Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Stock Your Freezer: Soups and Stock

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If you follow my Menu Plan Monday posts, you know that I love soup in the fall and winter! I can think of few things I find more comforting than a warm bowl of soup on a cold day.  One of the best things about soup is that it lends itself to large batches, making it a perfect food to freeze so you cook once and eat twice or even more. Granted, not all soups freeze well. Through experience and the advice of cooks I respect, I've come up with a few rules of thumb for deciding if a soup will work for the freezer.

Tips for Freezing Soups
  • Pasta will become mushy if frozen and reheated in a soup. So, if you want to freeze a pasta soup, such as Chicken Noodle or Minestrone, freeze the soup without the pasta and stir in cooked pasta once it is heated through.
  • Potatoes will fall apart if over-cooked, so use discretion when you decide to freeze a soup with them.
  • Vegetables or greens can lose texture when reheated. If you're concerned about over-cooking them, you can under-cook the veggies or freeze the soup without them and add them in when you are reheating the soup.
  • Soups with a dairy or cheese base do not freeze or even reheat well at all because the cheese usually separates. Not a pleasant experience. 
  • In my experience, the best soups to freeze contain a grain like rice or barley, or do not have a starch at all.
Methods for Freezing Soup
Whether you want enough for a family meal or a single lunch, there are several ways to freeze soup for later meals. Just allow the soup to cool and freeze using one of these methods.
  • Freezer bags: This is the most common way you’ll see soup in our freezer. Freezer bags are ideal because they are an efficient use of space when frozen flat. A quart bag will hold enough soup for 2-3 people. A gallon will serve at least 4 or 5. It's best to freeze soups on a rimmed baking sheet in case a bag springs a leak! (I know from experience.)
  • Freezer Containers: If I have just enough soup for one more serving, I’ll often put it in a small plastic or glass container and freeze it until one of us wants soup for lunch. Make sure there is enough space at the top - an inch or two - to allow for expansion as it freezes. 
  • Silicone Molds: A friend recently shared on Facebook that she uses these large silicone ice cube trays to freeze soup. I've also seen the same idea on Pinterest using silicone muffin pans. Once they’re frozen, pop them out into a freezer bag or container. When you're ready for soup, add a few cubes or "pucks" per person and heat them in the microwave or on the stovetop. Those ice cube trays are on my Christmas list this year! 
Re-heating Frozen Soup
It's best to thaw soup overnight in the refrigerator. You want it as thawed as possible because the less time the soup heats, the better. Cooking soup too long can cause the veggies to get mushy and meats like chicken to fall apart.
To thaw a freezer bag, I usually lay it in a Pyrex dish (in case the bag has a leak). Even if some of the soup is still frozen at dinner time, it shouldn’t take long to heat on the stove top.

 Freezing Stock
I always have bags of chicken stock in my freezer, ready for recipes. If there are chicken bones after a meal, I can't help but make some, especially since making stock is just so easy! Because I make my own, I haven't had to buy broth or stock for a recipe in almost two years.
I usually freeze my soup in portions that would be equivalent to a carton (4 cups = 1 quart) or a 14.5 ounce can (just over 1 3/4 cup). Either will fit in a quart freezer bag.

To take up even less space in your freezer, my friend Lindsay recommends reducing your stock to about a quarter of the original volume by heating it on the stove in a wide pot for about an hour. This is perfect to freeze in ice cube trays to add to recipes. Lindsay freezes the stock in 1-2 tablespoon cubes, adding 1 or 2 cubes per cup of water depending on the strength she wants in a recipe.

Soups that Freeze Well
 Here are some of our favorite soups for the freezer.

What are your experiences with freezing soup and stock? Are there any soups you like to freeze for future meals? 

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