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Baby, It's Cold Inside: Freezer Tips for Stockpiling Your Bounty, continued
How to Protectively Wrap Foods for the Freezer
The key to freezing foods properly is to keep any moisture or vapor in the freezer away from the food item. To accomplish this, the food must be wrapped or stored in an air-tight environment. This is especially important if the food item is going to be in the freezer for several months.
Snugly wrap the food item several times over in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Drop the wrapped food into a Ziploc® bag or any other storage bag with zipping capabiltes, or a freezer-proof plastic container with secure lid, such as Tupperware®.
With the ziplock-style plastic storage bag, squeeze the air out of the bag before sealing it. An easy way to accomplish this is to partially zip the bag closed. Lay the bag on the counter and with the palm of your hand, firmly push from the bottom to the top to force out the air before finalizing the zip. For bulkier items, fold the top of the ziplock bag over the food, smoothing your hand over the bag until it is flat without trapped air. To keep air from coming back in, finish zipping it closed while it is still folded over.
With aluminum foil, wrap the item securely, with no exposed edges or surfaces. Foil should be of the heavier, freezer variety. If regular-weight foil is used, plan on using the food within a short period of time.
When using heavy-duty Tupperware® or other plastic freezer containers, again, it is important to remove all the air in the container. "Burp" the container when putting on the lid to expel the last bit of air in the container. Then make sure the lid is properly secured. One corner that isn't locked down tightly will let in air and your food item will crystallize and freezer burn rapidly. If cracks develop in your container (this often happens if the plastic container, when frozen, should be knocked out of the freezer down to the floor), discard it. If the container you're using isn't intended for freezing foods, be cautious and use the food within a month.
You may be wondering, "How important, really, is all this precaution? It sounds a lot like overkill" Well, if the food item is going to be in the freezer for just a few days, you likely don't have to take such intense precautions. However, we all know that frozen food items have a quiet way of drifting to the furthest reaches of the freezer and may not be used for many months. If they are not wrapped protectively, you are taking a risky chance that the food won't be freezer-burned. While freezer-intended zipping storage bags cost more than the regular kind, they are thicker in composition and do a much better job protecting food when they're forgotten in the "deep Arctic region" of your freezer. It's your call... however, spending a few dimes more on freezer-proof storage bags are worth saving a more costly cut of meat. And, most plastic storage bags, when properly washed, can be used over and over again.
Freezing Eggs and Dairy Products
Most dairy products can be safely frozen. Their quality, however, will likely diminish depending on how long the storage period in the freezer is.
- To successfully freeze eggs, they MUST be removed from their shells. Truth is, they'll expand to the point of exploding if kept in their shells. For freezing just egg yolks, break and separate the eggs and add one tablespoon milk or water per egg and a dash of salt, or 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar or corn syrup per 1/4 cup egg yolks (approximately four egg yolks). Egg yolks require special treatment because the gelation property of yolk causes it to thicken or gel when frozen. If an egg yolk is frozen "as is," it will gradually become so hard (gelatinous), it will be difficult, if not impossible, to use when thawed.
If freezing whole eggs, simply scramble the eggs until just blended and pour into a freezer container, making sure it is air-tight. For egg whites, it is the same process as with whole eggs, but be sure that when separating the white from the yolk that no yolk gets into the egg white. To thaw, let it slowly defrost in the refrigerator or run the container under cold water. Use frozen eggs for Mexican or Mediterranean egg dishes, Asian soups, scrambled eggs, French toast, pancakes, or waffles. Thawed frozen eggs should only be used in dishes that are cooked thoroughly.
- Be sure to label the container with the quantity of eggs, the date, and in the case of yolks, whether salt or sugar was used. Hard-boiled eggs become tough and watery, so never freeze them.
Milk can be safely stored in the freezer for four weeks, or one month. However, you must allow room for expansion in the milk container. Pour a small amount of milk out and store it separately in the refrigerator. When you need to use the frozen milk, thaw it in the refrigerator. While other milk products (buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt) will break down and separate when frozen, they are are suitable for baking.
You can freeze high-quality butter for six to nine months and margarine for 12 months in their original coated-paper packages. Do not, however, freeze whipped butter or margarine.
Cream cheese, dry cottage cheese, and farmer's cheese keep in the freezer for three months. Frozen creamed cottage cheese breaks down and becomes mushy. You can use it in dishes by blending it in the blender. Cream cheese will be crumbly after thawing. Use it in spreads and dips.
Freeze light and heavy cream, evaporated milk, and half-and-half for up to two months. However, heavy cream may not whip after thawing. Remove the original wrappings or can and place the dairy product in plastic freezer containers or glass jars. Leave one-inch headspace to accommodate for expansion. Thaw in the refrigerator and use for cooking.
You can freeze whipped cream, for up to one month, in dollops or mounds. Freeze the dollops until they're firm on a cookie sheet, then place them all in a freezer container. Create one layer, cover it with waxed paper, and place a second layer on top. Protectively seal the whipped cream dollops in airtight wrap before freezing. When you need them for a dessert, no pre-thawing is necessary. Simply place them on top of the dessert for 10-15 minutes before serving and they'll quickly thaw.
Your freezer is one of the best appliances you own that helps you be thrifty. Now that you're armed with the knowledge on how to work with it rather than against it, in safely storing your food "sale conquests" from your forays into the supermarket jungle, charge forth with confidence!
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