by Elena Gustavson, RAFFL's Everyday Chef. In a matter of weeks, farmers and gardeners alike in Rutland County will be harvesting tender greens and other early season produce (who doesn't love to pull up that first spring radish?) and before you know it, we'll have fresh eating vegetables and fruits on the table. In anticipation of all the good things the growing season brings us, we thought it was time to do a bit of housekeeping and organizing in the kitchen so we can be prepared to cook, and eat, like an Everyday Chef!
How many of you have a freezer that looks like this?
One of the most useful and important tools in the kitchen, is your freezer. Having one that is clean and organized allows you the freedom to make meals quickly, cheaply and deliciously. If you haven't already emptied your freezer of last season's harvest, read on. Now is a great time to Eat Your Freezer Clean!
What You Will Need:
- 1 hour (or more if you need to defrost your freezer)
- Freezer friendly bags and/or containers
- Permanent marker
- Painter's tape or masking tape (optional)
- Compost bin and/or trash bag
- Cooler, large enough to hold your frozen food for an hour or more
- For cleaning: Sponge, dish rag and paper towels; Mild dishsoap; hot water and vinegar
Purge and Clean
- Unplug or turn off your freezer. It's just safer that way.
- Purge - Have your cooler, compost bin and trash bin ready. As you pull food from your freezer, compost anything that is freezer burned, inedible, questionable in origin or has been in your freezer for so long that you don't remember putting it in there. Be honest and really ask yourself if you are going to use certain things. If not, compost it now and don't make the same mistake twice. Put everything else into your cooler.
- Defrost - If necessary, defrost your freezer. Give yourself extra time to complete this step.
- Clean - Fill your sink with warm, soapy water. Put your emptied containers, ice trays, bins, etc right into the sink and clean with a sponge. Let air dry. Mix hot water and vinegar into a bowl or a spray bottle and use the solution to clean and wipe down the inside of the freezer, the door and seals. Dry with paper towels and plug in the freezer.
Note: April in Vermont often means cool, if not freezing nights, so if a cooler is not an option, then timing your "freezer clean out" for an early evening or at night, might make more sense. Store your food, tightly packed in a box and place outside while cleaning. Do NOT let your food thaw!
Organize and Plan
- Consolidate - Have freezer bags and containers ready. While the freezer is cooling down, consolidate open packages and containers of the same foods. Three packages of green beans or multiple bags of bread, for example, can be consolidated into one container to save room as well as give you a better sense of exactly what you have. This will reduce waste too!
- Label - Using painter's tape (my favorite) or masking tape and a permanent marker, clearly label containers or directly label bags with the name of the food and if possible, the quantity/volume.
- Inventory - I know this is a "nerd" move, but make a list! Grab a pencil/pen, a piece of paper and just write down what you have. Use this list to plan how you will Eat Your Freezer Clean or even keep it taped close by (like on the freezer door!) so you can see what is inside at a glance. Or try this simple inventory system from The Kitchn blog.
- Organize - If possible, stack food in your freezer in a way that makes sense for you. For example, I always like to have meat on the bottom, just in case there is an unexpected power outage and then group like items together. Check out these images on Yahoo! of organized freezers. They put mine to shame.
- Plan - Time to Eat Your Freezer Clean! Use your inventory list to plan your future meals and grocery shopping excursions. Getting into the habit of planning your meals out for the week is a fantastic time saver, stress reducer and easy on the food budget. We use a blackboard at our house and it is as simple as writing down the main course ingredient (Mon - beef; Tue - pasta; Wed - chicken) or it can be more specific (Thu - veggie tacos w/ black beans & rice; Fri - mini pizzas & salad; Sat - potato leek soup & salmon cakes). Maybe a page tacked to the wall or refrigerator is more your style? Check out these great downloadable templates from TipJunkie.com.
Next week, stay tuned for tips and recipe ideas on how to use all those languishing frozen vegetables.