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Is your freezer your friend or enemy?

"much insight can be gained when having a rummage through a person's freezer." Shelf Love

Which is a bit of a worry if you rummaged through my freezer - shown here.

As I said in yesterday's post, my stuffed peppers recipe came from a chapter in Yotam Ottolenghi's latest book called The Freezer is Your Friend, which is where the friend thing comes from - and then I started to wonder whether it really was my friend, and was more like a guilty secret - or even an enemy.

They all say that don't they? That your freezer is your friend and how it will save you time, money and waste, because you will always have a ready to just heat up meal, pastry to cook a pie - even an actual frozen tart case, brown bananas for your morning smoothie not to mention the frozen vegetables, fish and fruit, just waiting to be turned into something amazing.

Well the above is a picture of my freezer. Need I say more? Well of course I will. It is definitely not organised. Things are just shoved into whatever space is available - not much at the moment, and virtually nothing is labelled, unless it's a joint of meat just thrust into the freezer in its plastic vacuum package with its labels still on. So I could say that at least the meat is labelled properly. Mind you I do sort of know where to look for a particular thing. For example theoretically the top of the two bottom baskets is for chicken and pork, and the bottom for beef and lamb, the top shelf of the door for pastry, the middle shelf for sausages ... The trouble is if the particular container you need is full then what you have in hand just gets shoved in anywhere - and then forgotten.

And not all the meat is labelled either, because some meat - rump steak, bits of chicken, mincemeat is divided up into portions for two people, and repackaged - i.e. wrapped in gladwrap and then put into an unlabelled and un vacuum packed plastic bag. Fortunately these meats are the ones that I use all the time, and I do know what they are, and so the turnover on them is pretty quick. Nobody else would know though.

This is what your freezer is supposed to look like:

That's a big freezer, but you get the message. Lots of clearly labelled packages and containers, and I'm guessing a bit of constant shuffling to bring the oldest things to the front. I sort of smiled at this quote from J Kenji Lopez-Alt, who I like to think was also smiling at himself. I don't know where it came from, so I'm hoping he may well have gone on to say that that was then and now is somewhat different. Still:

"When I had a side-by-side-style freezer, I kept everything - soup, ground meat, steaks, cooked rice - frozen in flat packs that I filed away vertically like vinyl records."

The left-hand top shelf in the above picture is sort of the same only filed horizontally not vertically. Clearly I need to go out and buy some good square/rectangular plastic containers and some labels. Although with the labels we have probably got some hidden away in a drawer somewhere. Our study is just as organised as my freezer.

Mind you, all those plastic containers and baskets take up valuable space, although sometimes, when you ram something fresh into a small space in the freezer it becomes so welded to its neighbours that you can't get either it or its neighbours out again - well not without a massive struggle anyway.

What happens in my freezer is that things get put in there with the best of intentions - particularly bargain cuts of meat and leftover meals - but they gradually retreat to the back and sort of die. The joints of meat are too big for just two and too small for the entire family, so when are you going to cook it? And with the leftover meals, I ether just forget about them, or, because I really like to cook, I resist just taking something out of the freezer and heating it up, preferring to just leave it in the refrigerator and reheat a few days later - like tonight when we will finish that soup.

If you're a glass half full kind of person you can say:

"We're sometimes guilty of neglecting it, but then it's like digging through a treasure chest, filled to the brim with valuable finds and ice crystals." Shelf Love

The trouble is that those valuable finds are probably well past their virtual use by date and should just be put in the green bin.

Even Jamie, who somehow one thinks of as a spur of the moment, mildly disorganised guy says:

"Keep your freezer neat and organised – have a big clear out, group foods onto different shelves, and always be a stickler for labels."

The crucial thing being to have a big clear out - and maybe when I've finished this post I will go and do just that. I know for a start that there is a container full of pulped mango from at least a year ago. Now I know I could just thaw it and eat it in various ways, but I'm guessing this is not a good idea. We might be very ill if we did that.

Ottolenghi said that, seeing as everyone is different, everyone will have different things in their freezer, so maybe I should do a savage assessment of what I put in the freezer that I do use, and what I put in there but don't, taking that philosophy with me into the future so that I don't buy bargain middling sizes of roasting meat any more - or if I do I should cut it into smaller pieces.

So what do I actually use? This is my list.

Chicken pieces - mostly breasts, but thighs and drumsticks too. Very rarely wings, and very rarely whole chickens either.

Rump steak - bought in large packs and cut into pieces for two people, so that I can always make some kind of stew or kebabs. I don't usually cook it as steak - I would buy other cuts for that.

Mincemeat - Again bought in a large pack and divided into smaller balls. There are lots of things you can do with mincemeat. In fact at the moment there is a small pack of supermarket hamburger sort of slices, that David bought. I would never buy such things. Anyway next time I need mince I should use them, or they will just languish.

Pork - in the form of chops or sizzle steaks or similar, so that I can make my favourite Delia goulash every now and then.

Sausages - although that said we haven't eaten sausages for a while. Useful thing to have to hand though.

Stock - I make my own stock, and I do use that for all sorts of things from risotto to soup.

Pastry - and this includes pasta. When I make pastry for quiche I make a big batch and then divide it up into quiche size portions ready for a quick meal. This gets used all the time.

Frozen vegetables - well mostly just peas and spinach. I am of the 'fresh is best' school, but on reflection some vegetables are indeed better frozen because they are frozen as soon as they are picked - corn would be a prime example because it rapidly loses its freshness. So maybe I should buy more of these

Frozen fruit - I do generally have a bag of raspberries or mixed fruit for emergencies, but honestly there aren't really any of those kind of emergencies. We don't eat many desserts and don't often have occasions at which such things occur.

Butter - well the spreadable kind which is what we eat on a daily basis - just so we have a reserve packet or two.

And that's it really. Of late I have been trying to remember to freeze Parmesan rinds - and even more importantly - trying to remember to add them to stews and soups. Ditto for breadcrumbs. Jamie suggests freezing chillies and peppers so that you can grate them straight into whatever you are cooking. Ginger too. I tried freezing egg whites once, but honestly I just don't ever use egg whites. I must find a use for them. Not meringue - which I just cannot do. People also suggest freezing bananas on the turn for your smoothies and banana bread, but I don't drink smoothies and I don't make banana bread. You can freeze herbs that are wilting, by chopping and combining with butter to make a herb butter. Yes - I've done that and it does work.

Here is one suggestion though which I think is just daft. Freeze vegetable scraps and peelings to throw into stock. Seriously? You get more vegetable peelings every day. At least I do. Why would you bother to freeze them. Mine generally go into the compost bin, unless I am indeed about to make some stock. I probably should make more vegetable stock than I do, but I really don't need to freeze scraps for it. Ridiculous.

So I will go and see what I can either throw out of the freezer or must use in the next week or two. Then I will attempt to just stick to that list above, and organise the shelves a bit better. Not sure about all those containers though because some things - meat especially, is not going to neatly fit into them. Maybe just try and designate a shelf for a particular kind of thing.

Enemy - no not really, although I am sometimes ashamed of the way I use it. Friend - well mostly yes - particularly when it comes to the pastry I think. On the whole however, I think the people who have supremely well organised fridges, freezers, pantries are ever so slightly obsessive and anal, and as for this guy who made a meal plan for the week:

"Our meal list comes in the form of a grid, with columns for each day of the week and rows for lunches and dinners.

Once that’s done, we check that all the ingredients we need are either in the kitchen already or are on the shopping list. Then we add a few extras for snacks and breakfasts. Some days, we’ll eat leftovers in the freezer. But this goes on the meal planner too.

This meal plan – stuck on the fridge – includes extra details like page numbers for recipe books or who will be that evening’s designated masterchef." Graham Readfern - The Guardian

Is it just me who thinks this is a bit - well - anal too? Although I think my daughter-in-law does something similar and she isn't anal. Where's the spontaneity? What if you don't feel like soup on the day you have planned for soup? And it really doesn't take into account buying what is on fresh or on a special when you visit the supermarket. Surely you should buy first and then plan.

Graham Readfern claims it saved them hundreds of dollars in a year and moreover:

"We also spend a lot less time in the supermarket because we don’t just wander down every aisle. This is good because supermarkets are not generally where you want to spend your time." Graham Readfearn - The Guardian

Well - I actually think that supermarkets are wonderfully informative places in all manner of ways, but it's probably just me. At the moment they are almost my entire source of exterior entertainment. Maybe everyone has perfectly organised freezers and I'm the odd one out.

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