A chest freezer is a great way to help save time and money on food. If you have frozen meals ready to go, you’re less likely to order in or go out to eat. Freezing food can also help you cut down on wasted food. I love the idea of doing elaborate days of chopping and cooking and baking and freezing to have meals in the freezer for the full month. The reality, however, is that I don’t have the patience, time, or space in my freezer for this kind of thing (though we did do this before each of our babies was born and it was a lifesaver). In July, we fill our freezer with salmon from dipnetting. In Alaska, freezer sizes are dependent upon the type of animal you plan to freeze. We have a basic fish freezer and not a moose freezer, so after dipnetting, there isn’t a lot of space left. Instead of full meals, I’ve started freezing shortcuts. Here’s what’s currently in my freezer:
- Fish – Frozen salmon fillets which we eat weekly as well as packs of smoked salmon take up the majority of our freezer. We do have a few halibut fillets left from a halibut excursion Mr. T went on with his dad last year.
- Turkey/Chicken Broth – Chicken broth is in a whole bunch of recipes we use and canned chicken broth can add up (soups sometimes call for 5 or 6 cans!). After Thanksgiving’s turkey, I make big batches of broth in the crock pot (turkey and chicken broth can be used interchangeably). A turkey can provide about 5-6 full crock pot batches of broth. All you have to do is throw in a piece of the carcass (break it up into the amount of batches you intend to make), a quarter of an onion, some celery, a few carrots, and some poultry seasoning and then fill it to the brim with water. I cook it on low overnight and then in the morning, I strain it, put it in tupperwares, label the amount and date, and freeze it. I make sure I have a variety of sizes to accommodate many different recipes. (I usually count 2 cups as one can.) If the turkey broth runs out at some point during the year, I pick up a $4.99 Costco chicken, we eat it for dinner with some veggies, and then I make more broth (Costco chickens can only make 2-3 batches).
- Broth Veggie Bag – Think making broth sounds like a waste of veggies? Nope. I have a plastic bag in my upstairs freezer door where I put celery, onions and carrots that are past their prime. You don’t want rotten veggies in your broth, but wilted and bruised is perfectly acceptable. If I know I’m about to make a batch of broth, I’ll also start throwing in the parts I cut off veggies (the tops of bell peppers, cilantro stems, etc.). The more you add, the richer the broth (though I find any homemade broth easily beats out store bought in richness of flavor). You really can’t mess up broth if you’re straining everything out anyway!
- Green Onions, Jalapenos – I used to buy green onions for one recipe, promise I would use the rest later, and then forget. Now, when I need green onions for a recipe, I buy a Costco pack of green onions, chop them all up and freeze them in tiny tupperwares. I make sure that I freeze some that are just the white part and some that are just the green part. Some recipes specify. I chop up and freeze jalapenos as well primarily because I hate chopping them. I have to get the rubber glove out, be careful what I touch, etc. So, I just buy a whole bunch, chop them all up, and then I’ve got chopped jalapenos when I need them.
- Rhubarb – We have an especially large amount of rhubarb this year because our plant died and we mooched rhubarb off of others, but we always make sure that we chop and freeze rhubarb before the end of summer so that we can make rhubarb cake, muffins, and pie all winter long. Mr. T makes a mean rhubarb pie.
- Enchilada Sauce – I’m a big fan of Mexican food. Enchilada sauce is so versatile. I make up big batches of this Mexican Enchilada Sauce from Food.com and freeze it. I use 4 cups as the measurement of “one can” of enchilada sauce, so I make sure I have some tupperwares of 4 cups, but I also have varying sizes because I like to throw a little bit in with some beans and onions as a taco filling. And throwing it into a crock pot with some tomato sauce and chicken and broth makes a great soup (everyone’s favorite around here). About an hour before you’re about to eat, throw in some rice, corn, and black beans. Serve with chips and avocados. Yum! My favorite actual enchiladas are Whole Foods’ Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas. It’s a vegetarian recipe! (PS – I use my frozen enchilada sauce instead of the green sauce the recipes uses… if that wasn’t obvious.)
- Cooked White Beans – One of the ways we save money on groceries is by not eating a lot of meat. Dry beans are cheap. But they’re annoying to cook. It takes all day and you usually have to rinse them and make sure there are no rocks mixed in with them. So, I do this all at one time. I cook a giant pot of white beans (we like the white because they don’t have a strong flavor by themselves, so they easily soak in the flavor of the recipe) and cook them in flat, ziploc freezer bags in 1-2 cup increments. If a recipe calls for meat, we often replace all or half of the meat with cooked white beans from the freezer.
- Vegetables About to Go Bad – Veggies that can be used for more than broth but are threatening to go bad, I freeze. When onions or bell pepper start to go bad, I chop them up and freeze them (you don’t even have to chop the bell pepper first – just be aware that thawed bell peppers aren’t crisp). When sweet potatoes start to go bad, I chop them, steam them, and freeze them.
- Random Edibles – We have other frozen stuff in our freezer as well: frozen meat (including a turkey for Thanksgiving… bought on sale and saved), corn, peas, green beans, shredded mozzarella cheese, shredded Parmesan cheese (these both freeze really well and because they are shredded, it’s easy to use them even when frozen), fresh ground whole wheat flour, bread (we make two loaves on Sunday and freeze one of them until about Wednesday when the first loaf runs out), ginger (best kitchen hack ever: freeze your ginger and then grate it when you need ginger. The frozen ginger grates really well and the peel stays on one side of the grater while the ginger goes into the other side. It’s a miracle!), hashed browns (not usual… it was a treat!), and frozen berries for our oatmeal.
What’s in your freezer? How do you use it to save money?