Part of our job in the Chatelaine Kitchen is to determine the shelf and freezer life of our recipes. In turn, we have picked up some tricks-of-the-trade in making the most of our freezer space.
Here are some of our favourite tips to help you do the same:
What to Freeze
Stews: This is an ideal meal that reheats beautifully. Beef and chicken both work very well. Thaw in your refrigerator overnight and you are ready to go. Add some freshness by tossing in fresh or frozen vegetables when reheating.
Try: Sake beef stew
Pies: Whether it is a fruit pie or a pot pie, all the work is done once you put it in the freezer. Ideally, pies will be frozen with a cooked filling and a raw dough, however fully cooked pies can also be frozen. No need to thaw, both bake very well from frozen.
Try: Chicken and leek pie
Fresh meat: If having fresh meat on hand isn’t always doable, purchase fresh meat and then freeze it yourself. Often store-bought frozen meats have added salt and preservatives.
Lasagna and casseroles: These are classics for big-batch cooking. Make multiple and then freeze in aluminum trays in order to free up your bakeware. Thaw overnight to reduce baking time. Top with freshly grated cheese when reheating.
Fruit and berries: Frozen fruit is far pricier than frozen vegetables. While seasonal fruit and berries are still available, package and freeze them yourself. Be sure to clean and trim prior to freezing. If freezing vegetables, most require a quick blanch first.
How to Store
Avoid losing track of what’s in your freezer by efficiently storing food in the appropriate container to maximize space. Freezer bags are one of the best options for soups, stews, fruit, vegetables etc. For hot liquids, let them cool then ladle into a heavy duty freezer bag. Once fully cooled, place them on their side and freeze solid in a single layer. Once frozen, you can stack items to save significant space. Freeze individual items such as cookies or appetizers on a flat tray and then transfer to a freezer bag once frozen.
Always have a permanent marker on hand that will withstand the freezer frost and moisture. Label each item, and mark the ‘date in’, as well as the ‘date out’. It is also helpful to include any cooking instructions.
Big batch cooking is a huge time-saver. In order to make the most of your frozen meals, freeze them in the appropriate portion size to suit you or your family. Refreezing after thawing is not recommended, so make the most of your hard work.
Remove as much air as possible from freezer bags and storage containers to prevent freezer burn. If your storage container is only partially full, lay a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap over the top of your food to minimize exposure to air, then continue packaging.
When done properly, freezing is an excellent way to preserve nutrient retention and keep your food in a stable state. In terms of quality, here are some general guidelines for the lifespan of freezer favourites:
Fruits and vegetables: 9 to 12 months
Casseroles: 3 months
Uncooked beef, pork, lamb, poultry: 6 months
Soups and stews: 3 to 6 months
Pies: 2-3 months