The freezer can be a great tool for saving time in the kitchen or for saving money… or both! I like to buy in bulk and also pre-prep some foods, store it in the freezer, and pull things out when I need them. Here are some of the things I like to do:
Meat freezer tricks
- Buy ground meat in bulk. Split it up into smaller packets, wrapped in plastic wrap or butcher paper, label, and freeze. You can use a food scale (or a postal scale, which is what I do!) to get 1/2 lb. or 1 lb. packets — all ready for a recipe!
- Same thing works when you see any kind of bulk meat or meat on sale: Buy a lot of meat all at once, split it up into recipe-sized portions, and freeze. I do this with large fillets of salmon, for example.
- Buy whole chickens (which are usually cheaper than individual parts). If the butcher can’t cut it up for you, it’s actually kind of fun to do it yourself! I usually de-skin and de-bone the breasts as I’m cutting up the rest of the chicken, and use a cleaver to chop up the back into smaller pieces to use for homemade chicken broth. Divide the parts into different plastic bags (or butcher paper) according to what you might usually use them for. For example, I’ll wrap the chicken breasts individually, put the wings, thighs, and legs together, and take all the excess skin, fat, bone, and chopped-up pieces of back into a big Ziploc bag for homemade chicken broth. Everything gets labeled and stored in the freezer, ready for dinner later on.
- If you like bacon occasionally or if you like to buy bacon in bulk, try this trick: Pull out two slices of bacon at a time and roll them up together. Put the bacon rolls side-by-side in a freezer bag (it’s okay if the rolled sides touch each other) and freeze. It’s very easy to break apart the bacon rolls and pull out as much bacon as you want to have in the morning or to use it in a recipe.
Produce freezer tricks
- Chopped green onions are a staple in my kitchen — I use them in soups, fried rice, in omelets, and more. So, instead of buying a bunch of green onions, using one or two stalks for a meal, and letting the rest rot in the fridge, I wash, dry (with a paper towel), and chop all the onions at once and throw them in a freezer bag. The frozen onions are great with cooked foods; however, they tend to look a bit wilted if you try to use them “fresh” (as a garnish or topping, for example)
- I do the same thing with parsley and celery, which I am rarely able to use all at once. Chop them up and freeze them, and they’re great for adding to cooked foods later on!
- We have a friend with a very productive lemon tree. I took part of an afternoon to juice the multiple bags of lemons that she gave us (an electric juicer would have been handy, but I used a normal hand-held juicer) and poured the lemon juice into ice cube trays. The lemon juice was a bit more difficult to pop out of the trays (I had to use a butter knife to encourage some of the cubes to come out), but once they did, I was able to put them all in a freezer bag. You can do this with any home-squeezed juice — lime, orange, etc. I’ve also frozen the base for blackberry limeade (blackberries and water) when I bought a ton of blackberries on sale, although in a ziplock bag, not in ice cube trays.
- Although this isn’t produce-specific, ice cube trays work nicely for freezing small portions of homemade pesto, broth, or any sauce or liquid!
Other freezer tricks
- I usually only need a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. When I open a new can of tomato paste, I use the can opener to open up both sides of the can. Pushing against one of the metal discs, I slide the tomato paste out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, then discard the can top/bottom. When I need tomato paste, I just eyeball the frozen chunk and use a knife to cut off the approximate amount that I need.
- I have to admit that I don’t like the heels of loaves of bread. We used to just let them sit and collect in the cupboard until they molded. Now, I’ll tear them up into chunks and pulse them in my food processor to make fresh breadcrumbs. I store the breadcrumbs in the freezer and use them in recipes. (Actually, the freezer is a great place to temporarily store those leftover slices of bread so that you can make a big batch of breadcrumbs all at once! Just make sure that they thaw before trying to pulse in the food processor.)
- The food processor is also a great tool for making your own shredded cheese. Buying a big block of cheese is sometimes more cost-efficient than buying pre-shredded cheese. I’ll often shred the cheese myself and then freeze portions of it in Ziploc bags which I can pull out and thaw as I need them.
- Another cheese trick — Steve loves provolone cheese, which I’ll buy in bulk at Costco. I divide the provolone into packets of 5 slices (one for each weekday) and freeze. On Sunday, I can pull out one of my packets and thaw it in the fridge to use in Steve’s lunch sandwiches that week.
- After making homemade chicken broth (usually about 2 qts. worth from the back pieces, leftover skin, fat, and bones of one chicken), I’ll pour two or four-cups of broth into Ziplock freezer bags, seal them up, and store in the freezer for later.
- We have a local company that makes these wonderful fresh flour tortillas, but because there are no preservatives, they go bad faster than we can eat them. I’ve started layering the tortillas with waxed paper and freezing the stack of tortillas, which allows me to pull them out easily one at a time, defrost quickly in the microwave (15-20 seconds at high), and use for a quick quesadilla.
- After making Chinese steamed pork buns, which we love — but can only eat so many for a few days in a row, I’ll let them cool and then freeze them in a plastic freezer bag. I can then pull out one or two at a time and microwave them to eat for a quick snack or meal.
- Finally, when Steve and I make a huge batch of potstickers/dumplings (note to self: will have to post recipe at some point), we’ll lay them out on cookie sheets (before cooking them) and freeze them, then transfer them into a Ziplock bag for storage. We then have lunch or dinner all ready to go; I like to either boil them or fry-steam them in a skillet, which you should do straight from the freezer so that they don’t thaw and stick together.
What freezer tricks do you have up your sleeve? Please share in the comments!