I'd like to invite you into a very private place. A place that I've only figured out recently. A place that used to be a frozen graveyard; where money went to die. (No, not my unmentionables drawer.) My freezer. For years, I've known the freezer could be the secret to preserving food, saving money, and making life easier. But figuring out how to do all of that with a modest icebox was a big secret that I promised myself I'd figure out just as soon as I finished the bills, redid the budget, did the dishes, vacuumed, washed the dogs and mended my comforter. And tweezed the Crazy out of my eyebrows. But in a moment of hyper-controlling self-indulgence, I figured out a big part of using the freezer for more than ice cream and vodka.Iesh. There really is no way to attractively photograph a freezer. It's like curry.
One unsupervised Saturday afternoon I decided that I really would try writing down everything I had in the freezer. That was the first breakthrough. From there, I've transformed what is surely obsessive-compulsive disorder into what I think are some very useful tips for actually USING your freezer.
Rule #1: Freeze cookie dough. Nothing, not even vodka so cold it pours like syrup, can convince you of your freezer's awesomeness like the ability to have fresh-baked home made cookies in 12 minutes. You don't even have to pay a premium or watch the expiration date of your store-bought raw dough. If you have any doubts about the following rules, if you feel like this crazy person online must have more time and patience than you (HAH! Definitely not.), if you feel that your freezer needs to do nothing more than house giant boxes of Costco orange chicken clear up until they freezer-burn and die, I beg you to try this tip.
Mix up a batch of your favorite cookie dough. Bake 6 or 8 or however many your family will devour in one sitting. While they bake, take out a cutting board or small sheet pan (whatever will fit on a shelf in your freezer), cover with waxed paper (no need to waste parchment here, you won't be baking on it) and spoon out the remaining dough as if you were about to make more pans of cookies. Don't bother with spacing them like you would for baking, just leave enough room between the dollops so that air can get around them. Place the whole pan in the freezer. In two hours, they will be rock hard and you can pluck them off of the waxed paper and place into a big Ziploc freezer bag. Label (i.e. "Choc. chip, 9-11 min @ 375 degrees") and freeze.I like everything on this shelf very much.
Suddenly, you can have dessert on a weeknight! After a really crappy day, you can have home made, hot from the oven cookies without having to make the dough. I'm all for cooking as therapy, but even I have days when all I want to do is become part of the sofa and drink. Okay most days. But becoming part of the sofa AND having hot cookies? There may be hope, even on a Tuesday night.
Rule #2: Wrap properly. I like a ziploc freezer bag and a double layer of foil. And yes, you should reuse your foil. Just smooth it out on the counter top, fold gently, and stash in front of your measuring cups or something. After going to all the work to clean and catalog your frozen goods, you will be sorely discouraged when you retrieve your parcel to find it freezer-burned.
Rule #3: Label everything clearly. I keep a bunch of pens and a Sharpie in a bowl with little notepads and used pieces of paper and little bits of string. No, no string. But I do keep a Sharpie handy because I am the sort of person that could well let something rot in the fridge rather than storing it in the freezer properly "because I couldn't find a marker." Judge not. It also makes life a lot easier when you don't have to guess what food shape the packages correspond to. ("Gee, that's either a block of cheese or The Shining.")
Dating the packages is useful as well, but honestly, I usually only do it for raw meat. I also like to note the volume on liquid packages because it makes defrosting for a recipe that much easier. If I need 12 ounces of stock and have a bag of stock ice cubes or a full bag that says "43 oz," I know that I'm better to use up a bunch of the cubes and not defrost the whole bag of stock. You do have a food scale by now, right?
Rule #4: Take and maintain a written inventory. This part involves keeping track of things and making lists, therefore it makes me all tingly.
I am not a fan of standing in front of an open freezer door, digging through icy parcels to see what's in there so I can come up with some answer to "what's for dinner?" I chill easily! This is the equivalent to writers' block. (Cookers' block?) So, take a Saturday morning and clean your freezer out, get rid of anything too old to eat or too frozen to identify. Get out your trusty notepads--preferably something that can stick to your fridge in plain sight--and make an inventory. As you use items up, cross them off. As you add items, write them on the list. Review before you do your grocery shopping.Though the months are nonconsecutive, the fact that they are in order is no accident. My Peculiar is only going to get worse. Also, say hello to St. Joseph up top, patron saint of the home and carpentry.
