Unfrozen delights

Taking advantage of the freezer can mean spending less time cooking

Taking advantage of the freezer can mean spending less time cooking

April 12, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

From the perspective of your freezer, not all foods are created equal.

Turkey and chicken prepared in casseroles are a gem for freezer-savvy cooks. But fried foods and some fresh veggies can be problematic and downright icky once they emerge from the deep freeze.

For cooks who have learned how to use it, a freezer can be a handy tool. Many meals, dishes and recipe ingredients can be frozen and later prepared on short notice, so it works for people on the run.

But freezer beware: some foods don't do so well in a frozen state and there tricks to proper freezing.

"Remember that freezing maintains but does not improve quality," said Mary Ann Oyler, family and consumer sciences educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Franklin County, Pa.


Freezing works best when fresh, high-quality ingredients are used in a dish, she says. It's also important to know how long foods can stay frozen before they lose flavor and freshness. Remember, foods should be frozen at zero degrees or below.

Here are more tips for how to best utilize your kitchen's freezer:

  • Under cook slightly. When preparing a dish for the freezer, under cook slightly. This will prevent the dish from overcooking when it is later reheated. This is especially true with rice and pasta since freezing can make the ingredients softer.

    Depending on the recipe, certain ingredients should be left out and added only before reheating for best results. For example, when making bread dough in advance, some cooks leave out baking soda and baking powder until ready to bake. If a dish calls for crumb or cheese toppings, add just before reheating.

  • Proper packaging prevents loss of flavor, loss of quality ... and questions. When storing food in the freezer, make sure packaging is as airtight as possible. "That's probably one of the golden rules for freezing," said Norma Farrell, a consumer education specialist with the National Turkey Federation. Farrell also develops recipes for food associations and regional supermarkets through her company, Foodcrafters Inc.

    She suggests using plastic bags marked as freezer bags and pressing out as much air as possible. Also, package food in quantities that you can use in the future.

    Try freezing soup or broth in ice-cube trays. Once frozen, place the soup cubes in freezer bags and use as many as needed when desired.

    Coated freezer paper, plastic films, heavyweight aluminum foil and ceramic, metal, glass or microwave plastics are ideal freezer wrappings and containers, Oyler said.

    Also, label storage containers or freezer bags with the name of the item frozen, the date frozen and the date by which the food should be used.

    "Food will remain safe indefinitely when frozen solid," Oyler said. "But use (food) on a timely basis to ensure high quality." For extra convenience, include reheating directions on the label.

    "It really is worth the extra minute it takes to label," Farrell said. "I know we've all picked up a container from the freezer and said, 'Now what is that?'"

  • Cook completely. When reheating frozen food or meals, preheat the oven to 400 degrees or the temperature suggested on the original recipe.

    "When you do reheat your cooked casserole, follow temperature guidelines and reheat it at its regular cooking temperature," Farrell said. Most foods should be reheated to an internal temperature of about 165 degrees or until it is "bubbly hot," Oyler said.

    If cooking in a microwave, it is recommended to first thaw the frozen meal on a defrost cycle, she added. Cover the food with waxed paper or a glass lid. Consult microwave instruction manuals for guidelines on defrosting.

    If thawing frozen food before cooking in the oven, stovetop or grill, thaw in the refrigerator.

Foods that freeze well:

Cooked chicken and turkey baked in casseroles; stews, ragouts and goulashes made with beef, lamb, pork or veal; baked meat loaf; cooked, dried beans such as bean soup or baked beans; cooked rice and pasta, plain or with tomato sauce

Foods that do not freeze well:

Foods made with cooked egg whites such as a meringue pie; potatoes; fried foods; cured meats; fresh salad greens, raw tomatoes, raw apples and grapes; cooked, creamed vegetables; gravy; milk sauces

Ideas for meals to freeze

Many recipes will work for freeze-ahead meals. Simply prepare, cool, package and freeze.

Betsy Couch, of, suggests experimenting to find out which of your personal recipes work best in the freezer. "If you're not sure if your recipe will work as a freezer meal, try freezing a portion of it the next time you make it. Keep notes on your trials and errors," Couch wrote in an e-mail.

Couch's Web site maintains a section devoted to recipes that freeze well.

Below are recipes the National Turkey Federation suggests for freeze-ahead meals.

Mexican Turkey Stuffed Shells

1 pound ground turkey

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup nonfat ricotta cheese

18 large pasta shells, uncooked

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