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Tips from Chef Karen Gill: Make the most of the space in your freezer

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- We're helping you prepare the right kind of food -- to save for later. Chef Karen Gill with "Down to Earth Chef" joined the Studio A team with tips on making the most of the space in your freezer.

Preparing Meals for the Freezer

Tips, Tips and More Tips

  • Think about preparing meals that store well in the freezer. Obvious choices are soups, stews, casseroles, lasagnas, enchiladas, muffins, etc. Also consider preparing ingredients that make meal prep faster, like grilled chicken breasts, smoothie packets, biscuits, hash browns, cut vegetables.
  • Maintain freezer temp at 0°F. Rising temperatures can affect the quality of frozen foods, including causing freezer burn.
  • Grocery packaging, say for meats, are safe for most foods frozen for a couple of months, but for best quality, rewrap food, using plastic wrap, foil or plastic bags.
  • Never freeze hot food. Freeze food as soon as it is cooled to room temperature. To speed up process, refrigerate in shallow containers uncovered or use enclosed ice blocks for items in a pot, like soups or stew.

Label all foods with recipe name and date, at minimum. Consider adding number of servings, thawing and reheating directions.

Cover food with plastic wrap or parchment piece before putting on lid or foil cover.

Seal containers with as little air as possible unless freezing liquid or semi-liquid foods that expand when frozen. Leave a 1 1/2-inch space below the rim to allow for expansion with items like broth, soup and stew.

  • Store food in 1-gallon freezer bags; press out all the air and seal tightly so bags can be stacked on top of each other.
  • Do not freeze tomato-based or other acidic foods in aluminum baking pans, or cover them with aluminum foil.

For baking casseroles, enchiladas, pot pies, lasganas, etc from frozen: Either thaw them completely before baking, or bake, covered in foil, at a lower temperature for 30-45 minutes before increasing to the regular temperature for the normal cooking time.

Foods That Do Not Freeze Well

Lettuce, cucumbers, bean sprouts, and raw potatoes will turn mushy when thawed.

Potatoes can be more mushy when frozen in a liquid, like soup broth. Red potatoes also become more mushy than russets or yukon golds. Do not freeze raw potatoes. Even prepping for hash browns, blanch shredded potatoes first, cool, dry and then freeze.

Hard boiled eggs whites will get rubbery and leaky. Cooked yolks do freeze ok.

Tofu, while not bad, will change texture. It will become slightly yellow, spongy and crumbly. Not not freeze tofu if you want to use it in a creamy preparation.

Egg based sauces like mayonnaise will separate and curdle when thawed.

Some dairy products such as cream, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream and cottage cheese can become watery when thawed. Dairy added to one dish meals tend to do very well from frozen. Milk, while freezable, never gets back to the creamy quality it once had

What Should I Make?

Breakfast

Biscuit or Croissant Sandwiches:  Layer cooked sausage, scrambled egg, slice of cheese and bread. Wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze. When ready to eat, microwave or put in toaster oven.

Smoothie Bags: Cut fruit pieces, like banana, apple, berries. Chopped greens like kale, spinach or chard. Scoops of protein powder, ground flax or chia seeds. Small chunk of frozen juice concentrate or a bit of sweetener. Place in sandwich sized, zip-top baggie. Freeze. When ready to make smoothie, put contents in blender, add one cup water to start and blend. Add more water to create desired consistency.

Quick Breads, Sliced and Package Individually, Individual Muffins

Lunches

Bread Pockets, Soups, Divided Containers to hold a whole meal: meat, veg, starch

Dinners

Enchiladas

Lasagna or Other Noodle Dishes, Noodle or Rice Based Casseroles

Stews

Breaded Meats

Vegetarian Lentil and Bean Dishes

Slow Cooker

Use the slow cooker to make large quantities and divide into smaller portions to freeze. Shredded meats for tacos or sandwiches

Roasts, sliced and stored in gravy/sauce

Chili, Broths

Marinara & Pizza Sauces, Moles

Chipotle Chicken Tinga Tacos with Tomatillo Sauce        Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs (you can use bone-in, if desired)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • One 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 chipotle peppers from can plus 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt to taste
  • Warm corn tortillas, tomatillo salsa, fresh Mexican cheese, and lime wedges for serving

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chicken thighs (in bunches if needed to avoid crowding)  and cook until well browned, about 6 minutes. Flip thighs and continue to cook until other side is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate, leaving fat in pan, and set aside.
  2. Add onions and garlic to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have browned around the edges, about 5 minutes.  Add oregano and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, chipotle, and adobo sauce and stir to combine. Heat about 5 minutes, then turn off stove.
  3. Transfer sauce to a blender and puree until smooth. Pour sauce back into pan, stir in chicken stock and bay leaf, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Nestle chicken thighs in sauce, reduce to a simmer, and cook until meat registers 165°F in thickest part of thigh on an instant-read thermometer, about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Transfer chicken to a plate and let sit until cool enough to handle. Remove sauce from heat and discard bay leaf.
  5. Pull chicken meat into strips or shred with two forks. Stir chicken into sauce and cook over medium heat until warmed through, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt to taste.
  6. Spoon chicken into warm tortillas and top with tomatillo salsa and cheese. Serve with lime wedges.

FREEZER NOTES: Double the batch and freeze half. Once chicken and tomatillo sauce are cooled to room temp, place in zip-top style bags. Remove air from bags, while flattening the food inside bag. Label, freeze and store for up to 3 months.

Tomatillo Sauce                                                                     Makes about 2.5 cups

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, sliced (pole to pole)
  • pinches of salt
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked and chopped
  • 2 serrano peppers, seeded and diced

Warm oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and when shimmering, add onion. Add a pinch of salt & sugar and cook onions until beginning to caramelize, about 7-10 minutes. Add tomatillos and serrano peppers and saute, about 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until tomatillos are soft, about 15 minutes. If mixture seems dry, add 1/3 cup water, stir and simmer. Season with more salt, if needed.

Smashed Cauliflower                                                                        Serves 4-6

  • 1 large cauliflower head, stem and leaves removed, washed
  • 3 cups chicken broth or water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • (or skip the butter through parm and use about 4oz of cream cheese)
  • any dried herbs or seasonings as desired (I love using Penzy's Brady St. Sprinkle)
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Place cauliflower in a medium soup pot. Add stock or water, cover and place pot over high heat. When liquid boils, reduce heat to simmer and cook covered, 10 minutes or until tender. Drain off liquid. Rough mash the cauliflower. Add butter and the cheeses (or cream cheese) and continue mashing until the same consistency as desired for mashed potatoes. Add seasonings, salt & pepper, stir well and serve.

FREEZER NOTES: Double recipe and freeze half. Put into 2 cup plastic container. Cool to room temp. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap. Put container lid on and label food. Freeze and hold for up to 2 months.