Thursday, March 19, 2009

More on Freezing -- Thrifty Thrusdays

Thrifty Thursdays Week #4 -- More on Freezing
I received an email after last week's post about the Top 10 Things To Do With Ice Cubes Trays (Other Than make Ice) thanking me for the tips. the reader said she didn't even know you could freeze things like mashed potatoes or fresh herbs. That email prompted me to revisit our Freezing Primer at FabulousFoods.com. Below are highlights that will keep you up to date on what you can (and more importantly what you can't) freeze successfully. You may know a lot of this information, but some of it will probably surprise you. You can find the full article online here including tips on storage space and freezing containers.

The Basics of Freezing

What To Freeze and How to Freeze It

Baked Goods - In general, the lower the moisture level in your baked goods, the more successfully they will freeze. Well wrapped bread will keep for about five months in a freezer. You can also freeze bread dough for a month or two before baking. The same goes for pizza or other yeast doughs. If you know you are making yeast dough to freeze, add a little extra yeast to your recipe.

Unbaked pie crusts freeze well as do unbaked fruit and meat filled pies, so you might want to stock up and get ahead when making these. Add a little extra thickening agent to fruit pies destined for the freezer.

Unfrosted cakes will keep for months -- again well wrapped is the key. You can freeze a butter cream frosted cake as well, although other types of icing tend to separate, especially those made with egg whites and/or brown sugar.

In all cases, cool baked goods completely before freezing or they will end up soggy.

Prepared Foods - Soups, stews, many sauces (spaghetti sauce comes immediately to mind), unbaked pies (see baked goods), casseroles, lasagna etc. freeze well. Freezing may affect some spices, so it's a good idea to check and re-season, if necessary, when cooking previously frozen food. As always, wrap and cover well before freezing.

Eggs - Many people don't know you can freeze eggs. You can store whole eggs in plastic containers (cracked open and with the whites and yolks stirred together) or store egg whites and yolks separately. Raw egg yolks will need to be broken and stirred with either 1/4 teaspoon salt or 3/4 teaspoon sugar for each 1/2 cup of egg yolks or else they will turn to a "gummy" consistency. Cooked egg yolks, on the other hand, freeze beautifully. The reverse is true of egg whites: raw are just fine (freeze in ice cube trays, one per cube), but cooked egg whites will change texture so much they will not be at all appealing.

Vegetables - Most vegetables will need to be blanched before freezing (putting the cut veggies in a pot of boiling water for about 1-2 minutes). After blanching, plunge the vegetables into cold water to stop the cooking process. Wrap and freeze when completely cool. Vegetables will keep in the freezer for about six months. The blanching step will help preserve the veggie's texture, otherwise expect mushy waterlogged veggies upon thawing.

Fruits - While frozen fruits do retain their flavor, be aware that the texture of many frozen fruits will become softer --think of frozen strawberries as opposed to fresh. Add some sugar (to fruit that will be served uncooked after freezing) or simple syrup (for fruits that will be cooked after being thawed) as this helps to retain the fruit's texture when freezing. Fruit will keep in your freezer for about a year.

Meat - Trim any excess fat from meat before freezing, as the amount of time meat will stay fresh in a freezer directly correlates to the amount of fat in it. Less fat equals longer freezer times. Also, the more saturated the fat (for instance beef has much higher saturated fat than fish) the longer it will keep). Wrap meat well. If you're going to use the meat within a week you can get away with freezing it in the Styrofoam, plastic wrapped grocery tray it came in. Any more than that, re-wrap it to prevent freezer burn. Beef and lamb chops, steaks and roasts safely keep for about a year. The exception to this rule comes if the meat is ground, as in hamburger, in which case plan to use it within about 4 months. Pork will last about six to eight months and sausage can go for about three months.

Poultry - It's a good idea to remove poultry innards before freezing (although they can be frozen together). Never stuff and freeze raw poultry, as you risk salmonella contamination. Whole chicken and turkeys will keep for about a year. Chicken and turkey parts, ground poultry, as well as whole duck and goose will last about six months.

Fish - Scale and clean fish before freezing (this step is probably done for you if you got your fish at a grocery store). As with meat, the higher the fat content in your fish, the shorter the time it will keep well in the freezer. Oily fish will keep for about three months and leaner fish will keep about six.

Dairy Products - The higher the fat content in dairy products, the better they freeze. Milk products that are under 40% butterfat will separate, but heavy cream does well. You can freeze butter with no texture changes, but remember, fat can go rancid even in a freezer, so never keep it for more than two months.

Cheese - Freezing does change the consistency of most cheeses, making it more mealy and crumbly, although the flavor remains intact. If you plan to grate or melt your cheese, this textural change won't matter much. If you plan to slice your cheese, it's best not to freeze it. Softer cheeses such as cream or cottage cheese do not freeze well at all, although surprisingly, most cheesecakes will do fine in the freezer. Blue cheese, Roquefort and gorgonzola are usually served crumbled so they freeze well and should keep for about six months. A little of these strong cheeses goes a long way, so they're handy to have in the freezer for quick "flavor pick ups" to add to recipes. Well wrapped firm cheeses such as cheddar, gouda, Swiss etc., should keep for about six months in your freezer. Hard cheeses like Parmesan and romano will keep for about a year.

If you have a large block of cheese (why does the Albert Brooks movie Mother come to mind?), cut it into manageable chunks, before freezing in order to cut down on thawing time.

I like to freeze bags of shredded mozzarella so that I can remove the amount I like at a moment's notice. Shredded cheddar or other firm cheeses are also handy, and they are a lot cheaper to buy in bulk. "Mother" was right about that, Albert, although I only keep this cheese for use in cooking. Otherwise, fresh is always better.

Sauces - Tomato sauces and the like do very well in the freezer. Mayonnaise and mayonnaise based sauces, however, will separate. Sauces (or even custards) thickened with flour or cornstarch don't freeze well, but those thickened with arrowroot or tapioca do.

Herbs - Don't throw away leftover fresh herbs. Wrap them in Ziplock® bags and freeze them. Be sure to blanch leafier herbs like basil. Sturdier herbs like rosemary freeze exceedingly well.

What Not To Freeze
Some foods just don't do well in the freezer. Vegetables with high moisture contents like lettuces, celery and cucumbers will thaw limper than a rag doll. Some dairy products like cream cheese or cottage cheese, cream, milk, mayonnaise, custards, cream fillings or meringues will not freeze well because they will separate or curdle. Ditto for food made with gelatin. Fried foods will likely turn soggy or rancid when frozen.

Thawing Food
The safest method of thawing food is slowly, in your refrigerator. For this method allow about 8 hours per pound of meat and about 4 hours per pound of poultry, and about 6 hours per pound of fruit or vegetables.

You can speed up the process by about 1/8 the time by submerging the food (still wrapped) in a sink full of COLD water. You can also use the defrost feature on your microwave oven.

Never allow meat or eggs to defrost on the counter top. This is an invitation for bacteria to grow and can result in food poisoning. Baked goods and most fruits, on the other hand, can thaw at room temperature. With the exception of baked goods, most food should not be re-frozen (and even baked goods will become drier with repeated freezings).

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday.
In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog (after Thursday) for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere. Visit anytime to learn how to participate too.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

Those are good things to know.... Thanks for the blanching instructions. I want to do this summer with the veges from the the garden.

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