Here’s a picture of my freezer.
My boyfriend says it looks like a NASA space freezer, but I don’t think it’s nearly as organized (or well-labeled) as they would keep it. However, I have found that using the freezer allows me to keep homemade ‘frozen dinners’ on hand, make efficient use of precious cooking time, and prevent (or at least delay) the waste of food. Here’s a tour of my freezer, maybe you’ll get some ideas that will help you in your own food preparation.
Those yellow and orange bags are soups and spaghetti sauce. If you are going to take the time to cook something from scratch, doubling or even tripling a recipe doesn’t take much extra time. Freezing the rest will give you a thaw-heat-serve option for those nights when you don’t want to cook. I have frozen many different foods including chicken corn chowder, pasta sauce, fish soup, lasagne, and chili, to name a few. Most soup recipes freeze well with the exception of cream soup or soups with noodles. (However, cream soups that are lower in fat seem to freeze better; it’s worth experimenting with.)
I usually have several forms of frozen vegetables on hand. You’ll see a bag of stir-fry vegetables (nothing extra added, just the veggies) along with some random stuff from last year’s garden. Frozen vegetables are easy to steam or sauté (or both!) and to add to other dishes including soups and casseroles. I chuckle when I find myself putting soup in the freezer that contains vegetables and meats that I pulled out of the freezer to make the soup!
I’m not sure if this is good advice or simply justification for procrastinating, but you can use your freezer to ‘hold’ food that will go bad before you’ll figure out what to do with it. See those green containers in front? That’s green tomato and jalapeno freezer jam. (Free to the first three callers!!!) Can you guess what remained at the end of the last garden season? I’d heard of green tomato jam and jalapeno jam so, naturally, green tomato and jalapeno jam was the next evolution. I haven’t tasted it since I first made it, but I remember thinking it was not toast-worthy. BUT, I will find a use for it. Probably as a component of a vinaigrette, marinade, or sauce.
Some better ‘saves’ I have made include ‘salsas’ that were made by pureeing leftover fresh onions, tomatoes, garlic, jalapenos, bell peppers, and other miscellaneous garden extras. I used those concoctions as flavoring in soups and in the crockpot over roasts. The roasts came out AMAZING. Much more flavorful than using plain canned tomatoes or tomato paste that is typically called for in crockpot recipes.
I also made a sauce that was something between a ratatouille and a pasta sauce. I didn’t have eggplant, but I did have plenty of zucchini. So I made a sauce with onions, a combination of fresh and canned tomatoes, garlic, and zucchini that I was able to use over pasta. Find a ratatouille recipe that sounds good to you and use it as an inspiration. (I loosely used Emeril Lagasse’s; I don’t follow recipes much, and you don’t need to either!)
You can also sauté combinations of vegetables and then freeze them for later additions into dishes and soups. Soups are a GREAT way to use up foods, especially vegetables, whose days are numbered. You don’t need a recipe, just sauté some onion, garlic, peppers, celery, or carrots; add some broth and then just start adding stuff: cooked meat, more vegetables, beans, rice, noodles, etc.
You’ll notice a few foil packets tucked in there. Those are meats; I have both cooked and uncooked meat in my freezer. Chicken is usually the only meat that I freeze cooked (baked plain). I like to bake chicken in larger quantities and then freeze 6-8 ounce packets for future use. These can be used for sandwiches, wraps, soups, salads, and a multitude of other meals. I will freeze soups that contain meat, but most other fish, sausage, beef, pork, or venison is frozen raw. Raw meats like bacon, sausages, and beef usually come in packages that are too large for me to eat, so I will cook part of it and then freeze the rest.
Other things in my freezer: there’s a bag of coffee in there (I know you are not supposed to store coffee in the freezer, but I make it so infrequently that it would go bad if I left it out), walnuts (for my oatmeal), a log of homemade refrigerator cookie dough, frozen raviolis, and ice cubes.
A couple notes on how to wrap for freezing. I don’t want to be a product pusher, but Ziploc brand freezer bags seem to work best for freezing soups and sauces. Generic brands will sometimes blow a seam (not good). Don’t fill your bags too full because they will expand. I usually fill them, set the bottom on the counter and then sort of roll them down flat on the counter, keeping the air near the zip seal end. As you lay the bag down, work the filling closer and closer to the zip seal until there is no air. Then press the seal against the counter. For meats and other non-liquid foods, I will wrap tightly in a good quality saran wrap and then wrap it again in aluminum foil. It’s always useful to label what is in your package (especially the foil ones) and a make a note of the date. The freezer life of food varies. Most of the foods I’ve talked about will last 3 – 6 months (if wrapped well) and some may be ok for a few months after that. The more you use your freezer, the more you will learn how long your foods will be good.
So that’s a tour of my freezer! Hope you had fun and let me know if you want one of those green tomato and jalapeno jams!