Apr 6, 2009

Freeze It

by Ellen Wilson

Whether you're cooking for one and you always have leftovers spoiling in the fridge or if you're too busy to prepare a meal every night, learning how to properly freeze foods can save you both time and money. We've created an all-inclusive guide that takes you from general tips to freezing specific foods.

General Tips:
  • Organize your freezer so that you can use your space in the most efficient manner.
  • Use Ziploc bags to freeze liquids.
  • Clearly label everything you freeze with contents, amount, and date.
  • Filling the container can prevent freezer burn.
  • Freezing in serving-size portions is more convenient for cooking and the smaller portions thaw faster.
  • Dishes with milk and other dairy products do not freeze well. A good idea is to freeze just before you would add the dairy and add the dairy once you've defrosted your meal.
  • Frozen egg whites can be kept forever and are just as good thawed. Be sure to keep track of how many egg whites are in the container.
  • Caramelized onions can be frozen in ice cube trays or muffin tins and then put in a larger sealed container. That way you can take out smaller portions as needed. They will keep for several months unless they develop freezer burn.
  • When freezing bread, be sure it's in airtight wrapping or in a freezer bag with the air squeezed out. If moisture gets in the wrapping, the ice crystals may make your bread soggy when thawed.
  • Pre-cooked chicken can save a lot of time when cooking. Shredding the chicken before freezing helps decrease defrosting time later. Depending on your typical meals, freeze your chicken in various amounts in different containers so you always have the amount you need.
  • When freezing meat, it's best to keep it in its original wrapping, if possible. If you plan on keeping it in the freezer for a long time, wrap the store wrapping with addition freezer wrap (such as plastic wrap or aluminum foil) or put inside a freezer bag.
  • When freezing vegetables, choose vegetables at their peak flavor and texture. Be sure to rinse them thoroughly and trim away bad areas. Drain and chill food before packing into either freezer bags or freezer containers. Remove as much air as possible from the packaging. Most vegetables can be cooked with little or no thawing.
  • For cookies, you can freeze the dough in a container, individual balls, or a dough log. For cookie balls, roll the dough into balls and freeze on a cookie sheet until they are hard, or about an hour. You can then put all the balls into a freezer bag. For a dough log, roll the dough into a log, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or wax paper and freeze. When preparing, just cut slices of the log. Frozen dough can be cooked at the same temperature as fresh dough; just add a minute or two to the time.
  • For cakes, you can freeze baked cake rounds and thaw without detracting from taste or texture. Bake the cake as normal and let it cool completely. When completely cool, wrap in a double layer of plastic wrap and a thin layer of aluminum foil and store flat in the freezer. However, when defrosting, it's important to take the cake out the night before you want to use it and let it defrost slowly in the refrigerator. A cake left to defrost on the counter may end up mushy.
    Flavor may change when food is stored past the following time limits.
  • Raw steak or beef roast: 6-12 months
  • Raw pork chops or pork roast: 4-6 months
  • Raw chicken: 9 months
  • Cooked red meat: 2-3 months
  • Cooked chicken: 4 months
  • Chicken broth: 3 months
  • Lunch meats: 1-2 months
  • Raw fatty fish (salmon, tuna): 2-3 months
  • Raw lean fish (cod, bass): 6 months
  • Cooked fish: 4-6 months
  • Soup: 2-3 months
  • Pizza: 1-2 months
  • Hard cheeses (Parmesan, cheddar, etc): 6 months
  • Nuts: 2 months
  • Rice: 1 month
  • Tomato paste: 3 months
  • Unsalted butter: 6 months
  • Fruits and vegetables are good for up to one year, though taste and texture may start to deteriorate if freezer burnt.
  • The safest way to thaw food is in the refrigerator. Just remember to plan ahead because meat typically takes eight hours of refrigerated defrosting time per pound.
  • The microwave is the fasted method but because it starts the cooking process, it's necessary to begin cooking the food immediately after defrosting.
  • For meats or frozen soups, thawing in a bowl of water is also a method of defrosting. Seal the food in a watertight bag and immerse in a bowl of cold or lukewarm water. Change the water every 30 minutes but don't defrost for more than two hours or you might have bacterial growth on your food.

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