Reconciliing foodie-ism with a low budget. Assets: a freezer.
May 30, 2005 6:38 PM   Subscribe

We are looking for foods and ingredients that are unaffected (or positively affected) by being frozen.

We've recently become cooks and love having fresh ingredients around rather than prepackaged/prepared dishes or mixes. However, we are only two people, and a whole eggplant is too much for us, and a whole quart of cream goes bad before we can cook enough dishes that include it. And then there's the part where we are both grad students, with the accompanying salaries, so we can't really justify spending a lot of money on foods that we can't eat fast enough. So to support our poor but gourmand lifestyle, we are looking for advice on ingredients that can be frozen and reconstituted.

For example!

Things that can be frozen and thawed unchanged:
- meat
- storebought (cooked) pizza dough
- other breads
- yogurt
- tomato paste
- pesto
- some cooked dishes (eggplant parmesan, soups)

Things that can be frozen and change but are still yummy:
- tofu (which gets kind of spongy)
- cheddar cheese (which gets a little more crumbly than is ideal, but is a good option for when the big blocks of Tillamook go on sale)

Things that we want to know if we can freeze:
- cream/half&half/buttermilk
- fresh homemade pizza dough (or bread dough)
- cheeses other than cheddar -- good parmesan sometimes goes on sale, for example
- eggplant, cooked or uncooked
- other fresh veggies, cooked or uncooked (Pre-portioned ziploc bags of stir fry ingredients? Presliced eggplant for grilling? Portabellas on sale?)
- fresh fruits?
- cooked pasta (carbonara or macaroni & cheese, for example)
- cooked beans & lentils
- fresh herbs

I expect different vegetables (and fruits?) will react differently to freezing, so personal experiences are welcome. For example, I wouldn't be surprised if tomatoes explode when frozen, but what if we sliced and cleaned and blanched them to use in pasta sauce later?

We welcome advice or information about other items that can be bought in large amounts (more than 2 people's worth) and frozen. We are more secure in our understanding of freezing cooked dishes, and are therefore more concerned about freezing (fresh) ingredients, but good freezable large-amount recipes are encouraged as well.
posted by librarina to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Bread dough freezes just fine. Fresh herbs can be frozen into icecubes of water and stored in a ziploc bag. Fruits can be frozen but the texture changes some, so you should use them for smoothies or pie after they've been frozen.
posted by bonheur at 6:44 PM on May 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Sweet corn (on or off the cob). Sugar snap peas. Whole paste tomatoes (for making sauce. And the skins slip off super easily when they're partially thawed.) I know these from my own garden.
posted by TimeFactor at 6:54 PM on May 30, 2005

You can freeze buttermilk very well if you don't plan on drinking it. It will work just as expected when defrosted in pancakes, cakes, biscuits, and other baked goods. Supposedly the texture changes a bit so it doesn't have the same mouth feel for drinking. Not that anyone drinks buttermilk anymore anyway, right?

You can also definitely freeze macaroni & cheese. I make a white sauce and add blue cheese to it, then pour that over pasta in individual baking dishes and freeze those. The baking step takes a bit longer than if you threw it directly into the oven (say, an hour instead of 35 minutes), but it works just great.

A good cooking show for picking up freezing/storage tips is the Barefoot Contessa--because her background is in catering, she makes a lot of things in bulk. She's a big advocate of frozen spinach & peas, for instance--both things which I had previously turned my nose up at.
posted by bcwinters at 6:59 PM on May 30, 2005

You can freeze dairy with some decrease in quality. Hard cheese like parmesan are okay. Grate and freeze. Cheeses you might eat raw suffer.

Liquid dairy like milk can freeze but you have to let it thaw completely, because the liquid thaws before the fat and so you wind up with disgusting slime if you try to drink it before it thaws fully. Let it thaw and shake the hell out of it. The less fat in the milk, the better it freezes, I have not tried to freeze 1/2&1/2.

