Monday, January 10, 2011

Can't Finish It? Freeze It!

A typical conversation between my mother and me revolves around what foods we have recently successfully frozen. We don’t like to waste food in our family so we’ll try to freeze just about anything for fresh keeping and later use. While most people know you can freeze sauces, soups, casseroles and vegetables, people always seem surprised when I tell them I have successfully frozen most of the following foods. With the exception of the frozen bananas after a power outage, I have had success with freezing:
  •  Milk: Going out of town once for a week with half a container of milk left in the fridge, I just put the entire carton in the freezer. When I got home late in the evening a week later, I put it in the fridge for safe, bacteria free thawing and the next morning, there was milk for my cereal – albeit with a few ice crystals. When you freeze milk, you have the number of days left on it as on the day you froze it.
  • Cheese: One of my favorite brands of mozzarella cheese (it actually tastes close to the stuff my Italian Grammy used to get us) comes pre-sliced in 10 fairly thick slices. The problem is, I can’t eat it all in just a few days. It’s a high moisture cheese so it goes bad more quickly than hard cheese and gets that slimy texture and nasty ammonia smell. So, I take the slices I know I won’t eat, separate them with wax paper, put them in a Tupperware-esque container, and stick it in the freezer. It lasts for months and I can take out as many slices as I want when I’m ready. Shredded cheese right in the bag freezes very well too and lasts months.
  • Bread: I love fresh bread from local bakeries. Locally baked breads lack preservatives so they get moldy more quickly. So I freeze the whole loaf and just pry off the slices I need.
  • Cranberries: If you like cranberries at any time of the year besides Thanksgiving, then buy a bunch of bags of fresh cranberries and toss them right in the freezer. That’s right – you don’t have to do a thing. I’ve used them up to 6 months later to make cranberry bread and cranberry compote.
  • Bananas: Until you learn the art of only buying the number of bananas you need, freeze them as is – right in their skins - when they get too dark and squishy. You can take them out later, let them thaw, and mash them up for banana bread. A word of caution here. I did this once and then the power went out and I forgot all about them. The stinky banana goo that leaked into the freezer was not pretty so you may want to wrap them up in plastic wrap or put them in a Tupperware before freezing!
  • Herbs: I have frozen sturdy fresh herbs like rosemary in plastic baggies.
  • Bacon: I’ve recently taken to buying local bacon at my neighborhood market by the quarter or half pound so I can keep in the fridge for quite some time. But if you buy larger packages, just wrap the unused, uncooked bacon up in foil and freeze it. If you’ve got lots of it, separate it with wax paper into smaller portions first, then wrap it in aluminum foil and freeze.
  • Pesto: I confess I’ve never frozen pesto myself. I always seem to be able to eat what I’ve bought relatively quickly. But for people who successfully grow tons of basil in the summer (I successfully kill mine yearly), and like to use up all that basil by making pesto, freezing it in ice cube trays is a brilliant solution. Just cook up a pot of pasta, take out a frozen pesto cube and toss it in, and voila! Dinner!
Freezing food is quick and easy and most frozen foods easily last 4 to 6 months in the freezer without any drop in quality. Let me know if you have successfully frozen some unusual foods or any tricks you use to make it more convenient!

Beth Kitchin MS RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham