7 Essential Ingredients You Need in Your Freezer

Whether you're entertaining, or just trying to get dinner on the table fast, keeping these frozen gems on hand will make your life easier.

Photo By: Armando Rafael Moutela ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved 2014, Cooking Channel, LLC All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Saddako

Photo By: Armando Rafael Moutela ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved 2014, Cooking Channel, LLC All Rights Reserved

Pie Crust

Especially key during the holidays, "pie crust is the first thing I'd hack, since it can be time-consuming and fussy to prep," says family cooking blogger Erin Chase. The nice thing about a pie is that you can even make the whole thing ahead of time and freeze it unbaked, then simply throw it in the oven when you need it. Most stores stock frozen pie crusts in sheet form that you roll out yourself or ones that come preformed.

By Nicole Cherie Jones

Frozen Veggies

"I always keep several bags of frozen veggies in my freezer — they cut prep time in half," says Food Network star Gina Neely. Chase agrees: "Broccoli, green beans and corn are all kid-friendly staples." It's good to have a backup if you run out of fresh produce or don't have time to get that butternut squash in the oven, she adds. You can even find more sophisticated options like artichoke hearts or kale in the freezer aisle these days.

Marinated (or Precooked) Meat and Seafood

Keeping your freezer stocked with frozen meat and seafood means you always have a good protein option, says Neely. Chase recommends taking it one step further to up the convenience factor: "I make shredded chicken with barbecue sauce, spaghetti meat sauce, or seasoned ground beef or chicken for tacos, and freeze in gallon- or quart-size plastic bags," she says. "Knowing you have an easy backup meal solution saves a lot of mental [and] emotional sanity [and] energy," she explains. Premarinated fish is also a convenient store-bought solution you can find in the freezer aisle, as are poultry or veggie burgers.

Frozen Fruit

When fresh fruit goes on sale, stock up, chop it up and freeze it for smoothies, advises Chase. "You can also make smoothie packs by combining your favorite fruits and a cube of frozen yogurt and freezing in single-serve plastic bags," she says. Bags of frozen fruit like raspberries and cherries are also great to have on hand during the winter when these items are out of season. You can saute to make sauces, and serve over ice cream as a quick dessert or add to pancakes and muffins at breakfast.

Puff Pastry

Another entertaining must, this freezer shortcut can be used to whip up all kinds of elegant-looking hors d'oeuvres like cheese puffs and straws or asparagus spirals and pigs in a blanket (you can wrap pretty much anything in this stuff and bake it, and it will turn out delicious). It also makes desserts like fruit tarts and turnovers ridiculously easy. Most recipes can be assembled ahead of time and baked off when you need them. Just be sure to let the puff pastry thaw before using, and remember that it’s easiest to work with when it's chilled.

Precooked Grains, Oats and Beans

"My rule is anything that will take an hour or longer to cook, make a big batch and freeze in 2-cup portions," says Chase. This goes for brown rice, steel-cut oats and dried beans as well as popular ancient grains like farro, teff, kamut and spelt. "Dried beans take forever to cook in the slow cooker, but the hands-on time is only five minutes. They cost pennies and taste so much better than the canned kind," she adds. If you’re short on time, look for convenient freezer packs of precooked brown rice and steel-cut oats in your grocery store. 

Cookie Dough

Freshly baked cookies without a kitchen mess? Yes, please. Whether you want chocolate chip cookies or basic sugar cookies to frost and decorate, you can find an array of options in the freezer aisle (the kind in the refrigerator aisle can also be frozen, then defrosted when you're ready to use). "Whenever I make cookies, I double or triple the recipe to make extras for the freezer," says Chase, who recommends individually wrapping cookie dough balls in foil before freezing in a plastic bag. "My kids can pop them right into the oven from the freezer," she says (just add 3 to 4 minutes to the cooking time).