The other day as I was putting groceries away, I made an unpleasant discovery: there was no more room in our freezer. We have one of those drawer freezers in the bottom of our refrigerator, which is supposed to be more energy-efficient than a top freezer. The trouble is, the drawer is so deep that once I put something in it, it seems to sink to the bottom and I forget about it.
Looking at all of the packages of frozen vegetables, meats, leftovers and more, I made a decision: This month will be “Clean Out My Freezer” month. This doesn’t mean emptying out the freezer and throwing away everything so I can start from scratch. No, I am challenging myself to take stock of my crowded freezer and try to incorporate the various packages of food into my meal planning each week. Along the way, I’ll also try to clean out some of the stuff that has piled up in my fridge and pantry.
Freezer Stir Fry
Day one of this effort was actually a great success, and it wasn’t even my doing: my husband found a package of leftover rice, which he made into a sort of stir-fried rice that used up a few frozen chicken thighs and some odds and ends of frozen vegetables (for some reason we seem to have more than our share of opened bags of frozen vegetables, each of which only have a cup or so left; not enough to use on their own for a side dish).He seasoned his stir-fry with soy sauce and the rest of a bottle ofAsian marinade, and broke a couple of eggs into it for a little more bulk and protein.
Chili con Freezer
A few days later, we made chili, which is another terrific use of frozen odds and ends and leftover vegetables. Part of a red pepper and even a couple of chopped carrots went into our chili, as well as the rest of a bag of frozen corn and a half-bag of meatless crumbles that were found in the bottom of the freezer.
Chicken a la Freezer
My biggest success came a few days later, and for once, I was almost thankful for our overstuffed freezer. With dinnertime fast approaching, I hadn’t yet made it to the supermarket. I rummaged in the freezer and found two chicken breasts. Using the running-water defrost method, they thawed as I assembled the rest of my meal. I ended up baking the last of the sweet potatoes from our CSA and mashing the flesh with a little honey and ginger, and steaming some frozen broccoli along with the remainder of red pepper, which I diced up and sprinkled over the broccoli. I drizzled the cooked broccoli with sesame oil and topped it with a handful of sesame seeds. As for the chicken, once it had thawed, I sautéed it along with some leeks leftover from a weekend egg dish my husband had made, and deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine from a bottle we’d opened last week. Rather than having a thrown-together feel, the meal was one I really enjoyed preparing, and both my husband and daughter raved over everything. And the freezer and fridge were just a little bit emptier for my efforts.
And finally, while I was at a yoga class and my husband was on dinner duty, he found some frozen hot dogs and buns, and used that chili we’d made a few days ago to make chili dogs. We were glad to finish off a Costco-sized bag of frozen sweet potato fries to serve alongside of the dogs.
The freezer is getting more manageable, my grocery bills are blessedly lower, and both my husband and I are really getting into the challenge and the creativity of creating meals from the ingredients we fish out from the depths of our freezer. Come to think of it, maybe we have the makings of a good new reality show for the Food Network?
If you want to play along at home, here are my tips for taking this month to clear out your own freezer, fridge and pantry:
- Don’t get overwhelmed. Take small steps by incorporating one or two leftover items into your meals each week. And don’t force yourself to make an entire meal based on leftovers or what’s in your freezer; instead, plan to use up leftovers with just one dish.
- If in doubt, throw it out. It can be hard to tell if frozen foods are still good. But after you thaw it (or even after you cook it), if it smells strange or tastes weird, trust your instincts and don’t eat it. You don’t want to risk food poisoning just for the sake of being frugal!
- Disguise freezer burn. Meat, bread or vegetables that have freezer burn are still usually safe to eat; it just means that frost crystals have formed on the food and, in the case of meat, the surface may be dried out in patches. This is usually because the food wasn’t wrapped tightly enough before freezing. Use meats or vegetables in stews, soups or some sort of sauce to return moisture to the food and to disguise a dried-out texture. And you might be able to freshen bread by putting it in a warm (250F) oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until it is soft.
- Combine odds and ends. If you have a bunch of half-used bags of frozen vegetables, like I have, use them to assemble a vegetable soup, or in a casserole or a stir-fry.
- Make smoothies. Leftover frozen fruit can be combined with yogurt to make a delicious breakfast smoothie. Frozen fruit is actually better than fresh fruit for making smoothies because it will make a thicker, creamier drink.
What are some of your favorite meals to make from leftovers from your freezer?