My friendly freezer

Tomato sauce with grilled peppers and Dana Jacobi's freezer fudge brownies.

Brownies 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Brownies 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A few years ago my husband opened the freezer and was hit by a flying frozen object. His half-joking comment, “Our freezer is becoming an expensive waste bin,” made me realize that it was time to manage the freezer better.
I didn’t want it to be a big undertaking, so I started gradually. First I made a list in my computer of the items I knew were in the freezer and organized it by categories like vegetables, meat, bread and desserts. From then on, whenever I put anything in the freezer, I labeled and dated it both on its package and in my list, and of course, deleted the item from my list when we used it.
Over time, my list evolved. Soon I found it useful to add each item’s approximate location so that I could find it easily without taking out too many frozen items. Later I included notes on how I thawed and reheated certain foods.
My freezer list turned out to be a pleasant project and is a work in progress. I enjoy using it to help plan meals and shopping. I plan to add an approximate timetable for using different items. For storage times and other technical advice, I consult the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service at–Sheets/Focus–On–Fr eezing/index.asp.
I use the freezer to store certain staples, to save time by preparing long-cooking foods in large batches and to store cooked or baked foods when I have too much.
What basic foods to store in the freezer is a matter of personal preference. I freeze walnuts, as they easily go rancid otherwise, and other nuts, as well as whole-wheat flour, when I have room. When I shop at a market far from my home, I stock up on special items like edamame (green soy beans) and keep them in the freezer.
Long-cooking meat and chicken stocks are obvious choices to cook and freeze, as are sauces. When our vegetable garden surprised us with an abundance of tomatoes, I used the bounty to make and freeze red and yellow tomato sauces. They added the wonderful flavor of sun-ripened tomatoes to cooked vegetables and pasta, fish and chicken dishes.
I cook long-cooking grains and dried beans in generous amounts and freeze them. There’s often rice pilaf in my freezer, too. It’s a favorite of mine to prepare for special dinners, and we sometimes end up with extra.
When I bake bread, cake or cookies, I freeze part of the batch. The same is true of baked goods that I buy. Generally I slice breads and cakes so I can remove a few slices at a time and thaw or heat them quickly.
My friend Dana Jacobi cooks dishes in order to freeze them. In her new book, Cook & Freeze, Jacobi points out that having cooked main courses in the freezer is a great time-saver. When work deadlines leave no time for cooking, “I eat very well without ordering budget-busting takeout or buying frozen entrees.”
She notes that some foods do not freeze well.
The list includes eggs, mayonnaise, cured meats and produce items with a high water content, such as strawberries, tomatoes, summer squash, eggplant, mushrooms and celery. Sometimes you can work around this, for example, by cooking mushrooms thoroughly until most of their moisture evaporates.
Pot roast, noodle casseroles and spaghetti sauce are among her favorites to cook and freeze; so are soups, which freeze well and defrost quickly, especially when stored in single or double portions.
Jacobi emphasizes the importance of proper packaging. Food must be sealed airtight to prevent freezer burn, which makes food “dry and off-tasting.”
She considers heavy-duty freezer bags with a zipper seal indispensable for storing soups, sauces and stews, as well as individually wrapped baked goods. Doing so saves space in small freezers. To efficiently freeze a dish like chili, Jacobi recommends ladling the cooled chili into freezer bags and refrigerating it, and later freezing it flat on a lined baking sheet so the bags hold their shape and are easy to store. When frozen, the bags can be stacked.
My friend, the late chef Michael Roberts, author of Fresh from the Freezer, froze uncooked fish and chicken in marinades so they would gain flavor. He recommended freezing roasted peppers, as their flavor and texture do not suffer when frozen, and peeled seeded chopped tomatoes. He gave a good reason for freezing chocolate truffles: “Hide the truffles in the freezer so you don’t eat them all at once.”
Make this sauce now, while tomatoes and peppers are in season, and freeze some for later in one- or two-cup portions. Either freeze the finished tomato-pepper sauce or keep the tomato sauce and the grilled peppers in separate containers. If you’d like to make the tomato sauce in two stages, you can freeze the peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes and continue making the sauce when it’s convenient.
1 large onion
1⁄4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
6 to 8 garlic cloves, minced
3.5 kg. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1 large sprig fresh or 2 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 sweet peppers, any color
Heat oil in a heavy stew pan. Add onion and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add garlic and cook for 1⁄2 minute. Add tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cook uncovered over high heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes, and then over medium heat for 45 minutes or until thick.
Discard thyme sprig and bay leaf. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Meanwhile, broil peppers, turning every 5 minutes, until their skins are blistered and charred, for a total of about 20 minutes. Transfer peppers to bowl and cover; or put in a plastic bag and close bag. Let stand for 10 minutes. Peel peppers with the aid of a paring knife. Do not rinse, as this would remove flavor. Halve peppers; discard seeds and ribs. You can freeze peppers separately to add to sauce later.
To finish sauce, cut peppers in strips or dice, add to sauce and simmer for about 5 minutes to blend flavors. Taste sauce again and adjust seasoning.
Makes 8 or 9 cups.
When you take these brownies from the oven, a cracked top and crusty sides surround their soft fudge center. After freezing, these ultra chocolate brownies become more evenly creamy and chewy. Eat them slightly thawed, about 15 minutes out of the freezer.
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. canola oil
140 gr. bittersweet chocolate (70%-72% cacao), chopped
11⁄4 cups all-purpose flour plus 1 Tbsp.
1 tsp. baking powder
1⁄4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 175º. Coat a 20-cm. x 20-cm. baking pan with butter or nonstick spray and flour lightly.
In a small bowl, combine butter, oil and chocolate and melt in microwave for 1 minute at 50 percent power or over hot water. Cool to room temperature.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together onto wax paper.
In a mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer on medium speed, beat eggs lightly. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until thick, 3 minutes. Blend in chocolate mixture. Sprinkle dry ingredients over the wet and use a rubber spatula to blend just until batter is mixed. Spread batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle walnuts over the top.
Bake for 25 minutes or until top is hard and shiny and a knife inserted into the center is almost clean. Cool brownies in pan for 4 hours. Unmold and store, wrapped in foil, overnight and ideally for 24 hours, before cutting.
For serving now: Cut as many brownies as you will serve, keeping the rest wrapped in foil at room temperature for up to 5 days.
To freeze: Cut the cooled brownies into 4 quarters.
Wrap each quarter in plastic freezer wrap, then heavy-duty foil, and freeze for up to 6 weeks.
To defrost and serve: Unwrap the quarters and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Cut each section into 4 pieces and serve while still cold.
Makes 16 brownies.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning cookbook Classic Cooking Techniques.