Covid-19 has caused havoc with our lives and the economy but self-isolation is a small price to pay to keep more people safe and our NHS functioning.
Many people have emailed me to ask about maintaining a healthy diet during this time. I will be posting more information on this over the coming days, as well as more recipes and advice. This feature is all about making use of your fridge and freezer in order to make your food last longer whilst enabling you to have a good, healthy, home-cooked diet.
Years ago, people opted for large chest freezers in a bid to save as much time and money as possible. Over the last 30-40 years, we have seen a decline in the need for these large freezers as more and more families opted for fresh food, processed and takeaways. We have, however, seen a rise in waste. Currently almost a third of our weekly food ends up in the dustbin. Using a bit of savvy and a more frugal head, you can make the most of your freezer, fridge and store cupboard, avoid waste and save pounds.
If you are planning to save money, a freezer is a great asset. You can fill this with bargains, food grown from your allotment, and with homemade ready meals. Remember they work more efficiently when used, so fill up but make a note of what is going in. If you are placing home-produced items, label them with contents and date. Remember, the bigger the freezer, the easier to lose track of the contents. If buying new, make sure you buy one with the best energy efficiency grading.
Opinion is split on the nutritional value of frozen food, though most studies state the nutritional value is still very good. I believe it is all about balance and like to look at the bigger picture. In the current ‘Covid-19’ climate, any vegetables, fresh or frozen, is going to be better than no vegetables. Most busy families have been used to relying on heavily processed or take-away food; opting to utilise a freezer packed with freshly frozen homemade food is by far the better and healthier option.
The Big Freeze
Fridges and Freezers use up a shocking amount of electricity. If you need to replace your fridge or freezer, make sure you opt for the most energy-efficient. Energy-efficient models will save you £35+ a year.
To help your fridge or freezer run more efficiently:
Defrost your fridge and freezer regularly.
Keep your fridge and freezer at least three-quarters full. If you have a large chest freezer and cannot fill it with food, place cardboard boxes or rolled-up newspaper to help fill it up.
Do not leave the fridge or freezer door open longer than necessary
Make sure the door seals are working correctly
Do not place warm or hot food into the fridge or freezer – allow the food to cool first.
Keep air circulating around the fridge or freezer, particularly around the condenser coils at the back. Clear the condensers of dust regularly as dust can reduce efficiency by up to 25%.
Start saving your old containers. I use margarine/butter containers, small milk cartons, yoghurt pots and ice-cube trays (preferably silicon as they ‘pop’ out easier). I have sets of Tupperware and plastic containers picked up from bootsales and when discounted in stores. You can buy foil or plastic containers but consider how you are going to cook or reheat the food. If you are planning to use a microwave, you obviously will not want to freeze the food in foil containers.
Always remember to label and date items you are placing in the fridge or freezer, and ideally, plan when you are going to use them. You really don’t want to have bits and pieces of food in your freezer longer than a few months.
Herbs & Spices
If you love cooking, you probably buy fresh herbs. These are great if you can grow in your own pots or garden, but if you are buying these fresh from the supermarket, you may be paying a premium. If you grow your own and have a surplus, you can freeze herbs. Some herbs go limp when frozen but will still maintain their flavour. Herbs that freeze well are basil, oregano
, sage, dill, rosemary, mint, lemongrass, chives, tarragon, and thyme. I also freeze fresh chillies, garlic and ginger.
If you have fresh herbs that need using up, you can mix with some olive oil and save in ice cube trays to freeze. You can make your own flavoured oils by adding add herbs as well as chillies, garlic, ginger, to olive oil and store in glass bottles or jars. Alternatively, mix the fresh herbs with butter. You can pop this into ice-cube trays or form the butter into a sausage. Cut into discs and freeze - these can be used to add to baked fish or again when you are sautéing.
Bread can be frozen, and slices removed ready to toast or defrost for sandwiches. Stale or left-over bread can be turned into breadcrumbs or think about puddings such as summer pudding, bread and butter pudding. To freeze breadcrumbs, simply spread out on a baking tray to avoid clumping, freeze for 1 hour before placing into a container or freezer bag.
French sticks or speciality breads and bread rolls can go stale very quickly. Revitalise with a few splashes of water and bake in the oven for 2-3 minutes.
Tortilla Wraps can be frozen with a sheet of parchment between each wrap. When ready to eat, defrost them for 30 seconds in the oven or microwave before filling them.
Pastries such as croissants, Danishes etc, can all freeze well. Just allow to defrost naturally for Danishes or place in the oven to back for croissants.
Dairy & Eggs
Most low-fat dairy won’t freeze as well as you need at least 40-50% fat content to stop it going watery. A lot of dairy produce will freeze, including cream but there are ways of doing it.
Milk that needs using up can be frozen or why not make something. Rice Pudding, custards, white sauce or cheese sauce - anything you use regularly can be made and frozen.
