Zucchini for the Freezer

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‘Tis the season of zucchini – the time of year when gardeners are tired of the zucchini bounty and are happy to give friends, neighbors and random passersby their extra squash. I got so tired of my plant taking up most of my garden space that I took the whole thing out and planted a fall garden. More on that in another post.

I have mentioned dealing with all the zucchini in several posts. Can you tell that zucchini has been preoccupying me just a bit? Some of the harvest played a starring roll in lemon zucchini muffins and some featured prominently in pasta dishes or side dishes. And then the rest of it…

Most of the harvest ended up in the freezer, in the form of bags of shredded zucchini. Ready and waiting for me to make zucchini bread and muffins or to sauté to make a quick batch of zucchini pesto for pasta. When I’m not so tired of the blessed vegetable.

DSC_0349I have a ready stash now, stacked in the freezer in ziplock bags. Over the years I have develop a process that works for me and makes the most of precious freezer space. First, shred the zucchini, either by hand or with a food processor. For ease of filling, line a glass or other straight-sided container with a quart-sized ziplock bag, folding the top edge back over the glass. Fill the bag with about two cups of zucchini shreds. You can measure the first one and then fill the others to the same height as the first. I use two cups because that is what most of my recipes call for, and it fills the bag nicely.

DSC_0359Press all the air out of the bags and seal them tightly. Flatten the bags as much as possible, spreading the zucchini shreds out to the very edges of the bags. Label each bag with the contents and the date. Don’t skip the labeling or you will be stuck puzzling over the contents in January, when the contents are frosty and your memory is fuzzy. Freeze the bags flat, and then store them on their sides, like books in a shelf.

When you are ready to use the zucchini, the bags thaw in just a few hours on the counter. Or dip the sealed bag briefly in hot water until the zucchini is thawed enough to use. Or throw the frozen zucchini block right into boiling soup or pasta sauce.

What is your favorite way of dealing with garden abundance?

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Roasted Red Peppers

DSC_0038Maybe it’s because we had our first hard freeze last night, but I am thinking about the last preps for winter now. We will take out the last of the garden tomorrow and put it to bed for winter. And I am working hard to preserve the last of the garden produce – peppers, tomatoes and basil for us.

Roasted red bell peppers are one of my favorites. And red peppers can be mighty pricey, summer and winter. When I can get my hands on a reasonably priced supply I buy several, roast them and freeze them for later. When I got the precious pepper bounty a few weeks ago from my dad and his garden, I did exactly that. Now I have a nice stash in the freezer, waiting for me to make roasted red pepper soup or to add to tacos or quesadillas.

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What are you waiting for? Get thee to a farmers market and check for last minute deals on peppers. Now is the time to stock your freezer for the winter. Or, if garden season is long past in your area, watch for sales at the store and snap them up.

Download or print the recipe.

Roasted Red Peppers
From The Cook’s Life
Yield varies

Red bell peppers
Cooking spray or oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a baking pan and set aside.

Cut down along the sides of each pepper to separate the flesh from the core, seeds and top. You will end up with 4-5 pieces from each pepper. Cut off any thick white ribs on the inside of the peppers. Place pepper pieces in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, skin side up.

Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until the skins and edges are starting to blacken and the flesh is soft.

When cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Or leave them on, according to your preference.

Freeze in a single layer in a zip-top plastic bag. Thaw as needed.

Spring has Sprung

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While we are afraid to truly believe it, I think spring is here in St. Louis. We had highs in the 70s all weekend and aren’t supposed to dip below freezing all week. I know we will still have a frost or two, probably, but we are in the home stretch. Spring weather is only a week or two later than usual, but compared to last year when we had 80s in March, we are lagging. I am ecstatic that the trees are blooming and budding and a few are even putting out leaves. I love leaves on the trees. Every year I yearn for the leaves more, I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s my redheaded complexion that just wants there to be more shade in the world.

