If the freezer brings to mind nothing but disconcerting TV dinners and soggy vegetables, it’s time to rethink the unsung hero of the appliance world. The freezer is a gift! It is the simplest device for preserving food and can be your ally in keeping fresh things fresh and alleviating waste. And despite popular belief, freezing does not lead to a decrease in nutrients.
That said, it isn’t friendly to all comestibles — a fact that may have lead to its reputation as a mangler of good food. But with a little know-how you can use the freezer to your best advantage, even for foods that aren’t normally associated with taking to a deep chill kindly. Here are some of the more surprising options.
Storing slices of avocado in the freezer doesn’t work perfectly, but freezing pureed avocado does. Add 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice per avocado before pureeing to ensure that the fruit doesn't discolor, then pack in an airtight container and freeze.
2. Baked goods
Although they may seem too fragile in texture, cookies, cupcakes, muffins, brownies and the rest of the baked goods family can be frozen without detriment. If you store them in resealable bags, you can sneak them out individually as needed.
It may not be that surprising that you can freeze bananas, but what you can do with said frozen bananas is kind of astounding: Aside from being the perfect smoothie ingredient, you can make this one-ingredient soft serve "ice cream" that really, really tastes like ice cream. It’s magic.
You might have already known you can freeze butter. But if you never thought about it, go ahead and freeze your butter with reckless abandon. Freeze in blocks, sticks, or make pats for individual usage. This is good for when butter is on sale ... as well as for always having an emergency supply on hand.
While commercial sandwich bread has the supernatural ability to stay fresh on your counter for unusually long periods of time, freshly baked baguettes and the like are not so happy after a day or two. All of it can go in the freezer and when it comes out, it’s exactly as good as it was the minute it went in. If you cut baguettes into slices or hunks prior to freezing, you can remove just as much as you need.
If you only use buttermilk for baking, chances are you have leftovers. While thawed buttermilk can separate like other dairy, it is still perfectly suitable for baking afterwards. If you freeze it in measured amounts, you can then just remove the amount the recipe calls for.
Save some cake for a rainy day. (Photo: Nataliya Arzamasova/Shutterstock)
This is an awesome thing to know: Instead of being forced to eat an entire cake before it gets stale, you can slice it, freeze the individual slices and remove them as suits your sweet tooth. Some cakes are delicious eaten frozen, others may prefer to thaw first. Either way, you can have your cake and eat it too. (That said, icings with egg whites may not fare so well.)
You can freeze chocolate without impunity! But chocolate is a fussy thing and requires TLC. Wrap it well to keep it moisture-proof and resistant to picking up odors, then — and this is important — put it in the refrigerator for 24 hours before putting it in the freezer. On the way out, do the same: Let it rest in the fridge for 24 hours before eating it. Quick changes in temperature do not a happy chocolate make, but with gradual staging in-between all should be fine.
9. Citrus fruits
While fruits with a high water content generally suffer for texture after being subjected to the freezer, you can still freeze them. We are often left with an abundance of citrus — thanks to a productive tree or a crate of holiday clementines. You can make juice and freeze it, or freeze the fruit. Here’s what the National Center for Home Food Preservation suggests: Wash and peel. Divide fruit into sections, removing all membranes and seeds. Slice oranges if desired. For grapefruit with many seeds, cut fruit in half and remove seeds; cut or scoop out sections. Pack fruit into containers. Cover with cold 40 percent syrup made with excess fruit juice or water. Leave some room, seal and freeze. (If you have too many clementines on hand, you can also make this miraculous clementine cake — one of the best cakes in the world — and freeze it.)
10. Cookie dough
If your cookie recipe leaves too many cookies laying around for indiscriminate eating, you can always freeze part of the batch. Portion out the dough onto baking sheets and freeze, then remove from the sheet and store in an airtight container in the freezer.
11. Corn on the cob
Farm-fresh corn on the cob can be frozen as is, husk and all, in an airtight package. For corn that is less-fresh than just-picked, husk the ears and blanch them in boiling water form 7 to 11 minutes, depending on size. Cool quickly, dry them, and seal in an airtight packaging before freezing.
