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Freezer Management

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Fall weather, time to start cooking stews, soups, etc. What are some ways to use my freezer more effectively? I mostly cook for myself.

Ways I already know are:
-Label everything, including mm/yy.
-Freeze in individual portions.
-Freeze extra stock or tomato sauce in ice cube trays, transfer cubes to a larger container when frozen, so they don't disappear.
-Freeze extra buttermilk in 1 cup quantities.

What else?

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  1. Keep a current list of what you have.

    5 Replies
    1. re: magiesmom

      That was what I was going to say, too. I may only update it quarterly, but it's a must.

      1. re: magiesmom

        YES! A list!! Update when you add and remember to delete when you use things. I keep an online spreadsheet "freezer stock."

        1. re: fldhkybnva

          I keep mine on the freezer.

          1. re: magiesmom

            Exactly, but I just use a cheap dry erase board.

          2. re: fldhkybnva

            Same here, I use a google doc so I can access it from anywhere.

        2. i know you're only cooking for one but the amount of stock or tomato sauce in an ice cube size isn't enough for anything, is it? i use sandwich- or quart-sized ziplocs for this and freeze them flat.

          i keep a bag in there to collect veg trimmings for soups and stocks.

          i keep a bag of beef cooking liquid that i reuse each time i make a braise. reduce, freeze and reuse.

          nuts, nut flours and dried spices and herbs get stored in the freezer too.

          2 Replies
          1. re: hotoynoodle

            +2 on the veg trimmings for stocks as well as nuts, nut flours etc. I also keep other flours, cornmeal, rice and pastas in my freezer mainly because I live in a humid location.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              If I'm sauteing vegies or tofu, or poaching fish, sometimes it's enough to add only 1 or 2 cubes of chicken stock, or tomato sauce. It's easy enough to add more, if I want to.

            2. I keep a list too. So much easier to check the list than rummage through the frozen assets when looking for something!

              I also have a few plastic baskets to keep like with like. Sausages are in one, frozen vegetables in another, etc. It helps keep smaller things from disappearing.

              In addition I try to keep items in specific zones. Quick ready to heat meals in one, uncooked meats in another. If a zone gets too full it's a good signal to focus on using up a bit of the category.

              1 Reply
              1. re: meatn3

                I use boxes, too. I keep a separate list, but also tape a list to the front of each box so it's easy to find what I need.

              2. I freeze seasoning vegetables, i.e. the last of the celery, onions, etc. chopped and bagged . When I have an over abundance of other veggies like peppers, carrots, etc. I do the same. When I need some for a soup, etc. I can grab a handful and add. It's also great not to have to throw it away.

                There's only two of us here on a regular...sometimes we won't go through a whole loaf of bread before it goes bad. I place 4 slices in individual freezer bags and pull them out as needed. Same with dinner rolls, hot dog buns etc.

                One thing I recently did was to make pastry rolled out then cut and laid on a baking sheet which was frozen in squares then once frozen, I put in a freezer bag. Now when I want to make chicken & pastry, I pull out what I need instead of having to roll the pastry everytime I want to make the dish. It works well.

                1. Most of my problem was organization and forgetting what was in there. When I had a side-by-side frig / freezer, I would designate certain sections for: Meat, vegetables, ready made food, ice cubes on top and the frozen herbs / nuts, etc. in the freezer door. Now I have a top freezer and not only is it lacking in space but I'm not organized at all!

                  One thing that I've used before and will try again is a wax pencil and write on the side of the frig / freezer what is in there and when. When I got a boat load of lemons, I zested them and froze the juice and by damn if I ever found them again until I moved.

                  1. I got one of these a few months ago:
                    http://www.staples.com/Martha-Stewart...

                    I write things on it when I put them in the freezer and erase as I take them out. It's working very well for me.

                    1. Wow, many good ideas.

                      One I forgot to mention was freezing individual strips of bacon between layers of wax paper, in a freezer bag, then taking out 1 or 2 at a time, when needed.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: andabien

                        bacon is cured meat. it will keep a very long time in the fridge, even once you open the package.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          I didn't know that. How long?

                          1. re: andabien

                            weeks and weeks. probably months.

                            you can also cook the whole package and store the pieces in the fridge. again, for weeks.

                          2. re: hotoynoodle

                            But, from experience, it really is easier to have the raw bacon frozen in packages of 2 strips ( I cut them in half so they fit in quart bags. They can be stored for 6 - 9 months with no decrease in quality. The mess of separating bacon only has to happen once, as you bag. And you get to enjoy freshly cooked (not reheated) bacon each time you use it.

                            1. re: MidwesternerTT

                              That's how I think about it. Plus, I can get newly rendered bacon fat just when I want it.

                              1. re: andabien

                                i keep bacon fat in the freezer. :) lasts forever and never freezes completely hard, so you can just break off a piece.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  That sounds like a good idea. I'll have to try that.

                          3. re: andabien

                            I recently started rolling up each slice of bacon, then putting them in one layer in a quart freezer bag. That way I don't waste waxed paper because these are easy to separate from each other and the package is still only like an inch or an inch and a half thick. It takes about 30 sec to defrost in the microwave.

                            1. re: juster

                              +1 to this.

