Freeze It, Don't Waste It

The kitchen freezer is the savvy home cook's secret weapon in the battle to get dinner on the table fast. For the most part, if you can eat it, it can be frozen and reheated later for consumption. Be smart with leftovers to put an end to frozen TV dinners and unhealthy takeout.

Use Common Sense When Deciding What to Freeze

No, sushi shouldn't be frozen, but if you have some extra chopped onion or leftover steak, toss it into a baggie and freeze it, and add it straight to the pan from the freezer, as it will just take a minute or so longer to cook. Snack-size baggies or, better yet, reusable 3- to 6-ounce storage containers with lids are great for freezing small items for later. Other good candidates for small-batch freezing are leftover sauces — oily or acidic ones, like tomato sauce or pesto, are especially good for freezing. If you have enough sauce to fill an ice cube tray, it's worth saving — even a few tablespoons can be stretched with some broth to make a flavorful soup base or a light sauce.

By Teri Tsang Barrett

Seal Food Properly

There are some basic rules to keep in mind, such as: Seal food properly in order to ward off unseemly changes due to freezer burn and age. Press out any excess air from bags or wrap the food tightly — it’s the exposure to air that causes food to break down.

Aim to Use Frozen Goods Within a Month or So

By keeping up a constant rotation of frozen odds and ends, you're more likely to be in the habit of cycling through items in upcoming dinners. If your freezer ends up with an assortment of frozen chopped veggies, reheat them in broth and add cooked pasta for a quick soup. Better yet, if you've frozen a surplus of cooked rice, add it to the broth and you're done once it's all warmed through. Some foods, however, do not freeze as well as others: Potatoes and eggs may change texture once frozen, and bread tends to acquire a different flavor after frozen for a few weeks. Considering the time and headache saved with these household frozen goods on hand, it's worth experimenting and seeing what ends up being most helpful in your kitchen.

Stovetop Friendly Foods

Most stovetop-friendly foods require some extra moisture while being reheated. Bring a thin layer of water at the bottom of a saucepan to a boil before adding frozen rice or a protein like chopped grilled chicken; cover, turn off the heat and let the steam slowly reheat the frozen goods. Better yet, throw a frozen cube of sauce into the water, then add rice and/or a protein to steam and reheat; stir everything together once the ingredients are warmed through for a meal in minutes.

Oven-Friendly Foods

Most oven-friendly foods reheat well at 350 degrees F, and unless you're reheating a dense item such as a frozen meat-based casserole, a reheating time of 20 to 45 minutes should be expected. The denser the item, the longer it will take — expect up to 1 1/2 hours for a 9-by-13-inch frozen meat lasagna. Don't bother preheating the oven, just throw it in after transferring to the appropriate cooking or serving vessel. Microwaving also works in a pinch, but keep in mind foods are more likely to cook unevenly and unpredictably, resulting in an altered flavor or texture.

Get the Recipe: Easy Beefy Cheesy Enchilada Casserole

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