12. Cream, heavy
While thawed once-frozen dairy isn’t always pretty due to separation, you can successfully freeze heavy cream containing 40 percent or more butterfat. First heat it to 170 to 180 degrees for 15 minutes, cool it quickly and store in an airtight container. (To store it longer than two months, add 1/3 cup sugar per quart to aid in stabilization.)
13. Cream, whipped
Never be without whipped cream for hot cocoa again. (Photo: Kati Molin/Shutterstock)
Freezing whipping cream to whip later won’t yield a very stiff topping, but you can freeze already-whipped cream in individual garnishes. Place dollops on a baking sheet and freeze, remove once frozen and store in a freezer container. These are perfect for plopping on top of a mug of hot cocoa.
Do not freeze eggs in their shells. You know how liquid expands when frozen? Do you want oozy freezing eggs in your freezer? No. But you can free eggs from their shells, whisk them, and freeze them that way. Use within one year for best quality.
15. Fruit pie
Yes, fruit pie can be frozen; but it is best done before baking. When it comes time to bake, there is no need to defrost; put the frozen unbaked pie in a pre-heated oven at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees for the rest of the recipe’s stated baking time, plus an additional 15 minutes.
Garlic is exceedingly forgiving when it comes to being frozen. You can put a whole bulb in an airtight container and pull off what you want as needed. You can peel cloves and freeze them whole, or you can crush or slice them first. You can also put sliced garlic in olive oil and freeze that — because the oil doesn’t freeze you can then spoon out as much garlic-infused oil as you would like.
If you don’t go through fresh ginger quickly, don’t let it transform into a withered flavorless thing. A hunk of fresh ginger root can be put straight in the freezer as is (wrapped well) and grated, while still frozen, with much more ease than you would think.
Frozen grapes won't defrost into tidy versions of their former selves, but a handful of frozen grapes eaten frozen is a thing of wonder.
Compound butters are a wonderful way to freeze fresh herbs. (Photo: joannawnuk/Shutterstock)
Most fresh herbs won’t be vivid and garnish-worthy after freezing, but they won’t lose their flavor and can be used for cooking. Wash, drain and pat dry, then freeze in an airtight container. You can also whip your herbs into pesto, just leave out the cheese and add after thawing. But one of the best-kept secrets for freezing herbs is to make a compound butter: Finely chop the herbs (in any combination, really, and add some garlic, citrus or sea salt if you like) and blend them with softened butter; then roll into a log, wrap and freeze. Slices of the frozen compound butter can brighten up just about anything. Put a pat to melt on top of cooked meats, vegetables or soup; or allow to soften for baguettes and so forth.
Freeze milk only if you don’t plan on drinking it afterward because it may separate; but for baking and cooking, it is fine!
21. Plain pasta
Most of us know that baked pasta like lasagna freezes well, but you can also freeze plain cooked pasta if you have prepared too much, want to conserve on cooking energy, or to simply save time. Remove the pasta from the pot just before it's done to ensure it's not overcooked when reheating, allow it to cool, then freeze. It can then be microwaved or thrown into a pot of hot sauce, and voila.
22. Rice and other grains
It's much easier to cook a huge pot of grains — everything from rice and quinoa to barley and bulger — in one fell swoop and then freeze smaller portions to reheat later. You can either remove a packet in the morning and thaw in the refrigerator for dinner, or go straight from the freezer to the microwave or a pot with a little liquid.
23. Sour cream
Freezing will cause separation which will be gross if you plan to use it on a baked potato after thawing; but like milk, it’s great for baking.
And now, a few items of business. While many foods turn out good as new when frozen and defrosted, it’s important to keep some things in mind. The quicker your freeze an item, the better the quality — a slow freeze allows larger ice crystal to form which can be detrimental to texture, therefore, put items to be frozen in the coldest part of the freezer and don’t stack them.
When it comes to normal defrosting, the USDA recommends three safe ways: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. The best option is overnight (or longer depending on the size of the item) in the fridge. For quicker thawing the item can be securely wrapped and placed in cold water; make sure the water stays cold and change it every 30 minutes. If using the microwave to defrost, plan to cook the thawed food right away since some areas may be begin to cook during the microwaving.