Preserving Strawberries, Kale and Basil

As the garden season takes off, I will be doing a series of posts on how to preserve everything you grow so you can enjoy them now and many months later.   We won’t let any of our hard work that went into planting and caring for these plants go to waste here!

I often say “I garden because I cook”.    My love for being in the kitchen goes hand in hand with getting my nails dirty pushing down seeds.    My fulltime job is being an artist with my partner Matthew, and I would say our “day job” couldn’t be farther away from gardening and cooking.   Did you ever go from shooting a pair of shoes that cost close to your monthly rent, to sprinkling manure over your soil?    But it’s amazing because away from the stressful world of advertising, fashion and due dates, there is the kitchen and garden.    These are the stress-free zones for me.  Sure, there comes stress like weather that can destroy crops, oven temperatures that can burn cookie bottoms – but those are all you, noone is judging.  It’s just you with your apron or garden raincoat on, singing along to a rap tune, cats at your feet, enjoying your time.   One hour we can be in our home, sending over files to complete a job.  But wait, the creative director didn’t like that change, so now redo those last 8 hours you spent cutting it together.  Take a deep breath.  Eat a cookie.  Then go up to the garden.  None of this stress exists there.  You can just sit in your garden, with NYC surrounding you, listen to the hum of police sirens (it turns into a hum after you’ve lived here for a while) and forget about everything else.  I love it.

Here are other reasons why I love bringing these worlds of gardening and cooking together:

-You learn where everything comes from.  Did you know Brussels Sprouts grow the way they do? I didn’t either!    By gardening you see the process from seed to harvest, it often surprises you!
-You respect everything you grow.   Those pumpkins that I grew? They came from me pollinating them for a week straight at 5:30AM in the morning.   Those tomatoes that are beautiful red and perfect?   They stayed alive because you ran out into the pouring rain to make sure their windblocker fabric was up and everything was secure.    Those sugar snap peas?  Do you know how long they take to pick? Oh my!
-You try new vegetables.   I hated lettuce before we had our garden, now I’m like a rabbit where Matthew has to shoo me away.    I never tried radishes before, now I eat them whole.  
-This results into trying new dishes in the kitchen.  Pesto? Never made before, except now I have about 10 different recipes for it with every different plant.   I scour websites and cookbooks looking for new ways to use tomatoes, broccoli, carrots.  Dinner, Lunch, Desserts – I try it all!    The most important part is starting with a base you love.  So grow what you like!  
-Preserve! Preserve! Preserve!   This is the big one for me.  There are a few weeks in July and August that I am spending many hours every single day preserving our tomatoes to last us (forever).  So you just grew those kale plants – but did you have any idea how much kale grows on a plant? Or those edamame plants that I grew last year – did I know that I would get 20 pounds of edamame, all at once?  What are you going to do?  Well you just spent so much time and energy and love on these plants to grow great vegetables so now we’re not going to let it go to waste! Oh no we aren’t!  We are going to preserve it!    Did you know I had to buy my first can of diced tomatoes earlier this month because I had enough saved from last summer’s harvest?  Do you know how awesome of a feeling that is to have fresh vegetables you grew in your freezer all winter long?  Oh it’s snowing out and 3 degrees, let me just grab a extra fresh pack of frozen green beans that I grew a few months back.  *High 5’s*

 I spend quite a bit of time preserving everything we grow, and figuring out new ways to try.  One year I went as crazy as literally not wasting any of the broccoli plants, by finding ways to use the leaves and chop up the stems.    I blanch, I freeze whole, I puree,  I turn into sauces, I chop, I husk, I dry.  I do whatever it takes to preserve everything.   This post will be dedicated to strawberries, kale and basil.    Sometimes in future posts, I will give you another idea for the same vegetable.  There are many ways to preserve each plant, so I want to share some options for whatever is best for you in your kitchen. ๐Ÿ™‚

Strawberries
Who doesn’t love strawberries?  And is there anything better than a sweet strawberry picked right off the vine and plopped straight into your mouth?  Oh yum!  But what happens when you are are harvesting pounds of strawberries?  Or what happens when you go the grocery store and find out that they are selling pints of strawberries for 89 cents.  Buy a bunch, we can keep your strawberry love stocked up for months!

We are going to freeze strawberries.   Strawberries keep in a freezer for a long time, I’m talking  a year.  Amazing, right?

What can we do with frozen strawberries? Well I’m glad you asked.
Smoothies!  My favorite.  Throw frozen strawberries in your blender and continue as usual in creating your favorite smoothie.
-Throw them into pies.
-Strawberry jelly!
-Strawberry sauce! Blend them up and pour over ice cream, cakes and waffles.
-Strawberry butter.  Yup,  you heard me right!
-Make strawberry bread.
-Strawberry salad.

