Thursday, February 4, 2016

Food Storage: Load Up Your Freezer!

There are so many things that can be kept in your freezer! More often than not I feel like we associate frozen food with frozen burritos, TV dinners, and store-bought frozen vegetables, but there's all kinds of stuff that you can make, buy and grow to keep in your freezer!

Bread & Baked Goods
My grandma always kept an extra loaf or two of bread in her freezer, and it makes sense to do so. If bread is on sale, buy a few extra loaves to stash in your freezer. That way you have extra on hand in case family drops by. Defrost it in the fridge if you have a few days to allow it to thaw, or on the counter top if you need it right away. Likewise you can freeze hamburger or hot dog buns, hoagie rolls, dinner rolls, tortillas or whatever it is that's on sale. If you like to bake you can also freeze your homemade concoctions, bread, muffins, corn muffins, banana bread, tomato soup cake, biscuits, etc.

There are a great many different vegetables that you can freeze and keep. So far I have frozen onions, jalapenos, snow peas, bell peppers, and pumpkin. You can also freeze corn, peas, carrots, potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes, squash or green beans. We froze our jalapenos whole, diced the onions, and cut the bell peppers into strips. For the snow peas, I froze them individually on a wax paper-lined baking sheet before I put them into a zip-top bag. I would highly recommend spreading out diced onions or cubed vegetables on a baking sheet to freeze before bagging it up as well, otherwise you will end up with one big clump.

Most fruit freezes and keeps very well in the freezer. I have frozen berries, bananas, cantaloupe, and kiwi fruit. You can also freeze mangoes, plums, peaches, grapes, or any fleshy fruit, really. For instructions on freezing fruit, and for peeling kiwi fruit, please visit my blog post Make It Yourself: Frozen Fruit.

Stock & Broth
This Thanksgiving Willie decided to use the "spatchcock" method of cooking our turkeys. So, the spines were cut out of the birds so that the carcasses laid flat and cooked more quickly. He also decided to remove the wings, as we never eat the wings from our turkeys. When faced with the dilemma of what to do with these extra turkey parts, he decided to make turkey stock. It was decided that the stock would be frozen so that we could use it later. Some of the stock was put into resealable containers and frozen "in bulk" and some was portioned out into muffin tins for use in smaller recipes. We lined the muffin tins with silicone baking cups for ease of extraction, but you can put the stock directly into the tins as well. If the stock is difficult to remove, just dip the bottom of the muffin tin in hot water to loosen it. Put it in a zip top bag and put it in your freezer! It is very helpful to measure how much liquid your muffin tin/baking cup holds so that you can estimate how many portions to use in a recipe. My silicone baking cups hold about 1/3 cup.

Pre-Made Meals
As I'm sure you know, I really enjoy cooking meals to take with me to work. It is a lot cheaper to eat something you have made yourself than to go out to eat every day on your lunch break. Often times I will make a huge batch of whatever it is, portion it out into containers, and put half of it in the freezer for later. I've made chicken lo mein, chicken and ramen stir fry, kung pao chicken, chicken and rice, Mom's stroganoff, keema mattar, fajitas and Mexican rice, and chicken and stuffing. This year we also portioned out our Thanksgiving meal to freeze for later. So, turkey, potatoes and stuffing went together, and the gravy got its own container. When your meals in the fridge start to dwindle, just pull another stack out of the freezer to thaw in the fridge. Add a little water before microwaving, and you should be very pleased with your results!

Burgers & Meatballs
Yes, you can buy frozen hamburger patties already formed, but if you ever want to spice things up (get it) you can always make your own seasoned patties, or patties with "mix-ins." We have made patties with onion soup mix, or garlic herb soup mix and they have turned out really well. You can also mix in items such as blue cheese crumbles, bacon bits, diced onions, diced peppers, mushrooms, or shredded cheddar cheese before forming and freezing your patties. Just be sure to separate the patties with wax paper before you freeze them, or you will have a heck of a time separating them! The other pre-made beef product that we like to keep in our freezer is meatballs. We make and can our own spaghetti sauce, so it only makes sense to make and freeze our own meatballs to cook with it! You can find instructions on meatball making on my Meatballs blog post.

This is a concept that I had never thought of before, but Willie, being the genius that he is, suggested that we portion and freeze white rice to take along with our lunches. So, any items that need a rice accompaniment, such as Mom's stroganoff, keema mattar or any sort of stir fry not involving a noodle, will have its own portion of rice. Just put the entree in its own container, and put a portion of rice with it in your lunch. There is no need to thaw the rice, simply add a splash of water, cover loosely and microwave. You will need to stir it around (or shake it with the lid on) midway through the heating process for even heating. Combine the entree and rice and you're all set!