Sunday, March 22, 2009

What's In My Freezer?

To me, a freezer is an essential tool in frugal cooking. It's also an essential tool in getting out of the house in the morning in a hurry.

I'm a confirmed foodie. Frugal cooking doesn't mean tasteless cooking. I have tons of lunch-sized treats waiting in there for me. Homemade peppercorn pates, the pierogies my kids and I made a couple of weeks ago, chicken and olive empanadas, stacks of pancakes and muffins....

For tomorrow's lunch I'll be packing a slice of quiche lorraine, and a green salad with roquefort, pears and walnuts (the crumbled roquefort, diced dried pears and toasted walnuts are in a bundle in the freezer alongside the pre-sliced quiche. I'll move both to the fridge tonight after I finish typing.)

Other salad topping bundles might include bacon and croutons, sunflower seeds, nuts, raisins, or sliced hard boiled eggs. I go assembling these in little tubs or baggies in the freezer, when I have something left over, then grab them as the mood takes me.

My freezer space is always at a premium. And its easy for stuff to get lost in there. So its important to plan what goes in. And to take stock. I do that on Saturdays before I go shopping.

That way, I go to the grocery store with a plan of attack. Saves me from impulse buying things that are more processed or expensive than I want. And saves my fresh produce from ending up in the garbage due to spoilage.

Here's what I usually have in my freezer on any given day. These are the basics.

Fresh Herbs and flavourings
basil and sage that I can use to whip up a pesto, stuffing or soup in a hurry
frozen chopped chives to sprinkle on pierogies, baked potatoes (these freeze really well if you chop them in bits and store in an airtight container)
orange and lemon peel and zest
chopped onions and celery for soup making (whenever I have a leftover little piece, I just chop it and toss it in to the container for future soups, stuffings or whatever).

Overripe Bananas
Plus cooked apples and other fruit waiting for me to whip up a batch of muffins or dessert.

Fresh Baguettes and Stale Bread.
I buy bread in bulk on sale. When I bring it home from the store, some of the fresh stuff goes straight to the freezer. I can defrost it later on a low oven and it still tastes almost as fresh as when I brought it home, if I get it in quickly. The stale stuff goes in until I have an afternoon when I can turn it in to french toast, bread pudding, or some other food for the family. I'll be posting on leftovers in another article soon.

Grated Cheese
Any time I have leftover bits of cheese that are starting to get hard, bits that got grated but not used or any other extra, I grate it and freeze it. Later I can use this grated cheese to make quiche, cheese sauces, toppings for pizza or casseroles or in baking breads.

Cheese is much too expensive to let it go mouldy, so at the first hint that it's not going to get eaten fast enough, into the freezer it goes. If I don't have the energy to grate it first, I'll just toss it in whole. Later I can throw it into the blender for some quick and easy quiche, like the one I'm taking for lunch tomorrow.

Wheat Germ, Bran, Linseeds...
I like to make my own muffins, breads, granola bars and cereal. Most of these ingredients are expensive where I live, but cheaper in bulk. If I leave them in my cupboards, they can get rancid or buggy. This way I always have some fresh on hand.

Frozen Meats pre-divided in single serving portions
One thing I've learned about myself over the years. If I put meat in the freezer whole the way I bought's going to be there for a long time. I get overwhelmed at the thought of having to wrestle to thaw it all out. So I divide it up before it goes in.

When I buy from the butcher, I ask him to put it into serving sized portions for me.

Pre-cooked Frozen Pancakes, Muffins and French Toast
for quick breakfasts

I just make extra whenever I am cooking up a breakfast for the family on the weekend, and freeze it in an empty bread bag. Both pancakes and french toast (and even waffles) are easy to pop in the toaster to heat, just like Eggos...but way tastier and cheaper.

Single serving and Family serving containers of
chile, stew, baked beans or lentil soup. These make fantastic single-serving lunches or dinners when I get home late from work.

Cooked Ground Beef
for spaghetti sauces, empanadas, tacos, chile and casseroles. I just fry it up with just a bit of onion and some salt on a back burner when I'm busy cooking something else. That way it's ready for whatever I decide I want to make with it.

Chicken Stock
I almost always have frozen chicken stock.

Whever I cook a chicken, the carcass gets turned into stock. I just toss it into a pot with a whole onion, some celery greens, a bay leaf, and a couple of cloves and peppercorns, and let it simmer away on low heat until a convenient moment presents itself to pour it off and store it. I cook it until the bones have basically collapsed into a pile.

I use every part of the chicken.
The livers get tossed into the freezer waiting to have enough to make a smoked chicken liver pate.
The gizards and the rest of the innards are cooked up for stock or gravy.
Whatever meat comes off the bones of the carcass in the stock-making are diced and prozen to make stuffing for empanadas.

Vegetable Soups
On Saturdays when I clean out the fridge, I'll grab a soup stock from the freezer, and turn it into a bean or vegetable soup to use up whatever's left in the kitchen. The kids are particularly fond of my carrot orange ginger, vegetable and cheese chowder and Ukranian borscht with a dollop of home-made yogurt. My husband's favourite is stilton and celery. These are all pretty low-effort, inexpensive when made with leftovers, and better than most of the soups you'll get in a restaurant.

Frozen Cookie Dough in a roll.
I can quickly slice off a few cookies when my kids invite a friend over after school, or to take to friends or have with tea. Makes it easier to convince my kids and husband to skip the packs of oreos they get all puppydog-eyed over in the grocery store, when I have something yummier to promise them warm out of the oven.

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