Condon’s Corner: The Value of a Stand-Alone Freezer

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I absolutely love bread; therefore I used to make all of my own loaves and rolls. Man may not live by bread alone, but this woman practically could!

Unfortunately, I am no longer able to participate much in this fulfilling—in more ways than one—activity. I now buy my daily bread (I eat it every day) from the store. However, I need to buy enough to last me until my next shopping trip, and that means I need to buy several loaves a week.

Bread is quite perishable so I immediately freeze it when I get home. Of course, in order to freeze this much bread, you need to own a “real” freezer, not one that is attached to a refrigerator.

Refrigerator freezers, which nowadays usually incorporate a defrost cycle, are not good places to store food for long periods of time. The temperature fluctuates, reducing the quality of the food. You should not store any kind of food in a refrigerator freezer for more than about four weeks to retain optimum quality.

Even if there are only two people in your household, it is useful to own a small (about 12 cubic-foot capacity) stand-alone freezer. Besides being able to store bread for up to three months (frozen rolls reheated in a microwave oven taste just like fresh—yum!), you will have the ability to buy bread and other foods when they are on sale and it is convenient to do so. If you use this strategy for your meat and frozen-goods purchases, you will very quickly save the amount of money you spent on the freezer—and then some.

You also save money and time by not having to run to the grocery store as often. If you plan ahead, you can even buy many kinds of perishable ingredients that can be frozen for future use. Some ingredients are actually better for cooking after freezing. I discovered that frozen button mushrooms are much more intensely flavored after freezing. If you enjoy mushrooms, this is an easy way to increase the mushroom flavor of your dishes.

Owning a freezer is especially great if you are an avid gardener as well as a cook. I used to can veggies from my garden so that I could enjoy my homegrown produce for as long as possible. But after my hands became painful with arthritis and I tired more easily, I could no longer preserve my bounty by canning. Canning takes a lot of effort and therefore energy and hand strain.

I tried freezing my fruits and vegetables and discovered this was much, much easier than canning. Although not all vegetables freeze well, I found that those that did were actually of a superior quality than when canned. Although freezing does break down cell walls and thus changes the texture of food, the heat processing of canning breaks down the food much more.

Freezing can also be better than drying for preserving herbs. Drying tends to cause quite a loss in flavor whereas freezing does not.

For example, I relish cilantro in many dishes. Happily for me, this is an easy plant to grow in the home garden. It took me about five years to use up the first crop that I had preserved by freezing, but the last bit of cilantro had just as intense a flavor as the cilantro used in the first year.

I also have garden mint that my husband used to like in his iced tea. By saving the washed and dried leaves in my freezer, I could provide my hubby with fine mint flavor for his tea year-round.

If you enjoy ice cream, you will find that it keeps much better in a stand-alone freezer. The defrost cycle in a refrigerator freezer raises the temperature temporarily, causing moisture crystals to form on opened cartons of ice cream. This ruins the quality of your frozen treat. However, in a real freezer that retains a more constant temperature, ice crystals are less likely to occur.

A useful trick for keeping fresh an opened container of ice cream that is not tightly resealable is to wrap the container in a plastic zipper-type bag with as much air removed as possible. By restricting the amount of air around the container, you also restrict the amount of moisture available to condense onto the surface of the ice cream. Additionally, the bag helps to keep the freezer clean if the ice cream container is sticky.

The value of a stand-alone freezer is much more than you might at first think!

Heavenly Mushroom and Onion Soup

What’s particularly nice about the following recipe is that it does not require pureeing as so many soup recipes do. Therefore it’s easy and fairly quick to make, yet it’s elegant enough to precede a “fancy” meal. NOTE: cooked bacon is a delicious addition.

Clean and slice, retaining the mushroom form, 8 ounces of fresh mushrooms, or use 8 ounces of already prepared frozen mushrooms. If using frozen mushrooms, allow the mushrooms to thaw only enough to melt any ice crystals that are on them. NOTE: If the mushroom slices are large (bigger than bite-size), cut the slices in half from top to bottom.

Melt 2 Tbsp butter or margarine in a medium saucepan.

Add 1 medium onion, (to make about 1 cup) finely chopped, to the saucepan and cook it gently, stirring often, over medium heat until the chopped onions are translucent and tender.

While the onions are cooking, mix together well 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp black pepper in a ½-cup measuring cup and set aside.

In a 4-quart measuring cup, mix together well 1¼ cups nonfat milk and one 10¾ oz. can of condensed fat-free, reduced sodium, chicken broth, undiluted. NOTE: If you want a creamier soup, you can use low-fat, or even full-fat, milk.

When the onions are ready, add the mushrooms to the pan and turn the heat up to almost the medium-high setting. Cook rapidly, stirring often, until the mushrooms are wilted. NOTE: Do not cook at a low setting as the mushrooms will give off too much of their liquid.

When the mushrooms are ready, shut off the heat and add the flour/spice mixture to the pan. Mix well with the onion/mushroom mixture.

Remove the pan from the stove and gradually stir in the chicken broth/milk mixture, keeping the mixture smooth.

Return the pan to the stove and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the soup thickens (this may take about 15 minutes).