Veggies are fine if you're going to cook them, not as excellent if you want to eat them raw. We freeze serving-size bags of cut up veggies and fruits for use later, works pretty well. Specifically: melon balls, berries and watermelon freeze well. So do peas, corn, cut up peppers, and cut up onions. Frozen fruit is awesome in smoothies. You can even freeze fancy fruit juices in ice cube trays [or juice you make if you have a juicer] and use them in other drinks, neat for summer. Bananas look like hell when you freeze them, and will ooze [put in plastic bags!] but they're okay on the inside, nice and mushy for baking. I also keep all my veggie cuttings [onion skins, pepper hearts, etc] in a bag in the back of the freezer and cook it down for stock once a month or so.

If you freeze herbs you get dried herbs basically. Better than the jars at the store, not as good as fresh herbs. I haven't tried bonheur's method.
posted by jessamyn at 7:03 PM on May 30, 2005

Eggplant is one vegetable that does not freeze well- cooked or uncooked. I have frozen dairy products (milk and cream) and used them upon defrost without incident. It's not quite the same as fresh milk, but it is fine for putting in coffee or cooking with. I don't think I would drink a whole glass of defrosted milk.

I also do the fresh herb thing that bonheur mentioned, and it is great for cooking.

Strawberries and raspberries freeze particularly well (I spread them out on a cookie sheet and stick it in the freezer and then put them in tupperware after freezing.)

I use a lot of Trader Joe's frozen ingredients:
-red pepper strips
-seafood combo
-Australian grass-fed beef and lamb
-and I just saw that they now sell "cubes" of frozen basil and parsley

I like to make the following in a big batch and then freeze it in smaller portions:

tomato sauce for pasta (with or without meat)
almost any soup
Indian curry
chicken stock (also convenient to store as ice cubes)
posted by picklebird at 7:13 PM on May 30, 2005

The vegetables that have a lot of water in them (like eggplant) don't freeze well at all. If you slice or chop and then blanch or boil or nuke them, they'll be ok, but not still like they were before.

Lasagna and baked ziti freeze well, so macaroni and other pasta with a sauce should be fine.

Soups and stews freeze well too.
posted by amberglow at 7:19 PM on May 30, 2005

Most uncooked dough keeps very well frozen: bread, pizza, pita, etc. I keep wonton skins in my freezer, for example (not least because the frozen kind is the only kind I've found in stores).

Actually, yoghurt is not suitable for freezing as-is. The process breaks down the curd structure and alters both taste and texture. The thawed yoghurt might be acceptable for use in baking, though.
posted by gentle at 7:56 PM on May 30, 2005

persimmons don't even taste good UNLESS you freeze them first- you can wait until they thaw out or eat them with a spoon while still frozen for a tasty summer treat.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:01 PM on May 30, 2005

When I visit Vancouver, I buy (tons of) bread at Terra, bring it home, and immediately freeze it. When cut, misted with filtered water (important), and heated in the oven or toaster, it is indistinguishable from the day it was made, and knocks the socks off anything I can buy locally. The pecan and fruit loaf is amazing.
/bread snob.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:56 PM on May 30, 2005 [2 favorites]

Green grapes can be frozen, then eaten while still frozen--they're like little round popsicles. (Kids might like them, too?)

Prepared foods that actually seem to taste better after being frozen, I've found, are spaghetti sauce and chili. I like to make a batch, then freeze in serving sized portions.
posted by Savannah at 10:48 PM on May 30, 2005

If the surplus cream you mention is whipping cream, whip it all, use what you need, then make serving size blobs on waxed paper on a cookie sheet with the remainder and freeze. When the blobs are firm, layer them with waxed paper into a flat freezer container that has an air tight lid. Work quickly since the high fat and sugar content will make the blobs start to thaw. They should keep until your next strawberry shortcake splurge.
posted by Cranberry at 11:23 PM on May 30, 2005

The main problem with freezing stuff is thawing it - frozen fruits eaten while frozen are like natural sorbet (just had an orange this style the other day), but they get soggy and tasteless if you then unfreeze them.

