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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!