Freeze those blueberries!!!

Is it just me, or is spending a sunny morning picking blueberries with kids one of the funnest family activities ever? We saved up 10 trays of fresh blueberries last year and ran out in the middle of the winter. I’m going for 20 trays this year – at least. The fact that we have an extra large freezer in the garage allows me to stockpile.

Just in case you didn’t already know, blueberries are really easy to freeze. They are in many ways my favorite berry because they are so sturdy, versatile, and downright tasty. Freshly picked berries  that have never been refrigerated are my idea of heaven. But in the middle of winter I also love having the fixings for smoothies, pies, muffins, syrup, and blueberry compote at the ready. Whenever I pull some out of the freezer, the kids insist on having a few to snack on right away.

All you need to do to freeze them is lay them out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Make sure they are dry. Make some room in your freezer and let them freeze for at least 4 hours. They freeze relatively quickly. But I usually forget about them and leave them overnight.

After the berries are frozen, transfer them to a gallon-sized airtight bag squeezing out all the excess air you can before sealing it completely. There are fancy gadgets and tools that can remove all the air. But that’s not necessary for blueberries. They’ll be fine.

Et viola! You’ve got yourself some frozen goodness. Put the bag back in the freezer where it will be waiting for you patiently.

Here in the Northeast, most pick-your-own farms grow a wide variety of berries that produce all the way into the fall. So get out there and get pickin’!

Book Review and Giveaway: Kitchen Counter Cooking School

Do you sometimes peek into other peoples’ shopping carts at the supermarket? Kathleen Flinn, a recent graduate of the Cordon Bleu,  took shopping cart voyeurism to the next level when she cornered a woman because her cart was full of highly processed foods. Before you knew it they were hanging out with the supermarket’s butcher learning how to cut up a whole chicken.

Flinn’s book about her ensuing experiences is called Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks. This book chronicles her quest to heal the disconnect between people’s desire to eat well and their inability to function comfortably in a kitchen.

Apparently, some folks are two generations removed from anyone who regularly put a home-cooked meal on the table and they don’t have the time to teach themselves. Basically, it doesn’t do one much good to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma if you don’t know how to peel and chop an onion.

Inspired by her supermarket encounter, Flinn gathered a group of volunteers interested in reclaiming their kitchens and thoughtfully guided them through a culinary education during which they mindfully tasted salt, learned how to hold a knife, and how to use flavor profiles to make meals on the fly among many other things. Recipes related to specific lessons are included at the end of each chapter.

Kitchen fundamentals like how to prepare a roast chicken, cook vegetables, and make a cake from scratch are the kind of things we should be teaching our children so that the next generation won’t be so useless in the kitchen. There were plenty of moments in this book when I was shaking my head and made a mental note to be sure that my kids know how to cope in the kitchen when they grow up. Flinn’s students colorfully illustrated how much of a hole can be created in people’s lives in the long term if they can’t perform an act as basic as being able to properly feed themselves and their families.

I’ve made Flinn’s adaptation of No Knead Bread about fifteen times already. I used to pay $5 for fancy artisan bread boules. Now I make them myself and they cost us about 60 cents a pop. I love them.

Thanks to the folks at Viking, I’ve got a giveaway copy of Kitchen Counter Cooking School for you today.  All you have to do is enter a comment below and tell me who taught you how to cook? (if anybody) and I’ll use one of those random number pickers to select the winner. Comments will close on October 7, 2011 at 7pm.

Update – October 7, 2011: And the winner is Staci Rae! Thanks to everyone for your comments. I love hearing from you.