DRESSED TO CHILL
Preserving food in the freezer can equal big savings and less waste. Especially for produce that has a short season, freezing takes advantage of optimal taste and low prices for months after harvest. This technique also leaves consumers free to stock up when shopping at bulk stores or when a favorite food goes on mega sale -- but only if they know what freezes well. Here are 16 foods that will happily take up residence in the freezer. Always label and date frozen foods as a reminder to use them in their prime and distinguish between similar-looking frozen packages.
Related: 7 Easy Storage Tips to Keep Produce Fresh Longer
Bananas are great to keep in the freezer, because they can be used in so many different ways. A simple frozen banana can take the place of a fattening ice cream treat all on its own; be blended up into a smoothie or milkshake; or be thawed for use in baked goods such as banana bread or pancakes. Bananas can be frozen in pieces or whole -- the only thing to remember is to peel them first, because otherwise the peel will be frozen onto the fruit.
At the height of their season, peaches are one of the juiciest, most delicious fruits to enjoy. Rather than settle for the underripe, watery versions that find their way to grocery store shelves in cooler weather, buy and freeze peaches at their lowest price and peak of ripeness to enjoy their flavor all year long. To freeze properly, discard the pit and cut into slices, place them on a sheet tray so they don't stick together, and load them into freezer bags after they're frozen.
With no pit to remove or skin to peel, berries are one of the easiest fruits to freeze. Place washed and dried berries on sheet trays to freeze before bagging for long-term storage. Blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are ready to go as they are, but cut the green top off of strawberries before their initial freeze.
Mangoes are one of those fruits that tend to be expensive most of the time and super cheap once ripe. But they have a short shelf life, making them well-suited to freezing for later. Frozen mango can be used in smoothies and baked goods, but can also be enjoyed simply defrosted. Peel the fruit and remove the pit before freezing.
Cherry season is short and sweet. Rather than overwhelm the family with cherry-flavored everything for a few weeks to go through the supply, freeze the extra fruits for the winter. Cherries add natural sweetness to the warm spices of the holidays. Remove the pits either by hand with a paring knife or with a cherry pitter, which are easy to find for less than $10.
Bell peppers are good to have on hand for meals at any time of day and year and experience wide price swings, making them good to buy in bulk to save money. Wash and sliced the peppers into strips or dice into chunks, making sure the pieces are dry before freezing and bagging. After thawing they will lose most of their crunch, so they won't work in salads, crudités, or other raw applications, but no one will know the difference if the recipe calls for cooked peppers.
Chopping onions can be time-consuming and tear-inducing. Get the task out of the way all at once by chopping a lot of onions and freezing them in portions for later. Dry the chopped onions on paper towels before freezing on sheet trays and storing in portioned-out freezer bags. These onions can be thrown directly into a pan just like freshly chopped onions.
nyone who owns potted herb plants will knows it's important to prune them to keep them healthy. And those who buy herbs from a grocery store know it's hard to go through an entire container before they go bad. Rather than let all the extra go to waste, freeze herbs by chopping them and pressing them into ice cube trays. Fill each compartment with a bit of water to freeze the herbs as cubes. Pop out a cube to use in any cooked recipe that calls for herbs.
Nuts can be pricey and, thanks to their high fat content, have a short shelf life. Rather than risk them going rancid, freeze nuts to keep them fresh long-term. Simply store the nuts in freezer-safe bags and they will last up to four times longer. Frozen nuts can be used exactly the same as room-temperature nuts. If serving them raw, let them thaw to room temperature for 10 to 20 minutes.
Related: 10 Cheap Recipes for National Nut Day
Don't let leafy greens such as spinach wilt and turn yellow in the fridge. Instead, store them to add bulk to soups and stews and as a filling in dishes such as omelets. Wash, chop, and blanch greens in boiling water, quickly shocking them in ice water to stop them from overcooking. Dry them on paper towels before packing them into freezer bags, where they stay fresh in the fridge for up to four months.
Block cheese can be easily frozen for later use in recipes such as macaroni and cheese, as a burger topping, and pretty much anything else that calls for cheese as an ingredient. If left in a block, the texture will come out crumbly after thawing, so it's best to shred or slice cheese before storing. Cheese will stay fresh for up to three months stashed in freezer bags.
Good-quality chocolate can be expensive, and it's always cheaper to buy in bulk. Because of its acids and fat content, chocolate stored in a cabinet can spoil and absorb "off" flavors from other foods. Instead, put chocolate in the freezer in its original package or a freezer-safe bag. It can be stored there there indefinitely to keep it in optimal condition. Use directly from the freezer for cooking or defrost at room temperature to enjoy it plain.
After making a huge batch of cookies or finding favorite muffins half-price at the store, freeze some to enjoy later. Cookies, brownies, muffins, and breads all freeze well and stay fresh for up to three months. To get the most life out of frozen treats, double-bag them in freezer-safe bags. Defrost them in the fridge or by gently heating them back up in the oven.
Feel free to go crazy when butter goes on sale or if a favorite butter becomes available in bulk. Individually wrapped sticks can be put straight into the freezer. To freeze unwrapped pieces of butter, wrap them in wax or parchment paper and store in freezer bags. Butter keeps in the freezer for up to six months and can be thawed in the fridge.
Freezing cooked meat is a way to have quick and easy meals handy. Make sure the meat is sufficiently cool before placing it in the freezer, to avoid partially defrosting other frozen foods, and double-bag the meat to prevent freezer burn. Plan a bit ahead to use the meat -- the best, safest way to thaw it is in the refrigerator.
Making the most of a good sale on meat is a smart move for any home cook. To ensure the meat stays fresh, it's best to remove it from any styrofoam packaging, wrap with wax or parchment paper, and double-bag it. The extra layers of protection fight freezer burn. Always thaw raw meat in the fridge, making sure it is placed so any dripping won't cross-contaminate other foods.