One of my least favorite household tasks is defrosting the freezer. But when I think of all the ways it has made my life easier, I’m happy to celebrate National Frozen Food Month. How does it help? Let me count the ways: freezing allows you to buy in quantity to take advantage of sales without spoilage. You can buy your favorite fruits and vegetables at their peak of flavor and freeze to enjoy them out of season (overripe bananas for breads and smoothies, too.) When you have a day off, you can prepare components or entire meals in advance and freeze for those crazy busy days. Your leftovers can be preserved for another day without risking spoilage. Meats are easier to cut into thin slices if they are partially frozen. And that little “treat” you snuck home in spite of the diet? Hide it in the freezer until everybody is gone …
Here are a few useful tips: First, set your freezer temperature to 0 degrees. or below for best color, flavor and texture. Avoid that dreaded “freezer burn” (love the contradiction) by using proper wrapping. Aluminum foil: use the heavy duty one and press the foil to the shape of the food to keep air out. Avoid puncturing and don’t use foil for acid foods like tomato products, which will get an “off” flavor from the aluminum. Freezer-safe plastic wrap, stronger than everyday plastic wrap, is the only plastic wrap recommended. Freezer containers with tight-fitting lids, freezer-to-oven baking dishes, and boil-in-bag containers are other good options. Metal boxes are good for delicate foods like cookies; separate layers with waxed paper and seal tightly. Remember that liquids like soups and stews will expand when they freeze, so leave about a half inch of space in container. Those who live in a humid climate like Hawaii can keep flours from absorbing moisture in the air by storing the flour in its bag in the freezer. This also helps prevent bug infestations. Keeping track of what’s in the freezer is easy. “The Best Kitchen Quick Tips” by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine suggest that every time you put something in the freezer, add the food and date to a list clipped to the freezer door. The list is a reminder to use up those frozen items.
Zesty Tomato Base
For sauces and soups, homemade is best. Easy recipe from “Fix &Freeze” by Better Homes &Gardens; makes three 2 1/2 to 3-cup portions. When ready to use, you can add more garlic, chopped fresh tomato, or herbs of choice while heating.
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 cup shredded carrot
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons cooking oil
Two 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
Three 6-ounce cans tomato paste
In a large saucepan, cook onion, celery, carrot and garlic in a little oil until onion is tender but not brown. Stir in tomato sauce and paste. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and cover. Simmer 15 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool. Divide sauce among three freezer containers. Seal, label and freeze.
Freezer Whole Wheat Bread
Split the time needed to make homemade bread by using your freezer. Recipe from “Make Now, Serve Later” by Better Homes &Gardens; makes 2 loaves.
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages active dry yeast
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1/2 cup chopped nuts
In a large bowl, combine 2 cups of the whole wheat flour, 1 cup of the all-purpose flour, the yeast, and milk powder; set aside. In a pan, heat sugar, butter, water, and salt just until warm (115-120 degrees.) and butter is almost melted; stir constantly. Add to flour mixture; beat at low speed of electric mixer for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl. Beat 3 minutes at high speed. Stir in wheat germ and nuts, then stir in remaining whole wheat flour and as much of the all-purpose flour as you can mix in with a spoon. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead in some of remaining all-purpose flour to make a stiff dough (about 8 to 10 minutes). Cover; let rest 15 minutes. Punch down; divide dough in half. Shape dough into loaves, then roll in additional wheat germ. Wrap in plastic freezer wrap and place in two 8x4x2 loaf pans. Freeze till firm, then remove from pans, overwrap in moisture-proof wrap and freeze.
When ready to use:
Remove wrapping; place loaf in greased 8-by-4-by-2-inch loaf pan. Cover and thaw at room temperature. Brush with oil and cover again; let rise until nearly double (about 1 1/2 hours). Bake in preheated 375 degree. oven for 35 to 40 minutes; remove from pan and cool on wire rack.
Dijon &Cognac Beef Stew
Making this country-style entrée in advance means more time to enjoy your dinner guests. The basic stew can be frozen up to three months. Recipe from “Make-Ahead Meals” by Bon Appetit; makes 4 to 6 servings.
4 ounces salt pork, blanched 5 minutes, rind removed and reserved
1 large onion, chopped
3 large shallots, chopped
2 pounds lean beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup good quality Cognac
2 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon coarse-ground mustard
2 large carrots, cut into bite-size pieces
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Cut salt pork into small dice and cook in a heavy, large, non-aluminum skillet over medium heat until golden. Remove with slotted spoon and transfer to 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven. Add onion and shallot to the skillet; brown quickly over high heat. Transfer to saucepan using slotted spoon. Coat beef cubes with flour, shaking off excess. Add butter to same skillet; over medium heat, add meat in batches and brown well on all sides. Transfer meat to saucepan. Pour Cognac into skillet; cook until only a thin glaze of liquid remains. Stir in stock; bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Add to beef, along with the mustards and reserved pork rind. Bring to simmer, cover partially and cook until beef is barely tender, about 2 to 3 hours. Add carrot; cook until fork tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool and store in freezer.
When ready to use:
2 tablespoons butter
7 ounces small fresh mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1/4 cup full-bodied red wine
1 tablespoon coarse-ground French mustard
Bring stew to simmer. Heat remaining butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; brown well. Add wine and mustard; boil 20 seconds. Stir mixture into stew and simmer for 5 minutes; serve.