A cooking and baking journal

Canning and Freezing Episode 3 : Asparagus

6/18/10: Freezing Asparagus

Let me set the records straight. . . No, my family does not grow asparagus. There, done with that. Oh, I should also mention that we have tried! We must have tried to grow every fruit and veggie on earth; have to keep things interesting, ya know. ;D

A friend of ours who owns an asparagus farm in Oceana county gave us a large box of them yesterday and so today I pulled out a ton a big pots and got to work.

How to freeze asparagus: I went to my old faithful Ball Book once again and these are the instructions I found:

Select young, tender asparagus with tightly closed tips. Wash thoroughly and sort into sizes. Trim stalks by removing scales with a sharp knife. Cut into even lengths to fit freezer containers. Blanch small spears 1 1/2 minutes, medium spears 2 minutes and large spears 3 minutes. Cool. Drain. Pack asparagus into plastic freezer bags, can-or-freeze jars, plastic freezer boxes or vacuum package. Seal, label and freeze.

That is exactly how I froze them.

Freezing Details: I froze 2 gallon bags of whole spears, 1 quart bag of trimmed spears, and 2 quart bags of chopped asparagus.

Canning and Freezing Episode 2 : Strawberries

6/17/10: Freezing Strawberries

I froze four quarts of strawberries last year and I had them for, guess what, my January birthday! :) I never ever had them at such a time of year so that was real special.

How to freeze strawberries: Last year I froze them following the Ball Blue Book of Preserving instructions. The book included four choices: dry pack, sugar pack, syrup pack, and puree. I decided on doing two quarts with the sugar pack and two quarts with the syrup. When we tasted the berries months later I didn't notice much of a difference between the two. The syrup quarts could have been sweeter but that is all I could detect.

So for this year I went with the sugar pack method. . . It is the easiest one to do and is basically what we do whenever we prepare berries for shortcake or ice cream!

If you want to try freezing your own, I have the Ball instructions here in a previous post of mine.

Freezing Details: I froze two quarts of strawberries.

Canning and Freezing Episode 1 : Garlic Scapes

6/11/10: Freezing Garlic Scapes

It is harvest time here and you know what that means. . . Lots of canning and freezing! The first item up is garlic scapes. For those who are scratching their heads right now, a garlic scape is a shoot from the garlic plant that grows from the base of the plant around the beginning of June. This shoot, which starts out straight and then turns into a lovely tendril, can blossom and will cause the plant to go to seed. That is why it is important to have it removed before it flowers. And instead of throwing away the scapes, we have found a delicious culinary alternative.

Even though a scape, in no way, looks like a garlic clove, it smells like garlic and tastes like it as well! Prepare it as you would scallions and use it in any recipe that calls for garlic. Take a look at this great blog post for more inspiration.

How to freeze garlic scapes: I froze garlic scapes last year simply by cutting them into 1" pieces and placing them in a freezer bag. Simple. We enjoyed them through the summer, winter, and spring and they were good as if we used fresh. Since I was happy with last year's results, I repeated the same method this year.

Harvest Details: So my family planted three rows of garlic, each being 500 feet long. We were able to harvest about 2 1/2 five-gallon buckets of scapes.

Freezing Details: I froze 9 quarts of garlic scapes.

Giant, Humongous, Gigantic, Monstrous, Huge, and YUM-O Pretzels

5/30/10: Baked Ziti with Giant Bavarian Pretzels

Meal details: For the main course I made a type of Italian American pasta casserole called ziti. Its name is derived from the typical pasta shape that it calls for. As a side, I made homemade soft pretzels.

Defining moments: First time making pretzels! Memories of watching my older brother Matt make pretzels came to mind when I was forming them. They are a fun side to make and they don't take that much time. It is also my first time making ziti.

Recipe sources: The ziti dish* comes from American Test Kitchen, one of my favorite cooking shows. The pretzel recipe came from the October 2009 issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray.

What I learned: After pulling all the ingredients together to make the ziti it seemed to me that my family's old favorite, Macaroni Italiano isn't too far from being called ziti. Macaroni Italiano is an old family favorite and I am still not sure where we got the recipe. I think it was formed on the whim; something like our homemade spaghetti sauce. With casseroles and spaghetti sauces, it doesn't seem like a recipe is needed. I mean the little-bit-of-this-and-a-little-bit-of-that method works out most of the time!

If you ever have watched an episode of America's Test Kitchen (ATK) you would know that each of their recipes has a secret or twist. Such as their grilled corn on the cob. . . Instead of grilling it in husks, they place the husked ears into a brine beforehand. With the baked ziti, they omitted the traditional ricotta cheese for cottage cheese. Why? They said that the Test Kitchen staff thought the ricotta created a grainy texture. They also used two sauces: a tomato based one and an alfredo sauce. And last but not least, they cubed their mozzarella into 1/4" cubes, mixed it into the sauce, and sprinkled them on top as well. This technique leads to mozzarella in every bite.

The pretzels weren't as hard to form as I thought! They do require numerous steps (such as rolling out the dough into a long log, dipping them in a baking soda and water mixture, forming them in their traditional shapes, applying egg wash and salt, etc.), but their fast baking time makes up for this. And once you are done with the first pretzel you sort of get into the rhythm of things.

Any modifications? Yes, I made some modifications to the ziti recipe because of lack of ingredients.

  • Instead of ziti noodles, I used elbow macaroni
  • Granulated garlic instead of fresh
  • Dried basil instead of fresh

Other than those listed above, I followed the recipe exactly.

How did it taste? The ziti recipe was good but to tell you the truth, I think I like out Macaroni Italiano more. :D Our recipe includes things like bell peppers, ground beef, loads more mozzarella, and onions. . . Ingredients that I love! It was a good dish, nonetheless, and I really did like the creaminess that was achieved by using the cottage cheese. Something to keep in mind when making a lasagna.

And let us not forget the pretzels! They were WONDERFUL! They were big, soft, and had a crispy exterior. I may have gone too far with the sprinkling of salt (especially since I served these with ziti), so I'll remember to hold back next time.

How about a 2nd time? I don't think I'll pull out this ziti recipe again but I will definitely keep the pretzel bookmarked. I want to try them with mustard!






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Sabbath Supper Update

Even though the lack of blog posts indicate that no Sunday suppers have been made, I have been in the kitchen cooking and baking every weekend! It is June now and you know what that means: the farming season is in full swing and it has been taken up a good portion of my time. Nonetheless, I will try to catch up with my posting ASAP.

I am still trying to reach the end of the Food Network Chef Cooking Challenge I joined in September of last year. I've been waiting for more in-season fruits and veggies before I progress. Sunny Anderson is up next for me and a lot of her recipes require tomatoes. . . Something that isn't too far beyond the horizon. Hooray!