Make use of your Freezer
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.