When it comes to cooking, fresh is best ... until it's not. When, say, you're famished after a long commute home. Or you love a good lasagne, but the thought of making bechamel sauce from scratch sends you spare.
Surplus veg from a friend's bumper crop, mini muffins for lunchboxes and leftover treats from a weekend's baking – I've salvaged many ingredients by putting them on ice.
Here are a few lesser-known ingredients you can freeze for easy flavour boosts, portable snacks and quick lunches.
Silicone sandwich bags and jumbo ice-cube trays are ideal for freezing small portions. Baby food freezer pods and pouches are especially good for freezing serves that need to be kept airtight.
Everyone's favourite squeaky cheese. But there's nothing worse than finding the packet has gone soft and mouldy. Next time you have leftovers, cut into slices and freeze, ready for any time you need to dress up a salad or a tray of chopped-up vegetables. If cooking in the oven, clear a space on the tray when your vegies are almost done and let the haloumi bake away for another 10 to 15 minutes. You'll never have to waste any of that salty goodness again.
Hummus – it's delicious, and a cinch to make at home, but here's the problem: there's always way too much of it. Instead of leaving it to perish at the back of the fridge, spoon the surplus into air-tight freezer pods, leaving enough room for the hummus to expand as it freezes. Revive your hummus with a gentle defrost in the fridge or, if you must, carefully defrost on low in the microwave.
Cauliflower and broccoli rice
Vegetable 'rice' is a low-carb way to up your veg count but again, you're often left with way more than you need. Rather than letting all that chopping and whizzing go to waste, make a bulk batch and freeze in small portions ready for making into pizza bases, throwing into salads and stirring into fried rice.
Must use within five days. With those words, even the most avid pesto-lover can be sent into a spin. But there's no need to pile excess pesto onto every meal for a week. Just take it slow with a teaspoon here and there as you need by rationing small portions from the freezer. Best kept in air-tight pods.
Add extra crunch, colour and flavour to any salad, rice dish or soup with a spoonful or two of quinoa. Frozen portions are great for green bowls and meals on the go – just place a cube straight from the freezer into your lunchbox alongside some avo, chives, cucumber, baby spinach, sliced capsicum, roast pumpkin, fresh tomato, boiled egg and feta. For extra protein, add poached chicken or leftover lamb. By the time lunch rocks around you'll have fluffy, nutty grains ready to stir into your salad.
OK, this one's dangerous. Knowing there's a batch of buttercream icing ready to slather on anything vaguely non-savoury could be the downfall of many a sweet-tooth. But if you and yours can resist temptation, it's incredibly convenient to be able to ice a cake with leftovers from your last baking session. Thaw overnight in the fridge, give it a quick stir and you're ready to go.
Did you, like me, spend $10 on a tiny box of finger limes you didn't really need? No? Well, bully for you. If, however, you do like to spend cash on expensive fringe fruits, my advice is to put them on ice and not let them wither sadly on your bench. Freeze them whole until the time is ready to thaw. Rest on some paper towel for about half an hour, cut in half and squeeze the "caviar" out. Serve on fresh oysters, pop a few in a glass of champagne or scatter on a fancy dessert.
Hot cross buns
Did you know it's Easter any time of year? Well, it can be if you freeze a stash of hot cross buns when April comes around. Ration gradually month by month, use in baking or astonish your dumbfounded friends when a batch of hot buttery Easter buns materialise from your oven around September.
If there was an official weekend breakfast food, a plate of berry-soaked or syrupy pancakes would be it. But they can be messy to make, especially when children are involved – and what to do with that extra batter, once you've had your fill? One way to cut down on hassle is to cook up all the batter and freeze any leftover pancakes, then gently warm and serve whenever you have a hankering. Small snack-sized pancakes keep their form best and can fit into lunchboxes. Or, for an on-the-spot entertaining trick, defrost a batch of mini blinis and top with smoked salmon, sour cream and caviar.
Making pastry from scratch isn't exactly light work. So don't let any of that kneading and rolling go to waste, and freeze any pastry you have left over from baking. As Adam Liaw puts it, "Most doughs can be frozen for use later, even yeasted doughs after they've had their initial rise. Simply store dough in a plastic bag, or rub with a little oil and wrap in cling film, then defrost it in the fridge when you need it." Try his yoghurt naan recipe, Helen Goh's cream cheese pastry or Dan Lepard's freeze-ahead chorizo cheese puffs for a last-minute cocktail hour idea.