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Hold on to flavors in freezer

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Wasn’t food technology supposed to help us eat better, faster and cheaper? Guess again.

Better? Fast food carryout and supermarket convenience meals are usually loaded with fat, sugar and salt. Even so-called healthy prepared meals are often lacking dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals.

Faster? How quick, really, is the line at the drive through or waiting for pizza delivery?

Cheaper? Highly processed foods always cost more than the sum of their ingredients. And this doesn’t include what we pay in the hidden costs of medical bills resulting from poor diet and nutrition.

To put a freeze on food costs — and boost your health — make use of your freezer. It also can help you stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables when the local growing season is peaking.

Harvest time in New Mexico continues into October, and while some foods have already gone into hiatus for the season, it is still a great time to stock up for winter enjoyment.

Save cold cash

When you are shopping at your local growers’ market with an eye toward freezing, try these ideas to keep costs down:

♦ Buy foods at the peak of their season. If everyone has squash, for example, it should be selling at its most affordable price.

♦ Ask farmers if they have seconds. The most perfect looking crops are usually sold first, but a slightly bruised apple or tomato will taste just as great cooked in a sauce, and growers usually sell these items for less.

♦ Shopping at the end of a market day often means bargains can be found. If growers are packing up unsold food, chances are good they might be willing to make a deal.

Freeze in nutrients

There are lots of ways to make freezing work for you. For example:

♦ Freeze batches of single ingredients such as green beans, beets or carrots.

♦ Create stock ingredients for general cooking like chopped onions, garlic, pesto, salsa, sauce and soup stock.

♦ Cook and freeze soups, stews, casseroles or side dishes.

♦ Freeze single servings of healthy meals that you can grab for lunch or dinner, and which control portion size.

Whatever foods you choose to freeze, you are locking in nutrients for months to come and creating an easy way to cook meals quickly. And, since there’s nothing like the freshness of your local growers’ market, freezing is a great way to bring back the taste of summer in the middle of winter.

TOMATILLO SALSA

This salsa is great over enchiladas or alongside barbecued meats.

Makes 3 cups

4 cups chopped tomatillos

2 cups chopped onions

1/4 cup chopped sweet red peppers

1 small jalapeño pepper, minced (wear plastic gloves while handling)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large saucepan, combine the tomatillos, onions, red peppers, jalapeño peppers and oil. Cook, stirring. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook and stir for 10 minutes, or until reduced by half. Stir in lemon juice, parsley and salt.

To freeze, pack the cooled (and cooked) salsa in small freezer-quality plastic containers. To use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator or briefly in the microwave.

ROASTED PEPPERS

Hot and sweet roasted peppers are versatile. Keep them on hand to top scrambled eggs, grilled shrimp, poultry, pork or beef. Or toss roasted peppers into cooked grains or beans.

To roast peppers, halve them lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place, cut side down, on a broiler pan. Broil 4 inches from the heat until blistered. Transfer to a paper bag, close, and set aside to steam for 10-15 minutes. This makes the thin, tough skin easier to remove. Peel off the skin and discard. Freeze in freezer-quality containers for up to six months. Thaw overnight in fridge or briefly in the microwave.

HERBED TOMATO SAUCE

This sauce can be frozen for up to six months. The flavor actually improves in the freezer. Enjoy the simple sauce as is, or after defrosted, add some garlic, wine, peppers, or any favorite ingredients.

Makes 4 cups

6 pounds tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon Italian herb seasoning (or combine oregano and basil)

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

In a blender of food processor, combine the tomatoes, Italian herb seasoning, black pepper and salt. Process briefly to a coarse purée.

Pack in freezer-quality plastic containers or freezer-quality plastic bags. If freezing in bags, lay bags flat on cookie sheet until frozen. Then remove pan. The flat bags will save space in the freezer.

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