Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cooking and baking -- freezing foods

Are you making the most of your freezer? Even if you only have the freezer compartment of a refrigerator, you can still freeze foods for convenience and to preserve an extra bounty of something for the future.

The USDA has provided an online guide to freezing foods and answers questions about food safety. Did you know that food stored at 0 degrees will always be safe to eat, though the quality suffers when frozen beyond a certain time. Also, once you thaw food, the microorganisms within it will become active again, and food can begin to spoil as if it had never been frozen. Follow the USDA link for guidelines and tips.

According to the author of the cookbook, Frozen Assets, she started cooking ahead and freezing meals to gain the time-saving benefits. She was surprised to find that her grocery bill went down by almost $400 a month, as well. That was partly due to the fact that she always had something quick in her freezer to grab and heat, so her family was not tempted to eat out during situations where she could not cook according to her normal schedule. Also, according to her freezing plan, she bought items in bulk, which saved even more money. She watched for sales on certain items -- such as ground beef -- and planned several meals around the frozen ground beef.

If you have a garden or if you have access to garden-fresh food, you can save even more by freezing things like corn and other fruits and vegetables.

Here are some tips for cooking and freezing foods:

1) Prepare pasta sauces ahead of time. Don't cook the pasta until you are ready to eat it, however, as the pasta can turn mushy with freezing. An exception might be lasagna, which does freeze well.
2) Take time to organize your freezer. I've found that when I don't, things get piled on top of each other and I forget what I have on hand. Thus, I lose the time and money-saving benefits of freezing food.
3) Pour broth into freezer trays and place into the freezer. Once the broth has frozen into separate cubes, pop the cubes out and store in a freezer bag. Then, when you are making soup or want to flavor something with broth, you can simply take out as many cubes as you need. If you want fat-free broth, cool the broth in a container in the fridge first and scoop the fat off the top. Fat-free broth is a great way to season vegetables in lieu of using lots of butter.
4) If you have the space, store all meats together, all veggies together, etc. If you have a very large freezer, you can even break this down into smaller categories -- beef products together, chicken together.
5) Label your foods! Label what the item is, as well as the month and year it was placed in the freezer. This will save much guessing on your part. One way to label is by using frozen food labels. Another way is to use a black permanent marker.
6) If you are industrious, you can keep a freezer inventory. Write down each recipe and food item you have in your freezer. Next to that, jot down the quantity. each time you remove a freezer meal or food item, mark the quantity down by one. Each time you add, increase the quantity to reflect the additional items.
7) Periodically have weeks when you plan your meals around food items that are reaching the end of their freezer-freshness period. If you make meals and freeze them ahead of time, you can use up meals that are about to expire and gain extra time that week, as well. For example, when you are spring cleaning would be a good time to use meals you have frozen.
8) Repackage existing items to make more space. For example, if you have a large box of fish filets, and you have already cooked several, you might find a way to store them in a smaller container.
9) Here's a tip from Frozen Assets: Lay freezer bags flat to freeze them. After they are frozen, stand them on end. In this way, they will sort of be "filed" so that you can just reach in and take the one you need off the freezer shelf. Also, bags stored in this way are less likely to come tumbling out when you open the freezer door or when you move the bags for some reason.
10)Be sure that you use truly air-tight containers in your freezer. The quality of food will suffer greatly if you don't. At the very least, your food will get "freezer burn". You know you are safe with freezer containers, freezer paper, and freezer bags especially made for this purpose. You can also use (and sometimes re-use) disposable aluminum foil pans for freezing main dishes provided that you wrap them securely. Glassware containers also work. Some come with a an air-tight top; for others wrap them tightly with a good grade of aluminum foil.

Great resources:
Eat for a Month -- Frozen Assets by Deborah Taylor-Hough (I found this in our library.)
Recipe for Egg McMom's -- My children loved these!
Once a Month Cooking World
Recipe for Freezer Slaw --This is not exactly the recipe I use, but it's close. I've found that making up a batch of freezer slaw is a great way to always have a handy side dish available. I store mine in batches in freezer bags and take a bag out when I need it.
Here's a similar recipe
“The best academy....a mother's knee.” (James Lowell)

Happy cooking!


topaztook said...

I keep a pantry/freezer inventory Word notebook document on my computer. I update it weekly during my bookkeeping time -- by then, I know what I've bought at the grocery store during the week and stuck in there, and what we've used for the meals we've eaten during the week. Doing it weekly also helps when I'm compiling our weekly menu plan -- I know what we have in the freezer that needs to be thawed and used.

Charlene said...

We lost the entire contents of our freezer after Hurricane Rita 3 1/2 years ago, and had never replaced our old, hand-me-down freezer until this last holiday season--my parents gave each of us a gift of a half of a beef--and I'm indulging in the pleasure of stocking up on sale items and shopping at big box stores, like Sam's, all over again. It makes such a difference to know that you things on hand for a meals, whether simple or elaborate.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Topaztook:

You're so organized! I hadn't thought of putting the inventory on the computer, which, of course, would be easier to update. Thanks for sharing your method with us!

Hi Charlene:

I'm so sorry you lost so much in Hurricane Rita, but what a wonderful gift your parents gave you of the side of beef. It is so nice to have things on hand.