October 22, 2014

Put it on Ice – Using Your Freezer to Save Money

Every house has one – the freezer that is attached to your fridge. The problem is most of us don’t use it to its full advantage. Check out the contents of your freezer. Most likely it contains a frozen pizza or two, some ice cubes, ice cream and maybe some mystery meat and leftovers you thought you’d reheat someday.

Well, Mark Bittman at the New York Times has some very helpful suggestions for putting your freezer to work for you.

In terms of reducing waste, the most important step you can take is to freeze things the moment you realize you’re not going to cook them in time. If you get a last-minute dinner invitation, you might freeze that fish you bought; if you take the kids strawberry picking, get the excess in there as quickly as you can; if you have a superharvest of vegetables (or a good score at the farmer’s market), blanch them and freeze them.

After all, few foods improve in the refrigerator. They don’t improve in your freezer, either, but they degrade more slowly, especially if you keep the temperature at 0 degrees or below. While you’re freezing, remember that your enemy is freezer burn, a freeze-drying on surfaces exposed to air that imparts unpleasant flavors and dry, fibrous textures. To help maintain quality, avoid freezer burn by double- or even triple-wrapping food, filling containers to the top and squeezing the air out of containers (zippered bags are good for this).

One more thing, easy to overlook and impossible to overrate: Label. It is incredible how much things grow to resemble another in the freezer. Use a permanent marker, write exactly what it is (“fish” or “stew” isn’t as helpful as “monkfish” or “lamb/veg stew”), and date it.

STORAGE

In addition to produce and meats, there are some less obvious ingredients whose life can be extended by freezing. Most of them can be used straight from the freezer: Fresh noodles; flours or meals; grains; nuts (which taste kind of good frozen); whole coffee beans (supposedly not as good after you freeze them, but most of us can’t tell the difference); banana leaves (nice for plating or wrapping, but they come in huge packages); and more, detailed below.

LEFTOVERS

Make extra of any dish, with leftovers in mind, then freeze in smaller portions that can be taken to work, sent to school or reheated for a solitary dinner. Freeze in individual containers, topping up with water, cooking liquid or oil to prevent freezer burn, or freeze in sturdy zippered bags, then squeeze out as much air as possible. Defrost in the fridge, in cold water, or in a microwave, or not at all — many items can be reheated straight from frozen. (Yes, I’m talking about homemade TV dinners.)

BEANS AND GRAINS

I’m tempted to say that you should never cook beans or grains without making more than you need. Freezing them (covered with water or cooking liquid, leaving room for expansion) works that well, and saves loads of time.

STOCK

For home cooks, the biggest problem with stock is having it around when you need it. So make as much as you can manage — three gallons, say. To save space, you can reduce the stock so that it’s extra concentrated, and reconstitute it with water to taste when you’re ready. Refrigerate and skim the fat, if you like, then freeze in containers of varying sizes, or in ice cube trays.

STOCK-MAKING MATERIAL

Scraps of poultry (most of the chicken parts we don’t eat are good for stock), meat (again, especially the less-used, bonier parts) or fish (heads and skeletons in particular), vegetable trimmings, bones and more. Keep separate bags for each, adding to them when you can. Remember, though, that stock is not garbage soup: Carrot and potato peels, cabbage cores, and the like can be used, but in moderation. Animal organs are best avoided (fish gills and guts must be removed, and offal in general makes bitter stock).

BREAD, BREAD DOUGH, BREAD CRUMBS

Freeze dough in well-wrapped balls; defrost until it regains springiness. (It will never rise quite as high as unfrozen dough, but it works nearly perfectly for pizza or focaccia, and well enough for other uses.) Good crusty bread, wrapped in aluminum foil, can turn lighter dishes into meals — just defrost in the foil at 350 degrees or so for 10 minutes, then crisp up, unwrapped, at slightly higher temperatures. (I’m talking about crusty bread; sliced bread can be defrosted on the counter or in a toaster.) And stale bread can be made into crumbs in a blender or food processor, stored in a container, and added to at will.

PASTRY AND PASTRY DOUGH

Most cake and cookies freeze pretty well, carefully wrapped. Or make a frozen log of “refrigerator” cookies to slice and bake later. Same with biscuits: make a whole batch or double batch of biscuit batter, bake just enough for dinner, and freeze the rest.

TOMATOES AND TOMATO SAUCE

Tomato sauce is best frozen in zippered bags with the air squeezed out. If you have ripe tomatoes, core, quarter, and throw them in a bag; as they thaw the skins will slip off, a bonus. (The frozen chunks separate easily so you can just break off a couple for soups, stews, salsas, sauces and so on.) You can also freeze unused portions of canned tomatoes, preferably in their juice.

BACON

Or pancetta, prosciutto, smoked ham hocks, prosciutto bones, etc. Wrap tightly in plastic and cut off pieces as you need them. (Or cut before freezing — you might need a butcher to do this in the case of big bones.)

FRESH HERBS

If you have extra herbs, your four best options are: Make pesto by puréeing the herb with oil and whatever other seasonings you like; make “pesto,” a purée of herb and water, with or without other seasonings; make compound butter; chop herbs, and freeze in ice cube trays covered with water.

FISH

When I’m in a good fish market I buy too much and later wonder what I was thinking. Fortunately, squid, shrimp and the meat of lobster, clams and mussels all freeze well. Even fillets, steaks, and cleaned whole fish — wrapped carefully in plastic — will keep most of their quality in the freezer for a couple of weeks, and there’s no reason they should spend any longer there. Another note: If you’re buying fish that has been frozen to begin with, ask for still-frozen rather than thawed fish, then store it in the freezer or thaw in the refrigerator.

