During my first year as a high school cooking teacher, I received a crash course on freezing from my 70-year-old coworker. Our budget was tight, and wasting food was a cardinal sin. I’ll never forget when she threw a gallon of skim milk in the freezer because of a snow delay—and it came out perfectly useable weeks later! I was immediately hooked on freezing. Honestly, I think the freezer is the most under-utilized item in your kitchen (and maybe house).
Since a thorough lesson in all-things freezer would bore you, I’ll speak from personal experience. But first, a few general tips about freezing:
1. You can freeze fruits, vegetables, baked goods, or anything that might stick together individually on a plate or cookie sheet. Once frozen, the items can be bagged together. This avoids clumping!
2. Air is your enemy! It’s what causes freezer burn. To avoid air reaching your food, first wrap in plastic wrap, then foil, then put it in a freezer bag. Use clothespins for cheap clips. And remember to label items with dates and names.
3. Foods with a high moisture content (tomatoes, salad greens, cucumbers) don’t freeze well. They’re the only foods I sometimes have to throw away.
4. To cut down on condensation as well as to maintain the temperature of your freezer, bring cooked foods to room temperature before freezing.
Now, let’s take a look inside my freezer to learn how to freeze anything for easy meals in a pinch.
Right now in my freezer, I have whole bananas and bags of overripe mashed bananas, labeled “three overripe mashed bananas.” To freeze for smoothies, peel and freeze whole bananas on a paper plate. Once frozen, put them in a gallon freezer bag. Or, you can let nine bananas get overripe and mash three at a time; place them in small ziplock bags and label—these are ready to use for banana bread.
When it’s on sale, I buy a pound or two of bacon. Divide them into groups of three strips each, and roll the strips into a ball; freeze in sandwich-size ziplock bags. These are great for a BLT or a starter for soups and stews. This method also works for sardines and anchovies.
7. Fresh herbs
Using an ice-cube tray, I make cubes of fresh thyme and rosemary frozen in water. Just freeze the herbs in water, pop them out of the tray, then store them all in a freezer bag. This method is best for heartier herbs; head over here for instructions on how to freeze basil or other tender herbs.
Buy meat in bulk (best if it’s on sale) and divide them into individual servings in freezer bags, making sure to get out all of the air. The best way to thaw meat is in fridge for 24 hours, but you could also do it in the microwave on the defrost setting. Once thawed, you should not refreeze. Cooked meat, however, may be refrozen.
9. Cookies and bread
Make a double batch of cookie dough and freeze half, rolling the dough into balls and freezing on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, put all the balls into a freezer bag. Then, next time you need to whip up a batch of cookies, you can bake the balls from frozen.
Baked quick breads (banana, corn, zucchini) can be frozen once their baked and fully cooled. Wrap tightly in plastic, then foil, and put in a freezer bag. Thaw breads on countertop.
10. Broth-based soups and tomato sauce
Let soups and sauces cool completely on the counter before freezing in bags.
11. Cooked prepared meals
I find that most meals freeze better cooked—just reheat, covered, in a 300-degree oven until warmed through.
Once you become friends with your freezer, you’ll be shocked at how little food goes to waste. Feel free to ask question in the comments section for anything I may not have covered, and happy freezing!