A while ago, my freezer looked like a disaster area. It was thick with ice accumulation and stuffed with various plastic and aluminum foil wrapped balls and other oddly shaped and unmarked items. I also seemed to keep alot of boxed, frozen veggies around. At some point, I realized that the freezer is really my underappreciated friend in the kitchen: it will not only help me save money by storing leftovers, but it will also assist me in getting through the harried dinner hour without so much panic. As I am stressing out about what to serve my kids, meals I might have made a few days or weeks before and frozen can be a lifesaver-especially since I have a picky mouth to feed.
I am much more selective now about what I freeze and how. Here are my favorite freezer items:
Soups, stoups and sauces:
Instead of putting the liquid in a plastic container, which takes up loads of room, I try to use plastic, zippered baggies to store these items. You simply pour the liquid into a baggie when it has cooled and lay it flat in the freezer or shove it in any open nook or crannie you can find and it will freeze into that shape. To defrost, you must let it thaw completely before you can pour it out and use. Whether you use the baggie way or not, these are key items to freeze.
Veggies and fruits:
I never would have thought to freeze veggies before as it seems so easy to buy them frozen. There’s nothing wrong with buying frozen veggies and fruits, but if you have an excess of either, don’t let it go to waste. For fruit, you can hold off until it’s about to go bad and then instead of tossing it, freeze it in plastic baggies. So if you have bananas that are turning brown and you aren’t into making banana bread, then either wrap it up (remove the skin first) in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge, or slice it first and throw it in a container or a baggie. You could add berries to the bananas and then you have the makings of a smoothie.
For veggies, here’s how Rachael says to freeze them:
“Package frozen veggies are fine, but your own homemade broccoli spears would have even better flavor and will be bigger than those in 10 ounce boxes. To freeze most any veggie, blanch 2 minutes in boiling salted water, drain and place into plastic food storage baggies. When you are ready to use, defrost, drain and cook as you like, from steaming to stir frying.”
I tried to freeze milk once that was in a glass bottle (I get my milk delivered from a farm in glass bottles). Boy, was that ever a mistake! As the milk froze, it expanded and the bottle shattered. Whoops. While that was a bad idea, I have frozen paper cartons of milk or cream when nearing the expiration date. I’ve noticed that when I have tried to use the dairy substance after it has been frozen, it might curdle a bit, but it isn’t spoiled. I prefer not to freeze milk or cream, but you can if you are going to lose it. I have accidentally frozen both yogurt and eggs and ruined them. Butter, on the other hand, freezes very well.
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Nuts and seeds:
You should always keep your peanuts, walnuts, any nuts or seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin, in the freezer. If you leave them in the cupboard they can go rancid and if they are salted, you may not even know it. There is really no defrosting time so they are ready to eat right from the freezer, just a bit cold.
I take all of my basil at the end of the summer and puree it in a blender with EVOO. I then store this mixture in ice cub trays and use the cubes all year long in sauces and soups. If I want to make a pesto, I’m halfway there. I just defrost a few cubes, then add the toasted pignoli, grated garlic and cheese and whip it up.
For other herbs, Rachael suggests putting the fresh herb bundles into a plastic baggie with a little water to cover them and freeze them this way. When you want to use them, you can pull them out and throw them directly into soups or let them defrost and chop them. You could also chop them first and freeze them the same way I do the pesto-in ice cube trays, but I prefer to keep them whole so as much of the flavor and moisture stays in tact as possible.
Casseroles and Lasagnas
If you want to freeze a lasagna, it’s best to prepare it and freeze it before cooking it. Then when you want to cook it, let it defrost a bit first so the glass dish doesn’t crack. Even if your dish isn’t glass, it’s still a good idea to let it warm up first. The same goes for casseroles. It is generally better to freeze the dish before baking it.
Cookies and baked goods
You need to wrap cookies and baked goods like banana breads and cakes really well with a layer of parchment paper and then plastic wrap, aluminum foil or a plastic baggie for extra protection. But otherwise, freezing already baked bakery items is genius. I take a chocolate chip cookie out of the freezer one at a time and heat them up in the toaster oven. It makes a batch go a long way! Just this morning I took a frozen loaf of banana bread out of the freezer and sliced it, while still frozen and warmed it up on the griddle. Delish!
Another important freezer lesson to remember, especially if you own an older model, is to defrost now and again. You do not want to live with all of that icy build-up on the walls of the freezer that will harm the performance and take up unnecessary space.
What do you like to freeze?