Cooking Homemade Frozen Foods

Dear Home Ec 101,

I’d like to make some thing to keep in our freezer to help us avoid the convenience foods at the hectic dinner hour.  Do you have a rule of thumb for what freezes well without losing much quality/texture?  What’s the best way to thaw and bake things that have been frozen?

Chilled in Chi-Town

Heather says:

In the past here on Home-Ec 101 we have talked about how to freeze food. We have also talked about how to thaw food safely, ad nauseum I’m sure, but here we go.

Thaw food in the refrigerator or a water bath. If you are absolutely in a time crunch, use your microwave. Do not thaw food on your kitchen counter. Bacteria multiplies quickly at “room temperature” in fact the entire range from 41°F to 140°F (4°C – 60°C) is known as the danger zone. (Who else now has images of Top Gun zipping through their imagination, raise your hand)

So now that we have safety covered, let’s talk about preserving the quality or frozen foods.

It all comes down to texture, surface area, and water content.

The prepared food companies have amazing freezers that can flash freeze much faster than we can at home. Unless you’re my friend Aliza who lives in Tok, AK. All she has to do is put it on her back porch (Aliza, I’m not suggesting you actually do this, just noting it’s possible). The faster a food goes from cool to frozen the better the quality of the final product, it has to do with how much damage the expanding water molecules can wreak.

If food is supposed to be mushy, do what you want as long as it follows the safety guidelines we have discussed. If it’s soupy, stirring gently during the cooking process will speed things up.

If you have a giant pan of lasagna thawing overnight will speed up the cooking process.

Do not cook roasts or turkeys from frozen *unless it has been specifically created for that purpose, I know Butterball has a pre-stuffed turkey that can be cooked from the frozen state* In general, the outside will be overcooked long before the heat can be transferred to the center of the food.

With individual frozen things like homemade chicken fingers / nuggets, egg rolls, lentil patties, calzones, pizza etc go ahead and cook from the frozen state. These items are all small enough that the surface area to volume ratio doesn’t matter. In fact most of these may become soggy and unappetizing if allowed to thaw prior to cooking.

Here’s the easiest way to decide whether to thaw or cook from frozen:

Take a quick trip to the grocery store and walk down the frozen food aisle. Look for the food you want to make and read the package directions. Whatever they recommend will work for your homemade version.

In general with baked goods (these are doughy products not meaty foods with a coating) I tend to prefer a par-baked product, especially with calzones. I want the dough set but not all the way browned, I let the final run through the oven do the last browning. With pizzas, I find par-baking the crust helps prevent sogginess.

What about you Home-Eccers, how do you handle cooking homemade foods?

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  1. imabug on January 20, 2012 at 10:46 am

    i actually have left things outside and/or buried them in a snow pile to cool them down or freeze them quickly 🙂

    it’s quite effective especially if you’re a little tight on space in the fridge/freezer.

    also in the dead of winter, outside is usually a lot colder than the freezer so things cool off really quickly when you set it in a snow pile. if you just want to cool something off, it’s a good idea to set a timer or something or you’re liable to end up with a frozen something instead.

    • HeatherSolos on January 20, 2012 at 10:48 am

      @imabug I know I just can’t officially “endorse” it as a practice as someone will get mauled by a bear and blame me. Sigh.

      We used to put our beer out in the snow during parties, when I lived in MN.

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