Frozen Vegetables: Which to Buy, How to Use

As explained in the previous post, you’re not doing yourself a nutritional disservice by taking advantage of the convenience of frozen vegetables, especially on nights when you’re suffering vegetable exhaustion and the alternative might be no vegetables at all.  Here’s a couple tips if you’d like to explore this meal making avenue:

10 Top Frozen Vegetables to Stock in Your Freezer Pantry

  1. Green beans (especially whole, petite green beans, or haricorts verts)
  2. Green peas
  3. Spinach, chopped, loose pack
  4. Corn
  5. Onions, chopped
  6. Broccoli, petite florets
  7. Cubed sweet potatoes and butternut squash
  8. Edamame
  9. Green and red bell pepper strips
  10. Hash brown potatoes

It goes without saying, of course, that you’ll want to buy frozen veggies that are (surprise!) 100% vegetables, not vegetables + butter, cheese, salt, sugar, preservatives, etc.  Add enhancements on your own so you can monitor quality.

5 Quick Vegetable Boosts with Frozen Veggies

  1. Frozen green beans in ready-made soups, like vegetable or chicken noodle; chop before adding

    Pacific Foods Carrot Ginger Soup

    Two favorite soups for "beefing up" with frozen vegetables

  2. Frozen peas in mac ‘n cheese
  3. Frozen green peppers  + frozen hash browns scrambled into an omelet
  4. Frozen spinach with spaghetti; bake casserole style
  5. Frozen broccoli in butternut squash or potato soup

    Amy's Curried Lentil Soup

    Frozen chopped spinach is a good addition.

See how easy it can be to live a vegetable-rich life!

How’s Your Pantry Looking?

Syndicated Columnist Marni Jameson Gets Her Pantry Under Control with Kitchen Coach Mary Collette Rogers

Mary Collette organizes the pantry with syndicated columnist Marni Jameson

The last few posts have all mentioned the pantry in relation to healthy meal making, and with good reason:  The pantry is a vital link to manageable meal times.

With the right ingredients stocked, meal making can be not only fast but interesting, as a  previous post explained.  As important as stocking the pantry, however, is arranging it for speedy access.  How frustrating if you can’t quickly grab an ingredient when assembling a meal.

My book, Take Control of Your Kitchen, shows both how to stock and how to organize kitchen cupboards for quick and easy access.  That’s why nationally syndicated home improvement columnist Marni Jameson phoned for an emergency session when she needed to write about pantry organizing–and get her own pantry in order.

You’re sure to get a chuckle from Marni’s article, “Odeur du Jour Pushes Writer into Pantry Panic–and pick up a copy of Take Control of Your Kitchen if you’re ready to replace chaos with order in your pantry cupboards.

The Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Meals

What is it and why might you care about it?

Allison’s story makes a good illustration of the Whole Kitchen Way (R).  As related in an earlier post, Allison has enthusiastically embraced everyday good eating.  But every now and then she hits the vegetable exhaustion wall.  My advice as a kitchen coach:  take a break and make a super easy meal on those nights.   I even came up with the perfect “take-a-break” recipe:  Creamy Gingered Peas and White Fish, a 15-minute, totally healthful and yummy one dish meal.

Here’s the kicker, though.  The dish can be made in 15 minutes as long as you:

  • keep a freezer pantry stocked with convenient frozen vegetables
  • know to keep frozen fish filets and which ones to stock
  • are familiar with ginger enough to use it as a main flavoring
  • know how to buy and grate ginger
  • have the tool to grate ginger in 10 seconds
  • have that tool at your fingertips by the sink
  • stock limes and fish sauce in your refrigerator pantry
  • stock coconut milk, chicken broth and high-quality soy sauce in your pantry
  • know how to deglaze a pan and not overcook fish
  • have counter space for cooking that isn’t covered with clutter
  • can access ingredients without lengthy searching
  • can quickly lay your hands on cutting board, knife and measuring spoons and cups, and
  • don’t forget to have some whole grain rice left over from the day before.

Did you ever stop to think of all the puzzle pieces that come together to create “the picture” of a healthful meal?”  Most people have only the recipe piece.  No wonder it’s so hard to complete the finished picture and get a good meal on the table.  It’s because we’re working with a half (or quarter) kitchen, instead of a Whole Kitchen.