                          4. My experience is mine alone, and your mileage may vary.

                            Buy a freezer, fill it with so much stuff that you can't recall 75% of what's in there, let a power outage or an inadvertent ajar door make things thaw a bit so you're not entirely certain how safe the stuff is now, and then just go with it and cross your fingers. I'm still alive. And nothing was bad (yet).

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Bada Bing

                              Hahah. I was like you until Hurricanes Irene and Sandy made me discard the contents of my freezer twice in 2 years. Now I keep very little in the freezer because I fear another calamity that will make me throw everything away again!

                              1. re: drongo

                                Luckily, we don't get hurricanes. Tornado is another matter, but obviously not something to expect anytime soon. Our outages are matters of hours or 24 hours max. Hence my "borderline" feeling about the freezer contents.

                                1. re: Bada Bing

                                  I've been through a few "over a week" blackouts due to hurricanes, it's a trip.

                            2. The best thing I ever did was to ditch the chest freezer and buy an upright one. Now we can organize things by shelf and find everything.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: magiesmom

                                lol, threads like this i often suspect people have loads more freezer space than i do. both my b/f and i live in condos, so just have the small freezer on top of a standard fridge. no bermuda triangles here.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  We live in the country and freeze much of what we grow in the garden, so, yes, a very different thing:)

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    Lol. I have three freezers. I live in the country. A chest freezer in the barn for meat and large items, an upright in the wine room for garden items, stocks, pesto's, and extras. Then the side by side freezer in the kitchen for daily use items.

                                    ...and.....all are full! So you actually might have more freezer space than I do :)

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      I only have 1 fridge, it's a side-by-side, but I still find the need to keep an inventory :) I will say, I don't tend to freeze tons of leftovers... there's a hell of a lot of meat in there, and I pack as flat as possible. Even sauces go in ziplocs and freeze flat. But I do still have a bit of a "bermuda triangle" if I don't keep it organized. Today I had to unpack half the freezer to find the 2 bratwursts that I KNEW were in there... they were just buried in the back.

                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                        my b/f tends to just toss whatever any-old-where in there, so i do need to reorganize it sometimes, but i certainly don't need a spread-sheet, lol.

                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                          Mine's just a running list in a google word doc. I do have it separated out by "type", ie beef, pork, but it's not a detailed spreadsheet :) It's mostly helpful when I'm doing my meal planning because I do it based on what's in the freezer, and sometimes I forget what I've got, especially quantities... don't want to plan to make a dish that needs a pound and a half of chicken thighs when all I have is a pound.

                                          1. re: juliejulez

                                            I also separate by type and usually weigh whatever goes in there so I know how much I have.

                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                              I separate into meat/entrees, sides, appetizers, dessert, soup and....something else. It's just a memory jogger, especially when I have last minute guests, or overnighters. I have learned to mark the meat with the weight before wrapping in tin foil, that helps a lot.

                                  2. Cook less.

                                    Eat more.

                                    1. I freeze things like sauces, cooked ground beef, etc flat in freezer bags. Once frozen, I store them vertically in a shoe boxes. (Thought my husband tells me to buy a "real" freezer container....). I label the bags with a sharpie.

                                      I stopped freezing low value things because I am not organized enough to remember the odd bits and pieces of veggies and my family won't eat defrosted breads or baked goods.

                                      1. All cookies baked here get frozen in 8-12 per quart bag batches within 3 hours of baking. We take out no more than 6 at a time. They always taste fresh-baked. Unlike cleobeach's comment about her family's aversion to defrosted baked goods, that's about the only way we eat cookies. It also allows me to gift a small quantity at a moment's notice to friends

                                        1. Store like with like (meats, 'components' like stock and tomato sauce and chipotle en adobo, cooked dishes, etc.). That way at least you know which part of the freezer to riffle around in.

                                          Have an inventory and try to keep it up to date. If you do any meal planning, use the inventory to plan using up some of the older foods in the freezer. That starts and keeps a rotation going.

                                          1. I store things in "zones" so I have a better idea of how much I have. Home made stuff, soups, sauces, pulled pork/italian beef on one shelf. Meat gets it's own space. Frozen fruits, veggies go all together. Connivance foods (frozen ravioli, meal kits, onion rings, mini egg rolls, fish sticks . . . I have a toddler and sometimes I"m lazy mommy). Butter, home made stocks, bread, muffins, cookies, buns go in the door or where ever there is extra space.

                                            I have an upright so I have more space, but I did the same thing when I just had my side by side. I was rather relieved when the chest freezer we had prior to the upright died. That thing was a freezer burn filled vault.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: autumm

                                              I love my side by side. I also store things in "zones". Breads go on first shelf, seafood on second, poultry on third, convenience foods on fourth. The last shelf and the bottom drawer are for homemade, individual portions of soups, chilis and other good stuff. I lay zip lock bags flat to freeze, so they can easily stand up and it is almost like flipping through books when I'm looking for a particular item. I've also just started using the disposable foil "half pans" with the cardboard/foil top for things like meatloaf, lasagna or casseroles. I write both frozen & thawed cooking instructions complete with the oven temp/covered/uncovered/resting time so I don't have to think about it.
                                              I rotate everything so I use the oldest things first.