Foods? Show me how to freeze them?
November 5, 2010 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Piggy backing on my previous question about freezer friendly foods for a workplace drama fridge- now I need at home freezer help - how to freeze a variety of stuff so I can stop tossing out wilted celery, slimy mashed potatoes, etc. I have some ideas and need your input (or commiseration). What foods/ingredients do you freeze, amd how? Specifics inside, and begging for advice with freezables not listed.

I've seen and used the idea of baking meatloaf as 'meat cupcakes' and tonight, on my way home from work I've had an incomplete stroke of brilliance - I can freeze other things in this shape. And that led me to remember that I can freeze ingredients too. (I live alone, I hate raw celery, but find it essential in soups)

So, I'm thinking cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes might release from cupcake tins well enough once frozen, but maybe not. Paper wrappers probably won't stand up to the moisture.

Chopped celery can just be spread on parchment and frozen before throwing it into a sturdy freezer bag? Right?

Meats/meals? I've been making my own 'microwave dinner' set ups with roast beef, potatoes, veggies. But! The plastic reusable containers are brittle when they're that cold- so my bus commute guarantees subtle yet unfortunate destruction of the containers.

The homemade burrito thing I totally understand - freeze the burritos in rows on a baking sheet, then bag them together.

(answers that suggest I am overthinking this will be flagged. I think about and eat food all day long. My life pretty much revolves around maximizing calories in, and enjoying the experience of eating. I still can't 'just' turn the work fridge down, because it is loaded to the gills every day, opened 3-6 times an hour, and mostly empty but completely closed at night. The work fridge is to be considered a red herring anyway, because I won't be making soups or storing my winter cranberry sauce at work)

While I would love to preserve foods by canning, I'm not willing (or able) to invest in the needed equipment or batch sizes required to do that job properly.
posted by bilabial to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
You can freeze just about any vegetable on cookie sheets and then place into freezer bags. I do this all the time with green peppers, string beans, etc from my garden. (I haven't needed parchment for this but I don't use celery.)
posted by Lizc at 7:27 PM on November 5, 2010

I had success with this homemade veggie bouillon, which you can freeze. I reduced the amount of salt, froze it in ice cube trays, then stored the bouillon cubes in a freezer bag for later use.

Most kinds of pureed soup will do well in the freezer (carrot soup, squash soup, etc); I find it's nice to freeze them in small enough containers that I can reheat just one meal's worth at a time.

Some veggies don't do well frozen because freezing ruins their texture. You could try an experiment to see if celery is one of these.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:29 PM on November 5, 2010

Best answer: RE: Chopped celery... yes. (I'm the exact same way you are about them.) Chopped any veggie/herb will freeze this way, basically. (Well, maybe not tomatoes, unless you really don't care about texture.)

For your homemade TV dinners, if you don't mind your food squishing together a bit, you could try placing the food in Ziploc freezer bags, then into the freezer? (i.e., one meal in one bag) If you run the bag briefly under hot water before you leave for work, you should be able to slide the frozen meal out into a tupperware.

Things in sauce generally freeze better. So stews, soups, saucy pastas, etc.

Cooked rice can be successfully frozen too. Portion out warm rice, then wrap it in microwave safe saran wrap. These you can shape into flat little bricks, and put in the freezer. When you're ready to eat, you can thaw it in the microwave (if you're not cocerned about the estrogens/whatever issue), or just allow it to thaw at room temp, then remove the wrap, sprinkle with a bit of water, and nuke. The key is to capture some moisture prior to freezing, which is why you wrap the rice while it's warm.

