We have all done it; time is short, too much to do, so we grab a boxed meal for convenience. It could be one of those on the shelf meals that you just add meat, chicken or tuna and water to; or it could be a factory made meal from the freezer. It’s not really the cooking that takes up so much time really, it’s the prep work; the cutting, chopping, measuring. There are many items that can be found pre-cut in the freezer section of the local market: onions, peppers, carrots, potatoes, etc. Depending on what recipe you’re creating, measuring out these pre-cut items can ease your time load. Also, these items can be broken down into pre-measured ingredients, bagged together with your pre-measured meat, chicken or seafood and there you go, a homemade frozen meal just ready to go.
Many fresh vegetables can be prepped ahead also. I often buy bell and hot peppers when they are on sale. They can be chopped, sliced, diced, and/or roasted; then frozen to be readily available when needed. Carrots, peas, corn can be blanched, cooled quickly in ice water, drained and then frozen in measured amounts. Think of it as canning without using bottles, and having to buy all the tools for the process.
Veggies can also be stored in a good olive oil, refrigerated and added to salads, sandwiches or to enhance a cooked meal. No matter how you decide to store your food, you are the one who knows definitely what is in it; no labels to decipher.
Without removing the papery skin, or separating the cloves, cut the top off the head of the garlic bulb; make sure to expose all of the cloves. Place the bulbs, root side down, into an oven proof glass dish. Pour 1/8 cup of olive oil over each bulb; this will keep the garlic moist and prevent a hard “skin” from forming. Bake in a preheated 300F oven for one hour. While still hot, grasp the bottom of the bulb (use an oven mitt or clean towel to prevent burning skin) and squeeze out the soft pulp. The pulp can be used for spreading on toasted bread, or adding to a recipe.
Remove the papery skin and roots from the shallots, place into an oven proof glass dish. Coat the shallots with ¼ cup of olive oil; bake according to the garlic directions. The natural sugar in shallots will help to caramelize the olive oil on them. They can be tossed into salads, sauces or added to a recipe.
Red Bell Peppers
Make sure the peppers being used are firm to the touch; if soft, they are old. If the stove is gas, turn the burners on low and place the peppers directly on top. Use tongs to turn the peppers as the skin blackens. The peppers can also be blackened on a barbeque grill, or under the broiler. Once blackened on all sides, place the peppers in a paper bag and seal the bag; this will cause a steaming process. Once the peppers are warm to the touch, the skin will easily peel off, and the seeds can be removed. Chop, dice, slice up the peppers for salads, dressings, sauces, or added to a recipe.
Place roasted garlic or vegetables in a jar (glass for refrigerating; plastic for freezing) and cover with olive oil. If refrigerated, use within one week; if frozen, it can be stored for up to three months. To use, bring up to room temperature, as oil will be coagulated and needs to be reliquified.