Thinking about improving our freezer use

We have a 5.3 cu. ft. Haier chest freezer in addition to the freezer drawer built into the fridge. We’ve had the chest freezer for two years now, and it’s been really useful. I want to see if we can make even better use of it before we consider scaling up. There isn’t that much space to grow in the current place we have the freezer, and moving the freezer elsewhere would make less convenient. I’d rather figure out how to use the freezer space more efficiently.

One easy way to to do that is to shift more of our freezer space from ingredients to prepared meals, giving us more time between cooking sprints. We tend to do a cooking sprint every third weekend. If we organize our space better and add more recipes to our cooking sprints, we might be able to cook once a month and enjoy more variety, too.

I spent some time this morning taking an inventory of what’s in the freezer, so I can plan to use those ingredients up. Here’s what we’ve got.

Baking
Butter 2lbs Cooking and baking; rarely goes on sale, so I could just get this on an as-needed basis
Crisco 0.5 block Mainly for baking vegan treats for tea parties. I haven’t been hosting tea parties lately, though.
Lard 1/4 cup Pies and egg tarts – more useful during baking season
Pie crust dough 2 discs Left over from the last baking season
Yeast 1 bottle Coconut buns, mmm
Bread
Bread 1 1/3 loaf Very handy
Burger buns 4 For burgers; useful in summer
Breakfast
Bacon 500g Mm, breakfast
Longganisa 1 pack of 12 links Breakfast
Steamed buns 5 packs Delicious – we tend to go through 1 pack / person
Cheese
Cheese ends 0.5L To be grated for lasagna
Grated parmesan 8 cups Gift from Tania – I use it in lasagna and other pasta dishes
Nacho cheese mix 1kg Great for potatoes, fries, nachos, and so on
Romano cheese 497g To be grated for lasagna
Shredded mozzarella 120g Quick way to make lots of things better
Dessert
Strawberry rhubarb tarts 8 From my experiment. A bit sour; needs a spoonful of sugar each. We don’t usually have dessert, though.
Turon half pack When we feel like frying
Vanilla ice cream 1 cup Just a little bit left – must finish it while the weather’s warm
Fruit
Fruit 3.5kg For smoothies; must have this while the weather’s warm
Mashed banana 3 cups For banana bread and for smoothies
Herbs
Basil 1 cup Raw ingredients for pesto. Can also be added to pasta sauce.
Cilantro 1.5L Stir-fries
Curry leaves 1 pack Thai curry
Dill 2 cups For… umm… mixing with cream cheese? We don’t cook fish often. I saved this from the CSA box.
Lemon zest 0.5 cups For banana bread
Oregano 1 cup For pasta sauce.
Ingredients
Carrot tops 3 cups Vegetable stock? But we have so much stock already.
Chickpeas 680g Curry, someday
Chopped onion 1 cup Also good for instant noodles or quick recipes
Green onion 2.5 cups Great for instant noodles
Parsley 4 cups Soups and sauces
Peeled ginger 1 cup Stir-fries and other Asian dishes
Red beans 1 kg Chili, someday
Meals
Chicken nuggets 460g J-’s lunches
Garlic scape pesto 2 cups Dinner
Jamaican beef patties 12 J-’s lunches
Lasagna 8 portions Dinner
Pesto 3 cups Dinner
Roast chicken with couscous 12 individual meals Lunch
Spaghetti with sauce 1 individual meal Lunch
Stuffed chicken breasts 5 J-’s lunches
Meat
Beef mix (ground beef, onions, garlic) 4 cups For nachos, burritos, or pasta sauce
Burger patties 4 Must finish this while the weather’s warm
Dry salt bellies 412g For baked beans, because the pork bellies are sometimes not stocked at the supermarket
Italian sausages 4 For pasta sauce
Misc.
Bag of ice cubes 1 L Drinks
Ice packs 3 To cool things down
Seafood
Basa 1 fillet This one’s pretty old. I should throw it out.
Crab sticks 2 packs x 340g The occasional sushi; probably should use this up and then just buy on an as-needed basis
Halibut 1 L Gift; must defrost and fry sometime
Shrimp 340g Mm, pad thai.
Stocks and sauces
Bones for stock 3 chickens From our last cooking sprint
Chicken gravy starter 1 cup This must be from the other time we roasted chickens. We don’t often make or eat gravy, though
Chicken stock 14 cups We have so much stock. We should use it more often. Maybe I’ll use it to cook rice.
Turkey stock 2 cups This is from last year. I should toss it out.
Vegetables
Carrot sticks 340g From my let’s-freeze-the-carrots experiment
Chopped carrots 380g For chili or other dishes
Mixed vegetables 1.5kg For frozen lunches
Okra 520g For pinakbet. Hard to get at the nearby supermarket, so we keep a stash. Dependent on bittermelon availability, though, and that’s also rare.
Shredded zucchini 2 cups Zucchini delayed is zucchini denied. I should sneak these into brownies sometime.
Spinach 0.5 L For smoothies; must have this while the weather’s warm
Steak-cut fries 1kg Regular fries or chili cheese fries. Yum, although frying is scary.
Vegetable ends for stock 1.1kg When I figure out how to get through more stock, I’ll cook this into a vegetable stock