I like to make crustless quiches, bake in greased muffin tins, and then wrap them individually and freeze. You can put any diced meat/veg in a quiche.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 7:32 PM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oh, the celery (and many other crisp veggies) will lose its crunch once frozen. But if you only use them in soups & sauces, that doesn't matter so much.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 7:33 PM on November 5, 2010

Celery's texture goes completely disgusting when frozen and then thawed. But I only ever use it for stock, so I'll buy a bunch, use what I need fresh, and throw the rest in a ziplock bag labelled "stock". Also in the bag go aging carrots, halves of onions and onion peels, and chicken bones. Then when I'm ready to make more stock I chuck it all in the stockpot. And then I freeze half of it in another ziplock bag.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:40 PM on November 5, 2010

Lots of soup add-ins and omelette fillings do really well if you chop and saute them in a bit of butter. I freeze a lot of sauteed shallots, leeks, peppers, dark green leafy stuff, and mushrooms in the "snack size" zip-lock bags; they come out just right.

Have you tried better containers...?

Things I freeze: pasta dishes -- gnocchi in cream sauce -- lentil and bean soups -- tomato sauces -- rice and beans cooked in a sofrito -- macerated fruit -- egg noodles in a sauce that's just whipping cream and parmigiano reggiano, with a little parsley -- vegetable gratins -- Ethiopian/Indian/African veg/bean stews/curries

Crepes are wonderful for the freezer; stick a piece of waxed paper inbetween each. (Save the circles of paper for the next freezer batch)

Also: juice from a juicer; I add sugar (shh, don't tell anyone) and pour it into Dixie cups, freeze, and pitch all the cups into a jumbo zip-lock, nuke and add to water as desired. Pesto also goes into paper cups.

If you want a big mac and cheese or lasagna or something to have on hand for guests -- make it into a big zip-lock, put the food-filled zip-lock into the pan you will bake it in; put it in the freezer like that and let the whatever freeze in the right shape to just be tipped back into the pan when it's time to bake it.

I have a number of little books and pamphlets from the 1930s-1960s dealing with freezing, which was clearly much more exciting to people then than it is now. They give wonderfully detailed instructions for a wonderful variety of foods. It is worth picking one up from a thrift shop or Etsy or wherever to browse through so you can sit back and say "Ah ha! Now I know how to freeze parsnip sandwiches! Perfect..."
posted by kmennie at 7:52 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Silicon muffin tins will help with the mashed-potato release problem!
posted by charmcityblues at 8:01 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm a little on the dense side here. I've tried Publix brand containers and rubbermaid brand. The Publix ones are pretty cheap, but the death of the brand new rubbermaid food box was painful and sad. It's probably not the rubbermaid container itself, but the commute - I was bumped into by a fellow passenger and I'm sure something else in their bag, or mine, hit the still frozen box at the the wrong angle. The Publix box, well, I was putting the lid on and squished the box a bit, and the side split right open - I had frozen a pile of rice and was lidding it post freeze.)

What is a better brand? Or how else might I freeze stuff so I can tip it into the box on my way to work?

(and yes, I'm freezing the celery becuase it is of no use to me in it's crispy state. Ruin the texture of all the celery on the planet, as long as I can use it in soup, I will not care!)
posted by bilabial at 8:02 PM on November 5, 2010

Mini quiches, crustless or otherwise. And mini turnover-type recipes from samosas t spinach pies to pasties to....any filling you like, really. (I prefer to freeze these with the crusts raw or half-cooked..fully baked is okay, but they don't always reheat perfectly...still tasty, though). If you have leftover filling, freeze that in a ziploc, too.

This is apparently how my grandma fooled everyone into thinking she cooked all day every day....frozen munchies she'd just take out of the bag and pop into the oven for a few minutes.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:15 PM on November 5, 2010

I know you are only interested in freezing food. But my favorite book on preserving anything is Putting Food By, by Hertzberg, Greene, and Vaughan. Yes, they cover a lot of techniques you are not interested in; but they have a good chapter on freezing (including different techniques), plus a couple comprehensive charts about what can, and what should not be, frozen.

As to the breakage problem you mentioned in your second post. After freezing my goods at home, I usually transfer them to Ziploc baggies for transport to work. They seem to take abuse much better. Of course, I am only 1/2 hour from work. If your commute is significantly longer, this may not be a solution.
posted by IvanKalinin at 8:33 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Prepared sauces and raw beef can be frozen flat in ziplock baggies. Lay flat to freeze. When partially frozen, use chopsticks to divide into single serving portions. Like so. Many other tips at link, including these tips on freezing ginger.

