So many factors go into eating well at home – using unprocessed food as much as possible, eating less meat, having enough time to make varied, interesting food, reading widely about different ways of cooking and learning new skills from other home cooks – it’s hard to choose just one.
But when I really think about it, one thing has definitely changed my food-loving life: my freezer. Some time ago, to add to the (smallish) freezer space in our fridge we bought a little upright freezer. It’s the size of a bar fridge, has four drawers, and lives in the back shed.
Here’s my list of why I love it so.
1. Going nuts
Nuts make everything more interesting, I reckon, and I learned from the divine Maggie Beer that nuts will stay much fresher if you keep them in the freezer as opposed to the pantry. They contain lots of oil and can go rancid very quickly – and the ghastly pantry moth loves them. But the freezer allows you to buy nuts in bulk (so they’re cheaper) and always have them on hand to throw into salads, or caramelise a few walnuts to eat with beetroot, or have a big bag of almond meal for cakes and crumble toppings, hazelnuts for tossing through green beans, and so on and so on. You can toss them straight from the freezer into the oven or pan for toasting, or they are thawed within a few minutes for any other use. Another advantage of them being in the freezer is that you’re less likely to gorge on handfuls of cashews while you’re staring into the pantry for dinner ideas.
2. Flavour bombs
One of the reasons I don’t think I could ever be a fully compliant vegetarian is that I’d miss the variety and diversity of flavour that even a tiny bit of meat gives to food. A tablespoon of chopped (proper) free-range bacon in a soup, say, or a few rounds of chorizo tossed in with some roasting fennel – these little smoky flavour bombs give my cooking oomph and complexity. But eating too much of them is obviously a bad thing. Freezer to the rescue again – I just cut off as much as I need from the frozen portion and away I go, chucking the bits into whatever I’m making. They thaw in no time.
3. Scrooge satisfaction
I hate wasting food, especially if I’ve made it myself – throwing away as little as a third of a cupful of salsa verde or a piece of lovingly roasted capsicum makes me wince. So I don’t, but throw them into the freezer instead. Then next time I’m making soup or a curry or pasta sauce – anything that can take a bit of a kick – I toss those remnants in.
4. Stocking up
For a long time, I used supermarket cartons of liquid stock without compunction. But when I realized how much salt and preservative was in them, and how cheap it was to buy free-range chook carcasses from my butcher, I started making my own and freezing it. Apart from the better quality (and salved conscience from not using battery chickens), I can freeze them in many different quantities, from whole liters for braises and tagines, for example, to a tiny half-cupful for a sauce.
5. Anything with a pulse
I love dried beans and chickpeas and have only really embraced them in the past couple of years. I do occasionally use canned ones for convenience, but much prefer the texture of dried/soaked/cooked pulses I do myself. The trouble is that you have to know you are going to want them, and I’m not a great meal planner ahead of time. But if I soak and cook a couple of big batches of pulses every few weeks, then chuck them in containers or bags into the freezer – voila. Instant pulse action.
6. Rice on ice
Somebody once told me cooked rice grows bacteria very quickly, so I’ve always been paranoid about even keeping it in the fridge. Any leftover rice goes straight into the freezer – and then into the microwave for superfast cooking on stir-fry nights. Freezing other cooked grains – quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, farro and so on – also makes assembling boofy salads very easy, very quick.
7. The Florence factor
One of the best reasons to have lots of freezer space is so that you can keep it full of comforting morsels to take to your friends when they’re ailing in body or soul. Home-delivering a tub of soup, a tray of shepherd’s pie, a chicken pie, lamb tagine or coq au vin to your friend, instead of flowers, can lift the spirits and nourish the body like nothing else. And if these dishes are in the freezer, you don’t even have to make them to order. An old favorite, a soothing chicken broth with rice and pasta -you can take it one step further by using a home pasta maker, has become known around here as Florence Nightingale Soup for its healing properties. There are always one or two tubs ready to go in the freezer.
8. Pesto power
We almost always have a few pots of pesto in the freezer. At the end of each summer, we end up with an enormous forest of basil in the garden and can’t use it quickly enough. But last summer my husband made about twelve goodly tubs of pesto in one hit, and while we gave some away, into the freezer went the rest. It’s fab, not only for using with pasta, but for scooping out dollops to go into soups, casseroles, gravies, and sauces, or just tossing over fresh tomatoes while the rest of lunch is prepared. The pesto joins its herby pasty siblings, chermoula and salsa verde, for an instant hit of greenery to chuck in salad dressings, marinades and any other whatnot you can think of.
9. Take-away at home
Many nights we’re just too knackered to cook. In the old days, we would have phoned the local Thai takeaway for home delivery of some not-so-delicious stir-fry laden with sugary sauce and gone a bit stewed and limp, not to mention being left with a heap of crappy plastic containers. But now our evening meal leftovers go into the freezer (usually labeled in some form or other – most often just scrawled on the container in waterproof texta), we have our own home delivery in minutes. This week it was a deliciously soupy octopus braised in red wine and tomato from a fortnight ago – there was lots of sauce leftover but not heaps of occy, so we tossed in some white beans from the freezer as well. It was good.
10. Craving curb
You can eat chocolate straight from the freezer – but when my friend snapped off his front tooth by doing so, I took it as a warning. This is the same premise as that used by people who keep their credit cards in a block of ice in the freezer* – by the time it’s thawed, the impulse has hopefully passed. The best chocolate for keeping in the freezer is the good, thick bars of cooking stuff: bite into that in the midst of a chocoholic frenzy and you can pretty much kiss your smile goodbye.
Ice is good; it goes in drinks. The freezer makes it – try it some time!