For the Holidays, the Freezer is Your Friend

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Before I started cooking in earnest, I kept three things in my freezer: ice cream (vanilla), ice cube trays (blue) and vodka (Absolut Citron). But today, my freezer is a go-to tool, one that’s become as important as my knife.

With an organized freezer, I can make culinary miracles happen in an instant: I can have a healthy dinner ready in 20 minutes, bake pies and tarts at a moment’s notice, and prepare a last-minute pot of homemade soup for a warming Sunday supper.

And when it comes to figuring out what to do with holiday leftovers, the freezer is my friend there, too.

Freezing seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. I don’t know if it’s the frugality of our times, our newfound understanding that local food tastes better or the current back-to-basics style of cooking, but freezing fits right in with all of it. Plus, it’s an extension of the popular canning and preserving trend — but a whole lot easier.

There are just three keys to making your freezer work for you: First, wrap things well. Second, label and date everything. And finally, keep like things together — soup on one shelf, bread on another. All you need is plastic wrap, freezer bags and a big black marker.

Let’s talk turkey, for example.

When the Thanksgiving meal is over, you’re left with a big platter of bones and shredded meat. Simply divide the meat into several quart-sized bags, press the air out of the bags and seal. Write “shredded turkey” and the date, and lay them flat, in the freezer. (More on this later.)

The next time you’re looking for a quick lunch, defrost a bag, add mayo, celery, curry powder and cashew nuts: Presto — turkey salad. (Not into celery, curry and cashews? Try dried cranberries, thyme and walnuts.) You can also make turkey soup — I love the Turkey Carcass Soup recipe here — turkey enchiladas and turkey pot pie.

All the same dishes work for roast chicken, and the same method works for any holiday meal, really: Chop up and freeze your pork roast and you’ve the makings for stir-fried rice, pulled pork sandwiches or posole, which is a delicious pork-chili-corn soup from Mexico. With chunks of beef, you can make stew or chili, stroganoff or shepherd’s pie.

As for the bones, they’re great for stock, especially if they have a little meat clinging to them. Put them in a gallon-sized bag (labeled and dated). When you’ve collected a few bags, rinse off an onion, two celery ribs and two carrots. Chop each in half, throw them in a stock pot, add your frozen bones and a bay leaf and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for two hours. Freeze it, and make soup whenever the craving calls.

Freezing liquids — and even some solids — takes a little planning. I like to label and date my quart-sized bags first, then use a measuring cup with a spout to pour the liquid into the bag. Press out the air and seal the bag. Then, lay the bag down flat in the freezer. Once frozen, line them up vertically like a file to save room. These tomatoes could go either way:

Also, keep like things together. Nuts and grains are near each other; and sausage and bacon have their little area. The tomatoes I grew this summer are stacked in the top freezer in the basement; the bones for stock hang out at the bottom of my freezer drawer in the kitchen.

And I’ll admit: These days, I have an automatic ice maker, and the vodka — plain, not flavored — is on the bar in the dining room. But the ice cream? Yeah. Even though I cook in earnest now, I still keep ice cream. Vanilla. And maybe a couple other flavors, too.

Turkey Carcass Soup Recipe.

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About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

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