Is your freezer a money-guzzling storage facility for mystery meats? An oversize icemaker? It's time to learn how to turn that box of wasted cold space into the money-stretching, time-saving household appliance it was meant to be.
Temperature: Set it to the coldest setting so you maintain a constant temperature of 0 degrees or lower to ensure food will be safe to eat.
Efficient: A full freezer uses less electricity. When food inventory is low, pack it full by adding containers of water to fit the empty spaces.
Right wrap: Wrap food tightly to prevent moisture loss that causes food to become dry and discolored. Then, wrap it again in a thicker layer of foil, plastic or freezer bags. The second wrap keeps out odors.
No burn: Trapped air causes freezer burn. To prevent it, select a container small enough so your contents fill it. And skip the fancy sealing machine. Using a freezer bag, seal all but enough space to slip in a drinking straw. Inhale on the straw to pull out all the air, quickly seal the bag, and pop it into the freezer.
Burgers: Separate individual hamburger patties with squares of waxed paper or parchment, then stack in a freezer bag. You can do this with tortillas, too.
Bagels: Bagels can go from freezer to toaster without thawing. Slice and wrap each bagel in plastic, slipping the wrap between the two halves first and then around. Store in a freezer bag.
Cookie dough: Divide the dough into balls and arrange on a lined cookie sheet. Once frozen, place the balls in a freezer bag. Bake as many as you'd like without defrosting.
Casseroles: Whether original or leftover, line a casserole dish with foil before filling it. Seal tightly and freeze. Once frozen, remove the foil package from the dish and store in the freezer. When ready to bake, slip food from foil, place in the same dish and bake.
Freshly baked muffins: Make your favorite muffin batter, and fill muffin pans lined with paper cups. Instead of baking, stick the pan in the freezer. When frozen, pop the muffins into freezer bags. When ready to bake, take the number of muffins out of the freezer, put them into the muffin pan, and bake according to the recipe, adding about 5 minutes.
Stock: Pour stock or broth into a coffee mug lined with a quart-size freezer bag. Seal the bag, and lay it flat on a cookie sheet. Freeze.
Nuts: Sealed in a freezer bag, nuts stay fresh-tasting for months. No need to defrost -- frozen nuts chop just as easily as fresh.
Dry goods: Stored in the freezer, flour, bread crumbs, cornmeal, oats and other grains -- even potato chips and crackers -- are protected from humidity, bugs and rancidity. Make sure bags and containers are closed tightly.
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