The holiday season is upon us, and parties, celebrations, and family gatherings dominate the calendar. If you are like me, you will find yourself in the kitchen daily, making soups, cookies, coffeecakes and various sauces to get ready for the onslaught. As much as I love to cook, I also want to be able to enjoy the luxury of having family and friends in our home. That means not cooking up a storm while I have a full house but, rather, doing as much as possible before guests ring the door bell.
1. Cookies really do freeze well. They last for weeks and will taste almost fresh once you defrost them. Instead of delaying the gratification, place one in a microwave for twenty seconds and it will have that just-baked taste. Or eat them frozen. Chocolate chip cookies straight from the freezer taste like a candy bar, and brownies are wonderfully chewy. A perfect way to salvage an over-baked cookie is to freeze it; they’ll have a crisp taste, not a dry one.
2. I usually double the recipe for soup when making it, insuring that I’ll have plenty left over for nights when I either don’t feel like cooking or need a dish to quickly appear on my dinner table. Using Tupperware or Glad plastic containers allow me to freeze the exact portion I’ll want to serve, whether it’s for one or six. Using a permanent marker, write on a piece of masking tape the date, variety of soup and number of servings. If your memory has suffered the same fate as mine, this quick labeling will save you from having to remember how long each container has been in the freezer and, more importantly, its contents.
What’s the best way to defrost your frozen soup? If you can plan ahead, the easiest method is to transfer the container from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before you plan to serve it and, in the morning, leave it on the kitchen counter to finish thawing. If you’re not a Type A personality, no worries, all is not lost. Stick the container in a microwave (it’s always a good idea to pop the lid to allow a bit of air to escape) and defrost until the soup is no longer a frozen block. Once it’s partially thawed, the soup can be heated in a saucepan on the stove.
3. Any sauces, including pasta sauces, can be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer, ready for your next dinner party or family gathering. If the recipe calls for milk or cream, freeze the sauce without the dairy product and then add it when you are ready to serve the dish.
4. It’s okay to buy that huge bag of walnuts or pecans at Costco. Nuts seemingly last forever in the freezer.
5. Surprisingly, breads will last a week or two in the freezer without ruining that heavenly, fresh taste. It’s easy to carve up a pain de compagne or boule into hunks, wrap each one in tin foil and freeze separately, and then defrost as needed to serve with some of that soup you’ve already prepared. The crisp crust will be revived by heating it in a medium hot oven for 10 minutes. Or freeze a whole loaf of bread and then defrost slices to make toast or a sandwich. Fashioning croutons from leftover hard rolls or artisan breads will greatly enhance your Caesar salad. Just place them in a Ziploc bag and grab a handful from the freezer; they’ll defrost quickly.
7. Do you have any of those old-fashioned plastic ice trays lying around gathering dust? Put them to good use by freezing chicken stock or pesto in each cube, popping them out as needed. Add a bit of stock to sauces, or pesto to soups and pastas for a surge of flavor.
8. Millions of people are addicted to their morning cup of joe. Buying coffee beans in bulk can be a real money saver. Freeze them and defrost in small quantities to grind and brew. The beans will maintain their freshness for weeks and will be satisfactory for all but the most extreme coffee snob.
9. I always like to have cooked chicken on hand for a sandwich or salad. Buy a large package of chicken breasts and grill them with a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper. When cooled, wrap each one in individual packets of tin foil. Or take that leftover turkey and cut it in slices. Remember to mark the date and number of pieces on the package. Hungry for a sandwich or a Cobb or Chinese chicken salad? You’ve got the main ingredient all set to go.
There are some for whom the freezer is an enigma. Just keep in mind that food can be frozen once in each state of cooking. After defrosting soup, you can’t freeze it again. But meat can be frozen when it is raw and then again after it has been cooked. Likewise, that lasagna you froze before baking can be frozen again after you’ve cooked it.
A freezer is a cook’s best friend. It makes preparing meals easier, it’s a time saver, and it can also be a money saver. But don’t send me the bill if you decide you need to purchase a bigger one!