Hey y'all! I mentioned last week that I'd be merging the DIY and Cooking blogs together because it made so much more sense (and made for less work really). So today I wanted to share with you one of my money saving tips for produce. If you're the primary grocery shopper in your household you know that meat and produce (i. e. - fresh fruit and veggies) are the most expensive items on your shopping list. I will totally admit to you that I buy frozen veggies most of the time because they are far more affordable than fresh, but I know that fresh is always best. Still, I have to work within our budget so that tends to limit what I can buy.
My first tip for getting fresh veggies into your cart on the cheap would have to be buying when they are in season. Buying corn on the cob in winter is far more expensive than when buying it in the summer when it's in season. Veggie "seasons" are a little different depending on where you live though so my second bit of advice would be to check with a local farmer's market to see what's in season when in your area. Another way to tell what is in season is to look at what's on special at your store of choice. If it seems really inexpensive, it's probably in season.
But what if you want that fresh veggie taste in the middle of winter when most things aren't being harvested? Well you're stuck unless you do what I do! I make my own frozen veggies at home! Last week, I bought two pounds of brussels sprouts for $2.99. My store had given out a coupon and I knew I couldn't do much cheaper than that - the frozen store brand was $1.99 per pound. So, it was a great savings.
The only problem with buying that much of a fresh veggie at a time is that we tend not to eat it before it goes bad, so I learned how to flash freeze and bag my own veggies. Here's what I did with the sprouts:
Step 1- Gather your supplies:
In the case of the sprouts I grabbed them, several wooden skewers and a large pot of water. You'll also need a baking sheet or a retro ice tray and a large bowl of ice and ice water.
Step 2 - Using our salad spinner ($2.99 at Ikea!), I gave the sprouts a good wash and spin. I also took the time to cut off any ends that looked icky or too fibrous.
Step 3 - Bring the water to a boil. While you wait use one of the skewers to poke a hole in the bottom of each of the brussels sprouts.
Step 4 - When the water comes to a boil drop in the sprouts (carefully!). Let them boil for about 3 - 5 minutes (3 tends to be ideal for me, but stoves vary). Work in batches. Don't overcrowd the pot and don't walk away. You're not trying to cook the sprouts all the way. You're just blanching them so they can be frozen and recooked. This is what companies like Green Giant do to the veggies you buy in the freezer case.
Step 5 - When they're blanched (about 3 minutes - you can tell because they look very bright in color) immediately remove them and plunge them in your bowl of ice and ice water. This stops the cooking process. We disabled our ice maker to make more freezer storage space, so I just use freezer pops to keep the water nice and cold. Works like a charm and the best part is that as they melt, they don't raise the level of the water in the bowl.
Step 6 - To flash freeze, I use either a baking sheet or an old ice tray. I just plop a sprout in each little ice cup until it's full and then pop it into the freezer. Set a timer for an hour or so (longer doesn't really matter, I just wouldn't go more than a couple of hours) and then go relax. Again, I worked in batches so while one batch was freezing, I was prepping more using the same process. I even kept them in bowls in the fridge once I got them all blanched. Then as one batch came out of the freezer, I just stuck a new one in. Each batch was popped out of the ice tray and into a large freezer bag.
Now we have plenty for the weeks to come! From start to finish the blanching process only took about a half hour, and then it was just waiting for the frozen batches to be ready. Easy peasy!
Not every vegetable can be frozen. Onions are one you shouldn't. They are too watery and tend to shrivel up. Also, not every veggie needs to be blanched first. If you are interested in how to do more freezer prep, I'll be glad to share what I've learned. It really does save us a ton of money and allows us to eat more fresh vegetables without losing them to rot in the fridge.
Questions? Comments? I'd love to hear 'em. Please leave me a comment below. :)
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