Preparing a feast looks effortless on cooking shows, but most home cooks don't have a staff crouched below the counter to make things go smoothly. One of the keys to pulling off a fabulous meal all on your own is to prepare as much as you can ahead of time. This can be tricky, because certain foods change color or texture when started too soon. Fortunately, carrots and turnips are hearty enough to handle a little extra prep time.
Preparing the Vegetables
Wash carrots and turnips thoroughly in lukewarm water to remove pesticides, preservatives and organic matter. Slice the ends off the carrots and turnips, and peel them with a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife. Cut the vegetables into the appropriate shape for your recipe. For example, grate carrots for use in a salad or slaw, and cut turnips into small cubes if they will be mashed. When preparing carrots and turnips to be cooked, keep the pieces as uniformly sized as possible. This will help them to cook at the same rate.
Mashed turnips and carrot soup can easily be made ahead of time and frozen or refrigerated until the night before you need them. If your recipe calls for sour cream, leave that out before freezing the dish; most other ingredients freeze very well. Place a casserole in an airtight container and let it come to room temperature before placing it into the freezer. Break a crowd-sized casserole up into smaller portions in wide, shallow containers to help it cool quickly.
Blanching for Freshness
One of the best ways to keep the fresh color and texture of make-ahead carrots and turnips is to blanch them. Fill a large bowl or deep pot half full of ice and water and set it next to your stovetop. Fill a large pot about three-quarters full of water. Add salt, if you like, and bring the water to a rolling boil. Carefully add some of the carrots or turnips and let them cook for three to five minutes. Cook them separately, in small batches. Scoop the vegetable out of the boiling water with a spider or slotted spoon and place them into the ice water. Let them sit for a minute, then transfer them to a colander to drain. Repeat until all of the carrots and turnips are blanched.
Storing the Vegetables Safely
How you store the carrots and turnips depends on how soon you will need them. Freeze blanched carrots and turnips in plastic containers with lids or plastic zipper bags for a week or more ahead of time. The best way to defrost frozen carrots and turnips is to move them from the freezer to the refrigerator the day before you intend to use them. This allows them to defrost at a temperature that will not encourage the growth of bacteria. Vegetables that will be used in a day or two can be stored safely in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
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