Q. Now that Thanksgiving is over, I am overwhelmed by all there is to do. What can I do ahead that will still taste perfect?
A. I am feeling your pain. After getting both knees replaced last month, I am not anxious to tackle Christmas for three grown boys, one hungry husband, and my large extended family. And feed the birds, stock corn for the deer feeder, get cute Christmas leashes for the dogs and cat, get the mailwoman, the UPS driver, the Fed Ex driver and everyone else I like gifts. But I also have not been home for the Christmas season in two years, and will not be home next year, so I am going to do this season the best I can! Let's do it together.
We all know it's coming, and most everyone has a best friend right there in your kitchen. Your freezer. Today, open it up and get rid of all the frozen stuff that you do not need or that has been there since the dawn of time. Throw it out. Show no mercy. If it is meat and it has been there more than months, yuck. Frozen packaged food may last longer because of mandated preservatives added, so check the date. Being in the state of less than 32 degrees does not stop things from gathering odors. I do not think I need to mention freezer burn, do I? I can taste freezer burn a mile away. Wipe your shelves down and make space for the delicious things you are about to make to ease your holiday tremors.
Once that is done, sit down and make a list. What does your family like? What do YOU like? (Remember to treat yourself well during the holidays too.) Here is a list of many things that freeze great. Now go buy large freezer bags so you are ready for battle.
1. Cookie dough made with butter. Butter freezes nicely, but shortening, not so well. You do not want to eat shortening anyway, do you? No, I did not think so.
If you are going to make sugar cookies to decorate, the best thing to do is to make the dough, shape it into a disk or two and refrigerate. After about 20 minutes, take one disk and roll it out, then cut your shapes. I put the unbaked cookies back into the fridge while on the cookie sheet (on parchment paper, of course) for about 10 minutes. This makes them really flaky. If you cannot handle all of these steps, you could skip this one. But it will make a difference. So if you are making these for someone special, like maybe Santa, include this step. OK, bake your cookies and let them cool. NOW freeze them. It is best to freeze the cookies after you have baked them in the time-saving and moisture-saving department.
2. Pie dough. Do not roll it out, but shape it into discs so it stays moister.
3. Bread dough. Make your dough; let it rise. After it has risen, turn it out on your floured counter and cover it with the pan. Let it rest 10 minutes. Now shape it into the type of bread you want for your holiday dinners or breakfasts — rolls, bread, or cinnamon buns. Put them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper (or they will stick) and freeze for about an hour, or until slightly hard. Take the dough out and off the pan, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in a freezer bag. The best thing to do here is suck the air out of the freezer bag. You can insert a straw into the last open corner after you seal it, or you could use your mouth. Hey, it's your family.
If you buy pre-made bread dough in the freezer section of the grocery, do not shape it and refreeze it. Follow the directions on the package and use it the way the directions instruct you.
4. Cakes freeze great, but wrap them well.
5. Soups and stews are GREAT freezers! They get an A+.
6. Pesto freezes great.
7. Contrary to what you may have heard, eggs do NOT freeze well. Hard-boiled eggs will get an odd, rubbery texture and uncooked eggs will not perform correctly when thawed.
8. Potatoes freeze well, but you must first cook your dish and then freeze it. If you freeze it before cooking, the potatoes will discolor and be kind of mushy.
9. All precooked pasta dishes freeze well, but add a little extra sauce.
1. Vegetables freeze well after they are cooked, and hard vegetables such as carrots can be chopped frozen. Just do not cook them as long as you usually would after you thaw them. It is best to use frozen vegetables in a soup or stew, not as a dish on its own. Why? Due to the high water content in vegetables, they just cannot take the arid climate of the freezer.
2. Fruit freezes, but changes color and becomes mushy. So freeze fruit with the intention of using it for smoothies or in a pie. Fruit has a really high water content.
3. Some herbs, such as basil, will become mushy. Rosemary and oregano freeze, but will be off-color when you thaw them. But they still cook great, so they are good herbs to freeze at the end of the summer.
Just remember, like all friends, your freezer has some quirks. Its main problem is that although it makes ice and we know ice is water, the freezer is actually very dry and will dehydrate your food. So wrap your dishes well, add a little extra sauce, and you are ahead of the game!
Bonus non-food tip
I want to tell you one more quick holiday tip, which has nothing to do with food. I am burned out on wrapping tons of presents in succession, so I usually hire a friend's teenager for a day of wrapping. Teenage girls still love to wrap, are creative and good at it, and need the spending money. I can attend to other things while they are wrapping (and I can spoil them just a little since I had all boys!). I'd say it's a win-win situation.