Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nesting Series #1: Freezing Food

Well, since I have a little extra time on my hands with all my nesting tasks done, I thought I'd start a new little series on the blog. The Nesting Series. And I guess I'll continue until this baby comes...

Someone commented on my recent post asking about freezing meals and some tips on how to do it. I'll do my best to share some of my helpful hints and perhaps some others can chime in too. (I know that lots of you who read my blog are also food lovers and have tons of good kitchen tips.)

Jason, Alex, and I basically only eat the equivalent of 2 large adult servings, so we often have leftovers. I am not a huge fan of them, and find it especially hard to eat the same thing two or three times in one week. It is also often economical to buy grocery items (especially meat) in larger packages. In order to reduce waste in my kitchen, I have learned how to freeze pretty much anything.

Here are a few tips:

1. For raw meat, I always wash it with water and put it in a labeled freezer bag. I often freeze single chicken breasts in quart sized freezer bags because they are easy to use for a single meal. I also always go through this process as soon as I return home from the grocery store because that way, the meat is at its freshest for freezing. Otherwise, sometimes I put it away, forget about it for a few days and then freeze it...or realize that it's now ruined. =(

2. For many dishes I make (casseroles, enchiladas, and lasagna), the recipe usually calls for a 9"x13" dish. I buy the disposable 8"x8" foil pans with lids at the grocery store and split up the dish before it is even cooked. I cover the unused dish tightly with foil, label it, and store it in the freezer. That way, dinner is already made for sometime next month! Be sure to label it with temperature setting and add about an extra hour for cook time on a frozen dish. It's not an exact science, but keep checking on it till it's heated through. For enchiladas and other recipes that have a separate sauce with it, I usually freeze the sauce separately in a freezer bag. It can be thawed in a water bath in about 30 minutes and added before baking.

3. When I make soup or chili, I always freeze half of the leftovers. It freezes well in quart-sized freezer bags (a good amount for 2-3 servings). Press out as much air as possible in the bag and seal it well. Thaw it in a water bath for about 45 minutes and it's ready to be reheated. Of course, some readers may have larger families and need to actually double recipes in order to get enough to freeze.

4. In general, most items will keep in the freezer for 2 months or so. Again, I have found that detailed labeling with a Sharpie helps on this. Always date the food so you remember when it was placed in the freezer.

5. The key to successful freezing is all about air and wrapping. Use a container that will allow the least amount of empty space. The more that's allowed in there, the more chance for freezer burn. I usually cover dishes tightly with Press 'N Seal (one of my kitchen essentials) and heavy duty foil to make sure they are secure for freezing. Or freezer bags work great because you can press out all the extra air.

6. Always use freezer bags, not just plain storage bags. There's a difference in the weight of them.

7. When I make homemade cookie dough (yes, I am a snob and find it hard to make slice and bake), I always freeze the dough. This helps me to only make as many cookies as I need - like only 6 at a time for our family - and avoid making an entire batch and eating them all. The frozen dough just needs to be thawed for about 20 minutes until it's soft enough to spoon out onto the cookie sheet. If you really want to be anal, you can shape the dough into a log using wax paper or press n' seal to make your own slice and bake. Put it in a gallon sized bag and get rave reviews on your homemade slice and bake cookies!

8. You can also freeze already-made cookies, bread, and cakes without icing. I promise you probably won't notice any difference in the taste.

9. To reduce waste on fresh fruit, I cut up strawberries, pineapple, blueberries, banana, peaches, and mango in pieces to be used for smoothies.

10. I often make a big batch of my husband's favorite foods and freeze it in those Glad disposable tupperware things for his lunch. They are easy to buy in a single serving size, and he can eat healthy lunches from home. By the time lunch rolls around, all he needs is a nearby microwave.

11. Items that do not freeze well are milk and cream-based soups and sauces, and egg-based dishes. There may be more items, but I'll let y'all chime in if you have experience with something that doesn't freeze well.

Sometimes preparing things for the freezer adds a little time on the front end of cooking, but I have found that overall, it saves me time and money. I often have my own homemade frozen entrees on hand, but also reduce waste in my kitchen.

I'd be interested to see if any other readers have useful tips. Chime in on the comments section!


Kevin and Bekah said...

I don't buy disposable dishes (never really thought about it, but it might be easier than my way). Instead I line my 8x8 dishes with two alternating peices of foil long enough to wrap over the top, spray with oil, and freeze overnight. Then I pop the entree out of the baking dish and place in a gallon freezer bag. Then when I am ready to cook or reheat, I place it back in the original pan. This may only work well if your dishes aren't already in use, or in my case, you have limited freezer space.

Kevin and Bekah said...

Also, as a tip for freezing fruit - line a cookie sheet with wax paper, spread fruit out, freeze, and then place in freezer bag or container. Then your fruit won't stick together and you can thaw just what you need instead of the whole container.

Melissa said...

Thanks Nicole! As I thought, you were the right woman to ask. I especially found it helpful to learn not to freeze milk or cream based soups.

Salem said...

Good tips Nicole! I do freeze breakfast casseroles that are primarily egg based and they work out fine. I do begin to thaw them the day before and leave in the fridge overnight to continue to thaw. If you cook them still frozen, you have to get up WAY to early to put them in the oven! :)

Anonymous said...

ooh-fun discussion topic! For easy meals, we like to do homemade pizza or calzones(Nicole's recipe) which usually use only half a jar/can of spag. sauce. So I always freeze the other half in a quart freezer bag and depending upon our toppings, freeze half a tube of italian sausage or half a package of candadian bacon, etc. and then put it all in a big ziplock so its ready for the next time around. Shawn Graham

Anonymous said...

Also, our family loves Chicken Pot Pie which calls for 2 pie crusts. I have a recipe for 5 crust that is super easy. Once I make them, I roll them out flat between waxed paper(no flour needed) and wrap two crusts together with foil and then freeze flat on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, you can remove the cookie sheet. They take about 15-30 min. to thaw at room temp to become pliable again. Shawn Graham