Mir, you are so smart, thrifty and pretty. However, your recent posts about freezers still leave me with some questions.
I love the IDEA of the freezer and the convenience, savings, time and health benefits it promises. I have a medium sized upright.
My problem seems to be with actual usage. I still lose things to freezer burn because I obviously don’t know how to properly package things for storage. What is the best way to package freezer items for storage? Do you use ziplocs, a vacuum sealer machine, tupperware or corningware? How do you get the best space usage from your chosen packaging?
I’m also having trouble getting started. I never seem to find the time to cook extra and feed the freezer just to establish a beginning inventory. I think if I got started I could handle replenishing. Around here, every night is a busy one. And, frankly, I hate to cook. I’ve also never quite got the hang of think-ahead meal planning.
More freezer info please!
Well, seeing as how I’m so smart, thrifty and pretty, how can I resist trying to help Charlotte out? Flattery will get you everywhere, ’round here.
Let’s talk about proper storage, first. You’re absolutely right: If you’re losing stuff to freezer burn, it defeats the entire purpose of having the freezer. Rule number one of owning a freezer is, you don’t talk about freezer club.
No, wait. My bad. That’s something else entirely. No, rule number one of owning a freezer is, you have to know how to package your food so that it lasts. And the truth is much simpler than you might realize.
Freezer burn is caused by air coming into contact with the frozen food. (Get your fancy scientific explanation here.) As such, freezer burn can easily be prevented with airtight food wrapping. Voila!
Are you buying packages of chicken or whatever and tossing them directly into the freezer in their little styrofoam trays with cling overwrap? Shame on you. No wonder everything is ending up burned. You must repackage items before freezing them.
My favorite method is Ziploc bags intended for the freezer (okay, I often buy a generic, but always one labelled as a “freezer bag” because they tend to be thicker). I take whatever it is that I’m freezing and place it gently in the bag… and then squeeze the livings daylights out of it. More or less. Seal the bag to within an inch and then just get out all of the remaining air that you can.
I’ve heard good things about that Press ‘N’ Seal stuff, but I’ve not tried it. Given the principle of it (that you can tailor the size, that you can squeeze out a lot of air), it certainly sounds good. I’ve not yet been able to find it at a price I’m willing to pay, though, so for now, I’m good with the zipper bags.
What about aluminum foil, or plastic wrap? Well… no. Probably can’t get out enough air that way. Although if you want to, say, wrap a loaf of bread in foil and then… put it in a zipper bag… go ahead.
“But Miiiiiiiiir,” the treehuggers are crying, “that’s not good for the environment! You should use reusable containers! And plastic is bad!” Yes. And yes, and yes. And yet, it’s what I do, because when my ecofriendly conscience whispers that I should freeze in a reusable container and I heed its dulcet tones…
… I end up with freezer burn. There’s just not a good way to get the air out.
If you are really serious about freezer storage, you may wish to invest in a vacuum sealer. Maybe something like… this vacuum sealer? (Coupon code CLEAROUT is still good for another $25 off.) I think it would be a lovely thing to own, but I don’t have one, myself. It’d be nice but I don’t think it’s necessary. [One caveat: If you do decide to invest in a sealer, don’t get a cheap one. This is one of those things where you get what you pay for. Read the reviews, do your homework, etc.]
When portioning items for storage, be realistic. If you’re a family of four and you buy the mondo-family pack of pork chops, don’t freeze all ninety-seven chops in the same bag. Neither should you use every Ziploc in your county, freezing each one individually, if you’re usually cooking for more than one. Just use some common sense.
Okay, next topic: What state should you freeze things in? I’m all for having prepared foods ready to defrost, but you’re also going to want to freeze some items that haven’t been prepared yet. In addition to portioning things appropriately, think about how you might want to use them. If you like marinade, throw it in the bag prior to freezing. This serves two purposes: One, the added moisture will help keep any freezer burn away (not that you’ll have any, because you’re so pretty and smart that you squeezed all of the air out of your storage bag); and two, when you’re ready to use, your food will marinate as it defrosts. Handy, right?
[Extra! Special! Bonus! Tip: Throw a splash of red wine into the bag with red meat like steaks or roasts, before freezing. It tastes great and goes with nearly any future preparation. And for this purpose, a cheap wine is fine. I buy those little mini four-packs of cabernet just to use on meat.]
Now let’s talk prepared foods. Charlotte says she can’t find the time to cook extra. To this I say: PSHAW. (Seriously. I pronounce the P and everything. I sound like a total dork, but I say it anyway.) P-SHAW!
Listen; if you have the time and the inclination to set aside part of your weekend to whip up a bunch of stuff and freeze it, great. If you don’t? That doesn’t mean you can’t cook ahead and freeze. If you think you can’t, you’re overthinking.
Here’s the secret: It doesn’t have to be separate activity. Get into the habit of cooking twice as much as you need. Instant freezer meal, in the same time it takes you to make dinner, anyway.
Okay, in fairness… it will take a little bit more prep time than usual. But only a little (depends on the dish). Also, I’m cooking for a family of three, so cooking twice as much as we’ll eat is trivial. If you have a family of twelve I can see where you might think I’m on crack or something. But honestly, it’s not that hard.
First of all, I am a crockpot devotee. Not because I’m an earth mother or incredibly well-organized and having dinner cooking right after breakfast gives me joy joy joy joy down in my heart, but because I am lazy. Here is how most of my favorite crockpot recipes go:
1) Chop some stuff.
2) Throw it all in the crock.
3) Turn crock on.
4) Eat dinner 10 hours later.
It might take me 5 minutes longer to chop some extra, or open an extra can. Plus, crockpots cook better and more evenly when they’re relatively full. So whatever I’m making in there, if it freezes well, I fill ‘er up and what we don’t eat, I freeze.
I do a similar thing when I’m roasting something in the oven, or grilling outside. I just make twice as much (if I know it’s something that will freeze well).
And if I’m making lasagna? You know I’m making two. Anything that’s labor-intensive to assemble I make two of without fail. Why do it again?
So. That’s all good and well. But obviously you’re not going to make twice as much every single time you cook. For one thing, sometimes you just don’t have time. For another, not everything freezes well. Anything with a cream sauce doesn’t freeze well, for example (the sauce is likely to “break” upon defrosting and reheating). If I make something like, say, stroganoff, I still make twice as much… but I scoop out half for freezing (because I’m making it in my crockpot, natch) before I add the sour cream. And pasta tends to freeze badly. If you’re doing the lasagna thing? Freeze it assembled but uncooked.
But I do hereby solemnly swear to you that if you get into the habit of cooking extra, it will cease to seem like extra work and your freezer will be full in no time. Pinky swear.
If that’s not enough incentive for you, consider this: A full freezer actually costs less to run, because less energy is needed to maintain its temperature. Really, filling that freezer is a cost-saving measure in and of itself. Finding a nice meal in there on a busy night when you’re dreading cooking is just icing on the cake.