We spent most of Saturday working in the yard – raking up a multitude of sweet gum balls from our neighbor’s tree, picking up a winter’s worth of sticks and seeding a few bare patches in the lawn. After all that we had time to turn over the garden and plant the garlic plants we dug from my parents’ garlic bed on Easter. I so love a busy day of yard work. Really I do. That is not sarcasm. I won’t be so joyous come the heat of summer, but now it is still a novelty after what seems like a really long, cold winter.

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Saturday is my day to bake, at least when it is too cold to be outside. I bake less when the weather is nice, but I usually manage to at least make something to have for dessert Saturday night. This week I experimented with cheesecake bars. While the picture is pretty, they are still a work in progress. You can cover a multitude of mistakes with homemade caramel sauce. Stay tuned for the bar recipe when I get it perfected.

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We took advantage of the beautiful weather and grilled hamburgers for dinner. I didn’t want to take the time to make buns for them, and we had cleaned out our freezer stash. We had (gasp!) store buns with our hamburgers. Rich offered to buy them so I didn’t have to be seen buying buns. Not really, but it did give me time to make the cream cheese bars while he was gone.

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Calvin got in on the action to make dinner and I must say our oven fries were some of the best we have ever made. The burgers weren’t bad either.  I love days when it all comes together – family time, chores and even dessert. Even without the homemade buns.

The Tomato Saga Continues

I didn’t think I would be writing a post about our flourishing tomatoes in the middle of October. Usually the tomatoes are sort of limping along by now, but this year we have lush green leaves and loaded vines. Our average first frost date is October 20th, so our tomato days might be numbered. But then again, if we get out there with sheets to cover the garden before forecasted frosts, we might just be able to stretch the season a little longer. I think the vines deserve the TLC after the hot, dry summer they endured.

I spent an hour on Saturday picking tomatoes and trimming back the vines that were growing over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, into our compost bin and stretching out across the grass when they couldn’t find anything to climb. I picked all the tomatoes off the cut vines before I put them in the yard waste bin. Now I have a huge bowl of green tomatoes, as well as a bunch of red ones.

I know what to do with the red ones (eat them!), but I’m not sure what I am going to do with the green tomatoes. I might make green tomato and apple chutney. I have looked at several recipes that sound pretty good – green tomatoes, apples, vinegar, brown sugar, raisins and spices. I have never tasted green tomato chutney, so I am pretty much shooting in the dark. Does anyone have a recipe they love?

An Ode to a Vine

This weather this year has been lousy for gardening. Through some strange fluke, and a lot of work, ours has flourished. We have as much basil as we want and the tomato vines are trying to take over the yard. Of our three tomato plants, we have only harvested off the cherry tomato vine, but they are the epitome of summer tomatoes – full of tomato flavor, sweet and tasting of summer. We are hoping the other green tomatoes on the Early Girl and the Rutgers vines will ripen some day. When they do, we will be inundated.

If you aren’t a gardener, let me give you the lowdown – tomatoes like it hot, but not too hot. And they like just enough moisture. Too much and they can get blossom end rot on the fruit, which is exactly what it sounds like. Too little and they conserve their energies and stop blooming and producing.

Here in St. Louis we have had a scorcher of a summer so far, and we are only half through it. We don’t usually get 100-degree days until August, but we have had our fair share of them already. All without a drop of rain. Well, maybe a few drops, but not many. Not nearly enough. The grass is dying. The trees are struggling. And forget about flower gardens unless you water often and try to shield them from the relentless sun.

Our little cherry tomato vine just keeps plugging along, though. I say little, but if you stretched it out it would be over seven feet tall. And it is full of tomatoes in every stage of ripeness from green to a hint of blush to orange to red. Keep going little tomato!

Do you garden? What fruit or vegetable to you look forward to every summer?

Backyard Gardening Excitement

Summer tomatoes are almost here! The plants in the garden have green tomatoes and lots of blooms. We are hoping to get our first tomato in a couple of weeks, as long as the hot weather continues. It has been really dry, so I have had to water them once or twice a week. Last year we had really wet weather in the spring, followed by bone dry, lung-searing hot weather for the summer. Between the weather and the squirrels, we got…wait for it…one tomato last year. I am determined we will get more this year.

