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Weeknight Cooking

10 Leftover Ingredients You Didn’t Know You Could Freeze

Didn't use the full container of buttermilk or bunch of rosemary? Chill out. We've got you covered.
By Published Mar. 16, 2020

Many ingredients are packaged and sold at the supermarket in quantities large enough to feed several people, creating waste for those of us just cooking for two. In the test kitchen, to avoid unwanted waste and trips to the supermarket for a single ingredient, we lean on a handy appliance we already have in the kitchen: the freezer. The freezer is ideal for any home cook looking to store leftover ingredients that aren’t going to get used immediately—and it can handle much more than the usual ice cream and frozen dumplings. Here are 10 surprising food items you can store long term in your freezer. (And for ideas on how to use them, check out our full catalog of recipes that serve two people.)


The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook

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1. Bananas

John Burgoyne Illustration of Shingle Banana Bread
Cook's Illustrated's Ultimate Banana Bread recipe is the perfect use of ripe, leftover bananas.

How to Prep for Freezer: Peel bananas and freeze in zipper-lock freezer bag

To Freeze and Use: Defrost and use to make banana bread or muffins, or drop into our inexpensive winning blender while still frozen for fruit smoothies.

2. Butter

John Burgoyne
Use a rolling pin to quickly soften butter after freezing it.

How to Prep for Freezer: Freeze butter in its wrapper. (When stored in the refrigerator, butter can pick up off-flavors.) 

To Freeze and Use: Transfer to refrigerator 1 stick at a time as needed. To quickly soften frozen butter, cut into small pieces or place in zipper-lock bag and pound to desired consistency with rolling pin.

3. Buttermilk

Freezing Buttermilk
Fill small paper cups with buttermilk and set them on tray to freeze them.

How to Prep for Freezer: Place some small paper cups on tray and fill each with ½ cup buttermilk; place tray in freezer.

To Freeze and Use: Once buttermilk is frozen, wrap each cup in plastic wrap and store in large zipper-lock freezer bag. Defrost in refrigerator before use for our recipes like BBQ Chicken Sandwiches with Buttermilk Slaw or Buttermilk Pie that call for ½ cup buttermilk or more. 

4. Canned Chipotle Chilies in Adobo

Preserving Chipotle
Spoon out chilies on a lined baking sheet and then freeze for later use.

How to Prep for Freezer: Spoon out chiles, each with a couple teaspoons of adobo sauce, onto different areas of baking sheet lined with parchment paper and freeze.

To Freeze and Use: Transfer frozen chilies to zipper-lock freezer bag for long-term storage. Use in any recipe that calls for canned chipotle chilies in adobo.

5. Cheese

Parmesan is one of the many semifirm cheeses you can easily freeze.

How to Prep for Freezer: Wrap hard and semifirm cheeses like Parmesan, cheddar, and Brie tightly in plastic wrap, seal in zipper-lock bag, and freeze.

To Freeze and Use: Store in freezer for up to 2 months. Whether you're cooking a childhood favorite like Skillet Macaroni and Cheese that calls for cheddar cheese, or a savory dessert like our Grandma's Special Dutch Apple Cheese Muffinsmake sure to defrost the cheese in the refrigerator before use.

6. Citrus Zest

Citrus Zest
Remove all of the zest from the fruit for longterm storage.

How to Prep for Freezer: Remove zest from entire fruit. Deposit grated zest in ½-teaspoon piles on plate and freeze. 

To Freeze and Use: Once piles are frozen, place them in zipper-lock freezer bag and return them to freezer. Add your prepared grated zest to lemon sugar cookies and lemony pasta at your convenience.  

7. Egg Whites

Egg Whites
Pour egg whites into ice cube tray to preserve them.

How to Prep for Freezer: Pour leftover egg whites (never yolks) into each well of ice cube tray and freeze. 

To Freeze and Use: Use paring knife or small spatula to remove each frozen egg white cube and defrost in small bowl in refrigerator as needed. Instead of cracking a fresh egg for desserts that call for egg whites (like meringues, mousse, and custards), use your leftovers. Still iffy about freezing egg whites? Learn the difference between how freezing leftover egg whites compare to fresh whites in whipped applications. 

8. Herbs

Prep thyme before freezing it for later use.

How to Prep for Freezer: Place 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, sage, parsley, or thyme and water to cover (about 1 tablespoon) in each well of ice cube tray and freeze.

To Freeze and Use: Once cubes are frozen, transfer to zipper-lock freezer bag and store. Add cubes directly to sauces, soups, or stews.

9. Nuts

The best way to freeze nuts—since they're prone to turning rancid quickly—is storing them in a zipper-lock freezer bag.

How to Prep for Freezer: Due to their high fat content, nuts go rancid quickly unless frozen. Freeze nuts in zipper-lock freezer bag

To Freeze and Use: Frozen nuts stay fresh for months. No need to defrost before using; frozen nuts can be chopped just as easily as fresh.

10. Wine

Use a pairing knife to remove frozen wine cubes when they're ready for use.

How to Prep for Freezer: Measure 1 tablespoon wine into each well of ice cube tray and freeze.

To Freeze and Use: Use paring knife or small spatula to remove each frozen wine cube and add as desired to pan sauces.


Dinner Illustrated

Many of the same ingredients are used in different recipes in this book, making our kitchen freezer tips all the more important.
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Check out our How Tos to learn how to preserve other leftover ingredients.