Cold Comfort: How to Best Use Your Freezer

The following article is from the new book Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader.

Did you know that you can keep eggs in your freezer? (There’s a trick to it.) Here are some tips on how to freeze foods you probably thought couldn’t be frozen, and how to better freeze the stuff you’re already freezing, preventing waste and saving money in the process.

(Image credit: Flickr user Beverly Vealach)

FRESH VEGETABLES

• Before freezing, chop raw vegetables to the size you are likely to use when cooking. Thawed vegetables are more difficult to chop.

• Vegetables tend to lose color, favor, texture, and even vitamins when they’re frozen, thanks to the activity of enzymes in the veggies. Blanching the vegetables (immersing them in boiling water for a short period of time) before freezing interrupts the activity of the enzymes, and will keep the frozen vegetables fresher longer.

• Blanching times vary from 11⁄2 minutes for peas and 11 minutes for large ears of corn; consult a cookbook for the correct amount of time for the vegetable you want to freeze.

• After blanching, quickly immerse the vegetables in cool water to prevent them from overcooking.

• Leafy greens, tomatoes, and watery vegetables like zucchini and squash can be frozen without blanching. If you plan on making zucchini bread, grate the zucchini before you freeze it.

GROUND MEAT

• Ground meat is suitable for freezing, but the Styrofoam tray covered with plastic wrap that it comes in is not. The container leaves too much air in the package, causing freezer burn.

• Remove ground meat from the container and place it in a plastic freezer bag, taking care to squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before placing it in the freezer. Press the bag of meat as flat as you can before freezing—the flatter the meat, the faster it freezes, preserving quality.

• If you want individual servings, lay the unfrozen bag of meat flat on the kitchen counter and press a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon lengthwise against the outside of the bag to create indentations that divide the meat into single-sized squares. Now when you need some but not all of the meat, you can easily snap off as many squares as you need and return the rest to the freezer, instead of having to thaw out the entire bag.

EGGS

• Eggs expand while freezing and should not be frozen in the shell. Instead, beat raw eggs just until the whites and yolks have blended together, then pour the mixture into an ice cube tray and freeze. Each compartment of a standard ice cube tray will hold about one egg’s worth of the mixture. When the eggs have frozen, they can be popped out of the ice cube tray and stored in a freezer bag for up to a year.

• Yolks and whites can be separated before freezing if you expect to use them separately. Separated whites will freeze just fine as they are, but separated yolks can become gelatinous over time. To prevent this, beat in 11⁄2 teaspoons of sugar (if you plan to use the yolks in a dessert) or 1⁄8 teaspoon of salt (for other dishes) for every four egg yolks before freezing. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.

THE CUBIST MOVEMENT

• Fresh herbs and spices can also be frozen in ice cube trays. Fill each compartment about two-thirds full with chopped fresh herbs or spices and cover with your choice of water, chicken or beef stock, olive oil, or melted unsalted butter before freezing. When the cubes are frozen, remove them from the tray and store them in freezer bags.

• Two more candidates for ice cube freezing: coffee and leftover wine (for cooking). Coffee cubes can be used to keep iced coffee cold without watering it down. Next time a recipe calls for 1⁄4 cup of wine, instead of opening a new bottle (and getting stuck with more leftover wine), thaw out as many cubes as you need.

MILK

• If you don’t think you can use all of your milk before it spoils, freeze it—just be sure to pour off a few inches of milk before freezing if the container is full. Milk expands when it freezes, so if you don’t leave some air at the top of the container, it may burst, spilling the unfrozen milk all over the inside of the freezer. Label the container with the date (and the milk’s expiration date if you freeze it in a container other than the milk carton) so that you’ll know how long the thawed milk will last before it spoils. The milk will keep in the freezer for up to three months; when you’re ready to use it, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight.

• During freezing, the fat in the milk may separate from the liquid. Shaking the milk in its container, or mixing it in a blender before using it, will help to redistribute the fat and restore the milk’s familiar texture.

• If you plan to use small amounts of milk over time, such as when baking, milk, too, can be frozen in ice cube trays and thawed out individually as needed. Milk cubes can also be added to fresh milk to keep it cold without watering it down as the cubes melt.

ODDS AND ENDS

• Avocados. Whole avocados do not freeze well, but they can be frozen after they’ve been peeled and pitted. Puree the pulp, then add 1⁄2 tablespoon of lemon juice for each avocado before freezing in an airtight container. Be sure to leave some air space at the top of the container, because the puree will expand as it freezes.

• Potato Chips. If you’re the kind of person who stocks up on potato chips when they’re on sale, freeze the unopened bags for up to three months to extend their life beyond their expiration date. Opened bags will also keep longer in the freezer without going stale.

• Sauces and Condiments. These can be frozen in freezer bags. Use snack-sized bags and freeze them flat, so that when you need some sauce for cooking you can open the freezer bag and snap off as much of the frozen sauce as you need. Sauces that are to be thickened with flour or cornstarch should be frozen before those ingredients are added. Add the flour or cornstarch after the sauce has thawed.

• Chicken Breasts, Pork Chops, etc. Marinate in your favorite sauce and freeze individually. That way, when you want a quick dinner, they can be easily thawed out and cooked.

• Oatmeal. If you don’t have time to cook oatmeal before leaving for work and don’t like the taste of instant, cook up a big batch of oatmeal when you do have time, then pour it into a muffin tin and freeze as individual portions. After the oatmeal has frozen, pop the portions out of the tin and store them in a freezer bag. Now when you want oatmeal in the morning, just put one or more of the muffin portions in the microwave and you’ll have hot oatmeal in less time than it takes to make instant.

• Homemade Soup Stock. Stick an empty freezer bag or milk carton in the freezer. Whenever you have celery stalks, vegetable peelings, chicken bones, and other scraps, put them in the container instead of throwing them out. When the container is full, thaw it out and use the accumulated scraps to make your homemade stock. Once you’ve made your stock, refreeze it in individual portions in muffin tins or ice cube trays so that you’ll only need to thaw out as much as you need.

CHEESE

• Rule of thumb when freezing cheeses: if the cheese is hard enough to be grated, it will freeze well. If it isn’t, it won’t. Some hard cheeses may become crumbly or mealy after freezing, but they won’t lose their flavor.

• Cut large blocks of cheese into smaller portions or shred before freezing, so that you will only need to thaw out as much cheese as you need.

MORE TIPS

• Be careful not to overload your freezer with too many unfrozen foods at once—fill it with no more than three pounds of unfrozen food for every cubic foot of storage space in the freezer. Any more than that will slow freezing, making the food mushy when it thaws out. Too much warm food in the freezer may also thaw out nearby items that are already frozen, compromising their quality as well.

• When freezing a lot of food, space the items apart from one another so that cold air will circulate around each item. Lowering the freezer control to -10°F will help the foods freeze more rapidly and maintain their quality. Pressing freezer bags flat before freezing them also speeds freezing time.

• Frozen foods will last longer if they are stored at a colder temperature, so once the food has frozen, keep the freezer set at 0°F or lower.

_______________________________

The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's newest volume, Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader. The 29th volume of the series is chock-full of fascinating stories, facts, and lists, and comes in both the Kindle version and paperback.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!


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