Get a feel for this Whole Kitchen concept with the articles below:  You’ll find the Gingered Pea recipe, but also  information on planning for this kind of meal, integrating coconut milk into your pantry, confidently using coconut milk and why taking advantage of convenient frozen veggies shouldn’t be a source of nutritional guilt.  Hopefully, you’ll gain a sense of the Whole Kitchen “infrastructure” that, if it’s in place, makes the recipe an entirely manageable, 15-minute undertaking.

Would you like to begin feeling good about the meals you’re making and eating, like you’re doing your body a favor instead of filling it with the highly processed and refined  foods, filled with fat, salt and sugar,then flavored and colored artificially?  We don’t want to eat any more pesticide covered, chemically fertilized, environment-destroying foods.  Are you ready to learn a Whole New Approach to Healthful Meal Making, so you can begin enjoying the meals of your dreams?  The key lies in creating a supportive, Whole Kitchen.  Join me for the next Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Eating series, beginning Wednesday, August 11.

Coconut Milk: Tips for Buying, Using and Storing

The previous post talked about sparking up mealtimes by weaving in recipes and dishes using new pantry ingredients.  Coconut milk is a great one to try:  creamy, rich and not at all expensive.  Here are some pointers to increase your comfort level with this new ingredient:

Tip 1:  What Kind to Buy?

One class participant bought coconut milk at a regular grocery store that curdled and didn’t taste good.  She felt the milk we used in class was far better, so here are the two brands we used, purchased at Whole Foods or Vitamin Cottage.

Thai Kitchen Coconut Milk Native Forest Coconut Milk

Tip 2:  Skim Cream from Milk or Stir Before Using

Like unhomogenized cow’s milk, coconut milk separates, with the heavier cream rising to the top of the can.  According to my friend (see below), Asian cooks frequently skim off the cream for special uses, like adding a creamy finish to a dish, much as we would add a splash of heavy cream to finish a soup.  If you don’t do this, then be sure to shake the coconut milk well before opening the can or stir it well once opened.  Sometimes, the cream will harden slightly, requiring careful and patient whisking with a fork to blend everything together before using.

Use a small gravy ladle to skim cream from coconut milk. . . . . . then pour into a jar . . .and store in the frig for use within 4-5 days.

Tip 3:  Freeze Leftover Coconut MilkFreeze extra coconut milk in small containers.

A friend who is a great Asian cook shared this tip, a great one since coconut milk is often used in small amounts and the excess can sour after just five or six days in the frig.  If you can’t use it up extra coconut milk in that short a time, simply freeze in small containers or ice cube trays so it can be used in small amounts.  After freezing the milk will separate and have a curdled texture, but will taste just fine.

The bigger lesson for any new pantry ingredient:  Learn how to store to maintain freshness for later use, since many are used in small amounts.

Pantry Stocking: Coconut Milk, Catch 22s . . .

. . . and the Methodical Pantry Expansion Method

  • Typical Complaint:  “I’m so tired of making the same old things for dinner.”
  • Response:  Stock a few new and interesting pantry treasures to spark up mealtimes.
  • Counter-complaint:  “But when I buy something new, it gets used for only one dish and  then it just sits in the cupboard.”

Faced with this Catch 22, many people just give up and make the same old boring things, over and over.

Tired of this ending?  If so try the Methodical Pantry Expansion Method:  After buying and using a new ingredient for one recipe, don’t let it migrate into the forgotten corners of the pantry.  Make a conscious effort to journey further with it!  Find other uses for it, then put it to use and gain a feel for and familiarity with it.  Pretty soon, you’ll be using it as easily and naturally as onion and garlic.

Here’s an example for coconut milk from the first Whole Kitchen Cooking Series:

  1. First we used coconut milk for an Asian Style Creamy Asparagus SoupCan of Native Forest Coconut Milk
  2. Two weeks later, we used coconut milk for Saag Paneer (an Indian creamed spinach)
  3. A week later, we found that coconut milk made a delightful addition to tapioca pudding.
  4. A couple days after the series, with leftover coconut milk sitting in my frig, I created this month’s Creamy Gingered Pea and White Fish recipe for the class.