Butter can be frozen, but it also lasts quite a while in the fridge. If you are going to freeze butter, wrap well in foil and place in a freezer bag. See my tips on herbs to create your own herb butters.
This is an ideal tip for the leftover cheeses, especially those we don’t buy very often, such as blue cheese. You can freeze most hard cheese or soft cheese such as camembert or brie can be frozen in a large chunk, wrapped in foil and then bagged or you can grate them, and as above, to avoid clumping, place on a tray and freeze before placing into a container or freezer bag or This is also ideal for parmesan as it lasts forever and avoids the smelly fridge scenario. If you have left-over cheese that needs using, spend an hour baking – quiche, soups, frittatas, savoury muffins and more. Cream cheese, if full fat can be frozen. Cottage cheese separates and becomes runny when frozen.
Cream can be frozen, but it must be at least 40-50% fat otherwise it can split. Clotted cream also freezes really well. Allow room for the cream/milk to expand when freezing.
Eggs before you start thinking about freezing eggs, consider making things you can freeze instead. I love savoury muffins – literally like mini frittatas, where you use up any leftovers, add some cheese and your beaten eggs and pop into your cupcake tray. These can be reheated from frozen making a great snack, lunch or even breakfast. Quiche is also great for using up eggs and other leftovers. Freeze cooked or uncooked.
Some recipes ask only for the egg yolk to be used - when this happens, I pop the egg white into freezer bags and label how many egg whites it contains, I then use these to make meringues. You can also freeze whole eggs, but they must be broken/beaten before freezing as they will expand and burst otherwise. I freeze in batches of 3 eggs ready to add to a cake, quiche or scrambled egg. You cannot freeze hard-boiled eggs, but these keep for up to a week in the fridge anyway so why would you want to?
Custard, whether you make your own or buy ready-made, you often have half a jug left. Pour these into lollipop moulds to transform into ice lollies for the children - they are really yummy.
You can freeze most vegetables. Most vegetables can simply be chop and place straight into a freezer bag, though some vegetables benefit from being blanched in boiling water for 1-2 minutes before drying and adding to a freezer bag. Think about the frozen items clumping or freezing together – if in doubt, adopt the baking tray method of freezing by spreading the items on the baking tray, freezing for 1 hour and then bagging once frozen. Remember you can also use the left-over vegetables by making a delicious soup or casserole or favourite recipe, and then place in the freezer as a nutritious home-made ready meal. I freeze all veg - chopped onions, peppers, diced root veg - I then just pull out handfuls when I need them to add to a recipe. Things that don’t freeze well are obvious really – salad items, cucumber.
Mashed Potato can be frozen. Why not freeze it in little portion sizes? Ideal to reheat when in a hurry or to use as a topping. Use as a topping for meals such as shepherd’s pie, make into cheese and onion pasties, potato croquettes, fish cakes, bubble and squeak
Roast Potatoes – you can prepare roast potatoes in advance, par boil as usual, coat in some fat and then allow to cool before freezing. These are then ready to pull from the freezer ready to roast. Boiled potatoes and jacket potatoes do not freeze well.
Celeriac – as a low carber, I use celeriac a lot, for roast potatoes, chips, dauphinoise and mash. I cut my celeriac into potato size chunks ready to roast and freeze what I do not need. When I want to roast these, I pull them out of the freezer and add to the hot fat from frozen.
Suede can be cut into chunks and place in the freezer until needed. Mix with some carrot chunks ready to make your own carrot and swede mash. Swede also makes great low carb chips – just cut into chips and coat with some olive oil and herbs, before baking in the oven or use an air fryer.
Green Leaves/cabbage/Spinach all freeze well. I simply shred/slice and pop into a freezer bag. I love using swiss chard or spinach in curries or casseroles (added at the end of the cook) to add colour and extra nutrients.
Cooked Vegetables You can turn these into a quick soup or make a more traditional bubble and squeak. Leftover cooked potatoes can be turned into a multitude of meals such as homity pie, pasties, potato croquettes, fish cakes.
Asparagus we are approaching asparagus season as I write this. Trim the asparagus before blanching in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, pat dry and freeze.
Aubergine/Courgette/Marrow can be chopped/diced and frozen. To avoid them the chunks clumping together, place on the baking tray and freeze for 1 hour before transferring to a freezer bag. If you prefer to use aubergine or courgette in slices (in moussaka or lasagne for example), cut them into thick slices (too thin and they will just turn to mush when defrosted), blanch for 1 minute in boiling water. Pat dry and freeze – again you may need to use the baking tray principle until frozen to avoid them sticking together.
Onion sliced or diced, can be frozen in a freezer bag and added to dishes when needed. Also, a great way to use up onions that are starting to turn.
