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Thanksgiving Recipes and Leftovers

Freezer Fundamentals

Twenty-seven tips for wrapping, storing, and thawing all the foods you freeze.

By Melissa Clark
Freezer interior with frozen dinners, ziploc items, ice trayJames Worrell


How to Thaw

The flavor and texture of foods you've kept in the freezer can depend on how the foods are defrosted. Slow thawing in the refrigerator is the gentlest method, resulting in the least change in texture and taste. If you can't wait overnight (or several days for a large piece of meat), there are alternatives.

Thaw safely. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods should never get warmer than 40° F until they are cooked. If you need to thaw them quickly, your best bet is to dunk the bag in cold water. Meat should be completely immersed―you don't want any part exposed to warm air. If you defrost meat in a microwave, cook it immediately afterward. Since most meats vary in shape and thickness, they can defrost unevenly and become warm in parts before they thaw through.

Freeze and tenderize. Freeze marinated meats in a resealable plastic bag, then defrost in the refrigerator overnight. The meat will soak up the marinade as it thaws. This is great for tough cuts, which will tenderize in the freezer as well. The method will also prevent freezer burn on the meat, because the liquid "wrap" prevents air from affecting the meat's surface.

Enlist the microwave. Use the defrost setting (or 30 percent power) to thaw foods slowly in the microwave. Microwave frozen foods partially covered, and check them every few minutes. Stir whenever possible to ensure even thawing, or turn over and reposition pieces of meat or fish. Remove them from the microwave as soon as they are thawed (they should be flexible and soft but not warm). Always cook thawed foods immediately.

Freeze flat for a quick thaw. The greater the surface area, the faster the thaw, so use shallow, flat containers. Freeze broths, sauces, and other liquids flat in freezer bags, then stand them up sideways for storage. When you remove them and submerge them in a bowl of hot water (or hold them under hot running water), they'll thaw quickly.

Think portion control. Freeze soups, spaghetti sauce, and lasagna in one- and two-portion containers, which thaw more quickly and guarantee you won't have to thaw more than you need.

Refreeze thawed foods. The flavor may suffer slightly, but you can put defrosted cooked meat, fish, and poultry back into the freezer as long as they thawed in the refrigerator and never got warmer than 40°
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How To: Whip Cream

To make whipped cream, beat ½ cup heavy cream with 1 tablespoon sugar until soft or stiff peaks form (as desired).