The basil is growing like gangbusters and we have used it a few times on pizza. The plants are big enough now that I am ready to pick enough leaves to make our first batch of pesto. I am often tempted to make a big batch of pesto, but part of the reason for having our own plants is to make small batches so we can have garden fresh pesto whenever we want. While homemade pesto from the freezer is good, there is nothing better than having really fresh pesto, made from leaves that were growing in the sun just hours or minutes before dinner.

Whether you have a garden, a basil plant in a pot, or get your basil from the store or a farmers’ market, make your own pesto at least once. It is easy and you can’t beat the bright green color. We like it on pasta, in pizza and spaghetti sauce and as a spread for garlic bread. It is also good on fish or chicken. Post in the comments and share how you like to eat pesto.

Basil Pesto
From The Cook’s Life
Makes about 1 cup, easy to double

These amounts are approximate, and customizable – reduce the garlic, use different nuts or leave them out, use more cheese, or less, adjust the olive oil amounts to your tastes.

3 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
3 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup sliced almonds or pecan halves (pine nuts are traditional, but expensive)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Black pepper
Olive oil for storing

Pulse basil in a food processor until finely chopped.

Add garlic, nuts and cheese and pulse until finely chopped. Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil and pulse again.

Continue to add olive oil to make a paste, but not so much that you have puddles of oil in the bottom of the food processor.

Use on pizza, in pasta or as a dip. Store in the fridge in a closed container. Smooth the top surface and drizzle with a little olive oil. Press a piece of plastic wrap gently over the surface before closing the container to help seal out air and maintain the bright green color. Keeps about 1 week in the fridge.

For longer storage you can easily freeze pesto. Line a plate or pan with waxed or parchment paper. Put dollops of pesto on the paper and flatten into disks with the back of a spoon or your finger. Freeze uncovered for a couple of hours or until fully frozen. Peel off the paper and place in a plastic zip-top bag or container and return to freezer.

Download the recipe here.

A Perfect Mother’s Day Weekend


I wasn’t going to write a Mother’s Day post. But then I started thinking while I was cutting up strawberries for preserves, and I wrote the post in my head while I was working. When I had the berries on the heat I sat down to write before the words disappeared. As I type now, my fingers are a little stained and a lot wrinkled from the strawberry juice.

My Mother’s Day weekend started with Rich and Calvin picking up croissants from a French bakery for Saturday breakfast. They are giant croissants, and they are heavenly. Rich and I had almond paste-filled and Calvin had chocolate. We forgot to take pictures before we inhaled them, so you’ll just have to imagine.

Then, fueled with all those calories, we weeded the flower beds. That was my present from Rich and Calvin. And it was one of the best presents possible. I hate weeding with a passion, but three people made it go so much faster. We have a zoysia lawn, which we always say grows better in the flower beds than in the yard. In case you aren’t familiar with it, zoysia sends out runners, both underground and on the surface, and can invade a flower bed and make it part of the lawn in no time. We have been fighting this battle for the 14 years we have been in this house, and I think it will be never ending.

After our labors, and showers (it is amazing how dirty you can get weeding), we got to the fun part – shopping at the nursery for more plants. I restrained myself and we ended up with two new kinds of ornamental grasses and a rosemary plant. We got my mom a red rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), which should be spectacular when it blooms, and a rosemary plant.

After lunch we drove to my parents’ house for the afternoon and dinner. Dad had invited us out to celebrate Mother’s Day on Saturday for a more relaxed celebration than we usually get on Sunday. While Dad, Rich and Calvin cooked dinner; Mom and I went to my uncle’s house next door and picked strawberries from his garden. The weather was beautiful and it was nice to spend some time working together and talking about not much of anything.

Mother’s Day itself was rather low key around here. We went out for sandwiches for lunch after church and then went to Home Depot to buy mulch for our newly weeded flower beds. The sun was too fierce for this redhead by the time we got home, so we relaxed and called Rich’s mom in Florida. Rich and Calvin cooked Fettuccini Alfredo for me for dinner and did the dishes. An evening trip out for ice cream won out over finishing the yard work. The perfect topper to a perfect family weekend!