We never use a whole can of refried beans or a whole package of hamburger buns at the same time, so we freeze the rest. It's also great to store the bum end of bread for croutons, leftover frozen veg for soup, or chicken or turkey bones to make into stock when it's convenient.
Rule #5: Keep an open ice tray available. Of course this is super useful for freezing easy-to-use nuggets of stock for later. But what about mashed potatoes? What about egg yolks? What about fresh herbs (chop and freeze in a small amount of broth) before they go bad? What about those jars of roasted red peppers that I always seem to use one pepper's worth, then put back in the fridge door to grow fur before I think to use it again? Chop them up and freeze in some of the jar water in little, easy-to-use portions. When frozen solid, pop out and put in a well-marked freezer bag.
Rule #6: Keep a shelf open (or easy to make open). This is your cryogenic staging area. I like to save liquids in Ziploc freezer bags. But if you just chuck your soup-filled water balloon into the freezer, you will have a saggy, frozen lump of a Ziploc bag. With an open shelf, you can lay the bag out so the liquid is evenly distributed. It's so nice to have a flat, frozen package of spaghetti sauce or broth. Then you aren't cursing the odd shape when it won't fit anywhere and keeps falling out on your foot. It's also nice to have an easily flat area to freeze your extra cookies or biscuits or rolls on. Also, great for housing your Ice Trays of Wonder while they freeze up.My "Easily Open" shelf. Too short for many things, therefore it's great for staging. Did you notice how nice and flat the marinara sauce is? Fits ANYWHERE.
Rule #7: Clean your chicken, then freeze it. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are admittedly boring. But they are also a pretty traditional meat item for a quick weeknight dinner and the protein source in quite a few fast recipes. I know the very last thing you want to do when you come home from grocery shopping is get elbow-deep into raw chicken. So open a beer, take a good long swig, and start cleaning up your chicken. Cut the fat off and the veins out (if you're so moved) and freeze in freezer bags by ones or twos (however you usually use them). Wrap all the bags in foil, label and freeze.
This sage advice is coming from a woman who many times has chipped, stabbed, and folded frozen-solid sheets of value-packed chicken breasts in a desperate attempt to carve off two meager pieces for a meal. Now, on a Thursday night when you're home late and everybody is starving, you can just pull out a manageable little bag of chicken, defrost, season and cook. This also means that you don't have to risk defrosting a whole package of chicken, which means you will have to deal with packaging for freezing after dinner, when you should be doing dishes and baking frozen cookies (see above). That extra after-dinner work alone is enough to steer me away from using chicken for the meal. Now, there are no excuses.
Rule #8: Freeze in portions. I know you're tired after grocery shopping. I know that I sometimes will just throw everything into the fridge and leave it for a few days until I flip out and throw it all in the freezer to keep it from spoiling. Here's why this is bad: I have a giant beef brisket that is triple the size of anything I would normally buy sitting in the freezer. It is so big that we'll never be able to eat it all, even with company for dinner and a month of leftovers. If I had been thinking, I would have cut it into three or four pieces before freezing. But I didn't, and now I have a huge piece of meat that I've never cooked because I really don't want to have to cook the whole thing all at once. See what I mean? I hope I'm not the only one out there that makes up stupid excuses why we don't do what we're supposed to. (Think dentist's office: "I'm too busy to floss.")
The answer to the stupid excuse, the answer that saves money, preserves food, and lets you cook and eat the wonderful food you bought? Freeze in human-sized portions. Before you put big pieces of meat or whole batches of soup or stock into the freezer, muse for a moment about how you will use said goods. If you are more likely to grab a single-serving of soup for a work lunch than defrost a whole batch of minestrone for dinner some night, freeze into a bowl-sized portion. The point is: If you freeze in unreasonable sizes, you will not get around to using it.
The original package of flank steak was HUGE. So, divide in two, freeze separately (and aren't you proud, I even pre-seasoned). The cheese? We only used half a block for pizza, so the rest will make two pizzas or one pan of lasagna.
So there you go. Kristina's Great Eight Rules of Freezer Frugality. I certainly hope you give them a shot. As with most of my solutions, I looked at the reasons I don't do things I know I should do and found ways to remove the excuse. Which is a roundabout way of doing things, but I'm okay with it. Now go clean out your freezer!
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