Peppers Chop and place in a freezer bag until needed. They are great to add to dishes such as Spag Bol, quiches, frittatas or fajitas.
Sweet Potato can be chopped into usable chunks ready to add to casseroles, soups or to create a quick mash. I coat with lemon juice to prevent discolouration, before placing in a freezer bag to freeze.
Salad leaves cannot be frozen, but we can save on wastage. If you cannot use up the next day maybe for packed lunch. Put it into soups, curries or casseroles after all it is veg. To help preserve your salad bags, add a few sheets of kitchen towel into the bag to help keep the moisture away.
Don’t waste fruit - you can freeze fruits such as banana, kiwi, berries, mango, melon etc. Perfect to use in smoothies or a quick dessert. Apples, pears, plums, rhubarb can be frozen or made into delicious puddings, especially fruit stewed fruit or delicious crumbles.
Apples are great in the freezer, especially cooking apples. They are best blanched in boiling water with some lemon juice as this prevents them from turning brown. Bag them up in portion sizes ready to create a pie, stewed apple or crumble. You can also make stewed apple and keep in sterilised jars in the fridge for short periods or freeze. Apples are also great as a base to make your own chutney (as are green tomatoes) so dig out your Grannies recipe and make some chutney.
Rhubarb should be frozen in slices or in 4-5cm sticks, ready to use. Again, blanch in boiled water for a few minutes before drying and freezing in your freezer bags.
Bananas can be wasted as many people don’t want to use them once they start turning brown. You can buy bags to store them in which extend their life (Lakeland have these), or you can think of great ways of using them up before they turn. Frozen banana can also be used to make banana cake., make a dessert, or added to a smoothie
Lemon’s & Limes Sometimes recipes ask you for zest and juice of half a lemon. You can squeeze the lemon juice from the remaining half and place in ice-cube trays until needed. I also cut lemons into thick wedges and uses them in drinks – especially good in sparking water or gin and tonic!
Ripe Tomatoes Never throw these away! I am a big fan of roasting tomatoes in garlic and herbs - I then use this as a base for a pasta sauce, topping for pizza or add to a casserole or any dish that uses tomatoes. You can place the roasted tomatoes in a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge for up to one week. You can also dice tomatoes and freeze; this can be used in recipes instead of tinned tomatoes
Berries (such as blueberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries etc). My freezer is always well stocked with a variety of fruit berries ready for smoothies or delicious desserts. I also use frozen raspberries for breakfast with some natural yoghurt and a handful of nuts. To freeze your own berries, place on a baking tray so they are not touching each other and freeze. Once frozen, you can then scoop them up and place in a freezer bag or container.
Ripe avocados can have the flesh scooped and mixed with a touch of lemon or lime juice before being frozen. Once defrosted, use to make tasty dips, smoothies, chocolate mousse and cakes.
Meat & Fish
Cooked Joints of Meat/Roast Chicken can be turned into curry, stir-fry, pies, casseroles, soups or pasties. There really are endless ways to use up meat and poultry so never throw this away. If you have any left-over meat from a roast (meat or chicken), you can freeze it. I slice beef and freeze in slices. When I need them, I either let them defrost and use in sandwiches or if I want a quick meal, add a few slices into a baking tray, coat with some stock or gravy and cook for 15-20 minutes. Gammon/ham can be sliced or diced. I use diced gammon/ham to add to quiches, frittatas or other dishes instead of lardons. Also good for pasta dishes including carbonara.
Raw Meat - If you are aware of the use-by dates, you should be able to transfer the uncooked meat into the freezer if you know you won’t use it in time. Always follow the correct health and safety advice when handling and freezing meat and poultry. Defrost thoroughly before cooking.
Bone Broth – Use meat bones or chicken carcass to make you own stock. Add vegetables and herbs to suit and leave to cook on a low heat or in a slow cooker. Chicken can be up to 24 hours on low in a slow cooker (2-3 hours on a hob) and meat bones up to 48 hours in a slow cooker on low (4-6 hours on a hob). Drain and freeze in freezer bags or silicone ice cube tray.
Bacon If you have a couple of rashers left after a cooked breakfast do not just put them to the back of the fridge. Make a quiche with a pastry case you have stored in your freezer. You could also use it up in an omelette or frittata or add chopped bits to chicken casserole or soup. I buy cooking bacon instead of lardons- much cheaper and you can get really lovely chunky pieces from these. These freeze well, so you can grab a handful when needed. (Top tip, if you want to freeze them, place on a baking sheet first so they are not touching, place in the freezer. Once frozen, pop into a bag).
Fish freezes really well, best if it is in the raw state, but you can freeze fish meals such as fish pie, fish stew etc.
Pulses are great and you can store them in their dried form for months. I have lots of glass Kilner jars around my kitchen and pantry filled with a variety of pulses. However, cooking them can be a bit of a faff. You can, of course, buy tinned, but this does cost more. Instead, why not bulk cook and then freeze, ready to add to your favourite recipe.
