Does your freezer look like this?

Do you wish it looked like this?

(Images above courtesy of Google Images; neither are my freezer, that is coming up!)

I think we’ve all had a moment when we’ve unearthed something from the depths of our freezer only to wonder not only when it was put there, but what in the world it was! As I was cleaning out my own freezer and ridding it of remnants of last summer’s ice cream bounty, I thought that perhaps it was time to talk about freezer organization here on Brown Eyed Baker. (I also thought it was time that I whip up a fresh batch of vanilla bean ice cream.) A freezer can be a lot like a vacant spare bedroom that usually meets one of two fates: (1) A nicely organized space that allows you to store things that you don’t use everyday but want to keep for when you need them; or (2) A space so disorganized and messy that you don’t want to open the door for fear of what may fall on your head (or toe), and if you can get the door open safely you probably can’t get very far into the mess to even figure out what’s in there.

The first part of this post will be dedicated to organizing your freezer – figuring out what you have in there and going over some food safety guidelines for proper food storage and how long different types of food can last safely in a freezer.

The second part of this post will help you re-stock your freezer with food that you can prepare and have ready to heat up at a moment’s notice. These will be particularly useful on nights when you get in late but don’t want to pick up fast food. Also, if you know someone who is expecting, a nice gesture may be to prepare one or two dishes that are ready to freeze so once the baby arrives the new mom can pull it out of the freezer, pop it in the oven, and have a warm, homemade dinner with no effort.

Okay, so after the great big purge that banished all of my old ice cream to the garbage disposal, this is what my freezer is now looking like:

Oops, I may have lied. There is ice cream in there. But, it’s only from November. And, I paid good money to have it packed in dry ice so I could drive it home from the Berkey Creamery at Penn State, where I made a pit stop on my back to Pittsburgh from delivering a cake order on campus.

But, I digress…

Freezer Storage – Safety and Guidelines

A freezer can be your best friend if you are aware of how to properly store your food. Coming from a baker, it can be the difference between needing to consume an entire cheesecake within two days and being able to eat one piece each day for two weeks. The latter is a much better option, no? Here are some general tips and guidelines for ensuring that your food is ready to be stored in the freezer:

♦  Make sure that your freezer is set to 0°F and no higher.

♦  Wrap food (especially meats) in plastic wrap and then in heavy-duty foil, or place in a freezer bag.

♦  If you open packages of vegetables and don’t use the entire package, reseal as tightly as possible.

♦  Freeze meat products before the “sell by” date on the package.

♦  Always label a package or container with the food and date it was stored.

♦  For things like cake, cookies, and brownies, I find it best to cut into regular serving sizes, and then wrap each individually and store in a freezer bag. They are then much easier to thaw one at a time. I defrost either at room temperature or in the refrigerator. For instance, if I want cheesecake for dessert, I may take it out of the freezer in the morning and stick it in the fridge. For cookies or brownies, I’ll take one out and leave it at room temperature for an hour or so. If I’m really craving one, I’ll throw it in the microwave ;-)

Below is a general guide to the length of time that you can expect different types of food to maintain their optimum quality while stored in the freezer:

Freezer Meals and Organization

Now that we have plan to keep all of the food fresh, let’s move on to some good ideas for what to actually freeze and how to get it ready for easy re-heating. Each recipe varies slightly, but for the most part casserole-type dishes can be assembled up until the point you would bake them, and then can be easily frozen. First up are some recipes that are easily made to freeze:

♦  Any type of casserole (baked mac ‘n cheese counts!)

♦  Enchiladas

♦  Lasagna, baked ziti, stuffed shells, etc.

♦  Meatloaf

♦  Chili

♦  Pasta sauce

♦  Soups

I have found that the best way to package and organize prepared meals such as these is to use disposable containers. For the casseroles, baked pastas, enchiladas and things that you would normally bake in a baking dish, prepare in a freezer-safe foil disposable container. Be sure that it is sealed tightly and label it. You should include the baking temperature and time on the label, that way you don’t have to go searching for a recipe when you want to pull it out and make it. They are easily stacked and once you use it you can throw it away – no dishes!

The second method is with more liquid-type foods such as sauces and soups. I follow the route that you see illustrated in the “neat freezer” pictured at the top of the post. Put the sauce or soup into a freezer bag, squeeze out all of the extra air, and then lay flat to freeze. You can easily stack these packages or even sit them upright like you would books, depending on the space in your freezer. They also thaw much, much faster this way then having a big plastic container full of food.

So there you have it – a rundown on all of the ways that you can make your freezer a less scary place and use it to your advantage. You could spend a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday putting together a few meals and a pot of soup and have a well-stocked freezer for those nights when the last thing you want to do is cook!