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Friday, September 2, 2011

Freezing Food for Easy Use --- and to Save Money

Since I usually am only cooking for two people these days, but sometimes for 4 or 6 or more, it is good to have a flexible method for freezing some food.  It occurred to me that it would be handy to freeze things like they do for commercial frozen food where you can reach in the bag and grab just what you want, or measure out the exact amount you need.  It also means you don’t have to take the time to thaw a large quantity when you are only going to need a couple of servings.  So, I started working on it and found some things that freeze well this way and work for my cooking habits.

The first step is to lay the food your planning to freeze out on a cookie sheet covered with waxed paper.  You may skip the paper, but it will be harder to get them off.

[At right is a tray of kielbasa type sausages which we buy in quantity at Costco (a membership warehouse).  These can go straight from the freezer to the frying pan or into water to boil.  Cook over medium heat till heated through.  Raw sausages will take longer to cook than pre-cooked.]

Step Two – Place the trays in your freezer (in such a way that they won’t fall out when you open the door), and leave them there till the food is frozen solid enough to be moved to bags without fusing together again. 

Step Three – Move the food to plastic zip freezer bags marked with the content and date and store in the freezer.

Since the food is loose and not all stuck together you can take out as much as you need at a time.  This really works well for certain foods and makes a healthy “fast food” “repertoire” for you to choose from.

Here are baby carrots that I froze this way.  They may freeze from raw OK, but to speed up cooking I put as many as I want to freeze into a 2 qt. pot and almost cover them with water.  Then I bring them to a boil and turn off the burner allowing the carrots to sit in the water till they cool enough to handle.  This will partially cook them, but they will still be pretty firm.  I spread them on the lined cookie sheet, freeze them and later break them apart and put them into the freezer bag.  (I also save the broth from cooking them to drink as it contains added nutrients over plain water.  You could also use it for soup base.) 

To use these I usually add them to a dish of food that I’m cooking towards the end of the cooking time.  By the time they are thawed and the dish is done the carrots are done too.  For firmer carrots, add them closer to the end.  For softer, add them earlier.

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You can freeze serving-size strips of raw meat (pre-cut, or cut by you) also by laying them close together, but not touching, on the sheets.  Once they are frozen and bagged they can be used without pre-thawing them as they will cook quite fast.  You can remove just the number you need for the meal without thawing a whole steak or roast.

Individual pieces of raw chicken can also be frozen this way for quicker thawing or immediate use in stews and such.  (Do not try to bake it without thawing it first.)

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  Lastly, you can freeze broth for future use by pouring it in muffin tins and freezing it (don’t use the waxed paper for this).  It is important to freeze till they are solid!  Once they are frozen solid remove by popping them out of the cups one at a time.  Only run them under water (on the bottom of the pan) if necessary, being careful to only do one cup at a time and having your hand there to catch the frozen “cubes”.  Place them in the bag and return to the freezer as quickly as possible to avoid them melting and sticking together. 

You can either do an approximate measure or you can use an actual measuring cup to measure the broth the same way every time so you have an exact idea of how much broth is in each “cube”.  You can thaw and add this to recipes or add it directly to soups, stews, etc. when you need more liquid.  It is very handy, and it means you can buy broth in larger quantities and not have to worry about using it up before it spoils.  Or you can use up your homemade broth without it spoiling.  (Homemade broths can be used to make gravy as well, though I don’t recommend this with the store bought broths since they usually lack flavor in my opinion.)

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