Welcome to the third and final installment in this fun series: Eat the Food You’re With, for those of us folks who are living on the cheap.
We’ve already explored inside your cabinet (I know you have cans of beans in there), and handled the food on the precipice of being spoiled that is lingering in your fridge (recap: blend it up or fry it up). Today we turn to the motherlode: the freezer section.
I’m sure you already have some crystallizing memories of delicious meals past piling up in there. If you are trying to spend zero money on food, why not come to terms with the fact that those chunks of dinner are never going to get any better than they are now. So go ahead and warm up that good intention and turn it into a meal.
Hopefully you chose to freeze your leftovers in an airtight, glass container. If so, pop the lid off and stick that sucker in the microwave. I think it's always best to only put a dish into zap mode for a minute or two at a time. Do you know how a microwave actually works? And what that does to your body? Me either, but it just feels a little wrong. Stir in between each 1-2 minute session to make sure everything gets equally warmed at the same time, and then there! Look at that! Free dinner! It's like double indemnity, you can't pay for a dinner you already paid for.
Unfortunately it's almost never that easy. If you chose to freeze leftovers in a non-glass, non-airtight container you have a bumpier road ahead of you. I don't think plastic is a good idea in the microwave, but freezer bags and plastic storage containers both do well in a bowl of warm – not boiling – water. Let it all soften up to the point that you can add the leftovers to a pan on the stovetop or transfer to a microwave dish.
For those containers that were not airtight enough to prevent freezer burn, let me assure you: I have looked into this extensively, and you cannot undo the awful dead dry-ice taste of freezer burn. If you are lucky, you can cut it away while still preserving enough of the original dish to sustain you, but please please please don't try to just ignore it or over-season the warmed-up dish to cover the flavor. It won't work, and you'll turn into a White Walker immediately and be banished north of the wall. It's inhumanly disgusting tasting.
Save yourself this fate in the future by waiting until all food comes to room temperature before sealing up and banishing to the back of the freezer. It's that trapped steam that creates the freezer burn in the first place. Watch out for any other sneaky way that air may be slipping into your containers too. Screw-top jars or suction-seal bags and containers are your freezer friends!
As you prep food for freezing keep portion sizes in mind too. While it may be tempting to put everything in large containers, more realistically, it is easier to reheat single-serving portions. And don’t limit yourself to main dishes. Sauces also freeze well, as do fresh herbs and spices. Load an ice cube tray up with olive oil and fresh garlic and rosemary, for instance; once the cubes freeze you can transfer them to a freezer bag and just throw the perfect amount of seasoning into a future dish.
You can do the same for excess coconut milk or homemade pesto and make a quick curry or pasta dish. For more on those, read the first article in my eating-on-the-cheap series, and then keep reading all in perpetuity until you’ve saved enough money for someone else to cook for you again.