Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Home & Hearth: Freezer Tips

Nothing beats a haunted moonlit night on All Hallows Eve.... And on this fatal night, at this witching time, the starless sky laments black and unmoving. The somber hues of an ominous, dark forest are suddenly illuminated under the emerging face of the full moon. ~Kim Elizabeth

Freezing meat to have on hand is almost a necessity when you have a family, and it certainly helps the budget when you buy items on sale and freeze extra for another week. I try not to pay full price for meat by shopping the sales and buying double. You will want to keep your freezer neat and orderly or you will end up losing track of what you have, even in a small freezer. Label everything with the date and the contents.

When you buy meat from the market remove it from the store wrapping and rewrap it before freezing. You can use freezer bags, coated freezer paper, heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic freezer containers. Make sure the wrapping or container is clean and free from tears or holes. When packing several pieces in one package, place two layers of freezer paper between the pieces. Trim the meat of any fat before freezing-this will help it keep better. Also, if you are freezing meat for stew or soups, remove as many of the bones as you can-this will cut down on space.

Freezing doesn't kill bacteria, nor does it stop spoiling if the meat is not fresh. So, freeze your meat or poultry as soon as possible to avoid problems. Keep the meat and everything that touches it, such as your hands, kitchen items and work surfaces, VERY clean while working with the meat.

Maintain your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or less,and keep it at a consistent temperature. Do not place items in the freezer until they have cooled off. This will warm up the freezer and could cause problems.

Freeze only the amount of fresh meat or poultry that will freeze within 24 hours-this will work out to be approximately 2 to 3 pounds for each cubic foot of freezer space you have. In other words, don't freeze an entire freezer full of food in one day.

Bacon and cured hams have a short freezer life and they should be used within one month. Freezing is usually not recommended for hot dogs and lunch meats because they can become rather soggy. However I freeze hot dogs and shaved ham for 1 to 2 weeks and they are fine. The ham is a little watery, but it tastes great. I freeze small freezer bags of cubed ham for omelets, pizza toppings and other dishes, plus bags of shaved ham for sandwiches.

Cooked meat that has any type of liquid should not be frozen longer than three months. Frozen ground meat should be used within 3 months also. Pork can be frozen for 6 to 8 months. Beef, lamb, veal or venison will be fine for 8 to 12 months. Fresh poultry will last about 12 months. (Watch for bone-in turkey breasts and young chickens on sale to freeze-these make great crock pot meals!)

Seafood varies; if it's a lean fish it will last about 4-6 months, but if it's a fatty fish like tuna, smelt or swordfish it should be used within 3 months. The same goes for shellfish. Always thaw your frozen meat in the refrigerator or in the microwave before cooking. Do not thaw it on the counter the day you need it.

More on OFL: How to freeze cookies and cookie dough.

~Enjoy the day, Brenda

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