Curry, Casseroles or Pasta Sauces can be frozen ready to be transformed into a new dish later on.
Pesto, Pastes and Purees place any leftovers in silicon ice-cube trays. These are easy to pop out portion sized dollops and avoids you finding mouldy jars in the back of your fridge.
Wine If you have any wine left in the bottom of a bottle, why not freeze into small portions ready to add to casseroles or pasta sauces.
Coconut Milk I love curries but find a whole can of coconut milk is not only fattening but also too rich to add to one dish. Instead I freeze in large ice-cube trays and just pop out a couple of cubes as and when needed.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and even seeds can be frozen, but I tend to only buy what I need and store these in airtight jars.
Cakes. Do not throw away stale sponge cake. Use to make a trifle (or freeze down to use later) or make a simple pudding by adding fruit, custard or yoghurt. You can also use ginger cake for this great with mandarin oranges. Nigella has a great recipe for gingerbread stuffing - basically onion, apple and bacon mixed with crumbled ginger cake, simple but yummy.
If you are freezing a decorated cake or gateau, freeze unwrapped until frozen before placing into a freezer bag or container to avoid damaging the decoration. You will find most professional cake decorators freeze their cakes in advance, defrosting at room temperature before decorating them. Cakes made with jam (like a Victoria sponge) will still taste good but the jam will become a bit watery when defrosted and absorb into the cake, so you may need to refill.
You can also freeze uncooked sponge mix, scones, biscuits and pastry dishes. I freeze in their liners, baking tray or muffin cases and once frozen bag them up. Scones are great as you can pop them in the oven, and they are ready in 15-20 minutes. I do this at Christmas with mince pies – if someone pops round, I can have freshly baked mince pies within 20 minutes.
Rich, dark fruit cakes can keep for a long time, especially when iced, but you can also freeze them, this is especially good for lighter fruit cakes or apple cakes. Just defrost at room temperature.
Biscuits If plain biscuits have gone soft you can revive them by placing in hot oven for a few minutes and cooling on a rack this will crisp them up, you can also use up the broken bits to make a base for a cheesecake. To prevent biscuits going soft in a tin place a few cubes of sugar in with them. Again, as stated in the cake section, you can also freeze uncooked biscuit dough ready to bake when needed.
Pastry is cheap and easy to make and often we make more than we need. Why not double up your batch of homemade pastry and place the leftovers in the freezer for another day? Alternatively, think of some extra ways to use up the pastry – you could make mini tarts or pies and place them in the freezer ready as delicious nibbles for an impromptu drinks party, or ready to fill your packed lunch. I have wonderful memories as a child of playing with pastry and creating jam tarts or smiley faces using currants as eyes.
Crisps A squashed packed of crisps or left-over tortilla crisps? Use them for a crispy topping on a savoury dish or even crushed to make a crispy coating for your homemade fish fingers.
Ground Coffee can be frozen if necessary. Don’t throw away used coffee grounds - they are a natural compost for your garden. They also keep slugs off plants just form a ring of then grounds around the plant and slugs will not go across.
Cereal - Left-over cereal in the bottom of pack but not enough to fill a bowl? Children love to mix and match so place in a large container and mix up. You can also use leftover cereal in cakes, crumbles (as a topping) or toppings for savoury dishes (cornflakes work brilliantly for this).
Lemonade gone flat? Freeze in ice-lolly moulds. Lemonade is also great to use as plant food for fresh cut flowers or houseplants.
Flat cola? you can place in ice-lolly moulds and freeze. Cola is also a very powerful cleaner - great for cleaning the toilet - some say it is even powerful enough to clean engines!
Wine Never throw wine away - save it for cooking as it adds an amazing flavour. You can also freeze wine - I use silicon ice-cube moulds as I can then pop a cube or three into a dish (one cube is roughly 1 tablespoon).
Bake one bake one free
If you are baking or being creative in the kitchen, why not double up and make more? You can then freeze one, saving you time, energy and money. This is great for everyone, whether you are a single person or a family of four, as long as you have freezer space, you can save time and money.
· When baking with pastry, I always double up the recipes and place one uncooked pie or pastry tarts in the freezer. Christmas is a great time to get ahead with a whole host of savoury and sweet pastry delights, making the most of your puff, filo and standard pastry.
· Don’t just freeze baking items. You can also freeze meals, so learn to double up recipes to create your own ready meals. Remember to label and date and also state the portion size. Meat, fish, poultry and vegetarian meals can all be frozen, though be aware of the correct reheating and defrosting procedures with meat, poultry and fish.
· Make your own pizza bases and freeze them uncooked, with parchment between each layer. When ready to make your pizza, simply remove from the freezer, top with your tomato puree and chosen toppings and cook as normal.