Here in the beautiful wintery wonderland of Ontario, we are hunkered down for the cold and chill the reality of winter brings. We spent a total of six weeks spanning two trips of the last quarter of 2012 at our vacation home in Florida so really had four days to do any prep when we arrived home. Between prep, family, friends and gatherings it was a very busy and tiring end to 2012! The holidays are over and being mid-January, things are pretty much back to normal. Quite often the days are cold, damp, and dreary so I don't want to be outdoors. This is the time of year my attention turns to doing a bit of home preserving that doesn't have to be done during the busy canning season (mid-May through mid-October). I don't mind so much running the dehydrator, canner or even the oven to do extra baking for a bit of homemade convenience for those times I don't want the heat in the house. It's also a wonderful time to take a half hour to assemble a few cake, cookie and dry soup mixes as well as add a few casseroles and other goodies to the freezer. I personally like to can a few soups, stews, stocks and beans during this time as well but if you don't can, you can still make all these homemade convenience products and freeze them. It is just a great way to help stock the pantry and feezers that in most cases takes me about a half hour a week for making dry mixes or doughs for the freezer. The canner usually runs once a week but anything I am canning is very low prep and I can work on other things while the canner is running. A mini bulk cooking session for the freezer depends on the complexity of the dish with some casseroles taking more prep but things like waffles and pancakes less than a half hour. Here's a few of the things I will be doing over the next few weeks with a few tips.
- waffles/pancakes/French toast - All of these have become rather popular sellers in the freezer section of the grocery store but did you know you can save a lot of money making your own and freezing them for later use? 'Tis true. Store bought freezer waffles cost about $4 for 12 but home-made costs between 40¢ - 70¢ for 16 to 20 waffles and takes only about 15 minutes of time if that. Not only that, my home-made versions are healthier for you with no preservatives, HFCS or artificial anything AND they are every bit as convenient as store bought so a quick hot breakfast is only as far as the toaster.
- beans - This is the time of year I love canning dried beans for easy and convenient ready to use beans (eg. brown beans, kidney, navy, black). The beans are soaked overnight then home canned without cooking however, if you cook them they can also be frozen. Now one thing I haven't tried but am planning on trying is cooking the beans then seasoning and mashing. The mash is spread out on a drying sheet then dried and powdered to be used for instant refried beans. It sounds interesting.
- stocks - I save bones throughout the year to be made into stock when I have time aside of the busiest of the canning year. Once I have enough bones accumulated, I make stock that in my case is home canned but can easily be frozen.
- soups/stews - I make a lot of soups and stews from scratch but I also like to stock the pantry and freezers with home made versions to be used when it is too hot to cook. During this time, the soups and stews are more meat and root vegetable based, depending on when the organic meat and poultry is available.
- bread crumbs/croutons - I do a lot more bread making during the winter months so tend to make a lot more bread crumbs and croutons for use through-out the year. Both use up the last bits of home made bread. They can be stored in the pantry for short term storage or in the freezer for longer term storage.
- casseroles - By far the two favourite casseroles that I make in bulk for the freezer are lasagna and quiche followed as a close runner up by cottage pies. The amount I make in one bulk cooking session is very much dependent on available freezer space.
- jams/jellies - If I have more fruit than can be processed during the busiest of the canning year, I often freeze it to make into jams when it isn't as busy. This is also the perfect time to make jellies from wine or organic juices as well as herbed jellies from herbs grown indoors.
- dehydrating - This is the prime time for me making beef jerky, powdered citrus peel, as well as citrus slices and coconut.
- mixes - I make up several mixes (eg. baking, cake, pasta starts, hamburger helpers etc) usually over a period a week focusing only on mixes. This takes a bit more planning. Day 1, I make a list of the mixes I want to make and the number of jars, then make a shopping list for the bulk food store, pick-up my supplies then organize into ingredients per mix. Day 2 through 4 or 5, I work assembly line style to quickly fill the jars with the desired mixes. Each mix takes me anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to jar ready for vacuum sealing and labelling. Set-up is minimal requiring the recipes, measuring cups/spoons, ingredients and jars with lids. Clean-up is minimal as well since several of the ingredients are completely used in the mixes with no left-overs. In total, I spend about 30 minutes per mix session, usually one session per day during that week.