This holiday season, save yourself some hassle and put your freezer to work. Need inspiration? Area chefs share a glimpse inside their iceboxes.

“It does come in handy. That’s for sure,” said chef Vicky Hanko of Cooking Spotlight in Phoenixville, who freezes extra pie crust, tart dough, fresh herbs and nuts.

“Since nuts have a high oil content, they can go bad quickly,” she explained. “We buy big bags of walnuts, pecans, almonds and split them into smaller Ziploc bags, then keep them in the freezer.”

Also on ice: almond flour, breadcrumbs, “several quarts of stock,” Parmesan rinds for soups and stews, caramelized onions for “mini tartlet appetizers or as topping for bruschetta” and cookies, “so you don’t have to make them all at once.”

“I always have cookie dough in my freezer at home,” agreed pastry chef Holly Haas of Frecon Farms in Boyertown, “if people are coming over, or I need a quick gift for someone.”

Fellow pastry chef Adam Griniusz of Lansdale freezes pick-your-own produce and butter “because the crust recipe I always use calls for ice-cold butter,” he said.

“I have to admit, the freezer is my best friend in the kitchen,” noted chef Libby Mills of West Chester, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Her contents are “very predictable” like vegetable scraps and bones for stock, ready-made meals and meal “starters.”

“That’s what I call ingredients that I put away in the freezer, so that I don’t always have to make every part of a meal from scratch each time I cook,” Mills described.

Another freezer find: whole grains.

“While bulgur takes about 10 minutes to cook, spelt takes over an hour. And who has time for that every time you’d like to toss some spelt in a salad, add it to a vegetable soup or use it in place of white rice for a stir-fry?” she wondered. “So when I do make spelt, I cook up a lot at one time.”

However, “my favorite freezer food is actually my secret chocolate fix,” Mills revealed.

You too can enjoy her recipe for chewy brownies or save them for surprise guests.

“When they are cooled and I’ve sampled one for quality control, I cut the pan of brownies into small 1½- to 2-inch squares, individually wrap each square in plastic wrap and put them all into a freezer-grade plastic sealable bag,” she said. “Date and labeled, this bag keeps my cravings in control.”

Chewy Brownies

Ingredients

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup walnuts, coarse chopped (optional)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-by-8-inch metal baking pan.

With an electric mixer or whisk, beat the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, salt and hot melted butter for several minutes. In a wide, but small bowl, whisk one egg at a time until it falls from the raised whisk like a ribbon. Beat each whisked egg into the batter for 1 to 2 minutes before adding the second egg. Fold in the flour using a broad spatula until just mixed. Gently fold in the nuts. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is slightly crusted and just a little of the batter sticks to a toothpick inserted in the center. Let the brownies cool completely, if you can, before cutting.

Perfectly portioned, these brownies are awesome frozen, brought to room temperature or warmed in the microwave.

Salmon with Lemon Herb Crust

This recipe utilizes frozen breadcrumbs.

Ingredients

4 salmon fillets (6 to 7 ounces each)

¾ cup breadcrumbs

2 teaspoons lemon zest, finely grated

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon sweet paprika

1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, parsley, paprika, salt and pepper and mix together well. Add the olive oil and stir until the breadcrumbs are coated in oil.

Spread the mustard lightly over the tops of the salmon fillets, covering completely. Sprinkle and press the breadcrumb mixture over the tops of the salmon fillets until covered with the topping.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking pan and put the salmon fillets, crumb-side-up, on the pan. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until just cooked through. Do not overbake. Serves 4.

Tuscan White Bean Soup with Crispy Sage Leaves

This soup utilizes any frozen vegetable or chicken broth and a Parmesan rind - a twofer!

Ingredients

1 pound of cannellini or great northern beans, dried*

2 medium onions, diced

1 celery, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

2 quarts of low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock

1 Parmesan rind (3- to 4-inch piece)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Garnish: Crispy sage leaves

1 bunch sage leaves, separated from the stems

¼ cup olive oil

Salt

Instructions

*Soak the beans overnight before you begin. To soak, place the beans into a large bowl and cover with water. Soak overnight.

In a heavy-bottom pot, warm the olive oil over moderate heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the beans and add to the pot. Add 1 tablespoon tomato paste and stir into the mixture. Cover with 1 quart of chicken stock and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat, add the Parmesan rind and simmer until the beans are tender about 1 to 1½ hours. Season with salt and pepper.

At this point you may leave the soup chunky or puree it to make it a creamy soup. Remove the Parmesan rind! For the creamy version, add a couple cups of the soup into a blender. Vent the lid and puree, empty into a clean pot. Do the remainder of the soup in batches. Add additional chicken stock if it’s too thick. Alternatively, use a hand-held immersion blender.

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