CLEVELAND, Ohio — One of the less discreet charms of the modern bourgeoisie is its affection for state-of-the-art household appliances: super-smart refrigerators, industrial-chic ovens, compressor wine coolers with the ability to tie into your household security system. And don’t even get me started on the multi-featured many-splendored world of gadget-laden outdoor grills. All well and good, and nice stuff if you can get it.
But there’s one household appliance that is, and has been, an eternal marvel in its capability and capacity almost forever: the upright freezer. It’s the only one that really hasn’t changed much since 1943 (a decade later, the frost-free version came along) when Westye R. Bakke invented the first free-standing freezer and then founded the still-flourishing Sub-Zero Freezer Company to distribute it. Having a freezer full of food — prepared dishes ready to go right in the oven, raw ingredients to defrost and cook, or just alternating shelves of frozen pizza and ice cream — is like having money in the bank. You may not need it today or tomorrow. But when the time comes, it’ll be there.
And now, to maximize the payoff, there’s “It’s Always Freezer Season: How to freeze like a chef with 100 Make-Ahead Recipes” by Ashley Christensen and Kaitlyn Goalen. Christensen is a two-time James Beard-award-winning chef and writer. Goalen is s writer and co-founder of Short Stack cookbooks. Together, the wife and wife team oversees five restaurants, including Poole’s in Raleigh, North Carolina.
They are also enthusiastic advocates for well-prepared frozen foods, and expound convincingly that “the freezer, more than any other appliance in the kitchen, will help you cook delicious, flavorful meals in less time…it can help you avoid food waste and save money, preserve seasonal ingredients to enjoy throughout the year, and entertain on the fly or provide a meal for a friend or family member who needs the assistance”.
Part of the joy of this book is the way it rolls out information in three useful and understandable sections. The first is need-to-know facts: what to freeze, how to freeze, how long can you freeze, and how to unfreeze. Then there’s the freezer pantry. It’s the strategic prep of various ingredients — caramelized onions, chicken confit, pesto, biscuit dough, and more — that will be used later as the building blocks of other recipes. The third part brings it all together with complete dishes that incorporate the earlier elements. Many can be frozen themselves. But they are all made easier and more fun through the breezy, good-humored advice given by these freezerphiles.
The recipes below give some sense of the range of the book. There’s a great quick caramelized onion tart strewn with fresh tomatoes you can throw together quickly when unexpected guests appear at the door (How nice is that to have happened again, finally!), and a brilliant savory breakfast waffle you can have waiting in the freezer for you every morning, ready to toast and make your day. And finally, the perfect summer recipe that you’d never think of: frozen watermelon juice. It’s the secret ingredient for the best hot weather cocktails and the most tactile and easy-to-make recipe in the book.
There’s one final, and perhaps most helpful (and least publicized) benefit of the book. It’s almost guaranteed to provide that existential nudge you need to finally divest your freezer of all those half-empty ice cream cartons, sub-par frozen pizzas, various containers of mystery leftovers, plus everything else you couldn’t bear to throw out so left to languish in the back of the freezer….and start anew, refreshed and re-inspired, to begin your own never-ending freezer season.
PROVENÇAL ONION TART (PISSALADIÈRE) with Tomato-Olive Relish
One 14-ounce sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 cups Caramelized Onions*, thawed
1⁄2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1⁄2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
20 oil-cured anchovy fillets
3 heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes, cored and finely diced
1⁄2 cup pitted black French olives, minced
1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely minced
1. Make the tart: Preheat the oven to 425°F. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry into a rectangle about 19 by 14 inches. Lay the puff pastry inside an 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet, pushing the edges up the sides of the pan to form a rimmed crust. Dock the surface of the dough all over with a fork. In a small bowl, mix together the onions, rosemary, and thyme. Arrange the onions in an even layer over the dough. Then arrange the anchovies in a crosshatch pattern over the onions. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the crust is cooked through and golden brown. While the tart bakes, make the relish.
