Frozen food may be maligned by many, but the freezer is my number one tool in battling food waste.
Since March 6 is National Frozen Food Day, I figure it's as good a time as any to sing the praises of my freezer. I mean, I like my refrigerator, but I like-like my freezer. It is a magical box that stops time and keeps naturally decaying food in a state of delicious suspended animation. While some items don't enjoy the process – say, salad greens and delicate sauces – most foods take pretty kindly to life at 0 degrees. Here are the ones that I freeze the most.
1. BananasSometimes we eat all the bananas, sometimes we don't. When we don't, I peel and thickly slice then, and put them in the freezer. When we do eat them all, sometimes I buy more just for freezing. Frozen sliced bananas become the miracle building blocks of one-ingredient ice cream and smoothies. If any bananas accidentally become perilously mushy in the fruit bowl, I mash them and freeze as such – they then go on to be included in any number of baked goods.
2. BerriesFresh berries have a pretty short life before going rogue. If they start getting mushy and look like mold is near, into the freezer they go. Freezing bursts their little cells and thus they lose their structure, but they are still perfect for smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal, et cetera.
3. BreadI once worked at a French restaurant and to my young foodie horror was shocked to see the chef put beautiful baguettes in the freezer. Quelle horreur! But what did I know? Nothing, because sticking bread in the freezer keeps it as fresh as it was when it went in. I keep all our bread in the freezer; well-wrapped, and making sure to pre-slice any that will be used for sandwiches. For thawing loaves, remove one from the freezer and let it sit in its wrapper until it's room temperature – a trick for all baked goods, it allows them to reabsorb their moisture. After unwrapping, loaves can be popped in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes to get that delicious crust to center relationship going.
4. CakeIf there happens to ever be any leftover cake – coffee cake, birthday cake, cupcakes, everyday cake, et cetera – it does perfectly well being frozen. I freeze cake in slices (wrapped in foil, which I re-use), which can then be taken out in portions that prohibit Cookie-Monster-style cake devouring.
5. Coconut milkIf you open a can of coconut milk for the cream, you may have much of the milk leftover afterwards – that's what happens at our house. I put the rest in an ice cube tray and freeze it, then put the coco cubes in a freezer jar. They can go in smoothies, be the ice in iced coffee, be used in baked goods, or can be combined and used the next time I am making a coconut soup or curry.
6. Cookie dough
7. General leftoversThe freezer is the perfect way to handle big batch foods that don't get eaten after a day or two; things like casseroles and lasagna. But I also freeze parts of dinners, like rice or polenta, that can then easily become a headstart on another dinner down the road.
8. GingerIf you love fresh ginger but find that you don't get through a root before it begins to whither, then freeze away. I keep the peel on to help protect it a bit, and cut it in hunks that will fit into a small freezer jar. I always use a ceramic ginger grater for prepping ginger for recipes, and find that I can bring out the root, grate it while still frozen, and then return it to the jar.
9. Soup and chiliI have a soup and chili problem. I love making them – there's is therapy in their building, and they are the perfect receptacle for refrigerator odds and ends that don't want to go to waste. But every time I make a pot, I keep adding and adding and adding, and end up with enough soup or chili to feed a small village. So we eat it for a few days, and then the rest goes in the freezer. The soup I usually freeze in one large container; but chili gets frozen in muffin tins and then transferred to another container for small potions that can be used for lunches, or incorporated in things like burritos.
10. Tomato sauceWhether you make your own homemade tomato sauce or have half a jar lingering in the fridge; stick the extras in the freezer. Like chili, this is another good candidate for muffin tins so that you can remove individual portions, if that suits your family's needs.
11. Tomato pasteIf you only use tomato paste by the occasional spoonful, do not let that almost-full can die an ignominious death in the back of your refrigerator.
13. WineIf you ever end up with leftover wine, or wine you didn't love, freeze it in ice cube trays and stick the cubes in a freeze container. Wine cubes can be added to punch or sangria – but I use them in sauces and to deglaze pans.
14. Vegetable scrapsEvery single part that comes off a vegetable goes into a bowl in my freezer, as does any odd or end that finds itself languishing in the fridge. When the bowl is full, I make vegetable stock, and it's one of my favorite things: It is free food! See the whole shebang here: Do this with your vegetable peels and scraps.
15. Vegetable stockSince i have an endless supply of homemade vegetable stock (see above) I often end up with some of it in the freezer. I used to freeze it all in big jars, but now I freeze it in smaller portions so that I can use it more randomly, like when cooking grains, making risotto, or using it in other recipes.
For much more on frozen foods, see related stories below. And happy National Frozen Food Day!