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How to Make Your Freezer Work For You

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We’re changing the way we cook over here at Food52—with articles and recipes and eight weeks of newsletters. Follow along at #f52cooking—and let us know how you're changing the game.

I’m no freezer expert. In fact, my freezer is empty save a few ice packs, a plastic bag I fill with vegetable scraps and make into stock every month or so, and a pretty much empty pint of ice cream (who left that there?). But in an effort to change the way I cook, I'm trying out new suggestions, tips, and recommendations to improve and refine my cooking game. This week's newsletter (you've signed up, right?) is all about using your freezer to its maximum capacity, so I set out to see how much I could actually transform in just a week's time.

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First, I took everything out of the freezer to give myself a fresh start. I polished off the ice cream and emptied the vegetables scraps I’d collected into a stock pot, covered them with water, and set the whole operation on medium heat. Next, I turned to the newsletter for some advice. Sarah Jampel, who pens each weekly edition, most definitely knows a thing or two about freezing. Something that really jumped out at me: “Freeze flat. It’s a great way to save space and decrease thaw time. Pour your liquid into an upright freezer bag, seal it nearly all the way, then carefully tip the bag onto its side, press the air out of the opening, and freeze. Stack your frozen bags like folded sweaters, or turn them on their sides, like a record collection.” The simile made me smile, so I gave it a try.

What's Your Freezer IQ?
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What's Your Freezer IQ?

In my fridge I noticed some particularly forlorn looking lentil leftovers. (Three days ago, they’d been great—salty and stewy with punchy tomatoes and a silky thread of coconut milk—but after lunching on them for days in a row, a conscious uncoupling was in order.) I poured them into a plastic bag per Sarah’s instructions, laid them flat in my freezer, and sharpie on a date before the outside gets too icy. I'll come back to these at a future date, when those flavors don't feel all too familiar. It felt counterintuitive to freeze them in a bag, and not the expected tupperware, but an hour or two later, I understood the magic of Sarah’s advice: The lentils had frozen into a stiff board. It looked funny, but it was also so convenient. They slid right onto the bottom of my freezer and took up little space.

By this point, the vegetable stock that had be simmering away on the stove was good to go. So I strained out those veggies, let the amber liquid cool, and poured myself a mug for good measure. Then I used a classic Food52-approved trick and filled some ice trays with my stock. These are awesome for quick use and bring a convenient depth to a winter soup or rice. I pop them out individually as I cook, only thawing just enough at a time. It works with pesto, ragu, even caramelized onions—most big batch items with multiple uses. I made a mental note to do this more often.

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Last, I looked at the week ahead and planned my dinners. Sarah recommends chopping vegetables and freezing them for use at a later date. I’m into the idea, so I roughly chopped up an onion, some carrots, and a few stalks of celery. It’s a safe bet that I’ll use these for something down the line, so I threw it all in a bag and called it a day.

I assessed. After starting with an empty freezer, I’ve ended up with a pretty good selection:

-A homemade stock in individual cubes. I’ll melt a few down later this week when I make this Smoky Minestrone I’ve been meaning to try.

-Two or three servings of lentil soup. These might sit in the freezer for a bit and that’s OK! I’ll thaw and serve when the time is right.

-All the makings for a mirepoix. Now that I’ve got my vegetables all chopped it shouldn’t be too hard if I’m hit with a sudden hankering for a bolognese down the line. Maybe I’ll even try this vegan version.

Not bad for someone who started off the day eating old ice cream.

How do you fill your freezer? Let us know your go-to tips in the comments.

Tags: Tips & Techniques, Change the Way You Cook