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My Secret Stash

(post, Lara Adler)

primary-image, l

Sorry, not drugs. Nor mustaches. I'm taking you on a guided tour of my freezer. This is a bit like opening up my underwear drawer for all to see, only less sexy (or more sexy, depending on how much you like frozen food, I guess). I'm baring it all... my secret to quick, inexpensive dinners at a moments notice. I'm a little embarrassed by how seemingly unorganized my freezer is, and how I tend to avoid the very very good advice to label the food so 3 months from now I'll know what the hell that jar of black liquid is (Its the leftover water from cooking lentils and is delish when added to soups or used to cook rice in.)

On my blog I created an illustrated legend to all those jars in my freezer

I keep meaning to pick up some of those wire shelves that go inside your fridge or freezer to help my stacks of jars from falling over. One day I may actually remember to buy some... but until then, everything will loom under the threat of collapse. Precarious indeed!

Here's a list of things I often have banging around my freezer that have proven helpful for me. I freeze everything in single serving sizes:

     Quarts of vegetable stock Quart sized freezer ziplock bags are the best for this. Freeze flat, and once frozen these will either stack or sit nicely on end taking up barely any space. I do this for almost all soups if I have bags on hand.
     Cooked Beans and Lentils Cooking dry beans is so much cheaper than canned, and is so easy you really have no excuse not to. Freeze the beans in small containers covered with cooking liquid. If you're going to add them to soups, you should undercook them slightly before freezing so they'll finish off in the final dish. Cooking lentils is the same, and reserving the cooking liquid and freezing that separately will also come in handy.
     Fresh Tomato Sauce Late last summer I stumbled across a HUGE sale on organic tomatoes that had seen better days. But they were perfect for sauce, so I bought them all. Thirty pounds of organic tomatoes for $3.00!!!
     Tomato Paste No recipe I have ever made in all my life has called for the amount of tomato paste that comes in the standard cans, even the teeny tiny ones! I hate wasting food, and I don't like those tubes of tomato paste, so I usually buy a larger can of tomato paste, glob it onto a plastic wrap lined piece of tin foil, and roll it up like a sushi roll, and twist the edges closed. Once frozen, I just slice off as much paste as I need, re-wrap, and toss it back into the freezer.
     Breads I don't bake bread that often, but when I do, I always make more than I can eat (I figure i'm going through all that effort right!?), so I freeze the 2nd loaf. I tend to make a lot of sweet breads like banana, pumpkin, zucchini, and corn bread. These all freeze wonderfully, and are so great to have on hand. I slice each loaf, and place small pieces of wax paper between the slices, and either re-assemble the loaf or stack in the case of stuff like corn bread, and tightly wrap in foil. These stacks go into a ziplock bag which I label. I make enough of these that labeling is important and saves me from opening the wrong package.
     Individual Pies I LOVE pies...sweet and savory. This is usually reserved for summer (fruit) or winter (savory), and I usually only do it maybe 3 times a year, but lordy, I'm so glad I do! For summer fruit pies, I made a double batch of pie crust, and roll out as many small circles as I can (I'll post about this next time I do this), and either make rustic pies by just freeforming them once the uncooked fruit filling is added, or buy mini tin pie pans. Wrapped in plastic, then foil, then ziplocked (must keep out freezer burn!), these keep wonderfully for months. Throw them in a hot oven straight from the freezer and BAM! fresh baked pie whenever you want it! Savory pies are the same, only the filling for those is already cooked and cooled before forming. You can even make mashed potato topped shephard pies and freeze those too. Endless possibilities.
     Fresh Made Breadcrumbs I really really dislike store bought breadcrumbs, and if you've got a food processor you really have no excuse not to make your own. Let a bunch of bread go stale, or if you're impatient, toast lightly, and whiz in the food processor. If you want to season it, go for it. If you're a purist, then you're done. Bag it, label it and there ya go!
     Nuts Not much preparation here...I just keep nuts in the freezer so they don't spoil. Nuts have a lot of fat in them, which can easily go rancid. If you've ever tasted a bad nut, you know what I'm talking about here. So so gross.
     Filo and/or puff pastry These are great for both sweet & savory dishes...think spanikopita or apple gallete. Either one of these is a breeze with these on hand.
     Soups/Stews Anything really. I make lots of soup and stews in cold and cool weather, and will always make more than I can eat. Freezing at least one serving of everything I make ensures I've got plenty of variety on hand!
     Cooked Grains* Rice can take a while to cook, so save yourself some time by cooking a big batch, and freezing the rest in small portions. Having this on hand means you can whip up dinner in no time!

So there ya have it. I don't eat meat, so you'll see that's not on my list, but as everyone knows, meat freezes well, so go for it! cooked or raw, just make sure you label and date everything.

A word on defrosting. I have a microwave. It's mostly just holds up my rolls of foil, plastic wrap and parchment, and is rarely used. I'm just not that into microwaves. My mother has never used one in her entire life, and doesn't even know how to work them! Try to develop a teeny amount of foresight into your meal planning and take out what you want to eat the night before and toss it into the fridge. Countertop defrosting is pretty unsafe, as it allows lots of nasty bacteria to feast on your food before you do. I cheat sometimes by running warm water over my containers to melt the outside of the item enough to slip it out of the jar and then throw the still frozen cylinder into a pot and simmer it.

Another quick note on containers. Plastics are easy and cheap, but they've got all kinds of crappy stuff in them that I'd rather keep out of my food. I worked hard to make my dinner, and don't want to spoil it by inadvertently adding BPA to the list of ingredients. I save EVERY glass jar I use, and will even chose one item in the store over another if it's packaged in glass. Glass is fine for freezing so long as you a) leave enough headroom for the contents to expand during freezing, and b) don't pack hot contents into them before throwing them in the freezer. Let your meal come to room temperature or close before portioning and freezing. Glass is great too because you can see perfectly whats inside!

If you've got other freezer tips or tricks that you use, send them my way! Or, if you're feeling daring, send me a picture of the inside of your freezer!