And I feel compelled to violently disagree that you can freeze spinach without detriment. But I think this is a matter of taste and has a lot to do with how highly you regard the vegetable concerned to begin with.

In general, I think you have a much better chance with stuff that is already processed - tomato sauce, but not tomatoes, kind of thing. So I would mix the ingredients fresh, and freeze leftovers of the dish, rather than keeping frozen ingredients.
posted by mdn at 7:51 AM on May 31, 2005

A friend of mine wrote a post about freezing cilantro, and in the comments there is some advice about other herbs.
posted by mikel at 7:52 AM on May 31, 2005

The type of freezer can make a huge difference in the amount of freezer burn. When we bought our freezer, the salesman suggested that we get a non-frostfree model. We have meat that is not burnt after 2+ years (double wrapped - first saran wrap then freezer paper), while stuff in the freezer above our fridge goes bad very quickly.
posted by 445supermag at 8:13 AM on May 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

The best way to prepare cabbage for Holubtsi is to freeze it first.

445supermag writes "the salesman suggested that we get a non-frostfree model."

The salesman was right. Frost free freezers and refrigerator/freezers all obtain their frost free operation by heating the cooling coils to melt the accumulated frost and then draining the now liquid water to the outside where it is evaporated. This causes whatever is stored inside to be dehydrated. The dehydration process is usually hurried along by the use of fans. Some side by sides I worked on had three 450W electric heaters in the freezing compartment which came on for up to 20 minutes 3 times a day to melt the frost. Can you think of anything more goofy than running what amounts to an electric kettle inside your freezer for an hour out of every twenty four?
posted by Mitheral at 10:24 AM on May 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've frozen sliced, uncooked portabellas with success - when thawed, they're fine for using in pasta sauce, mushroom stroganoff etc. Not so good if sauteeing or grilling.

Frozen watermelon balls on a hot day in a glass of orange juice are one of the joys of my life

I've found that cream based sauces do not look good when they thaw (such as carbonara), and the texture is a little off. tastes ok though
posted by darsh at 10:49 AM on May 31, 2005

I've used a lot of the tricks here and so have not much to add - except for this. If you have a recipe that calls for heavy cream, put any you don't use into an airtight jar (not Tupperware or similar, you're better off using a Ball or other canning jar) and shake it until it turns into butter. The butter will last longer than the leftover cream would have, and it's much better than store-bought, even the good stuff. It can be used as-is or salted (after it forms) if you prefer. And, you'll also get fresh buttermilk, which I usually immediately use to make buttermilk biscuits.

Hot homemade buttermilk biscuits with freshly made butter - it doesn't get much better than that.
posted by jennaratrix at 11:19 AM on May 31, 2005 [2 favorites]

Agreeing completely with 445supermag and Mitheral about frost-free freezers. And consider getting a chest freezer (the lid opens upward). They're very inexpensive to buy and operate (the cold air doesn't leak out while closed or all spill out when opened) and they keep (well-wrapped) food forever.
posted by TimeFactor at 11:23 AM on May 31, 2005

I'm actually a fan of uprights, the style with a few fixed shelves containing the evaporator coils. The energy savings are negligable compared to the cost of the square footage consumed. Things don't tend to fall to the bottom never to be seen again (i've seen 20 yr old packages of meat in the bottom of chest freezers). The evaporator coils are well placed to rapidly chill unfrozen food. Short people can actually reach the complete volume of the unit. The shelves in the door are handy for stuff like OJ and bread.