Some things are clear candidates for tossing. Some things are there because the community-supported agriculture box had more produce than we could finish in a week (dill, etc.). For many items in our fridge, though, it’s more of a shift from stocking up to buying ingredients as we need them – not a bad idea, particularly if we scale up and plan recipes well. I estimate that prepared meals take up a ninth of our current freezing capacity. There’ll be room to grow once we get through these raw ingredients.

We’ve adopted a few freezer practices that have turned out to be quite useful. Standardized containers make food easy to stack. Grouping loose items into large bags (red for meat, green for vegetables, and so on) makes it easier to dig through the freezer in search of something. I can figure out a better way to index the infrequently-used frozen items so that we get visual reminders to use them up – maybe in that home dashboard I’ve been building. Hmm…

  • http://smartpeopleiknow.wordpress.com Bernie Michalik

    Hi Sacha, here’s some other ideas, though yours are great:

    zucchini – also use for zucchini nut quick loaf – if you play up the dessert-y aspect of it and skip over the veggie part, kids are good with that. :)
    fish – there’s always one form of fish that goes on sale. buy some extra and freeze it. one day it will be cod, another tilipia
    Steak-cut fries – try roasting wedges tossed in oil – very tasty and lighter than fried potatoes or other starchy food
    Salsas – consider making and freezing them, especially in meal sized forms. Then if you bake some meat or veggies, you can warm it up before the meal and serve along side the food.
    stock – one a week, make homemade soup with your stock. Darker stocks are great for that. Also use in rice or risotto

  • http://baonkobento.wordpress.com Patricia

    This is a very informative post! Several things I thought:

    crisco – can survive unfrozen?
    bread – didn’t know i could freeze those
    cheese – and this
    chicken stock in cooking rice – wow that sounds decadent
    carrots – doesn’t this go weird when frozen?

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    Patricia: Yeah, Crisco is fine at room temperature, but it keeps in the freezer too. The best place for bread is in the freezer, actually – you never have to deal with stale bread. Hard cheeses and grated cheeses freeze really well. Chicken stock in cooking rice – a quick and convenient way to cook congee. ;) Carrots – not crunchy, but still okay for soup or mixed vegetables, particularly if you blanch it first. After all, they sell carrots in those bags of frozen mixed vegetables, don’t they?

    Bernie: You can freeze salsa? Interesting! I’ll give that a try. I’ll also work on getting more soup onto our menus. =) Thanks for the tips!

  • http://smartpeopleiknow.wordpress.com Bernie Michalik

    You should be able to freeze tomato salsa for sure. I haven’t tried fruit salsa yet.

  • Andrea

    Hi Sacha!

    I have started thinking about buying either a Cintiq or a Lenovo X220 mainly for drawing (I already own a digital tablet, but I am curious about the transition to drawing directly onscreen) and I was wondering if maybe you would find valuable to post in the future about what your uses for Cintiq and Lenovo X61/X220 are? Do you find lots of differences in your drawing in terms of the resulting picture?

    I already own a nice computer, so I don’t really need a new laptop.

    I am mainly concerned about the precision and being able to write onscreen would be awesome for taking notes (my handwriting looks a bit weird in a digital tablet, since I am not looking at my hand).

    Thanks a lot!

    Take care,
    Andrea