Friday, January 18, 2013

To Freeze or Not to Freeze?

Okay, y'all.  Several people have asked me recently about freezing meals.  So I thought I'd do a post about it, because I do have an opinion about freezing meals.

I have an opinion.  You're shocked, I know.

Do I like to freeze things?  The law school answer applies here: it depends.  So here we go.

In general, no, I don't like to freeze things.  I like fresh food and fresh flavor.  And the freezer can change the texture, flavor and consistency of many things.

BUT there are exceptions to this rule.

I have frozen these casseroles with great success, and at any given time my freezer contains at least one of these things:

Baked Chicken Fettuccine
Chicken Tetrazzine
Fiesta Baked Spaghetti
King Ranch Chicken

There are a few keys to freezing casseroles: assemble it, let it cool to room temperature, wrap it tightly with foil (or, better yet, use a glass casserole with a tight-fitting lid) and put it in the freezer unbaked.

When you're ready to cook it, let it thaw (it's late at night as I write this and I just typed unthaw.  Maybe you should find another blog with an author who actually has a brain.) and bake as directed.  Now, some people will tell you to let things thaw in the fridge.  If you have a week and a half, go for it.  But it takes an eternity for things to thaw in the fridge, so I generally thaw them on the counter.  Food experts advise against this method for safety reasons (i.e., bacteria may have a chance to grow), but since I'm not a food expert, I'm not going to advise you against the counter-thaw method.  For whatever that's worth.

Plus, I always figure that the heat of the oven should kill any bacteria that might grow.  Right?

Sure.  Whatever.  I'm neither a scientist nor a germ-a-phobe, so you probably shouldn't believe anything I say.

A few things I have NOT had success freezing: soups (maybe you can freeze some soups, but the ones I have frozen are not worth eating), anything with a lot of dairy (it tends to curdle), and anything with green onions (freezing alters the chemistry of the scallions and gives them a bizarre flavor.  It's awful.  Will never make that mistake again.).

So what's in my freezer?

Glad you asked.
  1. Nuts - pine, pecan, walnuts, almonds.  Freezing nuts keeps the oil in the nut from turning rancid and preserves them.  Toast or cook with nuts straight from the freezer.  No thawing necessary.
  2. Vegetables - bags of peas, broccoli florets, chopped spinach, corn, etc., straight from the grocery store's freezer.  
  3. Chicken breasts & whole chickens - I stick them in the freezer when I get home from the grocery.
  4. Shredded cooked chicken - I make a whole chicken in the crockpot, shred it, and freeze the cooked shredded chicken.  When I need to make a casserole or salad calling for cooked chicken, I just defrost in the fridge (it thaws quickly) and proceed.  If I'm making a casserole that will be baked anyway, I usually toss it in frozen and let it defrost while the casserole bakes.
  5. Dough balls - I buy Rhodes brand so I can have yeast rolls relatively quickly.  These balls are as good as homemade yeast rolls.  I've never actually made homemade rolls, but my mom has, so therefore I know about these things.
  6. Homestyle noodles - I buy Reames brand for chicken noodle soup.  Remember, you can't freeze the cooked soup, though.
  7. Pasta sauces - marinara, Bolognese and pesto freeze well.  I always have bags of pesto in my freezer that I make in the summer when my dad grows about a half acre of basil.  I make it in the summer and it lasts all year long - I use it in lots of things but pesto pasta salad is my favorite.
  8. Chocolate chips - because I buy the huge bag at Sam's and there's more room to store it in my freezer than there is in my pantry.
  9. Pillsbury pie crust - I never know when I might need to make a pie or a quiche.  And I'm a stickler about Pillsbury brand - I'm fine with generic on many items, but generic piecrusts ain't worth buyin'.  When you're ready to use, thaw these at on the counter until completely room temp very soft (this is one of the tricks of a flakier pie crust).
  10. Homemade cookies and brownies.  Freeze the dough, unbaked (just put the dough balls in the oven frozen and bake as you normally would), OR freeze the baked cookies.  Store these, baked or unbaked, in tupperware or a freezer bag.  With brownies, you want to bake them, cut them into individual servings, wrap them in plastic wrap and then place them inside of a freezer bag.
  11. Chicken stock - I always have some of this, usually from my whole crockpot chicken.  Store it in a freezer storage bag or tupperware.
Feel free to ask questions or opine in the comments.  

Happy Winter.


Kelley Owens said...

What about homemade chicken stock? How do you think that would freeze best... in a bag? Gonna make your whole crockpot chicken and just want to make sure I store the stock the best way for later.

Elizabeth said...

Either in a freezer bag or a tupperware. I do it both ways. Thanks for the reminder - I need to add that to my list! I always have that in my freezer!

Adrienne said...

Jon wants to know about #9. Why does having it at room temperature make it flakier?

Elizabeth said...

Uh-oh...Jon probably wants a scientific reason for the flakier pastry. I'm afraid I can't give a very good answer, except to say that I've baked with a very cold pastry (straight from the fridge) and a room-temp pastry, and it tastes and looks so much better when I use room-temp pastry. Not very scientific of me, but it works.