an empty potato chip canister for packaging. Cover it with Christmas wrapping paper, fill it with cookies, candies or salty snacks, and replace its plastic top to seal.
- Fill a Christmas stocking with a favorite snack mix or nut mix. Package the mix in a re-sealable plastic bag and tuck it and holiday napkins into the stocking.
- Top off decorative jars of homemade desert sauces or jelly with raffia or decorative ribbon. Attach a homemade gift tag and a spoon.
- Bake and transport homemade bread in light weight recyclable aluminum pans available at most supermarkets. Wrap pans of bread with a large linen napkin or place bread in gift bags and tie with holiday ribbon.
- When giving a variety of foods together, include items to be eaten with your goodies or utensils that might be needed for further preparation.
Remember it’s the thought behind the holiday package that counts; the link with loved ones and the knowledge that someone is thinking of you during the holiday season. A package filled with homemade treats says “love” with every bite.