I was talking to my sister the other day, and the topic of cooking came up. She’s single, and trying to save money, so she’s trying to cook more instead of eating out. The topic of food going bad before you’re able to use it came up, and I realized that I’ve never shown you how I keep perishables like cheese and meat from going bad before I can use it up.
To that end, I give you: divide and
conquer freeze. (It will seem like conquering after you’ve done it; this is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks.)
By happy coincidence, today I just so happened to purchase the 3 primary categories of things that I freeze: brick cheese, buttermilk and ground beef.
(It really helps to have a video playing in the background, because this stuff is BORING.)
First, the cheese:
Cut the cheese into the amounts you usually use. I cut pounds of cheese into quarters; 4 ounces is a really versatile size. It really helps when you have a recipe that calls for 12 ounces of mozzarella, for example; you just grab 3 pieces to thaw. But for a single person, 2 ounces would probably be better. Depends on how much you like your cheese!
To keep the cheese moist, I wrap each piece in some plastic wrap:
And then bag it by type:
And toss it into the freezer. Hard cheeses do really well this way, especially if you’re using them for cooking. The only problem is that they don’t grate very well: if you really, really need pretty, perfectly grated cheese, get some fresh. After being frozen, it tends to crumble when grated.
By another happy coincidence, I happen to be thawing some other cheese out right now!
I select the pieces I want to thaw (in this case a cheddar and a Monterey jack), put them into a clean zip-top baggie, and put them into a container of cold water. I’ll flip them over every now and then to make sure they thaw evenly, and if I have time, when they’re done thawing I’ll stick them into the fridge to re-chill (that helps with the grating).
(FYI: if the baggie isn’t air-tight and water gets in there, it’s fine. I’ve never had cheese hurt by water that got in while it was thawing.)
Next, the buttermilk.
I prep the baggies before I start pouring; this time I’m using sandwich-size baggies. (I’d prefer the freezer ones, since the zippers tend to be better, but the smallest freezer-bag I can get is a quart, and that’s way too big for this.)
Since all my buttermilk recipes call for 1 cup of buttermilk (well, after I split them they do), I measure out 1 cup of buttermilk:
Then pour it into the baggie (which is supported by another bowl or measuring cup):
If I were smart, I’d weigh the buttermilk and just pour it straight in here without having to get a measuring cup dirty, but I haven’t taken the time to weigh a quart of buttermilk yet.
I squeeze out as much air as possible, then carefully lay the bags flat (this is the time to make sure the zippers are closed!):
And carefully stack them in a little basket for the freezer:
If you freeze them flat, then they store and stack much more easily (as opposed to the weird, random shapes you get if you just jam them into the freezer). The thin profile also makes them thaw faster.
Then just slide it into the freezer!
You can’t stack anything on them until they freeze hard enough to maintain their shape, but eventually you will have a freezer full of flat quart baggies:
I’ve got cassoulet, tomato sauce, split pea soup, potato/leek soup; I think there’s pumpkin puree back in there, and carrot soup… I should probably inventory my freezer. This is also how I freeze my concentrated stock.
Finally, the ground beef:
As with the others, I prep and label the baggies before I get food all over my hands. Plus, once the bag gets filled, the condensation makes it really hard to write on, so just do it in advance. I used to write “gr. beef / .5 lb. / 7%” on it, but now I can usually tell all that information by looking at it, except for the fat percentage.
I freeze 7% beef in 1/2-pound parcels, so I divide a 2-pound pack into quarters:
Then I just stick the quarters into the bags, squeeze out the air, and seal them:
If I need more than 1/2 pound, then I just pull out two, and they thaw that much more quickly because they’re smaller.
Could I freeze this stuff whole? Yes, technically. I do that with things like kielbasa, since I usually use the whole thing at once. (I have been know to divide bacon before freezing it, but not as often.)
Why don’t I? The buttermilk demonstrates the principle best: if you freeze a whole quart of buttermilk but you only use 1 cup at a time, then every time you need some, you’d have to chisel a frozen chunk off of the big one, or thaw the whole thing and then re-freeze the remainder. Chiseling off a chunk of frozen food is hard, and you probably won’t get the correct amount you need. And every time food thaws and re-freezes, it affects the quality and increases the chance that bacteria will grow. For any food, you want to freeze and thaw it as few times as possible.
Thawing: I thaw pretty much everything the same way: make sure its baggie is secure (if it’s not, put the whole thing into a new baggie), then immerse in cold water, turning the food and replacing the water (if necessary) until it’s thawed. This is much faster than letting it sit in the fridge or on the counter. I know some people will tell you you’ll die of food poisoning if you do this, but I’ve never had a problem. The main thing to remember is to only thaw the food out right before you need it; I never go earlier than the day before. And then cook it thoroughly, use basic food preparation precautions, etc. etc. etc.