So allow me to have the pleasure of introducing you to my freezer...
Freezing is not only convenient, it's economical. When meat is on sale, you can buy it up and either freeze extra or make things to freeze. When you are going through the trouble of baking one banana bread, why not make two and freeze one? Make a huge pot of soup and freeze it in portion sizes. Make a huge batch of rice and freeze it in portions according to how much you need for a meal. I was hesitant to freeze things at first, because I thought they wouldn't taste as good when they thawed. Silly me. When food is packaged correctly, it tastes perfectly wonderful after it thaws.
There is LOTS of info out there on freezing. I thought I would begin by posting a list of ten freezing tips:
2. Flash freezing is the thing to do if you want to put something in a freezer bag, but it needs to hold it's shape. I do this with cookie dough, enchiladas, stuffed and rolled chicken cutlets, etc. You put the item(s) in the freezer on a cookie sheet (or other flat surface) and allow it to freeze for a short period of time (1/2 hour or an hour). Then you can put the item(s) into a freezer bag. For example, you could make a big batch of cookie dough and then scoop balls of dough onto a baking sheet. Flash freeze them and then drop them into a freezer bag. You can bake them anytime you want, directly from freezer to oven!
3. The foil and plastic wrap method works great for things that need to hold their shape (like casseroles, lasagna, meatloaf, etc.). Begin by fully preparing your meal. For example, if you are making baked ziti...make two of them. Bake them side by side, serving one for dinner and saving one for freezing. Allow the food you intend to freeze to cool slightly (you don't want it to be really hot or it will melt the plastic wrap). Line a baking dish with aluminum foil first and then a layer of plastic wrap second. Make sure they both fully cover the bottom and sides of the dish and that there's enough over hang to cover the top of the dish. Place the food into the dish (for baked ziti, I would use a large spoon or spatula to transfer it to the baking dish).
Allow food to cool completely and then cover it tightly with the plastic wrap and then the foil. Keep the meal in the pan and flash freeze it. Once it's frozen and solid, remove it from the pan and into a freezer bag. It should stack nicely into your freezer until you are ready to eat it.
When you are ready to eat the meal, thaw it slightly and then remove the foil and plastic wrap. Place back in the original dish for baking. If you have trouble getting the plastic wrap off, dip it in warm water and it should come off easily.
This method is great because baking dishes are tied up in the freezer, the food stores compactly and easily, and the meal fits right in the original pan again for baking or cooking after a quick thaw.
4. Date and label your meals. You swear you'll know what it is after it's frozen...but you won't. Don't become a victim of mystery meals...label and date them! Use a permanant marker directly on the bags or foil. It's also helpful to put the cooking time and temperature so you don't even have to look up the recipe (also add special instructions like "add parmesan cheese before baking".
5. Always double wrap baked items. Wrap the item in plastic wrap and then in a freezer bag. Baked goods (such as muffins, breads, rolls, cookies, etc) freeze wonderfully and thaw quickly at room temperature or in the microwave.
6. Fresh ginger freezes wonderfully. Peel it, wrap it in plastic wrap, and put it in a freezer bag. Just grab it out of the freezer when you need it for a recipe...it's grates easily and tastes great! You will be amazed how much flavor fresh ginger adds to a recipe.
7. Sometimes, freezer bags can be reused. Obviously, you do not reuse bags that have had uncooked meats and marinades in them. But when bags are used for baked goods or as the outer-layer wrap, reuse them!
8. Pizza dough is super easy to make from scratch (I'll post a recipe for it soon). You can also buy it from some grocery stores and local pizza places. Roll out individual sized pizza crusts and stack them with pieces of parchment paper between then. Place the stack in a freezer bag and freeze on a flat surface. You can pull out one or two of them and bake them directly from the freezer.
9. How long will it keep? There are different opinions about this. My own opinion is that 3-6 months is best. I don't think it will hurt you to eat the meals after that, but I think the flavor and freshness goes downhill over time. When I make something and freeze it, I put it in the back of the freezer and bring the older things to the front. You want to keep the meals rotating so that things aren't stuck in there for ever.
10. Don't thaw on the counter. I know that a lot of people do this. But everything I've read says that harmful bacteria can grow when most foods thaw at room temperature (baked goods are an exception). The wisest thing to do is to think about what you want to make for the week and allow things to thaw in the refrigerator. In a pinch, you can microwave most things easily. Sometimes I thaw soups, chilis, and stews by dipping the freezer bag in and out of warm water until it's thawed enough to be removed from the bag.
*Many of these tips have been taken directly from Don't Panic: Dinner's in the Freezer! by Susie Martinez, Vanda Howell, and Bonnie Garcia. I highly recommend it as a great resource on freezing and prepping ahead.