WIRED! Philippines 

 

Save time and money in the kitchen


By Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com
http://www.stretcher.com

 

It could be one of the most useful time and money saving items in your kitchen. Yet, it might be getting less use today than it did 40 years ago. What is it? Your freezer. Whether it's a separate stand alone unit or just a portion of your refrigerator, it can be a big help in saving you time and money. Let's take a look at how freezing food works and how to make the most of your frozen foods.

When food is frozen, it's actually the water within the cells of the food that freezes. The water expands and forms ice crystals. That expansion can cause cell walls to rupture. So food that's been frozen and thawed will have a slightly softer texture. You will minimize the damage by freezing the food as quickly as possible. Don't add too much warm food to a freezer at one time. That can increase the time it takes for the food to freeze.

The amount of liquid in a food is a good indicator of how well it will handle the change. Foods with less water content freeze better. Meats do well. Hard vegetables can be frozen, but soft vegetables and fruits like tomatoes fare poorly. Mayonnaise and milk are poor freezer candidates, too.

Spices can act unpredictably when frozen. Some lose their flavor, while others grow stronger or even change flavors. Where possible it's best to use a minimum of spices before freezing. Season the food during it's final preparation. Salt should be avoided. Along with fat, it tends to add a rancid taste.

Sandwiches can be frozen. Good freezer fillings include peanut butter, sliced meats and poultry, and natural or processed cheeses. Spread a little salad dressing or margarine on the bread as a coating before freezing. Avoid mayonnaise. Sandwiches can be thawed in the wrapper. A sandwich that's removed from the freezer in the morning is will not spoil by lunch time at room temperature.

There are a few things to remember when preparing foods for the freezer. First, freezing does not sterilize foods. It does slow down the growth of bacteria that cause food spoilage but does not kill them.

Some foods require special preparation. Vegetables should be blanched (immersed in boiling water) and then quickly cooled in ice water. You don't want to blanch veggies too long. They'll begin to cook. Check a cookbook for times. Meats should not be frozen for more than a few weeks in the store wrapping. You'll want to repackage using butcher paper, heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer wrap.

Many people avoid using their freezer because of freezer burn. That occurs when moisture in the outside surfaces of frozen food escapes to the surrounding air. In effect, the area effected becomes 'freeze dried'. The food may take on an unusual taste but will not cause illness. The way to prevent the problem is to use packaging that's moisture-proof.

The ideal packaging for use in your freezer would be air and moisture-proof, leak-proof, easy to seal and mark and wouldn't become brittle in colder temperatures. Plastic or glass containers are often used. Care should be used with glass since it does become brittle when cold. Special glass jars designed for canning and freezing have a convenient large mouth and are tempered for extreme temperatures. Ceramic and metal containers also work well.

Most short-term storage containers are not suitable for use in the freezer. Bread wrap, milk or ice cream cartons, regular aluminum foil or wax paper will allow freezer burn and loss of flavor if used for more than a few weeks.

Fruits and vegetables should be frozen in meal size containers. Large packages tend to freeze slowly resulting in an overly soft product. Use a non-metallic wrap for acidic foods like tomato sauce.

Don't fill rigid containers to the top. Liquids will expand when frozen. For instance, a quart of sauce stored in a small mouth jar can require one and one half inches of 'head room'. Not leaving enough space could result in a shattered jar.

Not all foods need extra space. Some will suffer if air is left in the container. Meats, breads, loose packed vegetables and casseroles store best if you remove as much air as possible when you seal the package.

Cool all foods before packaging. Ideally, hot foods can be stored for a short time uncovered in your refrigerator before freezing. This will allow for the quickest cooling and the best taste later. When placing new food in your freezer try to leave room for the cold air to flow around the container. Once the food is frozen you should rearrange items so that they're packed tightly together.

A full freezer is the most energy efficient. You'll also want to keep an inventory of what's in the freezer. List the type of food, when it was prepared and the 'use by' date. That way you won't overlook something in the back of your freezer. This is a good practice even if you only have a small freezer section in your refrigerator.

How long can you safely store frozen foods? A lot depends on the temperature that's maintained in the freezer. Ideally it will be kept at zero degrees F. or below. A one-year shelf life a zero degrees is shortened to 3 months at ten degrees and to 3 weeks at 20 degrees.

If properly stored, you can keep casseroles for about 3 months before they begin to lose flavor. Ground meat should also be used within 3 months. Pork can be stored for up to 8 months and beef and poultry should last one year. Baked yeast bread tastes best in the first 3 months, but can be frozen for up to six.

When it's time to serve your frozen meal, you can put main courses into the oven without thawing them in most cases. Expect the combined thawing/cooking time to be about 50% longer than if the food was cooked fresh. Most vegetables can be cooked without thawing. If you're going to thaw meats, always do it in a refrigerator. Never at room temperature.

What happens if your freezer quits working? According to the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, if the food is still at 40 degrees or lower it can be refrozen. Some loss of flavor and texture will result. Food should stay frozen for 24 hours.

Why all these facts about frozen foods? Because proper use of your freezer allows you to save time and money in a number of ways. You can stock up when you find a good grocery value. Many meals can be cooked two or three at a time with little additional work. You'll save time when you pull a prepared meal from the freezer and money when you avoid the fast food line. But, perhaps the best reason to use your freezer effectively is that sometimes you just don't feel like cooking!

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Every month, you will be reading Gary's column in WIRED! Philippines, called the Dollar Stretcher. While the column's title might be way off the e-zine's name, or while the Philippine currency is the peso, our Filipino subscribers abroad use the dollar. It is with these people in mind that WIRED! Philippines opens this column. Aside from this, practical tips on how to spend money wisely (dollar or peso or any other) and live frugally are what makes Gary's column have a bit of Filipino flavor.

Gary is the Editor of The Dollar Stretcher Web site. You'll find the web's largest collection of free articles to save you time and money. There's even a free weekly email newsletter. Visit today!

 


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