Friday, February 14, 2014

Freezer Cooking Part 2: What does/doesn't freeze well & tips to get started

The teacher in me makes today's post about what you might want to consider freezing and a few tips to  get you rolling.  Let's start with what does & doesn't freeze.  

What Freezes Well and What Doesn't?

It's important to understand what freezes well and what doesn't when heading into a freezer cooking plan. Keep in mind when you choose meals to freeze, that freezing changes the texture of some foods. For instance high moisture fresh foods don't really freeze well if you plan to eat them in raw form later. An example of that would be that you can't freeze a raw chef salad and expect it to taste like a fresh chef salad after freezing. As a matter of fact, freezing lettuce?  NOT a good idea! But you can freeze chopped tomatoes to use in a sauce later.  It's all about how you want them to come out on the other end.

Do Not Freeze These Items (or freeze with caution)

Cottage Cheese
Cream Cheese
Eggs in the Shells (Do you remember the science lessons about what moisture does when it freezes?  You know... expands?)
Fried Food (There are ways to accomplish this one, **see note below, but it WON'T be the same!  If you are going to EAT fried foods, might as well have them the best way, right?)
Oranges (the zest/rind pieces are okay to do)
Pasta (UNLESS it's part of a meal, IE: lasagna, etc)
Potatoes (Whole? Not so good, BUT potato skins?  I am ALL over them!)
Salad Dressing
Salad Greens
Sour Cream

Some of the above items can be frozen if you know what you're doing and understand what changes freezing will make to it.

Cheese -- You can actually freeze cheese as long as you understand the texture will change. It will be crumbly, (shred it first) and you can't eat it as is, but you can use it in a casserole as a topping. So, if you put cheese on top of a casserole that you're going to pop into the oven to reheat anyway it's fine. But if you plan to slice it for a sandwich, you probably don’t want to freeze your cheese. (Especially if you have picky eaters like SOME at this house...)

Fried Food -- You can freeze fried food as long as you wrap it right, and then reheat it correctly. For something like fried chicken be sure to cool it down while draining off the extra fat, then wrap with freezer paper and then put it inside an air tight container. To reheat, put in the oven frozen after unwrapping on a greased pan.

Grapes -- Everyone knows you can freeze grapes if you plan to eat them frozen. A nice treat and tastes like dessert.  These are particularly good if you are heading out to a softball game or other summer activity - they work like an ice pack! 

Onions & Peppers -- You can chop these and freeze them to use in recipes. Chop and let them dry on a paper towel first to drain off extra moisture. Spread them on a cookie sheet and freeze for about an hour before putting them into airtight freezer bags.

Tomatoes -- You can chop them and freeze into serving sizes or recipe sizes in airtight containers. You can only use them for sauces after freezing or in a soup or stew where texture isn't as important.

Oranges & Citrus -- You cannot freeze the fruit but you can freeze the zest. Zest onto a paper towel, and let dry out a bit, then freeze in one layer on a pan for about an hour. Pour into a airtight container to use in recipes.

Rice &Potatoes -- They freeze fine in casseroles and dishes, but it does change their texture a bit. You cannot freeze them raw; you must precook and then freeze.

Pasta – While many places have pasta on the ‘no freeze’ list, you can freeze cooked or frozen pasta. It is recommended that you freeze pasta for some dishes uncooked because it will cook during the reheating and you don't want to overcook it. But, you need to use prepared dried pasta and not freshly made pasta that isn't dried. I freeze lasagna, chicken tetrazzini and mac & cheese all the time.

The important thing is to remember to prepare the dishes correctly for storage and to reheat them properly. You have to be sure that your freezer is the right temperature, (under 0°F) and in good repair and that you consider the moisture content of anything that you plan to freeze. Moisture expands when it freezes.

Tips for Freezer Cooking Success

When you decide to try freezer cooking for the first time it's important to learn from people who have experienced failure before you. There are some tried and true tips to make sure you have a successful freezer cooking experience that you should follow.

Be Prepared

It's important to get prepared for your cooking session if you're going to cook several freezer meals at once. Even if you are just doubling your nightly meal to "feed the freezer" you want to get everything prepared, make sure you have all the ingredients, the storage containers, and everything set up in an assembly line to make it easier.

Get Comfortable

This isn't the time to wear your good clothing or pearls and certainly not uncomfortable shoes. In fact, you probably should wear a good pair of shoes that are meant for standing for long periods of time to make it easier on your feet and back. If you can invest in a comfortable standing mat for your kitchen floor all the better. **Have a snack before you start to avoid snacking as you cook.

Shop with a List

You definitely do not want to shop for a freezer cooking session without a list. It's a good idea to plan out everything that you do, and a shopping list is a must for successful freezer cooking.  There is nothing worse than working on the next recipe only to find you've used all of one ingredient (like shredded cheese or a diced veggie) on the last recipe and can't make what you want.

Cook What You Like

Many families actually rotate the same 8 to 10 dishes throughout the month (or whatever time period you are working with). It's important to understand what you and your family like and work within that to truly be successful with freezer cooking. We try a couple new things in any given month and I don't go too crazy with things I am not sure of.  From those few each month, we create an expanded list of what we like, or even how it's prepared: in the oven vs crockpot.

Get Organized

Before you start, make sure you begin with a clean kitchen (its a great reason to tidy up!!) and an organized workspace. Get out the pans and supplies that you need in advance and set them out like you work in a factory so that they're at the ready. The same goes for measuring cups. It helps if you have several sets of measuring cups so that you don't have to wash anything while you're cooking. Stick dirty things in the dishwasher (or dishpan, in my case) as you go to keep your area neat.

Packaging & Labeling

The best packaging material are either freezer bags that you use a press to seal, or Ziploc® bags. You can freeze these flat for stacking so more will fit into your freezer. Of course, you must label everything because you really won't know what it is after it freezes - honestly, a lot of it will look alike! Plus it's good to know the date you put it in as some things don't last forever. In fact, most things last about 4 months with a few lasting up to a year, so be careful about things getting buried.

Handling Food Safely

When you are preparing everything it's imperative that you are very careful about cleanliness and handling all the food safely. Cool down items before you put them in the freezer, first on the counter, and then in the fridge and finally move it to the freezer. To thaw items, start in the fridge the day before. Remember to not mix utensils when handling raw meat, especially poultry. Wash your hands a lot in hot soapy water. Use a thermometer to ensure proper internal cooking temperatures. You can read more about the Core Four Practices of safe food handling at

Preparation, organization, and safe handling of food will ensure that your freezer cooking session is a success. Don't try to skip any of the steps because you will invariably end up forgetting something important and you won't even know it until you thaw it out to eat later. Keeping a checklist nearby to mark off each step will be very helpful.  I also have my Ipad handy for recipes I have on there - leaving "windows" open to refer to each one.

Ready for some recipes?  Can't wait to share!!
Have a wonderful day,


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