No Catch 22 here.  Just lots of interesting dishes with no waste, and class members began acquiring an ease and comfort using coconut milk.

I certainly didn’t start out with any ease or comfort using coconut milk.  In fact, I sputtered and nearly stalled several times, as cans of coconut milk accumulated and sat idle in the pantry.  Finally I realized that new pantry ingredients don’t become helpful, boredom-busting friends without conscious and methodical (but not at all difficult) effort.  Hence:

The Methodical Pantry Expansion Method

  1. First, find a recipe that features one or two intriguing new pantry ingredient(s.)
  2. Focus on less expensive ingredients when learning the process.
  3. For the first couple purchases, opt for small amounts over larger or bulk buys.
  4. For more expensive items, try to taste in a class or demo before committing to a purchase.  Or go in with a friend.
  5. Test the new ingredient in an initial recipe, but–here’s the critical point–don’t stop with just one try.  Get busy and try it a couple more times, bearing in mind that it might take a few tries to fully appreciate a new flavor.
  6. Now keep an eye out for more recipes with your new ingredient.  This will happen with surprising frequency.  Looking for particular recipes has a way of drawing them out of the woodwork, as I explained in the post on recipes with targeted spices.

Doing this much may be all the farther you go.  You discover three or four favorite recipes and move on to another new find.  But you may also come to a point where ad libbing seems appropriate.  All of a sudden, you have enough of a feel for and familiarity with an ingredient that spontaneous uses break forth:    “Hmmm . . . I’ve got a great curry here, but it’s a little too spicy.  What if I add a dollop of coconut milk to smooth it out?”

I was a year or two into following Thai recipes when I suddenly began mixing and matching Thai seasonings on my own, with delicious results.  At the outset, of course, I didn’t ever think I could throw together a dish with things like fish sauce, chili paste and lemongrass.  But time and experimenting does indeed make tinkering possible–and really fun.  It’s at this point of “creative convergence” that cooking leaves the realm of “tiresome chore” and enters the realm of “enjoyable and engaging.”  I hope you’ll experiment and experience it.

Lemongrass, popular in Thai cooking

Want to make coconut milk your new ingredient?  Checkout the next post for tips on using and storing coconut milk.  And don’t forget this month’s recipe for Creamy Gingered Pea and White Fish.

Frozen Veggies Can Be As (or More) Nutritious Than Fresh

Fresh Broccoli vs. Frozen

Think of frozen veggies as a convenient alternative to, not a straight substitute for fresh vegetables.

After one of my Easy Everyday Cooking Classes, one participant wrote an alarmed message on her evaluation form:  “Why did you use frozen vegetables for the Cauliflower Tomato Curry?  I never eat anything but fresh!”

My bad.  Not for using frozen veggies, but for failing to clarify the reasoning.  While the word is getting out about frozen vegetables, let me repeat the key points in case you’ve missed anything:

1.  Fresh vegetables are better, if they’re really fresh, When nutrition experts rhapsodize over fresh vegetables, the vegetables they have in mind are those picked that morning then stored properly until dinner time.   Sadly, however, the “fresh” vegetables in your grocery store aren’t generally far from this kind of fresh.  Even though they look fresh, they may well be two, three or four days old, depending upon how long it took to transport them from the field (often in a distant part of the country), through warehouses and distribution points and onto your store’s shelves, where they may sit for another day or two before being purchased.  Then they may sit another day (or week) in your frig before making it onto the dinner plate.

2.   Vegetables begin the slow slide into compost the minute they are picked. And they begin to deteriorate nutritionally as well as physically.  While proper storage can minimize nutrient loss, consumers are often lax in this regard.  Produce isn’t bagged properly, it sits in hot cars too long, is forgotten about on counters and is denied the optimal humidity in the frig.

3.  Meanwhile, produce destined for the freezer case is flash frozen shortly after picking, at its nutritional peak. That nutritional high point can then be maintained for six months at least.

4.  So while the translation from fresh to frozen undoubtedly results in nutrient loss, it’s surely no worse than that suffered by “fresh” produce that has survived three (or maybe 13) days in trucks, warehouses, grocery shelf bins and crisper drawers.  And nutritional studies have confirmed this fact.