2. Make the relish: In a medium bowl, stir together all of the relish ingredients, mixing well. Let the tart cool slightly, then cut into squares. Spoon some of the relish on top of each square and serve warm.
3a: TO FREEZE: Let the waffles cool completely at room temperature. Wrap each waffle individually in plastic wrap and carefully place the waffles in a zip-top plastic bag. Label and date and freeze for up to 3 months.
3b: TO REHEAT FROM FROZEN: Pull a waffle from the plastic bag and unwrap it. Toast in a toaster on medium-high heat until warm and crispy throughout. Alternatively, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, place the waffle on a rimmed baking sheet, and heat for about 15 minutes, until warm and crispy throughout.
4. Drizzle with maple syrup to serve.
5. CHEFFIN’ IT UP; Cut into quarters, these waffles also make elegant party snacks. Top with a dollop of crème fraiche and a spoonful of caviar.
* RECIPE: In a very heavy pot or Dutch oven, combine 5 pounds yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced, with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. Add 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, stir to coat, and place on high heat until steam rises from the pan. Lower heat to medium, cover, and cook 20 minutes without stirring. Uncover the pot, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring constantly, for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the onions are a deep amber and are thick and sticky. If the onions begin to stick to the pan, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. When completely cool, divide the onions into 1-cup portions and put in quart-size plastic bags or lidded plastic containers. Label and date and freeze for up to 3 months. To thaw, put in refrigerator until defrosted or submerge in cold water and keep refreshing until defrosted.
CHEESY SAUSAGE AND SAGE WAFFLES
(Makes 8 Waffles)
1 pound loose breakfast sausage
1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1⁄2 cups full-fat buttermilk
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1⁄2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
4 fresh sage leaves, minced
Pure maple syrup, for serving
In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon, for 8 to 10minutes, until crumbled and no pink remains. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool completely. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter, and buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold together with a rubber spatula just until mixed. Fold in the sausage, mozzarella, Parmesan, and sage. Preheat a waffle maker. If your waffle maker has heat settings, set it to medium. Spray the grids with nonstick cooking spray. Ladle some of the batter onto the bottom grid (about ¾ cup for a standard 7-to 8-inch round waffle), close the lid, and cook for about 4minutes, until cooked through and golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter.
TO FREEZE: Let the waffles cool completely at room temperature. Wrap each waffle individually in plastic wrap and carefully place the waffles in a zip-top plastic bag. Label and date and freeze for up to3 months.
TO REHEAT FROM FROZEN: Pull a waffle from the plastic bag and unwrap it. Toast in a toaster on medium-high heat until warm and crispy throughout. Alternatively, preheat the oven to 350°F, place the waffle on a rimmed baking sheet, and heat for about 15 minutes, until warm and crispy throughout. Drizzle with maple syrup and serve.
(Makes six quarts)
1⁄2 large seedless watermelon (about 6 pounds)
Cut the watermelon half into manageable chunks and cut away the rind. Place the chunks into a very large bowl. Rest a fine-mesh strainer on a second large bowl and set the bowl near the first bowl. Using your hands, crush the watermelon into a puree. As juice accumulates, pour it off through the strainer into the second bowl. When all of the flesh is crushed, work in batches to transfer the flesh to the strainer and push out as much juice as possible. Discard any solids remaining in the strainer.
TO FREEZE: Portions matter here. If you think you’ll be using watermelon juice in larger batches, freeze in quart-size portions. Otherwise, freeze in 1-cup portions, either in small zip-top plastic bags or smaller glass or plastic lidded containers. For single-cocktail servings, freeze the juice in ice-cube trays for at least 4 hours or up to overnight for a formative freeze, then pop out the cubes and slide them into a zip-top plastic bag. Label and date the container and freeze for up to 3 months.
TO THAW: Don’t expose watermelon juice to heat! Use only the pull and thaw method (refrigerate until defrosted) or the cold water method (run cold water from the sink over bag until defrosted).