Food Hacks

4 Farmer Food Hacks to Master At-Home Cooking this Fall

Whether you feel like you’ve mastered the art of at-home cooking or are in need of some inspiration, Illinois farmers have you covered. We love to talk farming and food, so we’re sharing four go-to food hacks for any meal of the day.

Food hack #1: Blanch and bag

Heather Dollinger grows corn and soybeans, and invites guests out during the fall season to enjoy their pumpkin patch, corn maze and other fun farm activities in Channahon, IL.

We’re still in the peak season for lots of fresh Illinois produce. While it’s great to enjoy those fresh eats right now, you can also save some for later. Try this easy food hack: the blanch-and-bag freezing method.

You can freeze just about anything, though there is some produce that will do better than others. I suggest green beans, corn (creamed corn is one of my favorites!), tomatoes for salsa and sauce, shredded zucchini and squash. Here’s what to do:

  • Rinse and prepare your produce as normal.
  • Bring a large pot of water to boiling.
  • Submerge in hot water for the recommended length of time. Here’s a great chart for blanching times.
  • Remove produce, and immediately dump in an ice bath. The cold water stops the produce from cooking.
  • Once cooled, dry off and pat down to remove any excess water.
  • Then, package up your produce – you can use resealable freezer bags, plastic or freezer-safe glass containers. We like to use quart-sized freezer Ziploc bags, or even sandwich bags stored inside a gallon freezer bag, depending on the serving size.
  • Use your frozen produce within 8 to 10 months! We love to use ours in spaghetti, soups, chocolate zucchini brownies or just a simple side. You can even make a large pot of chili, cool to room temperature, divide the desired servings into bags that are dated, and freeze. We love to warm up chili for a quick dinner solution – especially on those cool nights during harvest!

Food hack #2: Get creative with your cuts

Matt Boucher raises corn and soybeans in Dwight, IL.

Since the pandemic, there’s been an uptick in people buying their meat in bulk, or even directly from local farmers. While you’ve got all this great locally raised meat, you might be wondering what to do with it. Have a smoker? Stick a whole chicken in there for a few hours, and you’re set on meat for the week, which can be repurposed into lots of different meals. Maybe you’ve got a few cuts of meat in the deep freeze that you’ve never worked with before. Pork shoulder is one of the most affordable cuts available and makes great pulled pork. Try it in this slow cooker pulled pork chili.

Food hack #3: Invest in an Instant Pot

Deanne Frieders, aka This Farm Girl Cooks, grows corn and soybeans, and raises beef cattle in Waterman, IL, while also sharing delicious, family-friendly recipes from their everyday life on the farm.

Forget to thaw out your ground beef for dinner? No problem, throw it in the Instant Pot! For all of us busy people, this is the ultimate Instant Pot hack. As someone with a freezer fully stocked of our own homegrown beef, this is a go-to method for me. Looking for an opportunity to buy your beef directly from a farmer? Check out the Illinois Beef Directory to find a farmer near you. Back to the hack – all you need is water, frozen ground beef and your Instant Pot, of course.

  • Place your ground beef in the Instant Pot and add about a cup of water.
  • Close the lid and set to pressure cooking for 8 minutes. Do a quick release to let the steam out of the pot.
  • Set the Instant Pot to sauté and continue to cook the ground beef, breaking it up with a spoon until it’s fully cooked through. Drain if necessary, and use the meat in whatever recipe you have planned! I love this method because it keeps the meat juicy and tender, not tough and dry. Check out other tips here!

Food hack #4: Double down on your recipes

Krista Swanson grows corn and soybeans in Oneida, IL.

I frequently make double or triple of whatever meal I’m making, then freeze the extra. Casseroles, pasta dishes, meatballs, cheesy hashbrowns, mac and cheese – it doesn’t take much more work to double or triple while you’re making the original batch and have the mess anyway. Plus it saves time on those hectic week nights or when you’re scrambling to figure out what’s for dinner. I like to freeze it fully-cooked so I can thaw and reheat quickly. I buy metal foil pans with lids in bulk online, but the dollar store is also a great resource for these.