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Baby, It's Cold Inside! Freezer Tips for Stockpiling Your Food Bounty, continued
Fresh vegetables should be blanched before being frozen. This is a pre-treatment that will preserve their natural flavors and appearance.
When you blanch, you briefly heat vegetables in boiling water or steam to inactivate naturally-occurring enzymes in the plant. These enzymes cause undesirable changes during frozen storage. These changes include faster nutrient loss, vegetable toughening, flavor, and color loss. Additionally, the brief heating reduces the number of microorganisms on and in food and perks up the color of green vegetables. Blanching sufficiently wilts vegetables, like spinach and chard, so they pack better. Without blanching, the flavor in vegetables changes noticeably.
How to BlanchBlanching is an easy process and doesn't take too much time. To blanch in water, place water in a large kettle or vegetable blancher and bring it to a rolling boil. You need a gallon of water for a pound of vegetables. Clean and cut vegetables as needed. Place them in a wire basket or the perforated blancher—insert and immerse in boiling water.
Start timing as soon as you put the veggies in the water. The time required for properly blanching varies among vegetables. Click here for list of specific blanching times for vegetables.
Keep the kettle covered during blanching. If you have a steamer, you can use it for blanching, but it will usually take longer to adequately heat-treat the food. Nutrient losses from blanching are slightly less when you steam-blanch, but are relatively small in either case.
When blanching is completed, remove the vegetables and immediately put them in ice cold water. Chill the vegetables until they are completely cold, about the same amount of time as blanching. Drain them well and then package them for freezing. The blanching liquid can be cooled and saved in the freezer as vegetable stock.
You can also use your microwave oven to blanch vegetables, but blanching times are longer than when you use a kettle of water on the stove. You also have to work with only one or two cups of vegetables at a time, so the microwave is not as efficient to use if you are preparing a large quantity of vegetables for the freezer.
Foods That Don't Freeze WellMany foods will maintain most of their texture and flavor adequately when frozen for short periods of time.
If you're unsure of how well something will freeze, freeze a single serving when you prepare the dish for a regular family meal. This way, you will be able to check how well the item holds up to freezing and reheating.
Ideally, nothing should be kept in a freezer for longer than six months (breads can usually survive for up to a year, provided they are wrapped well to prevent freezer burn).
Foods that don't do well being frozen and defrosted include:
- Fruits & Vegetables with High Water Content – Many fruits and vegetables have a high water content and can not be frozen without losing their original quality or texture. If they are frozen, their delicate cell structure deteriorates, and when defrosted, they become a soggy mess. When wanting berries that are out of season for a pie, frozen is one of your few options (jarred and canned are also choices), but know that the berries will not be as tasty or pretty as they were pre-freezing. Click here to go to a recipe that uses dry ice when freezing strawberries.
- Bananas – These delectable fruits are from warm, tropical climates and dislike cold. They turn black and rather slimy when frozen. Although still edible, they will no longer be pretty, and their texture will have changed. If you must freeze bananas, they are best used in a smoothie or pudding.
- Cooked potatoes – While not inedible, cooked chunks of potatoes become watery and mushy and develop a gritty, crumbly texture when frozen. They also may darken. Mashed or twice-baked potatoes, on the other hand, do much better.
- Greasy Foods – These will become much greasier if frozen.
- Fried Foods – These tend to lose their crispness and become soggy.
- Cooked Organ Foods – I find that reheating any leftover cooked organ foods, like kidneys or liver—whether they were frozen or just refrigerated – is revolting. Now I know that many folks would not only agree, but would never put a bite in their mouths when it is freshly cooked, either. I love making and eating homemade steak and kidney pie or liver and onions, but on Day 2, the flavors of these organ foods have intensified so much that I can barely stomach it. Organ foods develop strong flavors over a short period of time that are distasteful to many people. If you aren't one of them, and don't mind the flavor after the initial meal, bravo! However, it is best, for most people, to prepare only that which will be eaten at one meal.
- Sauces & Gravies – Sauces and gravies that are thickened with flour or cornstarch often separate and break down when frozen. Modified starches that are used in commercial frozen foods are not generally available in retail stores. For best results, you should instead freeze the gravy stock unthickened and add the thickener when you reheat the stock. If you must freeze a thickened sauce or gravy and it becomes too thick when defrosted, you can thin with milk or broth. The texture will have altered, but it is is safe to eat.
- Chocolate – Chocolate that has been frozen becomes dry and develops a mottled, powdery finish. I've found, though, that chocolate meant for baking, like chocolate chips for cookies, or melting isn't affected enough to matter. Only chocolate that will be eaten uncooked, like candy bars or chocolate shavings, should stay away from the freezer. Chocolate brownies freeze fairly well if protectively wrapped, although their texture will be slightly altered. Dampening a frozen brownie with a small amount of water and popping it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds will defrost and soften it.
- Fresh or Semi-soft Cheese – While hard cheeses lose some texture, fresh or semi-soft cheese lose much more and are never creamy again. Never freeze brie, havart, mozzarella, goat, moz, feta, and other fresh or semi-soft cheeses like them.
These include watermelon, lettuce, citrus sections, cucumbers, watercress, berries, and tomatoes. While frozen tomatoes will not hold up in the freezer, they are still suitable for cooking, although they've been altered. Lettuce is reported to be the only food that is never sold cooked, canned, frozen, or processed ~ I've never conducted any research on this, but it sounds plausible. But it seems that there could be other foods that are never frozen, cooked, or processed... I'll keep my eyes open on this one. Because of its high water content (92 percent), frozen watermelon becomes a soggy mess when defrosted, but could be used in homemade fruit juices. If berries must be frozen, they should be used in pies or other baked goods that don't require a firm texture.
Aged hard cheeses, like cheddar, Gouda, or Swiss, on the other hand, fare much better in the freezer. Be sure that are protectively wrapped to offeset freezer burn and dehydration. You can also freeze processed cheese food products, in a loaf or in slices, for up to four months. Blue cheese can be frozen, but it becomes crumbly after thawing. Wrap the cheese well to prevent odors and to keep out moisture.
Be sure that any blocks of cheese you're freezing are less than a pound in weight. If necessary, cut a large block into several smaller blocks or grate it before freezing. Be aware that cheese may become mottled when defrosted. Any cheese that is frozen works best in baked dishes or melted for a sauce. Use all frozen cheese within three months. Before using any frozen cheese, thaw it the refrigerator. Never use the microwave to thaw it.
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