A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What's in Michael's Freezer? A revealing exclusive

After reading in the comments to last Friday's post about pikojiko's mom's coffee-can-in-the-freezer method of collecting leftover ingredients for stock, I am excited to begin my own collection.  But when I opened my freezer over the weekend, I was confronted with a disorganized collection of random items — some of them no longer identifiable — and no room for a coffee can.

Not even in the freezer door.

I have some work to do before my frozen stock-pile (get it?) will have a home.  First, I'm going to inventory everything in the freezer, to see if there is anything I can use or discard in order to create more room.  Then, I'll better organize what's left.  Won't that feel nice?

By the way, the pictures above show my freezer at relatively low capacity.  Often, there are so many things stuffed in there that the door will barely close.  I love to freeze all kinds of things — both raw and cooked — to 1) have easy meals on hand to pull out on busy days and 2) have a variety of ingredients on hand to spice up things I'm making.  I'm continually surprised at what freezes well.  Well, anything will freeze well, except maybe fire, but I'm continually surprised at how good so many things are after they've thawed.  I've had thawed pasta dishes reheat to a consistency not much different from when they had just been cooked, and just last weekend, we enjoyed some leftover Indian chicken in dill sauce that tasted even more scrumptious after spending 2 weeks in the freezer.

In today's post and in the future, I'll tell you about some foods that did not benefit from going through an Ice Age, and would love to hear from you about freezing triumphs and failures you've experienced.

