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Preserving food by freezing

Few methods of preserving food are as easy as freezing. But while cold temperatures slow the deterioration of foods, they do not stop the process entirely. Freezing can also damage the cells of many foods. The ideal temperature is about 0F. At this temperature, foods freeze quickly. Freezers that are too warm (between 25 and 31F) take too long to freeze food, causing large ice crystals to form on the food and give frozen food a poor texture.

To prepare food for freezing
Cool hot food to room temperature (at least) before freezing. Cold food freezes faster, and putting hot food into your freezer can thaw adjacent foods and raise your freezer's temperature.

To freeze food faster
Set food on the lowest shelf in the freezer, where the temperature is lowest and the food will freeze more quickly than it will on a higher shelf, where the temperature is likely to be slightly warmer. Leave some room around the food for cold air to circulate. Once food is frozen solid, it can be moved to another shelf. Also, avoid overfilling your freezer. Keep it too full can increase the temperature.

To organize your freezer
Designate sections of the freezer for categories of food. Aside from ice cubes and ice cream, the big four are proteins, vegetables and fruits, baked goods, and prepared foods. If you have room, it's also helpful to keep one section empty for quickly chilling or freezing foods.

To conserve freezer space
Store food in plastic freezer bags rather than in rigid plastic containers. Use zipper-lock bags designed for freezing. Other plastic bags are gas permeable, allowing oxygen into the bag, which will cause the food to deteriorate more rapidly. Plastic freezer bags save space and help preserve quality by allowing only a minimum of oxygen to touch the food. Label the bag with the contents and the date. When possible, use the chart on the opposite page to jot down the "expiration date". Place the food in the bag, close it to within 1/2 inch, insert a straw into the opening, and suck out as much of the air from the bag as you can. Now, with the dexterity of a sleight-of-hand artist, slip out the straw and close the bag without letting any air back in. When freezing raw meats, press out excess with your hands instead of using a straw.

To make your freezer easier to clean
Line the floor of the freezer with foil, being careful not to cover the fan vent, which would cause the freezer to overheat.

To prevent freezer burn
Store food in zipper-lock plastic bags designed specifically for freezer use. Or store it in non-permeable plastic wrap on in plastic containers. Freezer burn happens when the moisture on the surface of food evaporates. It also helps to squeeze out as much air as possible from the bag, plastic warp, or container before sealing.

To know whether or not frozen food has deteriorated
The color of food should not have changed dramatically. If it has, the food has probably been frozen too long. If the surface of the food looks dry and is covered with pale gray spots, it likely has freezer burn. Frost on food indicates that food was frozen too slowly or that it has partially thawed and refrozen.

To keep vegetables from turning brown in the freezer
Blanch vegetables before freezing will help to ensure that your vegetables will stay green instead of turning brown.

To freeze meat
Remove meats from their packaging and wrap tightly in good-quality freezer paper. Heavy-duty plastic bags work well too, but be careful not to let any bones puncture the plastic. A moisture-proof wrap (not the flimsy plastic on packaged meats) will protect food from the drying effects of the freezer and help prevent freezer burn.

To easily cut thin slices of raw meat
Partially freeze the meat or poultry. Use a sharp serrated knife to slice or "saw" off wafer-thin slices. These are ideal for stir-fries. The meat can then be marinated, and it will thaw quickly.

To freeze individual pieces of food
Cookies, unbaked cookie dough, chicken pieces, meatballs, berries, or individual pastries are best placed on a rimmed baking sheet and frozen uncovered until firm. Then, transfer to zipper-lock freezer bags and store. This keeps the individual pieces from sticking together as they freeze, making it easier to use a portion without defrosting the entire bag.

To use empty freezer space
On the off chance that your have an extra freezer or empty freezer space, here's what to put there. Flour, especially whole grain flour, it is a good choice because it goes rancid quickly at room temperature. (If storing flour for longer than a few weeks, put it in tightly closed plastic bags before freezing.) Dried herbs are another good choice; you can extend their shelf life indefinitely by keeping them in the freezer. Keep a small amount in your spice rack for immediate use and store the rest frozen in zipper-lock plastic bags. Nuts are another freezer contender. Like anything containing oil, they will become rancid in time, and freshness can be prolonged by freezing. To use frozen nuts in baking, bring them to room temperature first by warning in a 250F oven for a few minutes.

To safely thaw frozen food
Allow frozen foods to thaw in the refrigerator rather than on a counter-top. Alternatively, if the food has not been frozen in a zipper-lock plastic bag, transfer it to one, and put the bag into a large bowl of cool water. This will help to quickly thaw the frozen food.

To defrost meats
The greatest lie ever perpetrated by cookbooks authors is "defrost overnight in the refrigerator". Almost nothing defrosts overnight in a refrigerator. A frozen chicken would be better used for bowling than dinner after 12 hours in a fridge. A turkey might defrost over the week in the refrigerator, but not overnight. Defrosting frozen meats in the refrigerator takes at least 24 hours and more often 48 hours.

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