Be Safe When Using Frozen Foods

hereMany of us use our freezers to put up goodies from the frozvegfresh harvest season. Others use the freezer to put together homemade meals or recipes ready to be cooked or reheated when cooking from scratch just is not on our schedule for the day or week. Freezing prepared foods in advance allows us the satisfaction of homemade meals with the convenience of store-bought ones.

Freezing foods does not improve on poor texture, flavor or quality of foods, so choose your ingredients and products well. The way foods are prepared and packaged for freezing, as well as the temperature of the freezer, will greatly influence how well food will keep in the freezer. Quality in, quality out.

What I would like to emphasize is keeping food safe during thawing and later use out of the freezer. Several options are available for thawing prepared foods. The frozen food can be taken directly from the freezer and immediately placed in the oven for thawing and heating as long as it is in a freezer-to-oven safe container. Some foods are best reheated using a double boiler and can be thawed that way also. Foods that contain fish, meat, eggs or other high protein ingredients should be thawed in the refrigerator or microwave. To ensure the safety of your food, do not allow these potentially hazardous foods to stay in the temperature danger zone (40°F-140°F) for more than 2 hours. Plan ahead because refrigerator thawing can take some time. If you thaw potentially hazardous foods in the microwave, you should go ahead and finish the cooking and not store the thawed food as is.  The cooking can be done in the microwave itself, or using other cooking methods.

Breads, cakes, and cookies without cream fillings that are precooked may be thawed at room temperature. Reheat all prepared foods except non-meat baked goods, sweets and fruits to at least 165°F quickly, within 2 hours. Specifics for different kinds of foods can be found in Freezing Prepared Foods.  Other freezing pointers on thawing, packaging, freezer management, and foods that do not freeze well can be found here.

Planning ahead and freezing prepared foods is a great way to keep homemade food on your dinner table without all of the stress and hassle of last minute preparation. But be sure to keep food safety in mind when it’s time to serve your goodies.

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Still Yearning to Can in These Winter Months?

If you are still looking for indoor, easy canning options in these winter months, here is a hot sauce that do not require the fresh tomatoes, vegetables or fruits fresh from gardens. It also makes a nice gift to have on hand. Our previous blog was a quick jelly recipe from frozen orange juice concentrate.

Easy Hot Sauce is another option for winter canning if jelly is not your canned food of choice. Easy Hot Sauce is great for spicing things up by stirring into vegetables or chehotsauceese dips, soups and chilis.  This one uses canned diced tomatoes (undrained), chopped fresh hot peppers, vinegar and dry seasonings; the canning process is carried out in boiling water. This recipe yields four half-pint jars. Wear gloves when handling, cutting and seeding hot peppers or wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face or eyes.

Start by washing and rinsing half-pint canning jars; keep hot until they are filled. Prepare lids according to the manufacturer’s directions. The boiling water canner should be prepared and the process managed as found here.  Follow directions in the recipe for measuring and cooking ingredients before filling jars. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (15 minutes if 1,000-6,000 ft altitude; 20 minutes if over 6,000 ft). Allow hot sauce to cool, undisturbed, for 12 to 24 hours and check seals. You can remove ring bands after the food has cooled if the lids are sealed.

Enjoy this easy way to add some “heat” and spice to your winter days.

Think sunshine and oranges in winter

We do not have a lot of our home canning recommendations that call for commercially processed ingredients in the recipes. However, here is an idea that does not require the fresh tomatoes, vegetables or fruits fresh from gardens. Just in the last week, I have had two people spontaneously say how much they like this recipe; in one case, it was an educator who said her canning class liked it a lot!

Orange Jelly from Frozen Juice  calls for one
12-ounce can of frozen concentrated orange juice and 1 traditional “box” of powdered pectin and creates a delightful, flavorful orange jelly for toast or biscuits on dreary winter mornings or late afternoons. The recipe yields five or size half-pint jars (we never all seem to get the same quantity for many recipes, do we? Or a final amount that just fills all jars exactly….)

For this one, we recommend using pre-sterilized jars and a very short boiling water process time. To pre-sterilize jars, boil empty, washed and rinsed glass canning jars submerged in boiling water for 10 minutes. (That’s 10 minutes after the water comes to a boil over the jars.) The easiest way to do this is to stand empty jars upright on a rack in a clean boiling water canner filled with clean water. Keep jars hot until they are filled. Prepare lids according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Directions for cooking the jelly are specific as to when to add sugar and pectin, and how long to boil. The process time in the canner is then 5 minutes up to 1000 ft altitude (10 minutes if 1,000-6,000 ft altitude; 15 minutes if over 6,000 ft). Allow jelly to cool, undisturbed, for 12 to 24 hours and check seals. You can remove ring bands after the food has cooled if the lids are sealed.

If you don’t want to pre-sterilize your jars, wash and rinse your jars and then keep hot before filling. The process times are then 10 minutes up to 1000 ft in altitude, (15 minutes if 1,000-6,000 ft altitude; 20 minutes if over 6,000 ft).

And enjoy the flavor of your labor, even if it really doesn’t take a lot time!

Inside Family Time for Winter: Fruit Roll-Ups

In many parts of our country, it is that time of year when some of us P1010166
are spending more hours (or even days) than usual inside the house
with children. If you have a food dehydrator, you can pull that out and make some simple fruit roll-ups with young ones. Making your own fruit roll-up snacks can also provide a snack option lower in sugar than some commercially made ones.

The major skill needed is to be able to evenly spread a fruit puree in a very thin layP1010165er (about 1/8-inch thick) onto a lined dehydrator tray. So a second skill might be pureeing of fruit if you don’t have an apple or other fruit sauce already canned. You can use your own homemade fine applesauce puree or buy commercial sauce.  More directions for choosing and preparing fruit, as well as flavoring suggestions can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website   or in some state Extension factsheets such as this one from Colorado State University.

Unsweetened applesauce makes an easy already-pureed fruit ready to spread on your dryer sheets. You can add some spices like cinnamon or nutmeg to taste; or purchase some applesauces already flavored with spice or other fruits.

Drained canned fruits as well as frozen fruits make other easily available ready-to-puree fruit. You can easily purchase canned fruits packed in water or light syrups to reduce the sugar content, and frozen fruits can be purchased in unsweetened forms if you haven’t frozen them that way yourself. Strained baby fruits also make an even, fine puree to use. If the winter weather is not keeping you from accessing fresh fruits at your local store, be sure to choose ripe to very ripe fruit for pureeing. The Colorado directions for fresh fruits call for cooking a puree; other sources such as in our directions call for just pureeing the fresh fruit.

When preparing your trays, avoid pouring the fruit puree too close to the edges. Leave about ½-inch margin or more so you are able to get an edge to peel the leather away from the tray when it is dried.

Larger leathers take longer to dry; you can cover the dryer tray as shown, or pour smaller, individual sized circles to dry smaller roll-ups. The best drying temperature is 140 degrees F. Test often for dryness; times can vary a lot from 4-10 hours depending on your method and fruit.  No indentations should remain if you lightly touch the leather, even though it might still feel a bit tacky. If the leather peels readily from your tray, and there are no indentations remaining, it should be properly dried. Leaving too much moisture can lead to molding or other spoilage in storage.

See the references above for more complete instructions as well as storage directions. However, if the extra winter-time indoors is really getting to your family, your fruit roll-ups may be gobbled up quickly and not be stored all that long!

For more on recommended food drying procedures, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation.