TND – I Can be Taught (really)

June 1, 2011

You know what I loathe?  Recipes that call for a ¼ cup of something that only comes in a 16 oz can, or recipes that call for 1 ¼ lb of something that is usually sold in 1 lb increments.  Sometimes I just omit the ingredient, or substitute it, or make just under what the recipe calls for to make up for the ¼ lb of whatever it is that I’m missing.  A lot of the time I’ll just skip over the recipe and find something else to make.  However, sometimes, like tonight, the ¼ cup of coconut milk is important and the recipe is actually worth opening the can and dealing with the remaining coconut milk.  This is when you discover that your freezer is your friend.

I’ll be honest, it has taken me a long time to learn this, and more tellingly it’s taken me a long time to figure out how to use my freezer effectively.  For years people made fun of my freezer because it was always packed to bursting, but I could never find anything in it and I almost never pulled anything out of it.

What I have learned – because it’s always the completely obvious things that are the hardest to figure out, and the most startling to discover – is that it isn’t enough to just conscientiously freeze things, you have to (a) remember what you have stashed away, and (b) you then have to be able to find it again.  I’m sure someone told me these things and I paid no attention, but in the interests of potentially sparing someone else a decade of inefficient freezer etiquette, here are the things I’ve learned about using a freezer successfully.

1 – Not everything freezes well.  Don’t bother trying to freeze dairy products.  Yes, it’s annoying to have a recipe that calls for 1/3 cup of heavy cream when heavy cream is only sold in 1 pt containers.  Unless you’re planning a dessert that calls for whipped cream, odds are good this is going to go off before you find something else to do with it (although, that being said, the higher the fat content of your cream, the longer it will last – so a good heavy whipping cream will actually last a couple of weeks in the fridge before it gets solid in a bad way).  You just have to let it go, or make dessert.

2 – Label as you go.  Once it’s frozen chili looks exactly the same as spaghetti sauce, and boneless skinless chicken breasts look disconcertingly like boneless pork chops when viewed through a ziplock bag.  And forget trying to figure out which frozen hunk of ground meat is turkey and which is beef.  Also, label how much of something is in a container – 1 cup of coconut milk, 1 ½ cups of diced tomatoes, ½ lb of ground beef, 3 oz of shredded mozzarella cheese.

3 – Freeze in units you will actually use.  It’s all very well to neatly store away 2 ½ lb of ground beef, but unless you’re actually likely to need 2 ½ lb of ground beef sometime in the future, you’re better off taking 10 minutes and freezing it in ½ lb increments (well, that’s useful for me, because ½ lb of meat feeds two people nicely).  Ditto on things like leftover chilis in adobo – don’t freeze all the rest of the can as a block, lay wrap each chili up in a square of saran wrap and freeze them individually because recipes tend to call for 1-2 chilis not seven.  If you’re freezing something like pesto, it’s useful to know that the average icecube tray is conveniently divided into roughly 1 Tbsp units.  You can freeze in the tray and then turn the blocks out into a (labeled) ziplock bag after they’ve frozen.

4 – Keep a few containers of round robin ingredients going.  For example, rather than tossing that leftover piddly 1/3 cup of spaghetti sauce, stash it in your freezer and keep adding to each each time you have a little leftover sauce.  Eventually you’ll end up with a full serving of sauce that you can defrost and use.  Unless the sauce is very strongly flavored with something I never particularly worry about mixing my sauces, I figure that they’ll all meld together to form something new and tomatoey and generally that’s all I’m looking for from my tomato sauce.  I also tend to do this with leftover bits of diced/whole/crushed tomatoes.  I figure some day I’ll throw them into soup or stew where they’ll all cook down to the same consistency anyway.

5 – Remember what’s in there.  It’s all very well to carefully save and freeze that extra cup of coconut milk, but unless you remember that the next time you have a recipe that calls for less than a full can of coconut milk it’s not doing you any good.  I tend to rely on my memory, which works about 70% of the time, but if you were more conscientious/invested/uptight you could keep a running list of what you have frozen and cross things off when you use them up.  I haven’t quite gotten there yet, but I’m willing to admit that it might only be a matter of time before I do.

Turkey Burgers with Peanut Sauce
Sweet Potato Fries
Apple-Fennel Slaw
(out of season) Watermelon

Turkey Burgers with Peanut Sauce
(makes 4 burgers)

The besetting sin of turkey burgers is that they’re dry and tasteless.  These are neither dry, nor tasteless, but honestly the real reason you’re making these is an excuse to eat the sauce which is fantastic.

20 oz ground chicken (or turkey)
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for brushing
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala

Combine all the ingredient and then form into four 4-inch patties (this works out to about 5 oz/patty – although since the ground turkey I get comes in 1lb increments unless I’m making more than four burgers I usually just go with 4oz patties to make my life easy).

Brush the burgers lightly with some vegetable oil and place on your pre-heated grill (or grill-pan) oiled side down (I also lightly oil my grill pan in the interests of not having them stick).  Grill until golden and crusty and just cooked through – about 8-10 minutes, turning once (and brushing the top of the patty with a little more oil before you flip it).

Peanut Sauce
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp finely chopped red onion
1 tsp chili powder
¼ cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp hot water
2 Tbsp chopped salted peanuts

Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan, and then sauté the chopped onion and chili powder until the onion is softened (about 5 minutes).  Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter and hot water.  Stir in the peanuts and season to taste with salt/pepper.  Allow to cool (I usually make this the night before).
Spread the peanut sauce on some lightly toasted buns, top with burgers and serve with lettuce and tomato on the side.

If you’re making a multiple of this recipe – for example I made 5 burgers for Dinner but tripled the sauce – you might need to cook the coconut milk down a little bit before you add the peanut butter, and add the hot water in increments until you reach the desired consistency.  You want the sauce to be spreadable but not so liquid it runs off the bun.  It will firm up a little as it cools.
Sweet Potato Fries

Recipe previously given:  In which it all went kind of wrong, but was still tasty 

Apple-Fennel Slaw

Recipe previously given:  Ant Parade

(out of season) Watermelon

Look, it was Memorial Day weekend, the weather had segued directly from later winter to high summer over night (last Monday I wore coat/scarf/gloves to work, this Monday I brought the fans up from the basement), there was cut watermelon sitting on ice . . . . I was powerless to resist.



  1. There should also be a virtual pantry that your friends can check. I happen to have the remains of a can of coconut milk that you could have used.

    • Safely stored in your freezer I assume?

      • Um, it wasn’t. How quickly does it go bad?

  2. Not a clue. The internet is unhelpful in answering this question. I’d say if it tastes off don’t use it, otherwise it’s probably fine – particularly if you’re going to cook it.

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