Back on topic: Two other things we freeze are rhubarb that has been cut into chunks suitable for pies and shelled whole garlic cloves, perfect for inserting into roasts.
posted by Mitheral at 12:31 PM on May 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

Check out this SF Chronicle article on freezing foods.
posted by rorycberger at 12:38 PM on May 31, 2005

Sorry not to be able to add to list of good foods to freeze, but avoid freezing foods that have a lot of fat (at least for more than 2-3 months). Fat can still turn rancid in the freezer, it's a chemical reaction (oxidation) that can cause the formation of free-radicals. Not only meat, but nuts and wheat germ also. The cold temperatures will slow down the reaction and the better sealed the package the better.
posted by 445supermag at 12:45 PM on May 31, 2005

I've always found that any butter freezes great. Leave it in its original wrapper.
We just bought a food sealer (one of the vacuum thingies) and it works better than great at keeping freezer burn off meat (chicken, beef, pork, even fish). They claim that the safe time to keep something frozen at least doubles, and in some cases is nearly 10 times longer - this is because there is no oxidation occurring, even at a reduced rate. If you can find it in your budget, it could pay for itself quite quickly (provided you also have a chest/upright freezer to put stuff in).
We love buying chickens at .49/lg and cutting them up to get skinless breasts/thighs at that price; the remainder goes into a big bag that is used for soup stock, which is also frozen in cubes/small amounts once made.
The big trick to freezing things is to remember the FIFO inventory rule (first in, first out) and to develop a system of some sort that helps you know what you've got, how old it is, and how much there is (so you don't end up with 100 lbs of chicken and only three months in which to eat it).
posted by dbmcd at 5:14 PM on May 31, 2005

I freeze fresh herbs all the time, especially cilantro/coriander, and they are great - not like dried at all. I don't use them raw, but cooked they are wonderful.

The trick is to rinse them (if they are muddy), let them drip dry, and then just freeze them in sandwich baggies. Then I only pull out what I want exactly when I want it - the frozen herbs break off easily. I use them immediately, not letting them thaw too much. The freezing will break down the cells, but not much more than light cooking - I throw the cilantro sometimes just straight onto hot pasta and stir.

Lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves also freeze well, just as they are.

I'm a grad student too, and I know what you mean about food going bad when you aren't too many people. But my mom used to freeze everything and anything (she would buy bushels of vegetables, and put them down in the freezer for winter) - I figure almost anything can be sucessfully frozen, though some things will change flavour slightly (I don't notice the taste of frozen milk, but other people do). It's just a matter of what you want to do with it after - I tend to cook vegetables, so I freeze them (because raw just go bad). I also freeze half of the loaf good bread (so it doesn't go moldy), butter, herbs - anything that will go bad in a short period.

You might want to get a book on freezing things - some vegetables want to be blanched, some not (plum tomatoes you just take the ends off and freeze in their skins - you can de-skin them really easily when you thaw to make chilli or sauces). Fruit is more complicated - usually it has to be actively preserved (cut up with sugar and maybe a bit of asorbic acid) - but still frozen peaches taste better than canned, and I love my mom's frozen strawberries. Meat is easy - I buy value packs and re-wrap them in single servings. Raspberries can be frozen for baking and dessert topping - don't wash them, just sit them on the counter to get the ants out, and freeze them loose in a container. You can take out just what you need then.

Cooked food, especially caseroles and saucy things, seems to freeze especially well - you can make big recipes and freeze them. My mom also had a cookbook that was designed for "cooking once a month" - she never got that actually working for her, but she got some great recipes from it that froze well.
posted by jb at 12:07 AM on June 1, 2005

Response by poster: Now that commenting is retroactively back, I can say thanks to everyone. Excellent info -- too many good answers to mark bests.

Unfortunately, just a couple of weeks after I posted this, we moved into a new house with a TEENY TINY fridge (only 10.4 cubic feet! and currently under discussion here), so now we have no room to experiment with freezing. We are shopping for an extra fridge on Craigslist though, and I'm looking forward to being able to make big batches again.
posted by librarina at 2:06 PM on October 23, 2005

« Older Tips for Busking in Italy and OCNJ   |   Does cooking affect the nutritional value of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.