Frozen food gets kind of a bad rap in today’s world where fresh and seasonal are what everyone seems to reach for. But the truth is frozen foods really aren’t all that bad – if you know how to use them. Cooking with frozen foods like fruits, veggies and other items can still pack in plenty of nutrition and flavor to your recipes, as long as you follow a few simple rules.
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1. Don’t Cook/Handle Them Too Much
Unless it’s raw meat, most frozen packaged food like veggies has already been prepared in some way – and even if it hasn’t, it usually cooks much faster than fresh-bought. So don’t overdo it! Usually just a few minutes is plenty for veggies.
2. Use Them Along With Plenty Of Other Ingredients
Frozen foods make cooking super easy, but here’s a shocker – they don’t taste exactly like fresh food. I know! However, they do still work really well in all the dishes you love, as long as the frozen ingredients aren’t the only ones. Casseroles and stews are the perfect place for frozen foods, since there are plenty of other flavors in play to mask the less-than-perfect taste.
3. Stay Away From Boiling
You might think boiling is the easiest way to thaw and warm up frozen foods. This is not correct. Boiling will probably overcook the frozen items you’re using, and then they’re ruined. Steam them instead – it’s less harsh and will leave more structure to the frozen food.
4. Don’t Be Afraid To Freeze!
Sure, you might already be freezing things like vegetables or fruit, but did you know that you can freeze just about anything?
-Dairy (no kidding!): Milk, cheese, yogurt, it all freezes well. Just be careful with items like sour cream and cream cheese. They can separate when frozen, so reheat them slowly.
-Baked goods: Breads, pancakes, tortillas, even pie dough! Next time you make muffins or cupcakes and have leftover batter, freeze that too!
-Pasta: Yup! The big rule here is not to cook the pasta all the way when you first boil it – it’ll likely turn mushy in the freezer. Just cook it al dente, and voila!
-Rice: JUST LISTEN! True, rice tends to dry out quickly by itself, but as long as you’re freezing it it order to use as part of another dish later it’ll turn out fine once added to everything else.
5. If It’s Raw, Don’t Refreeze
Meat is a commonly frozen food and freezes well. However, thawing raw meat to use and then freezing it again afterward is a big no-no. Thawing allows the bad bacteria to start growing, and freezing it again does’t stop them – it just preserves them for the next time. So if you’re freezing meat, do it in small amounts so you don’t end up having to thaw more than you need.
6. Freezing Leftovers? Mark The Date
2-3 months. That’s the general expiration date for prepped foods in the freezer (longer for pre-packaged foods like fruits or veggies). But let’s face it, all of us have forgotten something in the freezer only to dig it out six months later when it’s completely unrecognizable. The solution is simple: Label the foods you put in the freezer with the date they go in – and keep putting the most recently frozen foods in the back of the freezer, to keep the cycle going.
7. Use Small Containers
It’s tempting to simply freeze something like a casserole in the dish you cook it in – but that only leads to uneven freezing (and probably some freezer burn). Instead, freeze prepped food in small enough containers to keep it from being more than 3 inches thick. It’ll freeze faster and stay viable longer.
8. Need To Thaw? Leave Plenty Of Time
Nothing’s worse than planning a big meal and then realizing that the star of the show (like a turkey) is still frozen solid. Thawing food in the fridge is the best option because it keeps the temperature from getting to where it can be dangerous, but it does take longer. So be sure to leave at least several hours for thawing.
Any other tips on cooking with frozen foods? Tell us in the comments below!