The final chapter in my “Kitchen Staples” series takes a peek into my freezer — and what you’re almost always bound to find there (New to the series? Click to read about my pantry staples and fridge staples!).
While for the most part I try to use fresh vegetables, I always have bags of peas and corn in my freezer — and dive in to one or both several times a week. I will toss a few handfuls into an omelette, pasta, fajitas, and stir-fries. And frozen spinach? Thaw a package and add it to a pot of soup, or layer it into your next lasagna. And classic spinach dip is always a crowd pleaser, right? My 5-year-old eats maddeningly few veggies so this is one sure-fire way for me to include at least a serving or two each day (now make this healthy mac and cheese!).
If you’ve ever bought a loaf of bread for a recipe only to have a good portion left over, here’s what to do: Cut the remainder of the loaf into 1″ cubes, freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet and store in a Ziploc bag. Use your “cubes” to make perfect croutons for salads, soups or panzanella, or process them into bread crumbs. No waste? Love it (now make this delicious panzanella!).
Often while baking and cooking you’ll need just a little bit of an ingredient — a tablespoon of tomato paste, a few egg whites, a sprig or two of rosemary. What to do with the rest? I use my ice cube tray to freeze and store small portions, to eliminate waste and have pre-measured portions at the ready! Read here to learn more about how to use your ice cube trays for more than just making ice!
I rarely need a pound of bacon, so as soon as I get a package home, I divide it into quarter-pound portions to place in the freezer. Bacon thaws quickly so I can put a portion in the fridge in the morning, and it will be ready to use by dinner time (now make this amazing bacon jam!).
I began using frozen shrimp exclusively a number of years ago. I learned that the “fresh shrimp” at my local markets (yes, even the upscale ones) has most likely been previously frozen. So you don’t know how long it’s been sitting out, thawed. With frozen shrimp, you thaw it when you need it (click here for 25 delicious shrimp dinners!).
The best place to store nuts? You guessed it — the freezer. Nuts have a high oil content, which means they can go rancid quickly if stored at room temperature. And because I use nuts in so much of my baking and cooking, I like to buy them in bulk as often as possible. Freezing nuts keeps them fresher longer, and also keeps them from going rancid. You can use them straight from the freezer so there’s no reason not to freeze (now make one of these mouthwatering nut bars!).
I keep a variety of proteins in my freezer for quick and easy weeknight meals. But I don’t simply bring the packages home and place them in the freezer. I portion off boneless chicken breasts into individual pieces, wrapped and placed in a large Ziploc bag. This allows me to take out just what I need based on the recipe I’m making and how many will be home for dinner! Cut-up chicken gets tossed in a bag with Italian dressing (or other marinade). I’ll thaw in the fridge, dredge in some bread or cornflake crumbs, and — voila! — oven-baked chicken in less than 10 minutes! And I always buy ground beef in one-pound parcels, so if I need one pound for sliders, two pounds for lasagna or three pounds for chili, I can take out exactly what the recipe calls for (now make this Chicken Marsala!).
Fresh berries are in season for such a short time where I live, yet I love baking with them! Frozen blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries at the ready means that muffins, smoothies, cobblers, and sauces can be yours any time of year (now go make this healthy and delicious smoothie!).
I’ve been there. You’ve been there. Staring at that one banana whose time has come — or even passed. Don’t toss it! Place it — unpeeled — in the freezer. You’ll have a nice little stash before long — ready for banana muffins, banana breads, or healthy smoothies. And here’s a perfect banana bread recipe to get you started!
Puff Pastry/Phyllo Dough
Frozen puff pastry and phyllo dough are my “secret weapons” in the kitchen. A quick thaw and these two shortcut ingredients are ready to go for some looks-fancy-but-are-so-easy appetizers, snacks, and desserts. Think cheese straws, spanakopitas, napoleons, and turnovers. You’ll wonder how you ever lived without them (now make these white chocolate berry napoleons!).