Last year I took a good hard look at the crypt that was my freezer and determined to do better about being organized and thoughtful about using up food that we already had on hand before trucking off to the grocery store. What I found was that a little organization and intention went a long way and that with a little labeling and a little container love I’d created a system that not only reduced our food waste, but turned my freezer into another pantry of sorts.
Before I got organized about my freezer, it was a place where all food went to die. After a resting period in the tundra, it moved directly to the hens or the compost pile depending on what unidentifiable object I thought I was looking at.
Use Your Freezer Like a Pantry
Now, however, I use the freezer as I believe it was intended, as an extended pantry. With labels on everything and containers that stack and easily organize, I no longer dread opening the freezer, but instead go to it on a regular basis to supplement and add to meals in the works. When I’m doing my regular rotation of food in the fridge and clearing out little bits of this and that, the freezer is just one more place I go for inspiration.
Also, no longer is the freezer a stuffed-full, can-barely-close-the-door sort of place. Instead, I use it often to pull weeknight soups or stews that can be ready in minutes. Just add salad or cooked greens and presto, dinner is ready. The freezer stock is rotating on a regular basis just like my dry pantry items.
- Make soup, omelet, or pizza kits with little leftover bits from the fridge – remember to label everything
- Think about your freezer as if it were another pantry. Use it often and regularly.
How do you organize your freezer? What works for you?
Who has not spent an afternoon snuggled on the couch with their daughter watching The Great British Baking Show? If you haven’t, you need to. Especially the earlier seasons. I’m still a little unaccepting of the recent changes to the show, but that’s just me and eventually I will move on. However, Mary Berry is still my favorite host and will be forever and ever.
Of course after spending an afternoon watching, any self respecting foodie has to try a recipe or two. This one is a perfect winter time cake. We made ours and had it with tea in honor of, well, Britain, but it would be just as good served after dinner as a special dessert.
The recipe for Mary Berry’s Frosted Walnut Layer Cake is on the BBC website.
Last year in the interest of getting more organized in the kitchen and reducing the amount of our food that went to the chickens or into the compost pile, I started to focus on how to use our freezer better. Having worked in the restaurant industry for years before running the galley on the Riggin for the past 20 plus years, I already had a good process around rotating refrigerator stock, shopping to a list, and using up leftovers. But the freezer, on the other hand, was a place where perfectly good food went only to emerge some months (years?) later as unidentified mystery items destined for the compost pile.
Like most habits that end up sticking, it’s the simple things that matter. Simple changes. Simple processes.
Use Matching Containers
What I found was the simple process of labeling made a huge difference. The next thing I discovered, and I know this might begin to sound like a Marie Kondo ad, but using containers that matched and could rest on top of each other really worked.
The ability to stack the smaller containers on top of each other is key. Also, with the containers the same size, everything just fits nicely and just naturally organizes better. I have a bottom freezer, so labeling the tops of the containers makes it so I can see all of the labels at a glance without moving things around much. If you have a top freezer, then the labels should go on the side of the container for the same reason – you can see them at a glance.
As for the storage containers themselves, I bought a sleeve of pint and quart-sized freezer containers and another sleeve of interchangeable lids. Normally, I am not a fan of buying plastic. Period. But after trying to use recycled yogurt containers with the lids popping off on a regular basis (yes, that would be the lids with the labels on them) I gave up and switched. And I gotta say, it worked.
Here are a couple of tips that I found helpful:
- Use pint- and quart-sized freezer containers that match
- If freezing a pasta dish or pot pie, use an oven proof container so you can reheat in the oven
- Use interchangeable lids
- Label the top of the lids for a bottom or chest freezer and the side of the containers for a top freezer
- Store the containers, labels, and permanent marker together
- Use freezer bags for irregular shaped items or what won’t fit into a quart-sized container
Organized and loving it! Stay tuned for more posts in this series.
Kale, a humble vegetable, was all but unnoticed ten years ago except for by the most savvy of gourmands or those diehard back-to-the-landers. Those in the know were aware of what many have just recently discovered – that kale is not only super easy to grow, but it‘s also as delicious and versatile a vegetable as anyone might find.
Purple or green in color, Russian or Italian in variety, kale has become the academy award winner of vegetables – a virtual unknown thrown into the limelight by both it’s talent and the audience’s’ appetite for greens.
Because kale has so much “tooth,” meaning it has a hearty and chewy mouth feel, it can take center stage in place of meat. Only the staunchest of meat-eaters will be the wiser. As a green it is also what could be called an entry-level green – not so bitter or peppery for first-timers or kids with more sensitive palates.
We used to be more accepting of all things bitter, but as salt and sugar have become more prevalent in the American diet, our tolerance for the bitter flavors has waned.
Enter kale. Roast it with a little oil, puree it in pesto, whizz it in a smoothie and in general boost your iron; vitamins A, C and D; anti-oxidants and fiber. Go green!
Tuscan Kale, Cannellini Bean, and Kalamata Olive over Polenta
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups sliced red onion; about 1 large onion
2 cups carrots peeled and cut into 2-inch by 1/2-inch sticks; about 2 carrots
1 cup pitted Kalamata or other black olive
1 tablespoon minced garlic; about 1 large clove
1 (16-ounce) can cannellini beans, juice included
8 ounces kale, stems removed and coarsely chopped; about 8 cups
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Several grinds of fresh black pepper
1 cup chicken broth
1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese; about 1/2 cup lightly packed, for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or stock pot over medium high heat. Add the onions, carrots and olives and sauté until the onions begin to brown on the edges, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until heated through but the kale is still bright and chewy. Serve over polenta with grated Parmesan cheese. Use your favorite polenta recipe or find mine here.
