Along with the arrival of spring comes spring cleaning. I organized a brilliant plan to whisk through the house and get the job done quickly and thoroughly. That was 2 weeks ago and I’m still in room #1, the kitchen. At first, it was the banter and debate over whether to keep or get rid of precious items like my darling cherry pitter and the radish flower gizmo I used in the ’80s. Once I got over the emotional tug of war with such possessions, I felt free and ready to move on with intrepid determination and tenacity. I headed for the fridge and freezer. Truth be told, it has been rough. Cleaning out a refrigerator is grueling enough but the freezer is a real challenge. However, I unlocked some mysteries, like discovering the wonton wrappers I bought to make butternut squash ravioli and finding many small individually wrapped cubes of arugula pesto I made last summer. With a sparkling clean and empty freezer, I promised myself this would never happen again. To this end, I did some research on freezing and thawing foods to pass on to you.
To freeze or not to freeze —- is a question I am often asked. The answer is yes, freezing is good, BUT there are guidelines and suggestions for successful freezing and, more importantly, for thawing. When you freeze foods, the pathogens which cause food-borne illnesses, cannot grow. These illnesses can play havoc with diabetes when they occur, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness, thus throwing blood sugar numbers off the charts. Freezing preserves quality by slowing down the chemical processes that destroy foods. However, if foods are frozen for too long a period, the color, texture, and flavor will deteriorate. Best to follow any labeling directions or expiration dates on all packaged foods you stash in the freezer. Consider what foods you buy from the freezer department in your supermarket are usually “flash-frozen” or IQF (individually quick frozen) in industrial machines that freeze food in minutes. Your home freezer does not have the capability to drop to the low temperatures of commercial freezers. It’s a good idea to buy a freezer thermometer (sold in any supermarket) and keep it in the freezer. Check it periodically to be sure freezer temp doesn’t go above 0 degrees.
Tips for Packing Foods to Freeze
- When placing fresh foods in the freezer, arrange on a single layer until they freeze. Small amounts freeze faster. Faster is better because it gives less of a chance for destructive ice crystals to form. As the water in food freezes, these crystals form and rupture cell walls resulting in changes in flavor and texture of food. For example, it is better if you freeze 2-cup portions of stock instead of a 1-quart container.
- Since oxygen is the enemy of stored food, choose air-tight containers, heavy-duty freezer bags or freezer paper to store foods and avoid “freezer burn”, a condition that occurs when water molecules move from one area to another causing the surface of the food to dry out. It’s best to match container size to the volume of food.
- Foods placed on the freezer floor or near walls chill more efficiently.
- Freezers work best when full, although jamming packages and containers into the freezer are not the best way to go. You can fill a plastic jug with water and freeze to fill space.
- Refrigerator freezers are not meant for long term freezing because of temperature fluctuations through opening the door. The self defrosts feature in your freezer heats and cools to melt frost causing more temperature irregularities. Short terms of 1 – 2 months are a reasonable window.
If you keep a home freezer in the basement or garage, here is a timeline for foods that freeze well and those that don’t. Flour and egg whites are good for up to a year. Bread and dough = 8 months, peeled bananas = 1 month, nuts and butter are safe up to 9 months, soups, stews and stocks = 4 months, red meat = 4-12 months, poultry = 9-12 months and seafood keeps safe 3 -6 months.
Certain foods rebel with taste and textural changes when banished to the freezer. Cream and custard fillings, sour cream, yogurt, milk, high moisture vegetables like cabbage and lettuce, all let it be known they do not want to spend time in the freezer.
Then again there are foods that travel quite nicely direct from freezer to oven or microwave or boiling water. If time is of the essence to get dinner on the table in 20 minutes, these foods are your treasure troves.
Resist the temptation to dig around for the old ice pick when you are looking for a quick thaw. Instead, thaw meats, fruits, vegetables, prepared foods and dough in the refrigerator to avoid the growth of microbes and other unwanted visitors. It may take time, possibly a few days, when you are looking at a 15-pound turkey or large roast to thaw, but it really is the safest method. In some cases, frozen shrimp, for example, a soak under cool running water will coax thawing. SAFETY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR. So be patient and do some simple creative cooking for a few days and leave it to the refrigerator to thaw frozen foods in a safe way. As for breads, cakes, and cookies, they can be defrosted safely on the kitchen counter.
Secrets from the Deep Freeze
- Keep frozen food inventory by labeling and dating or marking with a permanent marker.
- Foods that will be stored for a long period require extra wrapping. After they are wrapped in plastic or foil, insure them with a zip lock freezer bag.
- Frozen foods are more nutritious then canned food because there is less processing.
- Make up your own TV dinners from leftovers. They will surely be more interesting.
- When going away on vacation, place bags of ice cubes around the freezer in case of power loss.
- Freeze fish in clean milk cartons filled with pure water. When you thaw fish, use water to fertilize plants.
- To prolong freezer time for roasted or cooked meats, cover with gravy.
- To make clean up ant easy task, line the bottom or floor of refrigerator freezer with plastic wrap, but be sure not to cover fan vent.
- Always cool food to room temp before freezing. Chilled food freezes faster and tastes fresher when reheated. Putting hot or warm food into freezer lower the machine’s temperature.
- When you see freezer burn, frost, color or textural change, it means that item has spent too much time hibernating in the freezer. Dump it.
Cyber Kitchen Recipes From The Freezer – Make Your Own TV Dinners