Kitchen Confidence

Our Guide to Freezer-Friendly Foods

By • January 8, 2014 • 55 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: You're making dinners galore ahead -- or you have piles of leftovers. This is what you can freeze for later. 

Freezer-Friendly Foods from Food52

Much like attics, freezers are scary. They’re dark, often deep, half storage receptacles, half places you shall never name. When you were 9 you swear you read a Goosebumps with one in it.  

They house memories -- some good, some bad, some weird -- like everything you ever wore in the 80s, or that time you wanted your soup to have a Moroccan thing going on but you went off the cuff and added too much cinnamon.  

We have no idea how to deal with your attic. But let’s try to make that freezer of yours more of a happy place, shall we? Here’s a guide to what you should be filling your freezer with, what you shouldn’t, and, consequently, how to be a responsible adult. 

Freezer-Friendly Foods from Food52

The Rules to Live By
Your freezer is one of your best tools, but in order to make it work for you, there are a few principles you have to follow. First, throw out that scary soup. Next, toss anything that’s been in there for over a year. By now, it’s more likely to taste like freezer than whatever it was in its youth. (If you’re opposed to waste like we are, try it before you pitch it.)  

And, of course, make sure anything freezer-bound is completely cool before you freeze it -- or better, chill it in the fridge for a day first. 

Our Do-Not-Freeze List 
Never, under any circumstances, freeze the following things -- they will become unrecognizable, a textural nightmare of what they once were. 

• Uncooked batters (see: cake, pancake, waffle) with baking soda or powder used as the leavening agent. (Yeasted batters, however, are fine.)
• Eggs -- in their shells, hard-cooked, or any egg-based sauces. You there making all of the crème brûlée -- you may freeze your leftover, separated egg whites (or yolks) for up to a year.
• Cooked pasta. Just please don’t do this. (Fresh pasta-makers, though, have at that freezer.)
• Soft cheeses and cultured dairy, such as cream cheese, ricotta, or sour cream. 

Freezer-Friendly Foods from Food52

A Note on Dairy
Contrary to popular belief, you can, in fact, freeze cream and buttermilk, and soft cheeses like chevre, but their texture will be slightly affected by the acts of freezing and thawing. Same goes for the hard cheese you put in pesto. To be safe, we like to use any dairy we freeze for cooking only -- if that goat cheese is destined for a cheese plate, please buy it fresh -- and we’ll often leave cream out of our pureed vegetable soups and cheese out of our pestos. (Just stir it in when you reheat.) Looking to freeze extra butter? Go for it -- just use it up within 3 or 4 months. (You shouldn’t need help in this area, but if you do, go bake some pies.) 

Freezer-Friendly Foods from Food52

Cookies, Cakes, Pies & Sweets
Good news -- you can get really ahead on dessert if you want to. Cakes and cheesecakes can be baked ahead, fully cooled, and stashed away for later. Cookies can be frozen in any stage -- dough (or portioned dough balls if you’re smart), or already baked. Pie dough is fair game, too. Bake all nut, pecan, or custard pies, ahead of time and freeze, and for fruit pies, assemble just up to the point before you bake, and freeze that for when you’re ready, hungry, or have someone to impress. 

Be wary of freezing your homemade chocolate candy, as anything made with tempered chocolate has the potential to bloom. You’d better eat it all now. 

Vegetables & Beans
Before you fill your freezer with resolution-friendly fresh vegetables and beans, blanch them to help preserve their flavor, color and texture. Have already-cooked vegetable purées or beans? Throw ‘em in. 

Freezer-Friendly Foods from Food52

Fruit
If you’re freezing fruit to use in baking, no need to cook before you store (see: pies), but if you want to have fresh slices of apples or pears, say, you’re not in luck. Do not do this -- the temperature change, and the fact that water expands when it freezes, will make their texture suffer when you go to thaw. 

Raw Meats & Fish
Throw it in. Stock up. (Just remember to label clearly.) The main rule is if it hasn’t already been frozen once in its lifetime, it’s good to go. (This goes for smoked salmon, too!) Refreezing previously thawed foods decreases their quality exponentially, and if meat or fish was thawed outside of the refrigerator, it could pose a food safety risk. 

Freezer-Friendly Foods from Food52  

Our Favorite Things to Freeze
Here’s what we’re stockpiling for the months ahead -- these are our favorite dishes that take to a cold stint in the freezer well, reheat beautifully, and bail us out when we find ourselves typing “wilted parsley hot sauce mustard dinner” into our search bar. 