Back to my freezer inventory: I took everything out to assess its condition and in some cases determine its identity.  The following list is in order of coming out of the freezer:
  • 1 half-gallon container of raw milk.  We get deliveries from an Amish farm in PA every 2 weeks through our raw-milk collective.  We find that we need about 3 half-gallons of milk to get us through this length of time, but that the milk starts tasting a little gamey after 10 days or so, so we always freeze one container right after bringing it home.  I don't know if freezing counteracts the health benefits of raw dairy, but it doesn't affect the flavor or the consistency at all.  Surprisingly, the milk doesn't expand to pop the lid or break the container as it freezes, or else the plastic gives enough to accommodate any expansion that is taking place.  (Yes, I was a little nervous the first time I tried this.)
  • 1 stick of Kate's Sea-salted Butter.  We keep a few days' worth of butter in the fridge and replace it from the freezer stock as it gets used up.  We sometimes get tubs of raw-milk butter from the Amish, which is stronger-flavored, and is particularly pleasing in taste and bright yellow color during the spring when the cows return to a fresh-grass diet.  I like to avail myself of all the delicious varieties of butter available to us, with Icelandic brands being among my favorites.
  • Several bags of coffee beans.  Most of these, apart from some Starbucks blends donated by my parents, are left over from the CSA season.  Our CSA farm has developed a supportive relationship (guidance and funding) with an all-women-run plantation in Guatemala that grows organic, free-trade coffee.  We started out with an order of a pound a month, but developed a backlog when we both decided to cut down on our caffeine consumption.  (That's a whole story unto itself, which I may tell in a future post.)  We consider that these Guatemalan beans make the best coffee we have ever brewed at home.  
  • 1 small plastic container of home-ground garam masala.  This widely used Indian blend of spices, all of which are purported to have a warming effect — cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, etc. — quickly loses its potency at room temperature, so I store it in the freezer. 
  • 2 big plastic boxes of extra spices.  Indian markets sell plastic bags of spices in amounts too large for me to use before they go stale, so I keep small amounts in jars in my spice cabinet and store the remainder frozen.
  • 3 lemons in a plastic bag.  I had a surplus of lemons this past summer, so I stored some of them in the freezer.  They get mushy when they thaw, but are nonetheless usable for juicing.  However, you have to remember to take them out to thaw quite some time beforehand, and I never do, so the lemons remained unused.  I figured that I may as well thaw them now, and I did, using the juice in a marinade for London Broil.
  • 1 envelope containing sheets of vark layered between paper. Vark is edible silver foil used in India to decorate sweets and festive rice dishes.  I keep mine in the freezer to slow down the oxidation process, since the pure silver tarnishes easily.  It's not very festive to adorn your pilaf with a sheet of blackened metal.
  • Fresh herbs.  With its many random bags and plastic containers filled with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, my freezer could inspire a whole new hit by Simon and Garfunkel.  The spoiled smell emanating from one of the dishes of parsley inspired me to toss it out.  I used the other one to start up my stock-pile.  Some strongly flavored herbs like dill and sage tend to survive the freezing process better than their more delicately flavored cousins.  In particular, I have had no luck at all with preserving basil in the freezer.  Cleaned and chopped, it thaws into a tasteless mulch.  Cleaned, chopped, and frozen in ice cube trays with water to cover (as suggested on a website I consulted), it thaws into a tasteless mulch.  I think I'll stick to preserving my basil in oil.
  • 1 ziploc bag of blanched, slivered almonds.  These were left over from my holiday chutney project, which turned out really good.  Maybe I'll blog about next year's batch.  Chutney is very satisfying to make and allows for a full measure of creativity.  I tend to splurge on my chutney ingredients, making it a costly gift that nobody suspects was costly.  (It's the thought that counts in gift-giving, isn't it, especially if someone thought that you dropped a load on it.)
  • A cold pack.  For first aid.  To alleviate swelling, apply (with icepack wrapped in a t-shirt) 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off for as long as needed.  Don't apply directly to your skin — it'll burn like frostbite.
  • A bag of Naan breads from Trader Joe's.  From the contents I'm listing, you'd think my freezer was in Mumbai.
  • Muffins, banana cake, and cookies from Mom.  In ziploc bags.  Mom is generous when giving out these treats, so they go into the freezer to stay fresh for whenever I need a little maternal comforting.   They thaw almost instantly, but I actually prefer them frozen anyway.
  • 1 ziploc bag of CSA tomatoes.  Ready to simulate summer sometime in the middle of February when my Seasonal Affective Disorder is peaking.  Which could actually happen this week — today's HIGH temp is predicted to reach 22 degrees (F).
  • 2 containers of the tomato sauce I recently cooked up for my eggplant bake.  Some evening, when I am exhausted from a long day of teaching, I will reach for one of these containers with a huge sigh of relief.
  • 1 bag of dried coconut shreds.  From the Indian market, where unsweetened is easier to come by.
  • A small container of chickpea flour.  I forget why I own this.  I think I used it sometime during the past year to thicken a sauce.  
  • Jalepeños.  I freeze them whole during the growing season.  They are mushy after thawing, so you need to use them in a dish in which that doesn't matter, but their hotness sure doesn't suffer!
  • Squash seeds.  I collect these in a container as I cook butternut and other squashes during the fall/winter months.  When I accumulate enough, I cook them (250-300 degrees for 30 min in the convection oven) with a sprinkling of herbs & spices.  Today, I decided I had enough collected, so I did them up with some flavorings that came in little plastic containers with take-out food — garlic powder, paprika — and some salt and pepper.
BEFORE: You can see I don't bother to separate out the little bits of flesh.  They cook up yummy and gummy!
AFTER: Peter sampling the seeds hot out of the oven
  • Fresh gnocchi from Whole Foods.  Will go excellently with....
  • Garlic-scape pesto I'd made last June.  Next June, when the scapes are harvested, I'll show you how I make this easy and delicious pesto.
  • A Delmonico steak from the Amish farm.  Organic?  Check.  Grass-fed?  Check.  Local?  Check.  Delicious?  Three checks!
  • Wheat germ.  Perhaps I should list it as "Wheat germ (?)"  Anyway, there is a plastic container with some sort of ground, brown, grainy-looking stuff.  I have to get better with labeling.
  • Several mini-knishes.  These were from a really good deli in Riverdale and were left over from a party thrown by Peter's mom in November.  We also had leftover pigs-in-blankets and falafel, but they got et.  
  • 1 Container of sliced, cooked turkey breast.  Once in a while, I tire of my regular breakfast of yogurt with fruits and nuts, so I look for alternatives.  Lately, I felt as though I am eating too much fruit, so I decided to order a turkey breast from our Amish farm.  I don't know what kind of exercise program these birds are on, but this breast looked like something Wilma Flintstone might have served up.  After baking it (in my convection oven, naturally), I sliced it and put half away in the freezer.  In the mornings, I serve myself a few slices, lightly salted, with a few nuts and half an apple, sliced.  If I'm feeling particularly festive, I add a dollop of homemade chutney to the plate.
  • I am guessing cooked beet greens in some sort of broth (about a cup in all), with accumulated ice crystals:
I'm sure I had a plan in mind when I stuck this in the freezer.
  • Dog Meat.  If you're dialing the ASPCA, please hang up.  This is what we call meat that we feed to our dogs.  In this case, it's a tube of "ground beef with all the organs" from the Amish farm.  Our family is so green, even our dogs get organic, grass-fed, local meat.  Don't think too closely about what constitutes "all the organs."
OK, that about sums up the current contents of my freezer.  Perhaps over the coming weekend, I can reorganize and take some pics to show how I made room for my stock-pile.  In the meantime, check out your own freezer — I mean really dig down and see what's in the very back, covered in thick layers of ice — and leave a comment describing what you discover.  Maybe it will be an unidentifiable blob of something brownish. . .or maybe it will be just what tonight's dinner needs!


