By Tracey Seaman & Tanya Wenman Steel, Epicurious.com
At Epicurious, we believe in cooking fresh food, but when time is at a premium or ingredients are in abundance, there's no better solution than to double up the recipe and freeze it. If you follow the steps below, adapted from Real Food for Healthy Kids, and store the food correctly in freezer bags or plastic containers, you will always have a home-cooked meal that can be piping hot in minutes. Authors Tracey Seaman and Tanya Steel also recommend ten foods that freeze particularly well.
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A Heated Discussion on Freezing
We keep well-stocked freezers. Tracey likes to keep leftovers in the refrigerator, for fast reheating of subsequent servings, but she freezes fresh meats and breads and batches of chili, stews, and soup to have on hand for later. Tanya likes to freeze individual portions so when she comes dashing in from work at 7:00 p.m., or after a Saturday soccer game, there is something healthful and tasty to pop in the microwave to feed a hungry and weary kid just minutes later. We both freeze our home-cooked recipes and keep a stash of processed organic foods. Here is all you've ever wanted to know about freezing-and more.
Ten Things to Have in Your Freezer
1. Cooked Pasta:
Cook a pound-bow-ties and rotelle are best for this purpose-until barely al dente (so that when you reheat, the pasta will not be mushy) and then freeze (unsauced) in freezer-ready container for adding to a hot sauce or microwaving later. (Do not rinse the pasta.)
2. Homemade Pasta Sauce:
Make a batch on Sunday afternoon and store in containers (be sure to leave a little space at the top for expansion). Cream sauces do not freeze well.
3. Very Ripe Bananas:
For an instant protein-rich smoothie, store ripe bananas in the freezer, peeled, in freezer bags and blend them with skim milk and soy-protein powder.
4. Pizza Dough:
It thaws quickly at room temperature. Also, when you make pizza, cook an extra pie or two, let cool without cutting, wrap, and freeze for later. Just pop the pizza in a 400°F oven until hot, then cut and serve.
5. Vegetable Protein Burgers:
When in a pinch, it's easy to defrost some GardenBurgers, cook them in a cast-iron skillet, slide them between a whole-wheat hamburger roll and pile on the lettuce and tomato.
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6. Shelled Edamame:
Buy them frozen in the supermarket, boil them for a few minutes, and serve them in a bowl, lightly salted. These buttery soy kernels are nutritious and surprisingly fun to eat.
Raw bacon, wrapped side-by-side in pairs in parchment or waxed paper and then enclosed in foil, is great for keeping portions on hand.
8. Peeled Deveined Shrimp:
Thaw shrimp quickly under cool running water to make a tasty meal in a snap.
9. Frozen Potatoes:
Look for organic shoestring, shredded, or crinkle-cut fries or hash browns without additives. You can cook them quickly in the oven or in a skillet and top with browned ground beef and cheese or serve them with eggs.
10. Soups and Stews:
Simmered and braised dishes freeze well. Many recipes provide a large enough yield that you can freeze at least a quart to serve later. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
How to Freeze:
You can freeze myriad foods: cake, cheese, bacon, berries, and other fruit. Sauces, broth, and pureed baby food can be stored in ice-cube trays and frozen. Here are some tips on how to ensure your foods don't end up tasting of freezer burn.
- Slice breads before you freeze for easier removal.
- Freeze in small portions, so you can just defrost a serving fast and easily.
- Wrap well. Use containers and plastic wraps that were designed specifically for the freezer. Make sure there is no excess air in bags and wraps. If you are storing sauce or soup, keep room at the top of the container for expansion of the liquid.
- Be sure to label the package with the name of the item and the date of preparation and storage.
- Place newer things in the back of the freezer and older items in front.
How to Thaw:
Overnight thawing in the fridge is best, but if time is of the essence, you can immerse foods in cold water-bag or container and its contents-and keep changing the water until it reaches room temperature. Transfer soups, sauces or stews to a saucepan and heat slowly, covered, until the mixture comes to a boil-be sure to stir often. For other individual portions, defrost uncovered in the microwave and cook and serve as soon as possible.
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Photo: Evan Sklar/Getty Images
Editor's note: The preceding is adapted from Real Food for Healthy Kids by Tracey Seaman and Tanya Wenman Steel, © 2008, adapted by permission of William Morrow/An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. To browse inside the Real Food for Healthy Kids cookbook, click here.