Soups. All of the soups. (Just leave the cream and/or noodles out.)
• Casseroles. (Pastitsio, lasagne, and shepherd’s pie are all freezer-friendly; just freeze assembled dishes, unbaked, until you’re ready to have them for dinner.)
• Hummus. Believe it. Make a triple batch of this and you’ll be ready for any lunch, guest, or impromptu dinner party that comes your way.
Pizza dough, after its first rise. When pizza night arrives, thaw it, let it do its second rise, top, and bake. 

What freezer-friendly foods do you turn to? Tell us in the comments!  

Jump to Comments (55)

Tags: freezer, make-ahead, freeze, stock up, be awesome, how-to & diy

Comments (55)

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11 months ago dzrgrl

I often don't have time to put up tomato juice when my toms are ready so I clean em up and freeze then whole. Just put up 26 qts in Jan. Also have whole wild plums to turn into jelly.

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11 months ago awg

Homemade yeast breads are a wonderful thing to have waiting to be liberated from your freezer, especially during winter. We are partial to Anadama, Challah and Swedish Cardamom Braid. Sometimes I get on a bread baking jag, and any extras get squirreled away for later. It's also lovely to be able to pull out on a moment's notice to send to an ill friend. Very healing! Eggplant Parmigiana, and soups of all kinds are other staples for us.

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11 months ago lilroseglow

This article interested me because I constantly play the "cook ahead" game for week night meals. But I'm confused. On the "do not ever do" list is freeze cooked pasta. But on the freezer-friendly list is lasagna. So when can I freeze pasta and when is it a bad idea?

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11 months ago lilroseglow

"And, of course, make sure anything freezer-bound is completely cool before you freeze it -- or better, chill it in the fridge for a day first"

Why?

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12 months ago serendipity2425

My freezer is currently chock-full of homemade vegetable and chicken stocks, breadcrumbs I made rather than throw out unfinished loaves, soups, sauces, berries, fish, chicken, ground beef, pesto, veggies and veggie scraps waiting to become stock, stale bread waiting to become breadcrumbs.
I rarely freeze pasta; usually cook only enough to have leftovers the next night. But when I have frozen pasta mixed in with one of my go-to sauces, it's never been a problem. More likely to have leftover sauce which I freeze constantly. Butter is also a freezer-staple for me.
And...I am somewhat fanatical about plastic. I wrap single servings in foil (recyclable) then put as many as will fit into one freezer bag - which I re-use and re-use (and then recycle). If we could all cut back on the use of plastic...what a wonderful world this would be!

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12 months ago serendipity2425

When I freeze things that don't work in foil, I put them in reusable, washable plastic containers. I've amassed dozens of these containers over the years - I've basically never thrown one away, even when permanently stained. Chinese take-out soups have the best containers but also the pre-sliced turkey deli meat I buy for sandwiches. I just sent my daughter back to college with a few of those deli meat containers - tomato soup, bean salsa, avocado dressing, cereal mix (better known as Chex Mix but we make our own variety). Didn't make a dent in my supply. Please please use only reusable plastic!

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12 months ago Plume

Yellow can be a tricky colour, but 25 years ago I painted my kitchen a wonderful yellow. I saw it through a window, rang the doorbell and got the reference: Pratt + Lambert "Meridian" #1804 It fills my kitchen with sunlight on a dreary Montreal winter day. I still love it. If you can, stop dreaming and reach for that yellow paint! Luana

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12 months ago serendipity2425

My kitchen is also yellow. White cabinets, deep blue countertops, a different knob on every drawer and cabinet door. Redid our kitchen 10-12 yrs ago and, like Plume, still love it. I don't remember but think the paint was called Butter from Finneran and Haley. It is a patch of sunshine on any given day! Go for it!

Me

12 months ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

You both are inspiring me. :)

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12 months ago I_Fortuna

"So, if you want to freeze your eggs to extend their shelf life, it is best to crack the eggs into a freezer safe container and gently blend in 1/2 teaspoon of salt before freezing. The eggs can then be thawed and used, but these eggs will not rise much if later used in baked goods. If you do this, also be sure to thaw the frozen eggs in the refrigerator before using."
http://www.eatbydate.com...
http://www.sheknows.com...
Eggs will also last outside the fridge if the temperatures are cool for weeks. I rarely refrigerate my eggs. I like the space free for other items because I usually have about 4 dozen eggs at any one time. I eat them almost daily and I bake every other day or two.
I have had my eggs partially freeze in my former refrigerator. When I would be ready to crack them and use them, I would crack them in a bowl and let them thaw a little. They thaw quickly. They were just as perfect as when I bought them. Partial freezing does not seem to be a problem.
The salt recommend here before freezing, of course, is to keep them from freezing solid.
Hard boiled eggs, while still in the shell, can last for ahwile if there are no cracks in the shell, in a cool temperature out of the fridge.
If you want to preserve your hard boiled eggs, get a huge jar with a wide mouth, fill it with vinegar mixed with a little salt and put the peeled eggs in the jar. They will keep for a long time in a cool atmosphere. Keep them on your breakfast or kitchen counter for family to grab a quick healthy, low calorie snack.
There are only about 80 calories in a large egg. Eggs are full of vitamins and minerals.
Calcium, selenium, potassium. folate, B12, B6, ribofalvin, and many more are present in eggs. These mentioned are some with the highest concentrate.
I think they are the perfect food yolk and white together. BTW, my cholesterol at 63 yrs. is not at all high, it is normal.

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12 months ago LovelyVelocity

Oh yes this reminds me: Meatballs freeze beautifully, too!

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12 months ago SaucyCuisine

I freeze meatloaf (several at a time) with a small package of homemade nutmeg sauce. Then I can defrost the loaf, brush the top with sauce and still have a little left for dipping. There is something satisfying about working in the caramelized onions and other ingredients into a huge bowl of ground meat to conserve time and energy. Then I form it into perfect-sized loaves. When ever I think about my freezer I smile because I know that meatloaf can be baked in 60 minutes when I have the craving for some comfort food.

I keep a roll of blue painter's tape and a Sharpie in my kitchen drawer. The words are easy to read and the tape pulls of glass jars and plastic containers without leaving sticky stuff to scrub. Even works well on zip bags.

Amedeo_modigliani_2

12 months ago LovelyVelocity

I buy meat on sale, especially chicken and pork, and keep an inventory in the freezer. I freeze baked ziti (rigatoni actually) and it's delish when defrosted and heated in an oven/toaster oven. (I can't attest to microwave. I don't own one.) I also freeze pesto, chili, tomato sauce, chicken stock. I agree that using Ziploc bags should be limited. I have success with Rubbermaid containers.

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12 months ago CC

Why can one freeze lasagna and have it be ok but pasta in a soup turns out a gooey mess? Thanks!

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12 months ago quinn

I freeze a lot of in-season fruit, especially whole strawberries and sliced apples, by first freezing the individual pieces spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet for a few hours, then tipping the pieces into containers. Easy to grab a handful of pieces anytime for baking, smoothies, or even snacking.
Cooked pasta dishes seem to survive my freezer without any negative effects. I'm surprised to see this as "never under any circumstances" on your list. Any time I make mac&cheese, lasagna, etc., I freeze a couple of single-serving containers and am very happy to have an "instant" homecooked meal when I'm too tired or hungry to cook from scratch.

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12 months ago clayshapes

I agree about cooked pastas. I often freeze mac and cheese leftovers too. I reheat in the oven, not micro, and they are delicious. Some of the advice in the original article is not accurate!

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12 months ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

Thanks for your input! Just to be clear, we make no mention of freezing cooked pasta being a health or safety risk. Rather, we feel that the integrity of the food is compromised during the freezing and thawing processes. In our experience, cooked pasta has the tendency to go from perfectly al dente to limp and mushy when frozen and then brought back to room temperature. But if it works for you routinely, there's no reason to stop!

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12 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I didn't see braises on the list above. My freezer currently has a number of wide mouth pint and cup Mason jars filled with Braised pork shoulder in sauce, torn into big chunks and surrounded by the braising sauce. I also freeze any dark meat poultry in pan juices + stock or whatever sauce I have leftover, making sure the meat is completely covered with the liquid/sauce. All of the foregoing are wonderful in phulka roti wraps, or over toast, for a fast, satisfying weeknight meal.
I'd also add that I never freeze carrots, even ones that have just been blanched, but not cooked through. Their texture changes for the worse, so I always just leave them out and add fresh carrot (cut to size and either microwaved or cooked briefly in stock) when reheating.
;o)

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12 months ago serendipity2425

Because most of my soups start with a base of sauteed carrots, onions, and celery, I often freeze carrots. I have even made and frozen carrot soup! I cook many many bean dishes that include sliced carrots. Freeze those as well without any apparent negatives. ???

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9 months ago LLStone

I've been reading comments on several threads, and you offer very good advice. I appreciate it.

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9 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you, LLStone. That is so kind of you. ;o)

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12 months ago Liz McCarthy

I think I need to buy a bigger freezer!

