With gadgets galore promising to help you get a fast meal on the table, the humble freezer remains the busy cook’s best friend.
Whatever your favorite cooking style, one often overlooked appliance sitting in your kitchen right now can save precious time on those nights when a warm healthy meal seems out of reach. Freezer hacks ensure something delicious is always on hand. But using your freezer like the powerhouse it is meant to be does require some forethought, so here are some strategies to keep in mind.
Make Some Space. A well-organized freezer space makes finding things so much easier. To maximize storage, resealable freezer bags work well. Lay them flat to freeze and arrange in tidy stacks once they’re firm. Consider grouping like items in stackable baskets or magazine holders and attach binder clips to the shelves if you want to designate specific areas for certain foods. And don’t forget to label and date everything. If you really want to stay on top of your freezer game, consider keeping an inventory list handy so you know at a glance what is inside.
Cook Once Eat Twice. There are so many great dishes that go well from your freezer to your dinner table. In general, most soups and saucy dishes can be reheated easily (without drying out). So because, for example, it takes the same amount of time to make 8 quarts of soup that it does 4, start looking for opportunities to make double batches of your favorite meals and load the extras into your freezer. In the long run, this strategy can save you a lot of time. Need a few recipes to get you started? How does Chicken and Shrimp Brown Rice Jambalaya or Chipotle Chicken Chili sound?
Or Marinade in the Freezer! If you’re a fan of saving money by buying bulk-size ingredients, don’t just pop a huge package of meat or poultry into your freezer. Instead, subdivide your proteins into recipe-size portions and add your favorite seasonings before freezing. When you give your meats some time to thaw safely in the refrigerator before cooking, they’ll absorb all those great flavors. Want to test this theory out? Here’s a delicious Jerk Pork Loin recipe you can put together this weekend.
Think small. Sometimes you only need a few tablespoons of ingredients like chicken stock to finish a dish, so freezing small quantities in an ice cube tray is a great way to always have small amounts at the ready. It’s also a good strategy for managing ingredients leftover from a recipe. How many times have you discovered a half-used carton of chicken stock lingering too long in the back of the fridge? Problem solved!
Create flavor bombs. When you have a bunch of fresh herbs that you know won’t last, consider mixing them, finely chopped, with olive oil or a stick of butter. If mixed with olive oil, use the ice cube tray tip just mentioned; if you’re more of a butter fan, mash the herbs into a stick of butter along with some minced garlic, roll it into a log using a piece of parchment paper, and store it in a resealable freezer bag. Both strategies provide the perfect finishing touch to soups, stews and simple pan sauces.
Make it personal. A big ball of pizza dough stores beautifully in a freezer, but if you want to save time, why not bake some individual rounds of dough instead? Pop them in the freezer and you’ll always be minutes away from having a freshly baked personal pizza in about 15 minutes.
Treat Yourself. Freeze unbaked treats, like balls of cookie dough or individual scones, on a baking sheet and then load them into a resealable freezer bag once they’re firm. You can bake a few at a time whenever the mood for something sweet strikes.