Elisabeth Coelfen Food, Alamy
Aside from keeping the finest foodstuff in the world (I'm talking about my ultimate weakness, ice-cream, of course) rumour has it our freezers aren't being used to their full potential. They are not just dark places in which to stash a bag of peas, to chill down your vodka to a thick syrup or to cool those beers quickly. What they are is a very useful tool in the kitchen, great if you're feeding a large family but also for the individual or couple who need last-minute supper standbys.
From stockpiling odds and ends of veg to save for stock to grating and stashing your own parmesan cheese, we've rounded up some great ways for you to really make the most of your freezer...
Freeze individual items separately before bagging
You've bought a big pack of chicken pieces from the supermarket, too many for you to use in one go - or even in a week. Or perhaps it's the height of summer and you've picked thousands of blackberries but can't make enough jam, pies or compotes. If you freeze them together in a bag, all of your fruit/bits of chicken/whatever will stick together. If you want to freeze things individually so you can use them bit by bit, here's what to do: place a tray in your freezer with a sheet of greaseproof on it and pop the items onto it seperately. Freeze, then bag once frozen and they won't stick together.
Learn about what you can freeze
Your freezer is far more versatile a tool than you probably realise. In fact, it is actually possible to freeze most things, including raw and cooked cooked meat, grated hard cheeses, cartons of juice, tomato paste, bread and butter/margarine. Gluts of fruit and vegetables can be frozen either raw or cooked and milk can quite happily be frozen too. You can also freeze cooked pulses - great if you cook up a large batch and then pop what you need into a stew or soup.
Here are some more ideas about what to freeze and how, from Love Food, Hate Waste...
Fruit: slice and freeze lemons then use them straight from the fridge in iced drinks. Frozen grapes and strawberries also make novel ice cubes which also taste great.
Potatoes: simply parboil (boil for about five mins) and freeze them for later. When you want them, thaw overnight and roast the next day. Mashed potato also freezes well.
Chillies: few of us manage to use up all those chillies in the packet so freeze them whole and just take out as much as you need and chop while they are still frozen.
Cauliflower or broccoli: make a big batch of cauliflower or broccoli cheese and then put it into individual portions and freeze it. It's great if the veg isn't going to last much longer and you have a large amount left. It's really great with garlic in the cheese sauce and topped with breadcrumbs and parsley!
Milk: if you know you're not going to use milk before the use-by date you can freeze it. Then, when you need some milk, thaw it in the fridge. Plastic containers are okay for freezing milk in, but the milk will expand so pour out a small amount (for a cup of tea for example) to allow for this, shake well before using
Cheese: try grating cheddar cheese before freezing and use as toppings on pizza or shepherd's pie from frozen. Stilton can be frozen without grating and is just as good as fresh!
Leftover roast meat: such as chicken and lamb. Thaw in the fridge and use as normal, in a risotto or curry.
Bread: use straight from frozen as toast or make sandwiches for work - by lunchtime they'll be defrosted. Bang the loaf on the work surface before putting it in the freezer to help the frozen slices come apart more easily.
It's not just meat that can be frozen. Other basics such as milk, cheese and bread, will all survive the deep freeze
Portion up your freezer and get creative
Cooking a large batch of a stew, a ragu or sauce is a more efficient use of your time and always cheaper - and will save you time when it comes to cooking. It also allows you to be creative - from a ragu you can make spag bol or a pasta bake, use it as a pizza topping covered with gooey mozzarella and jalapenos from a jar, turn it into sloppy joes or even stick it in a toasted sandwich. Once your sauce is cooked, bag it up into individual portions and pop them in the freezer. You can defrost these portions easily in their sealed bag in hot water on the stove. Stew is equally as good - defrosted, warmed through and served over a pile of mashed potatoes, on rice with a dollop of sour cream, spring onions and coriander or tossed with hot noodles, soy and steamed broccoli for an Asian twist.
Take stock (and make stock)
A double meaning from this title - firstly, take stock of what's in your freezer. Write contents and dates made on your bags or tubs; keep them organised and neat - don't have one of these freezers that is stuffed to the gills. Do be a little bit ruthless - throw out things you really won't ever use. If you're really going to get serious about your freezer, check out Lakeland or Tupperware for freezer containers and accessories such as freezer-friendly pens and labels.
And then make stock from your leftover veggies. Keep a bag in the freezer into which you can throw your veggie and chicken odds and ends. Any time you need to add flavour to a soup or a gravy, you can stick these in a pan of boiling water to cook up an authentic stock on demand.
Double up on dough
You can freeze uncooked dough - both bread and pastry, so why not make a double batch if you're making bread, pizza bases or biscuits? These can both be happily cooked from frozen with a little splash of water to help them steam. Pastry dough can be used straight from the freezer too - just grate it into your case and push it into the shape you need. Easy and tasty.
According to WRAP, we throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink a year in the UK, most of which (4.4 million tonnes) could have been consumed
Crumbs, bits and bobs, odds and ends
Blitz leftover cake, bread or biscuits into crumbs. Made too much crumble topping? Freeze that too. Not got enough leftover bits of chicken to make a stock? Freeze them and keep adding to them till you have enough. Leftover hardy herbs? Rosemary, thyme and the other tougher chaps freeze perfectly well in bags. Softer herbs lose texture and turn mushy - fine for cooking but not for a salad or sprinkling.
Egg whites are another freezer fave - I've always go these kicking around from making ice-creams, sauces or just egg-washing something. Freeze them - it improves their structure for making meringues - but remember to label how many are in the bag and what size they were.
The rules of freezing
A couple of rules should be abided by, whatever your freezing habits. Defrost in the fridge wherever possible - although this is difficult with very large joints of meat - it's much safer. Don't ever eat ice-cream that's been refrozen - you can get all kinds of nasties in it and the texture is horrible. Don't leave things uncovered in the freezer - they'll suffer freezer burn and this will affect their taste and texture. Don't defrost and refreeze anything... ever.
Did you know?
New labelling currently being rolled out across Sainsbury's stores around the country will advise customers to freeze food as soon as possible up to the product's use-by date. WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) research shows that 60% of us believe that food has to be frozen on the day of purchase, which is reinforced by current labelling. Changing this advice will help stop over-cautious shoppers from throwing away up to 800,000 tonnes of perfectly good food each year.