When our food editor, Heather, was working on the "Cook from Your Freezer" feature for our March 2010 issue, I loved how she managed to turn the idea of frozen food on its head. The feature is all about how to prepare full meals and then freeze them, so that when they are thawed and reheated, dinner is done. It was a great idea, and it got me fantasizing about clearing out my freezer and starting from scratch so that everything in there was labeled, sorted, and still delicious.
I think many of us use our freezer as a storage bin for food we don't have time to cook, but don't want to spoil, and a lot of things that go in there never seem to find their way back out. Currently, my freezer is over-stuffed with everything from cooked chicken cutlets (I reheat them in the pop-up toaster, it works!) to nuts to coffee beans (not the best place to store them, but I keep doing it).
I haven't gotten around to cleaning out my freezer, but I did a little research, and here are a few tips that will keep your freezer working for you.
Don't over-stuff your freezer, it prevents the cold air from circulating, and keeps the compartment warmer. As with your refrigerator, the door storage is the warmest spot and the back rear area is probably the coldest.
Wrap right. It might seem unnecessary to invest in freezer wrap and freezer bags, but they really do make a difference. Remove items like steaks and chops from the butcher packaging first, and wrap well in plastic, paper, or foil, and then transfer to a freezer bag. The less air that reaches your food, the fresher it will taste when it is defrosted.
If you see little crystals forming on your frozen items (like the surface of ice cream in the pint container), that's a sign that items have defrosted and then re-frozen. Check your defrost mechanism, as this could be a sign that your freezer is cycling on and off during the night. Foods that are defrosted should never be frozen again.
Practice portion control. Instead of freezing a big casserole or large quantity of ground beef, break it up into smaller portions. That way you can defrost only what you are going to eat (this will take less time, too).
Don't forget to label! Everything looks the same when it is in a frozen block.
Some of our favorite items to freeze here in the test kitchen are:
Cookie dough (portion into balls first)
Leftover wine (pour into a resealable bag and freeze flat)
Pie dough (thaw overnight in the refrigerator)