Is your freezer a money-guzzling storage facility for mystery meats? A stopping off point for leftovers destined for the garbage as soon as they become unrecognizable? It's time to learn how to get more out of that money-stretching, time-saving household appliance.
Set it to the coldest setting so you maintain a constant temperature of zero degrees F or lower to ensure food will be safe to eat. The warmest place in the freezer is at the bottom and in the door; the coldest is at the rear center.
A full freezer uses less electricity. What's already frozen helps keep the temperature low. When food inventory is low, pack it full by adding containers of water to fit the empty spaces.
THE RIGHT WRAP
Wrap food tightly to prevent moisture loss that causes food to become dry and discolored. Wrap it again, this time in a thicker layer of foil, plastic or a zip-close freezer bag. The second wrap keeps out odors. Wrap individual portions separately so they freeze more quickly and can be defrosted individually.
Do not store meat in the supermarket packaging. Wrap each piece securely in plastic wrap, and then place the meat inside a large freezer bag. Freeze the items in a single layer. Once frozen, you can fold the bag over to save space. If you wrap meat with freezer paper, place the package upside down (seam up). This prevents fluids from leaking until the meat is frozen completely.
DO IT AHEAD
When you have time, brown several pounds of ground beef. Spread on a cookie sheet, and freeze. Transfer to airtight freezer containers, one pound per container. On busy days, pull out a container, and add to any recipe that uses browned ground beef.
Separate individual hamburger patties with squares of wax paper or parchment and then in a stack in a freezer bag. Now you can remove the exact number of burgers you need, guaranteeing no waste. You can do this with tortillas, too.
Keep bread fresh several months by freezing. First, wrap tightly in foil. Next, slip the loaf into a plastic zip-close bag. To reheat, take the foil wrapped loaf from the bag and place in a 450-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully remove the foil, and return the bread to the oven for a few minutes to crisp the crust.
Freezing your cooked meals, chopped herbs or raw meat to preserve it for longer doesn't mean it'll stay good forever, so make sure you date it before you freeze it. Ground meats shouldn't be stored for longer than four months; poultry, beef, pork and lamb will last for up to a year; soups will be good for two to three months; and other cooked meals should be consumed within three months.
Bagels can go from freezer to toaster without thawing. Slice and wrap each bagel in plastic, slipping the wrap between the two halves first and then around. Place them in a freezer bag.
Roll up the bacon in tight coils, each with two or three slices. Put the coils in a zip-close bag, and place the bag flat in the freezer so the coils are not touching. Once frozen, move the bag to a more compact space. Now you can remove and thaw one or more coils at a time.
To freeze cookie dough, divide it into balls, and arrange the balls on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment. Once frozen, place them in a big zip-close bag or airtight container. Remove as many as you need to bake without defrosting.
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com , "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."
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