  1. we only have a small ice box thingy in the top of the fridge. we have 2 bags of 'meat free' mince (they were on offer so we stocked up), some quorn chicken style nougats, quorn chicken style fillets, a bag of chips for those lazy days, and a chunk of ginger (can you tell we're vegetarian?). not alot compared to your nice big freezer :) i'd love to be able to freeze pasta sauces and stuff like that, but we just don't have the room :( so we have to cook it as we want it.
    Ashley x

  2. I keep my stock ingredients in a ziplock freezer bag, which is easier for me than a coffee can. I make stock every week and use it almost daily. It was a revelation to me how much better it tastes than canned. I make it in small amounts - you don't have to make a giant vat. It's just wonderful stuff

  3. I passed on to my mom that you were using her leftover "recycling" system, and that you were blogging about it. She was exquisetely pleased! She doesn't have a computer but is going to ask a friend of hers to look you up so she can sneak a peak. She'll never leave a comment, but you've made her day.

    I grew up on a working dairy farm(300+ head) and when the farm was sold in the late 80's, all of us kids split up a lot of the "goods". Among the things I ended up with were freezers. One died about ten years ago, but the other three are still chugging along. They are all about 40+ years old and we keep them stocked.

    There is a salmon fillet that has been in there for about 6 years. No one wants to eat it and the carrying on when I mention throwing it away can probably be heard in NY! And I always seem to end up with orphan hot dog buns. BTW-I hate hotdogs!

  4. Well, here I was complaining in my comment on your last post about not living in the city, but this post brought up an advantage I have living where I do with a little more space -- room in the basement for a large upright freezer. This is great to have for our family of 6 (and growing)! We keep that thing stocked with all kinds of stuff, especially staples. We go through milk like crazy, and in order not to have to go out every couple of days to buy more, we usually buy several gallons at a time, freeze, and then thaw as needed. Other things we always keep in there: butter, bread (which we also buy inexpensively a ton of at a time at the bakery outlet), various kinds of meat, cheese, different veggies and fruit. Oh, and my husband makes sure that ice cream is never lacking.

    Each year when my father-in-law comes to visit from Idaho, he always brings us like 50 lbs of various beef cuts from a cow he and his brother go in on together. I like that we know where the meat comes from and how it was raised. That takes up a good portion of the freezer. And when it's just about depleted, he's back with more! We haven't bought beef in years.

    One thing we have found quite useful when it comes to freezing food is a vacuum packer. It helps keep things a little fresher and avoids freezer burn. I would definitely recommend one.

    I will take you up on your challenge to clean out the freezer, just not today. I think I will leave that task for a blistering summer day when I need a little chill. Right now - too cold!

  5. @Ashley: I never thought about keeping ginger in the freezer, but I'm going to try it out. Do you have to let it thaw before grating it? I'll be glad if this works for me, for ginger seems to last a long time — but not indefinitely — in the fridge. I've also tried the "preservation" technique of sticking a piece in dirt, where it's supposed to actually grow bigger over time, but so far, I've only produced moldy lumps of decaying ginger. Anyone out there know the trick for this?

