If you've been watching Jamie Oliver's Money Saving Meals you'll know that the humble freezer is your best weapon against food waste. But used correctly, your freezer can also help you save money, rustle up some quick meals and provide you with all the ingredients for last minute dinner parties.
If you're worried your freezer is more of a jumble sale of odds and ends rather than an organised chef-ready resource, it's time to have a look at these top tips...
Batching and freezing
Batching and freezing meals is a great standby if you have a busy schedule and little time to cook during the week. Simple sauces and stews can be made in double, or even triple, quantities and portioned up for freezing. Stale bread can be whizzed in a food processor to make instant breadcrumbs, combined with parmesan and basil for extra flavour, then used straight from the freezer. If you have time to bake at the weekend, consider making a large batch of cookie dough then open freeze the formed, unbaked cookies. Once they are frozen solid, pack the dough shapes into a freezer bag, then defrost and bake as needed for almost instant home-baked cookies even in the busiest of weeks.
Have an 'eat the freezer' week
Taking one week every couple of months to empty the freezer will help you save money and challenge your culinary skills all at the same time. Once every month or so, make your weekly shopping list having first gone through the freezer to see what you can find. Use those overlooked items at the bottom of the drawers as the basis of your weekly menu, and add only essential items to the weekly shop. You may be amazed at what you discover lurking in the depths of your ice box!
A roll of freezer-proof labels will help you to recognise items you may have frozen weeks ago. There are also freezer-proof pens available, and freezer bags that you can write directly onto.
Ways of freezing
By using the correct method and preparing food carefully you can freeze almost anything – from herbs to fruit cordials – saving yourself time and money in the process.
1. Using freezer bags: Have at least two sizes of sturdy freezer bags at hand to ensure you can freeze things quickly and efficiently. Always divide food into portion sizes so you don't defrost too much and waste it.
2. Open freezing: This is one of the best ways to preserve smaller items and ensure that they do not freeze into a solid mass. Spread them out, not touching each other, on a baking sheet and freeze; once frozen solid, pack into freezer bags.
3. Safe freezing: Not all plastics are suitable for freezing. Some become brittle with the low temperatures, and lids can shatter if prised off while too cold. Try using freezer- and microwave-proof containers for items that can be defrosted in an emergency.
4. Defrosting: The denser the item, the longer it will take to defrost. Ideally, long, slow overnight defrosting in the fridge is best for items such as larger pieces of meat, although smaller items can be defrosted at room temperature.
5. Freezer burn: This occurs when food has not been adequately wrapped or stored in an airtight container. Throw away any food that has patches of discolouration on it, as the taste and quality will have been affected.
6. Freezing gluts: Take advantage of gluts of seasonal fruit and vegetables by freezing any excess you have in pre-portioned freezer bags. Vegetables with a lower water content freeze better, but often need blanching first (plunging into boiling water for a few minutes, then chilling in iced water).
7. Freezing bread: Frozen bread cuts quite easily with a sharp knife. If you use it to make sandwiches, it will defrost in time for lunch, keeping everything fresh and cool in the summer months.
8. Using ice-cube trays: Freezings foods such as herbs, pesto or stock in ice-cube trays gives a ready supply of portion-sized amounts. Herbs work especially well in this way, as freezing will preserve their flavours.
9. Freezing liquids: Liquids such as soups, stocks and even cordials can be frozen in sturdy freezer bags or well washed, plastic milk containers. Be sure to leave a small amount of space at the top, as most liquids expand on freezing.
Handy things to have in the freezer
•Frozen berry mixes, such as summer fruits Ice cream
•Frozen yogurt tubes for quick lunch box fillers
•Frozen sliced bread
•Slow-cooked tomato sauce for pasta
•Packets of minced beef, lamb, chicken, or pork
•Home-made burgers, divided by greaseproof paper and stacked
•Assorted vegetables, such as peas, broccoli and sweetcorn
For more great recipes and advice pick up a copy of the Family Kitchen Cookbook, by Caroline Bretherton, published by DK, £25, dk.com.
What do you think? Will you be using any of these top tips for your freezer at home?
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