Topic 3: The smart freezer tricks that make cooking-for-one a breeze
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If you’ve been cooking family-size meals for years, it can be hard to get used to cooking for one.
But living alone or as a couple doesn’t mean changing the way you shop for food and cook, even if your appetite isn’t what it used to be.
Instead, family-sized batches of produce or cooking can be used over a much longer period, just by using your freezer well.
You may be surprised at what can be frozen, and the simple steps that can turn an ‘unfreezable’ item into an easily frozen one.
For extra inspiration, Sean Anderson, the general manager of food at Cater Care, has created a recipe for Italian-style braised chicken on roasted pumpkin and parsley mash, that’s ideal for separating and freezing to create a delicious meal you can have on the table in no time.
Know what foods freeze well
Some foods just don’t suit freezing – mayonnaise, cream sauces, and lettuce are best eaten straight away or stored in the fridge.
But other foods cope with freezing surprisingly well. Try freezing cheese (slice or grate it before freezing so it doesn’t crumble when defrosted), dough, batter, pasta and rice (just undercook them slightly before freezing), fresh herbs, and most fruits and vegetables.
Eggs can be frozen too, but crack them into a container first; an old ice-tray with large compartments works well for this purpose.
Freeze for convenience
Premade meals, from pasta and meat dishes to soups and stews, can be frozen in single-serve portions, for whenever you need a quick dinner.
Dividing your food into portion also helps it cool down faster, which helps it retain its quality.
It’s best to cool the meal before freezing, because putting hot food into your freezer can lower the temperature in the freezer, possibly causing other foods to partially defrost.
Freezing meals quickly is vital to avoiding the big ice crystals that can make your dinner watery when it’s defrosted. The idea temperature setting is -18 Celsius (0 Fahrenheit).
Try blanching for a better result
Even leafy green vegetables such as spinach can be frozen if blanched – just drop the vegetable into boiling water, take it out, and put into iced water before drying it – beforehand.
You’ll find plenty of guides online on the best blanching times for various vegies.
Raw meat freezes better than cooked meat, in that it holds its moisture better, but it’s best to defrost raw meat and other foods in the fridge rather than on the kitchen bench, to avoid bacteria that may make it unsafe to eat.
You can also defrost by placing the item in cold water or in the microwave if you need to use it more immediately.
If you use the water method, make sure the food doesn’t come in contact with the water as this can introduce bacteria, as well as resulting in a watery meal.
It’s best to cook immediately afterward if you use the microwave to defrost, as the microwave can kickstart the ‘cooking process’ in some parts of the food.
It’s important to ensure that meat, pieces that have stuffing, bones or joints in them, have thawed all the way through when you cook them.
Australian and US experts differ, however, on the safety of refreezing thawed meat – the Australian Institute of Food Safety recommends never doing so, while the US Department of Agriculture says it’s fine if the meat has been defrosted in a fridge.
Meals cooked from foods that have been frozen are fine to freeze. But you may notice a poorer quality on the second thawing, because moisture would have been lost the first time the food was defrosted.
Understand ‘ideal storage times’
There are many online guides on ideal freezer storage times but these refer only to the time it will take for the food to begin to lose its ‘eating quality’.
Frozen food will remain safe to eat indefinitely, however. That’s because freezing prevents the growth of micro-organisms that cause it to spoil and cause illness.
What unexpected food items do you freeze?