    @Mrs. Creek: And here I was thinking I'd wait until I had a massive amount of stock ingredients to make my first batch! I am excited to consider the small-batch method — it sounds so artisanal — and to cook up my first pot of stock this weekend. Thanks for the hint, L.H.C.!

    @pikojiko: It's sweet of you to inform your mom about my blog. It gives me a little rush to think that she's excited that I'm writing about her method. (If you're reading, pikojiko's mom, welcome!) After 6 yrs, it may be time to let that salmon fillet head back upstream to spawn....

    @Melissa: what a cool way to obtain your beef....free, convenient, and from a known source.

  6. You know that a bag of frozen corn acts just like an ice pack, right? That's a lot of stuff packed into a small freezer! I have 2 in my fridges, plus an upright in the laundry room and a chest freezer in the basement. I use everything before I order more food, so cleanout is not required. It's the blessing or curse of feeding a hungry horde.

  7. I had to go thru my freezer just last night to make room for party apps I'm making this week. Luckily, I have three neighbors who don't cook and will let me use their freezers, so I keep a list of what they've got... I just can't cook small!

  8. Hi, Michael. We keep two fridges in use, so that gives me two regular sized freezers. In one, I store vegetables, both that I've put away and those I get at the grocery. The other freezer is for meat. It gives me the opportunity to buy in larger bulk and save some money. But, I have to keep a tight control over what is stored in there as it does tend to age out when it is out of sight. We're not nearly as green and organic as you guys. Enjoying your blog. Lane

  9. Hah! We have "dog meat" too. It's better for them and just plain cheaper than any official dog food when you're feeding 3.

    You pack a lot into that freezer. We have 4 freezers here, only 2 are used regularly. One is attached to our kitchen fridge, one is a stand-alone in the laundry room around the corner from the kitchen. We also have another attached to a fridge in the garage and yet another big stand alone. Both of the latter came with the house. I keep meaning to Craigslist at least one of them but it involves more than me so more coordination is needed. One day I will reclaim the space and the electricity.

    Even with all that freezing space here, the contents in mine are much more boring than in yours.

  10. Mom just called to say she enjoyed your blog. She hopes that at some point you are going to share that chutney recipe.

  11. @Marjie: Thanks for the helpful alternative to ice packs. The problem with frozen veggies, though, is that I tend to eat them up, leaving nothing for first aid!

    @Darci: If you stored your apps here in my freezer, I'd probably be tempted to sample them. But then I would give you a plug on the blog.

    @quiltfool: I can only drool over the idea of two fridges. Or even 1 good one. I was just telling Peter today that if I'm going to be going public with my kitchen activities, I might need to replace our old clunker. You sound like just the person to consult about what to look for when I go shopping.

    @Debbie: You shouldn't have mentioned those unused freezers. I just mailed you a big crate of perishables to store in them. I guess I'll owe you more chocolate.....

    @pikojiko: Tell you mom to look for that recipe around November. And thank her from me for reading!

  12. Re ginger, how about planting it in a pot and growing your own? It's not very hard and takes up almost no space.

  13. Have you grown ginger successfully? What kind of potting soil did you use? How much sun does it require? Mine has never worked out very well.

  14. I love some of your ideas, you seem to have a really good system going on.
    My frezzer is full of meat (meat for 5 is a lot of meat)and leftovers and that's all that will fit. Oh and some dog bones.

    I love what some of your readers do, you all have some great ideas.

  15. I ended up with a single dog bone in my freezer. Since that does not permit sharing between my 2 dogs, the bone is going into my stockpot this weekend!

    Yes, my readers do have a lot of great ideas. Today (1/21/11) I'm writing about a couple I'm planning to put into action this weekend.

  16. We grew a good ginger plant last year. I don't think we did anything special. It was on our balcony in a pot that was maybe 18" in diameter and a couple feet deep. I'm not sure if a pot that big is necessary, though. We just used dirt from our main garden, which, granted, is pretty rich because my husband has been working on it for a few years. As for sun, I think it likes heat but not direct sunlight. I'm sure that the all-knowing oracle that is the internet could give you some more tips and hints.