Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Amazing Zip-Bag Trick

Busy, Eating Out of the Freezer

Everyone else in the world has this weekend off, but I’m working. So I don’t have a lot of time for cooking, much less blogging. And the reason I’m working this weekend is so I can have money. Until there’s more money, I don’t particularly feel like going to the grocery store—and who has time for that, anyway. So thankfully we have the freezer to fall back on.

Preserving the Pesto

Part of my annual end-of-the-garden ritual is harvesting my beautiful, lovely herbs, particularly the basil, which always seems to me like tomatoes, they love the hot weather so much.

I have dried my basil in the past, but I’ve found I don’t tend to use a lot of dried basil. I don’t like using many dried herbs, in general. However, if I make pesto, I use it. And whatever it gets used on turns into something, well, a few notches above a cheese sandwich and a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

My Zip-Bag Idea

First, though, I want to share this with you. Sue thinks it’s a pretty doggone smart idea, and she keeps saying I should blog on it.

So! If you make up a bunch of pesto, how do you store it? Well, Martha S. and others say to pat it into ice cube trays, freeze it, and pop the pesto-cubes into zip bags.

But there are problems with this: First, maybe you don’t need exactly one ice-cube-sized quantity of pesto, and to get more or less pesto from a frozen “pesto cube” would be kind of difficult. Second, a cube takes a while to defrost, requiring advance planning. And who does that? And third, if you put the cubes into a plastic bag, it allows air in the bag to touch the various surfaces of the cubes, making for more freezer burn.

I have a better idea!

Spoon pesto into freezer-style zip bags, get rid of the air bubbles, lay it flat, carefully press out any remaining air, and seal it. Freeze it flat—like on a cookie sheet. The result should be a layer of frozen pesto less than a half inch thick. The flattened bags store extremely well in your crowded freezer, and when it’s time to cook, it’s easy to break off however much pesto you need. Because the pesto’s all stuck against the plastic, freezer burn is minimized.

I’ll bet you didn’t know I was this brilliant, did you!

Super-Easy Pesto Mini Pizzas

So with me being so busy forever tapping on my computer, I depend on my frozen supply of goodies. Yesterday, I made us super-easy, awesome pizzas. It was the highlight of my day. You can make these in the toaster oven, in fact, so it only takes a few minutes to prepare.

For the base, I use good-quality pitas that I get from the international grocery—the kind you often get when you order a gyro sandwich. Not the “pocket” kind—the kind that’s kind of fluffy. You can also buy naans that are essentially the same, just usually oval. We get flatbreads in abundance and keep them in the freezer, too. Here are a few brands we like: Kontos and Kronos. (Kontos, you’ll notice, offers a multigrain flatbread! And yes, it tastes good!)

So, break off a piece of pesto, let it thaw, and spread it on the frozen pita as the sauce. Then, the toppings are up to you. Hunt in the freezer and the fridge; poke around in the pantry. Yesterday, I used our last piece of awesome Schubert’s kielbasa (also frozen), which I sliced thin and precooked on the stove while the pesto thawed.

A tilapia fillet is good, too (precook, of course, and coarsely crumble it).

Then some feta, or mozzarella, and whatever else seems good, such as chopped kalamata olives or slices of grape tomatoes, or whatever. Chopped bell peppers? The red or yellow ones are especially pretty.

I think sardines would be good, too, though I haven’t tried it yet. Sardines are making a comeback, you know—Omega-3’s and all.

Anyway, I gotta get back to work. But one more thing.

Use This Trick on Other Stuff

My zip-bag trick also works well with other goos and sauces. When I open a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, I rarely use the whole thing at once (who does?)—a little of that goes a long way! So I dump the rest into a freezer zip bag (breaking up the larger pieces for uniformity’s sake) and freeze it flat, to use up at my leisure—a teaspoon into some mayo for easy chipotle mayo for your sandwiches; or mix a dab into some plain hummus so it’s not so plain anymore; spike up the vegan posole . . . you know.

An abundance of late-summer tomatoes from the garden? Clean, chop, put into the zip bags, and freeze them flat, just like the others—great for stews, curries, and sauces.

When I process a mess of concord grapes, I do extra and freeze enough for a pie. This is a great way to preserve them.

You can also keep fresh grated ginger this way. (I told you the magic trick for that earlier—remember when we made that cantaloupe sorbet? Ah, summertime.)

Okay—I really have to get back to work now.



Osage Bluff Quilter said...

I know you will find this hard to believe, me being a country girl raise only 12 miles from the "city", but I have never tasted presto to my knowledge.
But hey I like zip locks!
Happy working day!

Julianna Schroeder said...

Hi there! You really must try it. I have my "pesto recipe" post all ready (wrote it in Sept.) but never got around to posting it. Making pesto is a seasonal thing--like ripe tomatoes. Buying fresh basil in winter is so cost-prohibitive that it's the reason to make and freeze your own during late summer.

Pesto has a million uses, and it's wonderful to have in your "bag of tricks." Tons of flavor, relatively healthy (basil, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, and nuts), and harmonizes with Italian and other Mediterranean meals.

It's common to toss pasta with pesto, a step above the olive-oil-and-garlic treatment.

I also make a butter-based pesto that's great patted onto a piece of baked fish.

Another trick is to enclose veggies, some meat or fish, and some pesto in foil, then bake. Yum, yum--now I'm getting hungry!

Pesto is great on sandwiches, too. Murry's restaurant in Columbia has a wonderful tuna (baked or grilled, not canned), pesto, and feta sandwich.

I'll post my pesto recipes once I start harvesting basil again! Stay tuned.

Thanks for commenting!


whalechaser said...

I have been doing this with actual meals; like pot roast, beef stew, curry chicken, minestrone soup etc. I make a big batch and freeze he rest in individual serving bags (squeezing out all the air and making as thin as possible) Then I can have a great home cooked meal any time I want it, without any bother!
Sometimes I put the meat in the bottom then put the rice or starch in the top and fold at the division, place it it the fridge to freeze a little that way, later lay it flat.

Julianna Schroeder said...

Whale: I love your idea for separating the rice from the goo--though how to you thaw it without it getting all mixed up again? Do you pull it out of the bag, then thaw?

I have frozen stew in the past, but I've never been very happy with the results: The potatoes and carrots always get sad, very sad, in the freezer. There are some things that just don't do well in the freezer.

One thing we have done in the past is make up bulk quantities of our own veggie burger mix, form it into patties, then freeze. Then we're just a microwave zap away from lunch. And it's far, far cheaper than Garden Burgers (TM) or Boca Burgers (TM)!

What great ideas! Keep 'em coming!