I also make a big batch of waffles and freeze the ones we don't eat fresh. They defrost really well in the toaster, and are much cheaper and yummier than Eggo waffles.
posted by bq at 8:54 PM on November 5, 2010

OMG, I did some more exploring on the bento website I linked to and these tips are awesome.
posted by bq at 9:06 PM on November 5, 2010

I freeze soups in these, and I haven't had any trouble with breakages. Perhaps the rounded edges help, and they're also thick but still a little bit flexible.

The containers actually look like this.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:08 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would probably use individual silicone muffin cups like these (they come in other sizes and shapes). More durable.
posted by brainmouse at 9:35 PM on November 5, 2010

You can freeze just about anything. Even things you mightn't expect, like cheese and eggs (eggs take a bit of prep, though - google it). If things don't come out in great shape for eating raw (cheese, for example, can get a bit soggy), you can still use it in baking.

My recent "find" has been chopping fresh herbs, and freezing them in ice cube trays covered with water. Then turn them out into a plastic bag and keep in the freezer until you need them.
posted by lollusc at 10:41 PM on November 5, 2010

I was putting the lid on and squished the box a bit, and the side split right open - I had frozen a pile of rice and was lidding it post freeze

This makes no sense to me. I have never, ever done anything other than putting food in container, sealing container, and putting the container (full, with lid) in the freezer. I've never had any problem, and I freeze food all the time. The frozen containers are brittle (I am not surprised that yours broke) and I break them all the time when I open them -- this doesn't happen if you first thaw in the fridge and then open them. I just think of the containers as expendable, and buy extras when they are on sale, no big deal.

Also, I think that freezing portions in small ziplocks makes more sense than freezing in muffin tins, simply because of how things stack and fit together in the fridge. You can freeze meatloaf (for example) in large or small slices, and then they are easy to grab out and thaw on short notice. Even if you freeze in a muffin tin, you will still need to bag or wrap the muffin-shaped portions, so I'm not sure what you are gaining by doing this.

Mostly I freeze finished food (eg soup, chili, etc), rather than incomplete food (eg individual ingredients). That's because I use the frozen portions as my go-to convenience food supply, rather than buying frozen convenience food. If I am going to the trouble of sauteing sofrito/mirepoix, I may as well take a couple more minutes and make the soup, and then I have something tasty to grab after a long day when I am tired and just want Food Now.
posted by Forktine at 10:46 PM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

Chopped garlic/garlic paste and chopped ginger/ginger paste keep really well in the freezer. This is particularly helpful if you're cooking Pakistani/Indian/Chinese/Mexican food with any frequency.

Also tomatoes that are to be used in cooking can be frozen just fine. In general, you can't freeze veg that you want to use in salad, but most veg that you want to use in cooking can be frozen just fine. Squashes (zucchini, pumpkin) get really stringy if you freeze them uncooked, so it's better to steam/saute them beforehand.

In general, I find it more convenient to freeze partially prepped food e.g. ground beef browned with some onion and garlic, so that it can be used in desi or Western food later, as compared to completely prepared food. This would obviously be a less convenient way to freeze work lunches. :)

For herbs, spices, and stock, ice cube trays are your friends.
posted by bardophile at 11:29 PM on November 5, 2010

Best answer: Ziploc baggies are definitely your friend for anything that doesn't need to be a particular shape... I can see the appeal of little meatloaf muffins, but for soups and stews I recommend regular quart size ziplocs. Fill 'em up and freeze them as flat as possible, because the flatness will speed up thawing tremendously—if you get in a hurry you can throw the bag into some warm water and it will be ready to re-heat in no time. I also used to do this with tomato paste. The recipes I use tend to call for a tablespoon here or there, so I would dump a small can of it into a ziploc and press it all flat, then when I needed some I could just snap off a corner.
posted by heliotrope at 3:51 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you sautéing the celery for your soups? If so, sauté first then freeze or you'll have too much moisture coming out of the thawed celery once you start to cook it.