Despite the evidence, it not uncommon to still feel uneasy about using frozen vegetables.  For so long, the “eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables” prescription has been drilled into us to the point where, at a visceral level, it just feels wrong to eat frozen veggies.  And let’s not forget about taste.  Without a doubt, fresh vegetables (even if a few days old), generally taste a whole lot better than frozen.

On the other hand, frozen veggies have a lot to offer over fresh:

  • They won’t rot in the crisper if you forget them for a week, buy too many veggies or experience schedule changes that make mincemeat of your dinner plans.
  • They are enormously convenient:  No peeling, paring, dicing or slicing.  Just cut open the bag and dump into a pan.
  • They are reasonably priced, especially considering that there is not wastage.
  • While their taste is not as good as fresh, the last few years have seen a huge improvement in the quality of frozen vegetables.

My bottom line:  I view frozen veggies not as a straight substitution for fresh veggies, but as a convenient alternative.  In other words, where taste is critical, I stick with fresh (and strive my best to use really fresh vegetables.)  However, where convenience and speed are the more critical drivers, I have no problem drawing on my freezer pantry for veggies.   As an example, I don’t microwave frozen broccoli for a free-standing vegetable to serve alongside chicken parmesan.  But in my quest to get more vegetables into my life, I don’t hesitate to add frozen broccoli into a scramble so I can enjoy a vegetable-rich  breakfast in a hurry.

I also don’t hesitate to use frozen veggies when suffering from a case of “vegetable exhaustion,” as advised in yesterday’s post.  Today’s recipe for Creamy Ginger Peas and White Fish is a perfect example of using frozen to give myself a rest in the kitchen while still enjoying a vegetable-rich meal.  See the next post with “5 Quick Vegetable Boosts with Frozen Veggies,” and “10 Top Frozen Vegetables to Stock in Your Freezer Pantry.”

Using Frozen Veggies: Creamy Gingered Peas and White Fish

Yesterday’s post offered advice for dealing with “vegetable exhaustion:”  Take a break every now and then by using frozen vegetables, which require little to no prep time.  Here’s a great, “take-a-break” one dish meal, made easy with not only frozen peas, but also a convenient frozen fish fillet.

Creamy Gingered Peas and White Fish

  • 2 10-oz. pkgs. Columbia River Organic Peas and Pearl Onions

Place peas in medium-sized saute pan with a lid.  Turn heat to medium, cover and cook about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until peas and onions are thoroughly cooked and moisture has evaporated.

  • 2 Tbsp. freshly sqeezed lime juice, divided
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 6-oz. frozen Mahi Mahi filet, thawed and cut into roughly ¾” cubes

While peas cook, combine half of lime juice and all of soy sauce in a soup bowl.  Gently squeeze fish cubes to eliminate excess moisture, then place in lime juice mixture and toss to coat.  Reserve.

  • 2 tsp. canola oil
  • 2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4  to 1/3 cup coconut milk, to taste

Once peas are done, reduce heat to medium low and push to sides of pan.  Into center of pan, pour oil and allow to warm for 10-15 seconds.  Stir ginger into oil and cook about 30-45 seconds.  Dump reserved fish over ginger and spread into a single layer.  Cook a minute or two to lightly brown one side, then pour in broth and coconut milk.  DEGLAZE pan, then reduce heat to low, cover and allow fish to cook another minute or two, stirring a couple times, just until fish is cooked through.  Avoid overcooking fish.  Immediately remove pan from heat.

  • 1-2 tsp. fish sauce, to taste
  • 2 cups cooked Forbidden Rice, brown basmati or other whole grain brown rice or quinoa.

Sprinkle with fish sauce and remaining lime juice, to taste, then serve stew nestled into a bed of rice that has been warmed in microwave.

Notes and Options

Snap or Snow Pea Option: Try substituting fresh snap or snow peas for the frozen peas, when in season.  Slice them about ¾ to 1” thick and SIMMER-STEAM in about ½ cup broth, just until crisp-tender and still bright green.

Fish Options: Cod, snapper and talapia make good substitutes if Mahi Mahi is not available.

Brands: Columbia River peas are called for because they are so sweet and flavorful.  Another brand can be substituted, however.

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