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Frozen Assets

Posted Feb 21 2011 9:24pm
Although I had been rolling the idea for this post around in my head for quite some time, especially as February is National Frozen Food Month, when I heard that the lovely ladies over at Healthy Living Blogs were still accepting answers to the question of how your healthy living habits change with the seasons for their Healthy Living Tuesdays series, I figured there was no time like today!
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While I was perusing produce in Whole Foods yesterday* and marveling at the sheer ginormity^ of the sweet potatoes, I overheard a woman say, "I just cannot wait until spring." I looked at her, and, not being able to just mind my own business, said, "I feel your pain."

*not that I actually intended to buy anything there...I love you WF, but Sprouts' produce is (usually) much cheaper
^new word...like it?

Because although we know sweet potatoes are good all year round , and this time of year we can find some pretty sweet citrus...
...or experiment with the plethora of weird-looking winter squash available at every turn...
...for every delicious spaghetti squash, there is a limp looking zucchini or a shriveled bell pepper begging to be adopted like a lost little puppy, but whose severe, seasonally-inflated price tag makes you rethink the pros of eating vegetables at all.

Granted, I live in Texas, so buying and consuming fruits and veggies grown in Mexico is practically like being a locavore, but I didn't always live here, and I empathize with many of you suffering through snowstorms and the generally lackluster options in the produce department of your local g-store.
So I say it's time, dear Smarties, to feel the freeze. [ Source ]
Sorry Ah-nold, but I meant the freeze of the frozen food aisle.

Now most of y'all have been utilizing the freezer to safeguard your super-ripe bananas...
...or store your guiltiest pleasure. But it's time to expand your horizons a little bit and stop scoffing at frozen fruits and veggies.

Since not everyone eats cold winter squash like candy...*
*I do have an everpresent stash in the fridge at all times. ...nor thinks that canned apricots are actually better than any in-season ones she's ever tried... ...I've come up with some creative tips and tricks for surviving the deep freeze of winter and embracing plastic packages of produce.
After all...
What is now frozen was once fresh.

[And of course, there is all that research about how frozen produce often has more nutrients than out-of-season or non-local versions, since it was flash-frozen immediately after being picked. But I'm not going to get all science-y on y'all. Let's just talk about what the heck to do with it.]

First, the obvious: frozen berries are versatile additions to any meal. Yes any. They aren't just for breakfast anymore. Despite my general hatred for frozen blueberries as a stain-causing, purple-turning mess, they do make a delicious sauce for chicken...
...and a fun instant frozen yogurt . [Not a cupcake. He just plays one on TV.]
Although frozen berries might not make the most beautiful pies, I stand by my long-ago assertion that frozen raspberries are one of the BEST additions to overnight oats (or stovetop oats), especially if you like your breakfast to be pretty in pink. Thawed berries might create an excess of liquid...
... but they've never met a brand of Greek yogurt they didn't like. (Except for Yoplait . It's just not good.)
[And yes, I know that my default action is to "just mix it with yogurt" but get over it.]

Second, there IS something to be said for eating thawed frozen fruit as a substitute for the fresh. I long ago professed my love for frozen mango ... ...which is actually BETTER than the fresh stuff you can get in the states, and much less difficult to prep. I have found that frozen cherries also thaw really well, and often end up costing less per pound than the fresh ones.

For the most part, though, the trick to utilizing frozen produce is to get rid of the "frozen flavor" buy cooking it away. One of my favorite things to do with bags of frozen produce is create Two-Step "Jams" by (1) dumping bags of fruit into a heavy pot... ...and (2) letting them cook... ...and reduce away! You are left with a jam-ish spread for bread.
(Or, again, mixed in yogurt. What? It's an obsession, OK. Deal with it.)
I like to call these 'Buttahs' and the flavor above is Strawberry-Rhubarb. I've also had success with Strawberry-Mango-Coconut , and my personal favorite: Peach Blueberry .*

*Maybe I don't hate frozen blueberries so much after all... So, I've focused a whole lot on fruit, but veggies deserve a voice, too. I have to primarily proclaim my general edict that you all should have a bag of frozen sweet peas in your freezer at all times. They thaw quickly and therefore can be added with a quick rinse in warm water to salads, or tossed into pasta sauces in their already frozen state.
Besides, who really wants to EVER shell fresh peas?

Rachael Ray might say that frozen spinach is a necessity, but you know what, Tammy Wynette? I'll stand by MY man...Mr. Pea.

That includes sugar snap peas, which I love to get frozen... ...and then steam until JUST thawed. When they are cold, they still have a satisfying bite...but taste just like you blanched fresh ones. They make a great snack at work. :) As for any other frozen vegetable, they form the base of my Almost-Instant Vegetable Stew, which consists of basically any frozen veggie you have on hand. I love zucchini....
...and yellow squash. [Note: In my experience it is sometimes hard to find these frozen. Stock up when you can.] Grab some onion and carrots (which you can buy all year round in generally lovely states of freshness, along with potatoes and mushrooms, which would also be great in this), and saute them up a wee bit. Add in your frozen veggies (cut--don't worry, it's easy--into bite-sized pieces)... ...and season the heck out of them.

Bonus: Since you put them in with ice crystals on them, you barely need to add any excess oils or cooking liquid. They'll steam on their own!

Then, grab a can of something no smart kitchen should be without: And cook it up until heated through. You've got your stew! [To which you could also totally add cooked chicken, tofu, beef, pork, beans...whatever you want!] And just like stews made with fresh vegetables, this tastes 100% better the next day...so bring it for lunch if you want to. It IS the perfect size for a travel "bug" [bowl (slash) mug]. So, Smarties, the moral of THIS story is...creativity leads to a frozen food fiesta of frugality and flavor.

And together, we will survive the winter. Healthy eating habits in tact.

Now, if only I could unearth the frozen yogurt from behind all of these bags of produce....
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