Freezing citrus zest

The bounty of citrus in winter months never fails to incite frenzy to save every bit and bob from these fragrant fruits. I taught this workshop over the weekend and have many posts on the blog (here, here and here to name a few) dedicated to using up citrus from rind to seed.

Freezing zest is a great way to add bright, freshness to your baked goods and dinners throughout the year when your citrus bounty is nonexistent. Start by zesting the fruit. Then cut out a few 6” x 6” parchment paper squares and divvy the zest into 1 tsp measures onto the papers. Fold them up tightly.

Wrap your folded packets in a piece of tin foil (and don’t forget to date them!). Throw this bundle in a freezer bag for one more layer of volatile oil protection! Try to use these within 6 months for maximum zing.

Defrosting on the fly

The last hip trick was all about freezing stuff, so this week’s post will be about unfreezing. Ah, defrosting. Leisurely defrosting is the kind of thing people who plan ahead do. To be one of those kinds of kitchen people, I strive. 

The plan-ahead people will usually safely defrost by just putting something in the fridge and cooking it the next day when it’s fully defrosted. Well, for the non-plan-ahead types, running something under a tiny stream of cold water (for a maximum of 2 hours) is also an acceptable way to defrost, and quickly at that. However, I don’t feel so great about letting all that water trickle down the drain.

I used a gallon jar (another great way to use them around the house) to capture batches of water as we defrosted some fish filets last night. Yes, you have to periodically monitor the progress of the jar, but your houseplants (or trees or garden) will be so happy you did.

Ginger peeling made easy

I learned this tip from students at the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, where I teach preserving classes to students in the Farm to Table Experience.

Skip trying to carve the skin off your ginger with a paring knife; you’re likely trimming away valuable ginger. Instead, take a teaspoon and scrape downward with the tip of the spoon (where you eat from) in small strokes as if you’re whittling. Ginger freezes well, peeled and unpeeled, and you can use this peeling tactic with a frozen hunk of ginger as well.

Make the most of our water supply

We’re in the midst of a 5-year drought where I am in Central Texas, so water conservation is at the top of our home lists. No matter where you live, it’s important to keep tabs on water usage. Here’s a hip trick provided courtesy of our county extension horticulture agent, Daphne Richards:

Many people capture the cold water from the sink or the shower while they’re waiting for it to heat up, which is great, but you can also capture water while you shower. 

You just need a few buckets and you can capture several gallons of water every time you shower. This may not sound like much, but in our continued drought, a few gallons go a long way. In my shower, I use two round buckets, but the real key is the flat-sided bucket that I put between them. I can press the flat bucket up against the back of the shower and catch all of the water that misses me and bounces off the wall. I catch about four gallons per shower, which I normally use on my oak trees in the front yard. 

A friend recently asked about soap in the water and whether that would hurt my plants. Well, most of the water that gets into my buckets has totally missed me, and so doesn’t have any soap in it. But even if the water WAS soapy, it wouldn’t hurt anything. The concentration of soap would not be that high, and soaps these days no longer contain phosphates, which used to be a problem. 

Spruce up your sips

Add some pizzaz to a water pitcher on your holiday table by adding any type of organic citrus peel sliced into strips. Using an organic fruit is important because pesticides and residues aggregate in the peels, but the good news is you only need one organic fruit to make a few pitchers of infused water. Thin skins—found on oranges, lemons, tangerines, clementines, etc.—work best to keep the water from developing a bitter flavor.

The infused water, which I usually let sit for a few hours in the refrigerator prior to serving, is a vibrant and anti-oxidant rich way to sip, packed with vitamins and minerals from the citrus peel and pith. Refill the pitcher a couple times if neccesary, starting with a new peel after 24 hours of use. Alternatively you can add strips of fresh peel to a pot of tea for a warm infusion.

Read this post for a ton of other ideas for creative ways to use citrus peels.

Turn scraps into gift tags

Spruce up holiday gifts this season with simple, sweet gift tags made from scraps of paper.

Make this beveled shape by docking the corners and hole punching or trace around a canning jar and make circular tags. Use kitchen or other twine or spring for a roll of pretty striped gift twine, fold string in half and feed it through the hole. Feed the ends of your twine through that loop and voila, gift wrap with some handmade flair!

Make pie, not waste

This hip trick comes to us courtesy of my friend Ashley English, kitchen, home and small-scale farm diva over at Small Measure and author behind a whole bunch of great books, including A Year of Pies (which features one of my pie recipes!).

Ashley shares with us this ‘tis-the-season, pie-related hip trick, “Most pie recipes tell you to form the pie dough into two balls, wrap them in plastic, and then place in the refrigerator or freezer. I hate waste, and, as such, never use plastic wrap. Instead, since most recipes call for two sticks of butter, I hold onto the butter wrappers, and then sandwich them in between the flattened dough disks. The dough disks, cradled inside their butter wrappers, then either go into a lidded glass container (my typical M.O.) or a resealable plastic bag (which I’ll clean and use over and over again). That way, the dough disks don’t stick together and I’ve eliminated the need for plastic cling wrap at the same time. Win-win!”

Travel smart

Ok, so I know these are hip helpful HOME tips, but in the likely event you leave your home for summer vacationing, here’s a way to keep rocking the thoughtful living.

Just think if we all started to save a cup during air travel, think of how much plastic we’re keeping out of the waste cycle.