10 Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes That Start With Freezer Staples

A well-stocked freezer is the ultimate holiday secret weapon.

December  9, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

We've partnered with the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association to share holiday-ready hacks straight from the freezer aisle that'll help you cut down on prep, cook time, and food waste this season.

I love everything about the winter season: the twinkly lights; warm, crackling fires; Christmas carols on the radio; classic holiday movies with my kids. It’s also one of my favorite times of year to open up our home and have people over—whether it’s for snacks and drinks or for a full sit-down dinner.

But let’s level with each other: holiday entertaining can be anxiety inducing. We put too much pressure on ourselves to go all out, make our homes look festive, make ourselves look festive, and serve up elaborate spreads with just-the-right drinks. And on top of all of that, it’s one of the busiest times of year, so finding the time to actually think about any one of these things—let alone all of them—can be daunting.

So let’s go easy on ourselves. It’s fine if we don’t have an exquisitely trimmed tree or a perfect playlist or a signature cocktail. It’s also fine to take shortcuts in the kitchen. In my experience, a few smart shortcuts are the difference between feeling utterly frazzled or full of holiday cheer.

When it comes to kitchen shortcuts, I can think of none better than having a well-stocked freezer during the holidays. Why? Heat-and-eat appetizers and bake-shop quality desserts can be ready for unexpected guests at a moment’s notice. Baking a frozen pie and dressing it up with fresh whipped cream, or fancying up some frozen-then-thawed shrimp cocktail with different sauces, are tricks to always keep in your back pocket.

Another huge time-saver? Using frozen fruits and vegetables in your favorite recipes since they're washed, peeled, chopped and ready to use (plus, the quality is dependable year-round).

A few of my go-to items for holiday get-togethers are frozen spinach, frozen cranberries, and frozen raspberries. And then I always stash store-bought frozen puff pastry and phyllo dough, because, well, I’m obsessed with their buttery, flaky layers. Think of them as your secret weapons for the holidays, perfect for making all sorts of versatile, impressive-looking appetizers, sides, and desserts. I like that I can keep my favorites on hand, without the worry of stocking my fridge with pricey, perishable ingredients that’ll go to waste if my plans change.

So in the spirit of those indispensable gift-giving guides that come out this time of year, I give to you 10 low-effort, high-reward ways to use frozen foods during the holidays—five savory and five sweet. With this playbook in hand, your holiday parties will be merry and bright, not to mention really delicious.

10 Delicious Ways to Cook With Frozen Foods This Winter

1. Baked Brie in Puff Pastry with Cranberries, Pistachios, and Sumac

This is my new-fashioned take on brie in puff pastry, and it’s pretty breathtaking to behold. The steps are simple: Make a quick jam with frozen cranberries, honey, and sumac; spread it on top of brie, along with a sprinkle of toasted pistachios, before wrapping in thawed puff pastry; sprinkle more sumac on top; and bake until golden.

2. 10-Minute Parmesan & Mustard Pinwheels

I love that these bite-size gems rely on staples that I always have in my fridge (Dijon and Parmesan) and freezer (frozen puff pastry). Even better, they can be fully assembled and ready to bake at a moment’s notice.

3. Extra-Cheesy Spinach Artichoke Dip

Keep a pound of frozen spinach on hand, and you’re well on your way to this swoon-worthy appetizer. Seriously, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like spinach artichoke dip, but want to make it even better? Add just as much cheddar as cream cheese, like Emma Laperruque does here.

4. Butternut Squash Soup with Miso and Coconut

Frozen butternut squash may be one of the best shortcuts ever, because it’s peeled, seeded, cubed, and ready to go straight from the bag. Put it to good use in this simple, stunning soup that can go casual (read: light lunch) or fancied-up (read: first course for a seated dinner).

5. Vegetarian Quiche

Quiche is always a great option for holiday brunch, even more so when you can rely on frozen vegetables like broccoli and spinach for the filling. I love that this vegetarian-friendly rendition calls for a frozen pie crust, which means you can hit the snooze button as much as you want the morning of your gathering.

6. Challah Bread Pudding with Raspberries

When it comes to low-effort, high-reward desserts, I think bread pudding wins the show. This version, which cleverly calls for store-bought challah and frozen raspberries, tips the effort-to-reward balance even more in our favor.

7. Easy Cherry Puff Pastry Tart

This recipe doesn’t lie when it calls itself “easy,” and I love the fact that you can use frozen cherries—or any frozen fruit for that matter—all season long. The options are endless and delicious.

8. Double Layer Cranberry Ginger Upside-Down Cake

I can’t think of a more stunning, seasonal dessert than this cranberry ginger upside-down cake, with its gorgeous layers and complex sweet-tart flavors. With three cups of cranberries in the cake, it’s the perfect reason to have a bag (or three!) of frozen cranberries on hand at all times.

9. No-Churn Mango Sherbet

This holiday season, take Alice Medrich’s advice: Keep a bag of mango chunks in the freezer, and then make this no-churn mango sherbet. I can’t think of a more welcome, refreshing dessert after a big, rich holiday dinner. Plus, the recipe gives all sorts of ideas for fun, flavorful variations.

10. Mrs. Z's Secret-Ingredient Baklava

There are lots of baklava recipes out there, but this one is a standout (and judging from the comments, many people feel the same way!). Store-bought frozen phyllo dough may not be the “secret ingredient” here, but there’s no need to tell anyone you didn’t make it from scratch when placing this beauty on your holiday table.

What's your favorite way to make holiday entertaining easier with frozen foods? Tell us in the comments below!

Cut down on time (and stress) in the kitchen this holiday season by whipping up frozen appetizers and desserts for quick and easy crowd-pleasers, and using frozen fruits, veggies, and more in all your favorite recipes. We've teamed up with the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association to share our go-to fall and winter dishes that call on staples from the freezer. A sweet perk of using frozen ingredients: it helps cut back on food waste—any frozen fruits and vegetables you don't end up using during the holidays will maintain their taste and quality anywhere from three months up to a year.

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Written by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.