Here are your beautiful strawberries.  
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Seriously, aren’t they the most loveliest things in the world?   I hope one day I can be at least 1% cool and classy as strawberries.
Now you want to wash them, wash them real good.
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Then once they are washed, you want to hull them.  Basically you want to rip off their green tops and cores.  You can do this a variety of ways with special tools, or just a knife.  Personally I just use my finger nails to get in there.   Then lay them on a cookie sheet and let freeze.    Once they are frozen, put them into freezer bags.  
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Then when you need some strawberries, take them out of your freezer and bask in the glory of them!  Use them however you want.  I will be making myself one happy strawberry smoothie. ๐Ÿ™‚
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Kale
Kale, the winner of everything cool in 2013. Do you hear all the buzz about kale?  What a popular guy.    It seems to be the king of greens!  One cup of kale contains 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and 15% of the daily requirement of calcium and vitamin B6, 40% of magnesium, 180% of vitamin A, 200% of vitamin C, and 1,020% of vitamin K.  It is also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.  Can we say it’s healthy?  


So what to do with kale?  When you’ve eaten your share of fresh raw kale, let’s figure out ways to preserve it, so you can be eating this vegetable powerhouse for months to come!
I like to make kale cubes, which is basically kale all chopped up, frozen into cubes.  It’s all kale, nothing else added in. 

What you can do with those frozen kale cubes?
-Smoothies! Again!  Want a real pick me up?  Throw a kale cube into your next smoothie.  
-Defrost and mix into pasta.  Warm through.  
-Throw a cube or two into any soup or stew.   Just a little bit of frozen kale goes a long way in getting your vitamins in!
-Defrost and mix with meats to make delicious ravioli.
-Defrost and mix with meats to make delicious meatballs!

Kale!  You hearty animal you (not really a animal). 
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I destem it.  I do this with my hands too, I just rip it off.  Maybe I’m the animal here.  Then I rip it into pieces to fit it into my food processor.preserveIMG_2401
A few pulses later and your once entire food process cup hardly has any kale in it.  Kale likes to shrink.  preserveIMG_2403
Then spoon it out and throw in some ice cube trays.
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Fill them up to the top.    A entire bushel of kale filled up one ice cube tray, so pack it down.  Now put into the freezer.
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Once they’re frozen, poke them out with a fork.    I find it works best to let them sit on your counter for a few minutes, then poke them out.  They defrost pretty quickly for you to grab one out of the tray.  From here you can keep them in the tray and use as you want, or throw them in freezer bags.
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Because you packed them in, they stay in cube form nicely.preserveIMG_2475

 

Basil
Who else loves the smell of basil?  I love picking fresh basil and putting it in pasta, and especially on pizza! A slice of margarita pizza with basil is the key to my pizza loving heart.   But what do you do when you have pounds of basil and you can’t eat 8 pizzas a nights (don’t try this, just believe me).  You can dry it!
I love dried herbs.  Almost 80% of the time if a recipe calls for fresh herbs, I will ignore it and use dried herbs.  Why? Because I know the dried herbs are ones I grew, loved and they will taste just as good in the dish!  
What can you do with dried basil?
-Any dish call for fresh basil? You can substitute with dried basil.
-Use in any tomato pasta.
-Sprinkle over each lasagna layer.
-Sprinkle over pizza.
-Use in rices.
-Use in a varieties of stews and soups for extra seasoning.
-Use in pasta salad.
-Sprinkle on garlic bread.

So let’s pick your basil!  What you want to do is wash it, then let dry.  I do this by putting it on paper towel sheets and then help blotting excess water on top.  Let dry completely.
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Then find a space of your home that you want to smell like basil for the next few weeks.  Grab a rubber band and hang on something.  We have screws in the top of our loft that we drilled in just for drying herbs.  This is at the very front entrance of our loft, so as soon as you walk in… it’s fresh city USA.preserveIMG_2412
Then just let dry until they are completely brittle.  If the basil seems “fresh” and flexible they aren’t dry enough.  You basically want them to the point of if you touched a leaf, it would crack.  You can see in the top right of this picture I have some dried oregano ready to go.  
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Then pick the leaves off the plant (do this over a bowl, the leaves are going to fall apart beautifully).  Throw in your food processor and you’re done.  If you don’t have a food processor, just crumble with your fingers.  Now you have dried basil ready for whenever you want!preserveIMG_2467

 

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