Conquering the deep freeze- 5 foods to heat up any dish

by Kathleen on January 9, 2011

A well-stocked freezer is a thing of beauty

A trip to the warehouse club can be a dangerous thing if you own a chest freezer.  One moment you’re innocently walking down an aisle buying a package of toilet paper, and the next thing you know– you have a 48-pack of mini quiche sitting in your deep freezer.  How long has it been there? When did you even buy it?!?! And who will take the blame when it’s sitting there taking up space two years from now? It’s time to shape up that freezer and ship out what you know you’ll never eat.

I’m proud to say that our deep freezer was one of the most exciting purchases during my foray into domesticity.  Visions of well-labeled canisters of homemade soup, packets of meat, and frozen vegetables danced in my head. Never again would I need to worry about what to make for dinner– it would all be sitting in my freezer just waiting to be defrosted. However, in order to have dinner at your fingertips, you’ve gotta have the basics and a little something exciting to make you actually WANT to cook dinner.

To kick things off in this season of snow and ice, I present to you Kathleen’s list of Top Five Items to Get in your Freezer Right Now! If you have these on hand, you’ll never end up reaching for that take-out menu.  I swear by all five of the following items, and for the record– they’re all sitting in my chest freezer at this very moment.

5.  Spinach

We all know the story– the dark greens are good for us. If you don’t have it right now, get yourself one of those frozen spinach blocks (or two) and plop them into your freezer. Why? Aside from the nutritional benefits, spinach will liven up and make a one-note dish more colorful. Just defrost for a few minutes, squeeze out as much water as possible, and add it to soups, jarred pasta sauce, and dips. Mix it with ricotta and bam! You’ve got the filling for stuffed shells or cannelloni.  Mix with sour cream and mayo for a great dip. You could even just serve it warm as a side dish (but we know you’re not going to do that).

*Extra Credit:  Make some room in your freezer for those frozen basil cubes and pesto you made at the end of this summer.

4. Frozen cheese-filled tortellini

If you’re feeling ambitious, you could sit down one evening and crank out some handmade filled pasta. Or you could be like me– wanting to boil water and be done with it.  For as simple as it is, frozen tortellini is a grand staple. Sauted lightly with olive oil and that frozen spinach (#5), it’s a simple and satisfying dinner. Thrown into a soup or broth, and you’ve got something that will easily stave off a winter chill. Marinate some overnight in salad dressing and skewer with tomato and mozzarella cubes– and you have a simple and elegant appetizer. As an added bonus, you’ll always have something on hand to whip up for that surprise vegetarian dinner guest or picky nephew. If you’re feeling really experimental, try topping a salad with chilled, cooked tortellini instead of croutons.  I’m a fan.

*Extra credit:  If you can find frozen pumpkin ravioli, stock up. It’s one of those “impress your friends with an easy entree” items.  Saute with brown butter and sage, add a little crumbled Italian sausage (#2), and you’re good to go.

3. Frozen Peas or Corn

Don’t laugh.  It’s a sad day indeed when I realize that we’re out of frozen peas.  I’ll let you check out Beth’s amazing corn salsa if you need extra reason to stock up on some kernels.  Aside from instant faux ice packs when you’ve got a splitting headache, these two veggies are incredibly versatile when you’re looking to spice up your dinner. Just thaw (no need to boil) and add to your dinner salad when all you have is a head of iceberg. Add peas to alfredo or to my incredible artery-clogging, bacon-tastic carbonara (coming soon to DP!) for a splash of color.  Puree with some salt and pepper for an easy dip.

*Extra credit:  We also keep a stock of frozen edamame (soybeans), both shelled and unshelled.  The shelled ones just need a little hot water and salt to make a great appetizer or pea replacement.

2. Italian sausage

Everyone has frozen ground beef in their freezer– I think it might even be issued with the purchase of a chest freezer.  But how inspiring are those little balls of freezer-burned beef? Not very.  I like to purchase Italian sausage (still in casings) and freeze portioned packets of two links each. Once defrosted, it’s easy to pull the casing off, and you’ve got a great way to spice up your dinner. Try mixing in Italian sausage with ground beef for burgers or meatballs. Brown some and add to your frozen tortellini (#4).  Or just keep in the casing and fire up the grill.  I normally have both mild and spicy links on hand for variety.

*Extra credit: This might sound a little lame coming from someone who likes to cook, but do yourself a favor and buy frozen mini meatballs (I like the ground turkey ones, myself). Yes, it’s lazy. However, knowing all you have to do is heat them and serve gives you a lot of options in the kitchen. Add to pasta for an easy dinner. Add to a broth with a few noodles for a soup. Add some sauce and you’ve got a sandwich, or throw into a slow cooker for an easy party appetizer.

and for my absolute staple in the freezer….. (drumroll, please)

1. Bacon!

To know bacon is to love bacon– at least when it comes to adding flavor and variety to your cooking repertoire.  Perhaps you already have the beloved breakfast meat in your freezer, so I’ll be a little more specific. During your next grocery trip, pick up a package or two and immediately slice each 1lb slab into four chunks (each which conveniently fit well in a quart freezer bag).  The next time you’re looking for a bit of extra flavor, pull out a bag. This amount of bacon easily defrosts right in the pan, and you’re already on your way to a fancy mac ‘n’ cheese or rich carbonara.  I’ll often pull out a package just for an easy breakfast addition or something extra to throw into a dip. My personal favorite is to fry up a little bacon, and use some of the drippings to saute fresh brussel sprouts.  I’ve even used it to infuse vodka and create a surprising brownie– but those are recipes for sharing on another day.

*Extra credit: If you’re feeling really adventurous, pick up a small package of pork belly.  This can be just as easily diced up and added to give a little more heft to a pasta or really liven up a salad. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be on a competitive cooking show in order to cook with this luscious ingredient.

What food items do you lean on when it comes to heating up dinner ideas? We want to hear! In the meantime, happy defrosting!

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