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12 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

I have 8 small ceramic gratins, and an equal number of 8 oz ramekins. I store lasagne, mac and cheese, pot pies and stews in single servings in these ceramic dishes. I top the dish with a piece of parchment, then wrap in foil (which recycles, btw.) They go from freezer to refrigerator at breakfast time, and by dinnertime, pop right into the oven (or toaster oven) for 35-45 minutes. Like AJ, I always write the cooking instructions on the foil because 9 times out of 10, it's my husband who wants one of these "TV Dinners" when I'm out of town.

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12 months ago ann ladson

My freezer is full of assorted meats, leftover cheese for cooking, chicken carcasses and tons of stock; chicken, beef and lamb. And some ice for cocktails!

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12 months ago Marie Weber

One of my first kitchen experiments resulted in having a ton of pureed pumpkin... I tried to freeze it in ball jars. And let's just say I have never created a larger mess. Boy, did I get in trouble. Of course the solution seems so obvious now!

Make sure, no matter what container you use, you leave enough room in it for the liquids to expand when frozen.

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12 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Also, Marie, always use wide mouth jars, chill well in the fridge before popping into the freezer, and leave a bit of room at the top . . . . and don't screw down the lids firmly until after the contents are completely frozen. ;o)

Stringio

12 months ago Marie Weber

More good tips to avoid the sticky, sharp mess I created.

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12 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Yes, I know . . . believe me, I've been there. ;o)

Tabbymark

12 months ago arielcooks

I don't freeze my ginger. Instead, I cut it into thin coins and drop them into a ball jar, which I then fill with dry sherry. I keep this jar in the refrigerator door. The coins can easily be minced up for a stir-fry, and the gingered sherry is a nice ingredient for various dishes. If I use the sherry, I top off the ball jar with more dry sherry. This arrangement can keep for years when properly refrigerated! :-)

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12 months ago clayshapes

What a great idea --re, the ginger! Going to try this!

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11 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I'm wondering whether I could also do this with peeled and crushed but not mashed or minced garlic . . . . .;o)

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12 months ago sexyLAMBCHOPx

I used my freezer ginger knob and it was less than desirable. I just threw it in a small Ziploc and was about 9 days in the freezer. Should I be doing something different, such as: wrapping in plastic wrap, foil, mined, sliced instead of the whole knob? How long will can it be frozen for before it goes bad? I used it though for foxeslovelemoms(sp?) spicy meatballs (addictive recipe, btw)

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12 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I've heard people say they always freeze their ginger. I use frozen as a last resort. I grate it when I do, because the texture definitely seems affected. ;o)

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12 months ago muse2323

I freeze mine all the time--break upa huge piece of ginger into sizes I'm likely to use in one go, wrap them in plastic wrap and then store all in a freezer bag. I've never noticed a huge difference in texture or taste--but then, it's really well wrapped. I've used frozen to make homemade candied ginger, too.

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12 months ago janet

i have frozen cake, pancake, and cupcake batters in flattened ziplocks with no problems. With just 2 left in our household, paring down recipes can be difficult sometimes, so my friend and I have this pact... we try it, if it works, we do it.

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12 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

There's a lot of great advice here, but the use of dozens of non-reusable zipper lock bags per year per cook is simply not sustainable. Liquids and braised meats, soups, etc. do well in wide mouth glass Mason jars; pastry and meat can be tightly wrapped first in parchment or freezer paper, and then either stacked in a large, tightly-covered large plastic box or wrapped in plastic that's reused many times (as in, for years).

I have frozen ricotta (mostly to avoid throwing it out). It's fine for cooking and baking, though it tends to weep a bit; I don't mind that because the whey is great in bread, polenta, etc. Roasted butternut squash freezes really well. The Genius hummus recipe here also does remarkably well, though it needs brightening after thawing, so I tend to hold off on adding the lemon juice until then. Of course, I have an ice cube tray full of pure lemon juice so that's easy. (I squeeze a bag of 5 or 6 lemons at a time; it doesn't take as long as you think.)

I keep an inventory of my freezer contents on my phone, which helps immeasurably in planning.

Here's a tip I haven't seen here on Food52 (except when I've made it): when partially preparing a braise, soup or other item to be frozen, write on the package or on a piece of freezer tape, using a permanent pen such as a Sharpie, what the dish needs. E.g., "needs carrots and vinegar" (ingredients I add to soup on the evening I'm serving it), or explicit thawing/baking instructions with the temperature, time, rack placement, etc. for pies, pastries, sticky buns, etc. ;o)