Serves 4 to 6
Organize. Budget. Plan. Diet. What a perfect time of year to focus on getting organized and tidy in one or more areas, such as, ahem, my closets. But closets are for another day. Today is about the freezer. I’m not really a New Year’s resolution sort of gal, but I do like this time of year for checking in about my habits and making sure that I’ve got a good handle on the life I’m choosing by the choices I’m making. And while the garden is asleep and the winds whip and roar outside, it feels satisfying to turn my attention toward the house and our inside life.
One of the things I focused on last year around this time was our food waste. And while the compost pile is always ready and willing to receive any and all organic matter, I wanted to get even better at consuming our food before it headed to the big pile out back. I already had a handle on rotating stock in the fridge, using up pantry items, and having a pretty good plan for leftovers and little bits. I’ve written about good strategies for leftovers before and will be sharing more as we go along this winter.
The freezer, however, was another story. You know, that place that we relegate unused food, wait until it has freezer burn, and then a year later throw the unlabled and unknown mystery items into the compost pile? Might as well be Siberia. Yup. That’s the thing I wanted to be better at. So I’ve come up with a couple of strategies – all of which I knew and none of which I did much of until last year.
All of the changes I made were fairly small and didn’t take much doing, but the biggest of all was labeling everything that went into the freezer.
Basically, if I don’t label, I may as well just skip the freezer and toss everything in to the compost bucket straight off. Once something goes into the freezer without a label, it’s never coming out as something useful. Why not? Because I NEVER remember what the thing is. I always tell myself I will. But I don’t. Because it get moved around. Because once it’s frozen it doesn’t look exactly as it did when I first put it in there. Because I can’t smell it to figure out what it is. Because I can’t taste it to figure out what it is. Because. Just. Label.
Once I gave in to the idea that my intellectual prowess was not strong enough to overcome the freezer vortex, I started to love opening the freezer. A year later it’s even more organized than it was initially and it’s something I use all the time, not a place to relegate unmentionables.
To make things easy, because who has time for anything else, here are a few tips:
- Make up labels ahead of time, so all you need to do is write and slap
- Store the labels and pen in the kitchen somewhere close
- Use a waterproof pen or marker, not a gel pen that will smear if it gets wet
- Label the top of the lids for a bottom or chest freezer and the side of the containers for a top freezer so you can see the label easily
- Date everything
More to come in this series – stay tuned!
In the end, is it stuff or experiences that create a sense of fun, satisfaction, or contentment? When I read this article about Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things, it caused me to ponder for a minute some of the choices we’ve made as a family and why. While I will admit, a new car or pair of jeans is fun for a while, the lasting moments in my life come from time spent with friends and family, learning something new, or exploring a new place.
We live in a small house and while there are times when I’m riffling through a magazine, that I covet large living areas, personal crafting studios, and spacious kitchens, in the end I’d rather live in a small space and have fewer things so that I can ride horses or travel. I’d rather learn something new than have something new. I’d rather buy time rather than buy things.
And that’s good news, if we liked buying things our little house would be busting at the seams. As it is, we still find ourselves needing to be intentional about anything new that comes in to our house. As if when one thing comes in, another thing must go out.
Even more so when we are sailing on the Riggin for the summer. If we think our house is small, our cabin is a fraction of that size. And as it turns out, we find that all four of us can live for 4 days or a week out of one or two tote bags without any feeling of deprivation or lack.
All this to say that I’m not sure our stuff defines us, but I am sure our experiences do. There is some serious satisfaction that comes from knowing that we provide an experience for our guests that they can carry with them forever. You make it what it needs to be for you, but we provide the opportunity.
Come make some memories with us!
Sunday will surely see me on the couch with a wide perimeter given by my family (football viewing is an active sport for some). Before the big day, though, I’ll do some prep work so that we can all snack and graze while I watch. May the best team win!
Appetizer Menu for Super Bowl Sunday
Rosemary Cheese with Apricot Preserves
Baked Brie variations
Tomato, Dill, and Fontina Tartlet
Potato Skins with Artichokes and Fontina
Steamed Artichokes with Honey and Curry Yogurt Dip
Endive with Green Pea Hummus
Steamed Artichokes with Honey and Curry Yogurt Dip
When you trim artichokes immediately rubbing them with lemon juice can help keep them from turning brown.For those new to artichoke eating, break the leaves off of the artichoke and use your teeth to gently scrape the meat on the inside of the leaf. Discard the leaf. Once the leaves are gone, use a spoon to remove the choke (the fuzzy part) and enjoy the artichoke bottom.
2 artichokes, leaves and stems trimmed
1/2 lemon (plus extra for rubbing)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Cover 2 artichokes with water in a small saucepan or stockpot large enough to accommodate. Add the lemon and salt. Bring the water to a boil with the cover on and reduce heat to a simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Drain upside down. Serve warm or chilled with the Honey and Curry Yogurt Dip.
Honey and Curry Yogurt Dip
The curry flavor will increase the longer you let it sit.
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
4 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (or less)
several pinches of kosher salt
Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Makes 1 cup
Let’s have some fun rooting for our teams! Go Pats!