Mashed potatoes can change texture quite dramatically - it (sometimes, not always) separates into solids and liquid, and some people find that unpleasant. Try a small batch and see whether you can cope with it. If it does separate and you hate that, try mixing/whisking in a little egg to a small batch before you reheat it. Apparently it acts as an emulsifier and makes the texture more palatable.
posted by Ahab at 4:01 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I learned from several months of making my own baby/toddler food that it's kind of nice to go ahead and freeze everything in muffin tins or ice cube trays. I use a silicon muffin tray so everything is easy to pop out after. Once frozen, I throw all my little portions in a bag or box to throw back in the freezer. I've done chopped celery in the ice cube trays so all I have to do is throw a cube in my sauce/soup instead of trying to break apart my individually frozen bits that have somehow all clumped together. Even for an adult, a muffin cup offers a nice sized side dish like pasta, that is easy to reheat (just leave it a little undercooked).
posted by wallaby at 4:58 AM on November 6, 2010

I take homemade frozen lunches to work every day in the semi-disposable Rubbermaid boxes with no problem. I don't commute on public transportation and they are fine in my insulated lunch tote. Once at work I leave them in my lunch tote, unrefrigerated and the food is partially thawed by lunchtime. I nuke it at lunch time until it's hot, usually 1.5 - 2.5 min.

Foods in sauces work especially well for freezing so soups, stews, stir fry, food in marinara sauce, etc. are good choices. As for meatloaf, I just cook it as a loaf and when it's cool, cut it into slices and freeze it along with cooked veggies if I have them. I do the same for chicken breasts or any other foods, including crustless quiche - cook it as I always do and cut it into portion sizes before freezing.

I may have to try the muffin cups but that's adding another step for me.
posted by Flacka at 5:11 AM on November 6, 2010

I freeze things in mason jars - they are sturdy, stack well in the freezer, transport easily to work, and then I don't have to worry about the health risks of microwaving plastics.

I am also a celery-hater, and use celery root for soups instead - it keeps well, provides the same flavor, and you don't have to worry about the texture issues.
posted by judith at 9:27 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can freeze buttermilk, which is super-handy for me. I'm not a buttermilk drinker, so I mostly use a cup at a time for baking or cooking. Problem being, you can't buy buttermilk in 250mL cartons (as far as I know), so it would always go bad and end up wasted. Now I aliquot buttermilk into 1c portions in freezer baggies and use it later. It does separate, but when you thaw it you can mix it back together.
posted by mossicle at 10:25 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: Some of the information might be a bit redundant, but I clipped out Bittman's "Freeze That Thought!" article from last summer's New York Times and refer to it often.
posted by stellaluna at 3:45 PM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I use ziplock bags or Lock & Lock containers. When I'm using containers for storing food that has a high water content (soups, oatmeal, sauces, etc.), I'll freeze them with the lids on, but unlocked, and I don't fill them up all the way. This allows the contents to expand and, once it's completely frozen, I'll then lock down the lid. It prevents damage to the airtight containers.

I'll squeeze lemon and limes, freeze the juice in ice cube trays, then store the cubes in a large ziplock bag. To defrost, I'll seal them up in a smaller ziplock bag and place them in water. This defrosts them quickly.

I've also frozen tomato paste, flattened in a ziplock bag, then separated into segments using a chopstick.

I also freeze greens, veggies, fruit, and bananas that I'll be using for smoothies.
posted by SillyShepherd at 3:59 PM on November 7, 2010

Best answer: If you start freezing a bunch of things, make a habit of labeling the containers and/or ziplocks. Write what's inside and the date (eg "spicy meatloaf, May '10"). Otherwise, you end up with a freezer full of things you aren't sure what they are and how old they might be; it's a lot easier to grab a frozen dinner or lunch when all you have to do is read the label rather than guess which is chicken soup and which is incomplete stock.
posted by Forktine at 5:38 PM on November 7, 2010

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