Friday, February 8, 2013
I am in the process of finishing a post on cooking with what you have on hand, which is basically a more detailed explanation of the last post I put up, with advice for my friend on eating for less.
It was going to be one very long post but then I decided to split it into two, and then I decided that this part probably should be a separate entry too, and I should just put it up as background. So here it is.
This is a side note about freezing, which I feel is important.
When my mom was visiting once and I went to put something in the freezer, she said, “People who read your blog must think you have a really big freezer.” So I just want to say that I do not have a stand-alone freezer and I do not even have a big freezer.
I used to have a normal-sized freezer that comes with a normal-sized refrigerator but now I have a small European sized refrigerator/freezer and I’m still working on figuring out how best to use it. I have a lot of different things in my freezer, but I have very small quantities of each thing. For instance when I say I have ground beef in my freezer, I might have a quarter pound of ground beef. Pretty much everything is like that. So it might sound like a lot, but it doesn’t take up much space.
I’ve found there to be a few keys to keeping a lot of different small-sized things in a freezer and having them available for use without a lot of prior planning. The main things are to:
A. process items into individual-sized servings prior to freezing, and wrap separately to help keep from turning into little pieces of freezer burn;
B. label things so you can pull out a bag and quickly identify what it is;
C. divide your freezer into “zones” with certain kinds of items always in the same area, so you don’t have to dig through everything any time you need to find something.
In general, I wrap individual serving sizes in plastic wrap or waxed paper. This is important because you need to be able to pull out just what you want and thaw and cook it quickly. For instance you want to be able to pull out a slice of bacon and put it in the frying pan, frozen, and cook it. This will not work if your bacon is frozen together in one giant slab. Same with cooked chicken, tomato paste, mushrooms, bread, bagels.
You need to be able to pull out two slices of bread or half a bagel, which you can put in the toaster, and toast (no need to thaw, you can toast bread directly from the freezer). You want a tablespoon of tomato paste to use in your sauce. You want to pull out enough chicken to make one or two servings at a time.
This is true of pretty much everything.
This does add some time to the whole process, but not much. It takes just a few minutes to measure out your leftovers and tear off some plastic wrap or waxed paper and wrap them up. But it makes things that otherwise would be completely impossible very easy. So don’t skip this step.
In terms of labelling, it’s so tempting to get lazy with that and think you’ll remember what that thing is later but I urge you to not skip the labelling step either, everything looks the same in the freezer. Unless it’s something like bacon or something that’s obvious from the shape what it is. But otherwise you really need the label.
For labels, I use the white tags that I bring home from the grocery store with the bulk bin number written on them. I fold them in half and write the name of the item on both sides, so if it flips over, I can still see the information I need.
If you care about moving through things in an orderly fashion and/or how long you keep things in the freezer (not a big concern of mine, but I know some people pay attention to things like that), you can put the date on there as well.
I try to wrap things up well enough that they won’t be exposed to air and are thus less likely to experience freezer burn. A lot of times recipes will say that something will keep for x amount of time in the freezer but in my experience, things will keep pretty much forever in the freezer, it just might not taste that great by the time you get around to eating it. But it won’t kill you.
In terms of how I store things, my freezer situation is in a little bit of flux right now, I don’t have a great system yet, but my old freezer was basically divided into 12 zones: top and bottom, front/back, left/middle/right. Bottom right back was vegetables, bottom right front was fruit, bottom middle back was stock and sauces, bottom middle front was soups and leftovers. Et cetera. Every type of thing had its own spot in the freezer, so it was easy for me to find what I was looking for among the many nearly identical-looking containers.
This is where getting the new freezer caused problems. It has a different layout than my old freezer and my zones disappeared and I had no idea where anything was. Any time I went to look for anything I had to pull everything out and it was frustrating and annoying and felt really stupid. I decided that the best strategy would be to go through everything there and eat it and start over with a new system. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
In summary, the overall freezing procedure is
1. Take stock of the food item and figure out the best way to process and freeze it so you can use it later. For instance:
Bacon—I pull off a big piece of waxed paper and wrap accordion style with a layer or waxed paper between each piece of bacon;
Cooked chicken— I measure out one cup of chicken and put in plastic wrap and wrap up;
Tomato paste—I measure out one tablespoon and put it in a piece of waxed paper and fold the paper over and flatten to make a little flat disc of tomato paste;
Mushrooms—I sautè in olive oil with garlic and measure out a quarter cup and put in plastic and wrap;
And so on.
(If anyone has specific questions about how I handle certain items, let me know in the comments and I’ll fill you in on what I’ve tried and what worked and what didn’t.)
2. Wrap the processed items in single-size portion (however much you need to make what you are most likely to make with it).
3. Put the wrapped items together in a zipper-top freezer bag.
4. Write on a small piece of paper the name of the item you are putting in the freezer.
5. Put the bag in the freezer in the area where like things are stored.
6. USE THE ITEMS IN THE FREEZER TO MAKE SOMETHING TO EAT.
Don’t forget about that last step.
Wow that turned into a lot on freezing. Sorry about that.
Next up I’ll talk about what kinds of food I keep around, so stay tuned for that.