Locavore Convenience Food

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Category : Make It Yourself, October, Seasonal Menu Ideas, Whatcom Locavore Basics

Manufactured Convenience Food? Not Necessary!

Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia

Eating as a locavore (a person who eats only locally grown food as much as possible) doesn’t mean you have to give up convenience. It also doesn’t mean you have to eat processed foods.

Are you a busy family cook who sometimes doesn’t have time to do more than grab a frozen something from the freezer, heat it up, and serve? With just a little planning and preparation, you can still make those freezer dinner raids when you’re strapped for time. The difference will be your meals will have better nutrition, fewer chemicals, better quality and taste, and you’ll know you’re supporting local family farmers and the local economy. In short, you can still have those frozen french fries–but they’ll be a lot better for you, your family, and your community!

Planning for convenience is simple. As the summer growing season progresses, I watch for favorite ingredients which won’t be available in the winter. Last spring, for example, I waited for the peak asparagus season when the price is as low as it usually will get, and then purchased some extra to put in my freezer. In early summer I u-picked extra berries to freeze individually on baking sheets and then pack into freezer bags.

Frozen fruits and vegetables can make quick side dishes, but what about convenient main dishes? Simple again. Many main dishes will freeze well, so when you fix dinner, double the recipe and freeze half. Another alternative is to spend an occasional day cooking just for the freezer. If you’ve seen a dish sold as a frozen meal at the grocery store, you can probably freeze your homemade locavore recipe, too.

Some vegetables, such as the asparagus, need to be parboiled or blanched before freezing (placed briefly in boiling water and then plunged into an ice water bath to stop the cooking). This isn’t done to cook the food, but to stop enzyme activity which can cause unpleasant changes to food appearance, texture, or flavor during storage. Check with the local WSU Whatcom County Extension Office (676-6736) for information about what kind of preparation each fruit or vegetable type requires for safety and optimal results. They can also help you identify what freezes well and what doesn’t.

I freeze everything in meal sized portions so I can quickly grab what I need from the freezer without having to worry about unnecessary leftovers later. When I purchase local meat in bulk, I have the packer cut and wrap the meat in meal sized bundles, too. Portion sized freezing also helps maintain food quality. When a large bag of frozen food is opened and only part is removed, the remainder is more likely to become freezer burned than the contents of a package which remains tightly sealed until used. Air is the enemy of frozen food.

I date everything that goes into my freezer so I can make sure it gets used within a few months. Labelling the contents is important, too. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget if that freezer box contains applesauce or mashed parsnips.

Fall is a good time to stock up on root vegetables. If you are lucky enough to have a root cellar, you can store potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips, and even apples and more for your winter food supply in the cool temperatures of your cellar. You might be able to build a small enclosure in your garage or basement where you can keep the temperature and humidity at the right levels. The library has some good books on constructing spaces for root cellaring as well as how to store various foods appropriately. I especially liked Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables by Mike Bubel.

Personally I don’t have a good root cellar space. My pantry is room temperature. It’s fine for storing my home canned goods and dry goods, but for root vegetables it isn’t nearly cool enough. I use my freezer instead.

Potatoes are one of my favorite foods to substitute for commercially prepared convenience versions, especially for health reasons. See the recipe linked below for Frozen French Fries that are just as convenient as the unhealthier commercial ones.

Here’s this week’s locavore menu:

  • Grilled T-bone Steaks (from freezer–Second Wind Farm, Everson)
  • Frozen French Fries
  • Sauteed Fresh Kale (Full Bloom Farm, Lummi Island)

Start the Frozen French Fries baking (15 minutes before dinner). Then clean and chop the fresh kale (takes about 5 minutes). Start the thawed steaks grilling (7-8 minutes before dinner). While the steaks cook, saute the kale (takes about 5 minutes). Everything should be done at just about the same time. Dinner in 15 minutes–that’s about as convenient as it gets! And it’s a healthy dinner you can feel proud about serving.

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