FRUIT

Easier than making jam: Freeze berries or stone-fruit halves spread out on trays, then bag or put into containers, so they don’t all freeze together in a block. Or cook down a bit and store in their juice. Or purée and freeze.

VEGETABLES

If you find yourself with too much corn, greens, carrots, peas or snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, string beans, put them up. Blanch them for a minute before spreading them on a tray, the same way you freeze fruit. Tomatoes (as noted above) and bell peppers are the exception; they freeze well raw.

BANANAS

When my kids were young these were a staple. Peel and individually wrap overripe bananas in plastic; freeze. Use within a few weeks for banana bread or smoothies.

TORTILLAS

Wrap two corn tortillas at a time in wax paper, then in a plastic bag; freeze flat. When you’re ready, stick the wax paper packages right into the microwave for a minute to warm. The same technique works well for cooked waffles and pancakes. Where do you think General Mills got the idea?

EGG WHITES

If you make a lot of ice cream, custard, or other recipes that call for a lot of egg yolks, you will have extra whites. Freeze them in batches of two or three for making meringues, macaroons or angel food cake.

Parmesan rinds

Most cheese freezes well, but there’s not much reason to do it. Parmesan rinds, however, add a great deal to risotto and soups (and can be eaten; they’re delightfully chewy and a little rubbery). Freeze them in zippered bags.

CHICKEN OR DUCK LIVERS, FAT, ETC.

As noted above, they don’t make good stock, but they have other uses. Three livers or so and a small handful of fat makes a nice little batch of chopped liver, for example.

WINE

That last quarter of a bottle? Freeze it, then use it for cooking wine as needed. See stock for best methods.

CITRUS

If you have a surplus of citrus — perhaps someone sent you a case of oranges from Florida or you found lemons for a dollar a pound and went overboard — squeeze them. The juice freezes fairly well. Lemons, limes and oranges also can be frozen whole. When a recipe calls for juice, defrost what you need in the microwave.

BURRITOS

It’s a bit of a project, but you can mass-produce breakfast or other burritos, wrap them individually (first in wax paper, then in plastic), and microwave in a couple of minutes.

This burrito idea can be expanded to include any cooking you do, make a bit extra, or take those leftovers and turn them into one serving frozen meals for future lazy days. No more store brought frozen dinners for you – now you can have a favorite, homemade meal anytime, just look in the freezer.

Save When Buying New Appliances

When buying a new appliance, the Boy Scout’s motto “Be Prepared” is good advice. Before heading to the local appliance store, check out these tips that could help you save some money:

First, know just how much appliance you need. Appliance stores will often put the top of the line models out on the floor to entice the buyer. You might not need all those bells and whistles. Ask to see the basic models and then search for ones with the additional features you will use.

Remember to compare the energy use of various models. You’ll find that on the bright yellow label affixed to the front or top of the appliance.

Be aware of installation requirements and costs. If your house cannot acomadate the appliance you choose, and changes are necessary, that will cost you. So will exchanging it for one that fits – stores often charge restocking fees.

Look for deals:
Some tips from abc2news.com:
Do they offer package deals if you buy more than one appliance?
Can you get free delivery?
Do they sell floor models or scratch-and-dent models?
Do they honor price adjustments if the appliance goes on sale within 30 days, or do they know whether it will be on sale soon?
Is there a rebate or any type of promotion, such as a gift card or product incentive, if you buy the appliance?
Do they price match?
Do they accept trade-ins or at least haul your old appliance?
What is the manufacturer’s warranty? Say no to extended warranties. According to Consumer Reports, extended warranties aren’t worth buying because the appliance doesn’t typically break within the warranty time, costs less to repair, or the problem isn’t covered by warranty.
Where is a repair/service center located? Is it near you?

Be certain your appliance cannot be repaired. Other options include buying a reconditioned or used appliance. If you are buying new or upgrading, be aware that white goods (appliances) go on sale in October and January when store have new models arriving.

Get something back. You might be able to sell you old appliance or donate it to charity for a tax deduction. Your local utility office might be offering a rebate program for particular energy saving appliances. A last stop for an old, broken appliance might be the scrap yard. Copper wiring is being recycled along with other metals.
A little extra time invested in knowing your appliance needs and then being assertive in getting them can save you quite a few bucks over time.

Freezer Sales Increasing

Consumers across the country are trying to find ways to save money. The cost of food keeps going up and no one can predict when it will stop. While the appliance market has cooled down a bit generally, the sales of freezers has gone up.

According toTheTimesTribune.com, across the country, shoppers bought more than 1.1 million freezers during the first six months of the year — up more than 7 percent from the same period last year, according to research firm NPD Group. That rings up to nearly $400 million in freezer sales — a staggering figure compared to the rest of the home appliance sector, where industry data shows shipments are down nearly 8 percent.

And, experts said, it’s a trend that’s expected to continue at least through much of next year as penny-pinching shoppers buy in bulk to take advantage of deals or bundle grocery shopping trips to conserve gas. About half of all U.S. households already have a chest or upright freezer, separate from the refrigerator-freezer combo that’s a kitchen stalwart, according to industry statistics.

To accommodate the rest — or cater to shoppers who want to upgrade to newer or more spacious models — some appliance makers are redesigning their products and marketing them as a way to put the freeze on rising food prices.

This summer, Frigidaire’s revamped upright freezers began hitting stores, as the brand owned by Swedish manufacturer Electrolux AB added specially designed shelves, baskets and other features to accommodate the appliances’ growing popularity.