How to properly prep, store and freeze holiday leftovers

Alejandra Ramos takes the guesswork out of storing and freezing holiday leftovers with her expert tips, tricks and techniques.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Alejandra Ramos

Entertaining expert Alejandra Ramos is visiting TODAY the day after Thanksgiving to share her tips and tricks for freezing and storing holiday leftovers (because, well, we've all got 'em). She shows us how to safely store turkey, properly portion mashed potatoes, the best uses for day-old baked goods, what not to freeze and much more.

General Tips

  • Food should be frozen within three days — but the earlier, the better! Portion out what you realistically think you'll want to eat in a day or two, and freeze the rest.
  • Once frozen, food is technically safe indefinitely, but for flavor purposes is typically best within three months.
  • Divide and freeze food in smaller portions — individual portions or for two to three people — so that you can easily thaw just as much as you need to eat. Once food has been thawed, you need to eat it all or throw it away. Thawed food shouldn't be frozen a second time.

Labels

  • Get a roll of masking tape to make easy labels. Label and date everything that goes in the freezer.
  • Writing directly on plastic bags or containers usually smears off because of moisture and condensation. Instead, use a roll of masking tape and permanent marker to create easy labels. (This is how chefs label food in professional restaurant kitchens.)

Turkey and Gravy Tips

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  • Remove the stuffing! Don't freeze turkey with stuffing or herbs still inside.
  • Prep turkey by removing meat from bones. Slice or shred meat before freezing. Bones can either be discarded or frozen separately to use for making turkey stock.
  • Divide gravy into ice cube trays or mini muffin pans and freeze into individual portions, then transfer to a gallon bag. These individual blocks can be used as a pan sauce for sautéed chicken breasts or pan-seared steaks, or to kick up soups and stews.

Storage Hacks

  • Make individual mashed potato, creamed spinach or stuffing portions by filling a gallon-sized bag with leftover mashed potatoes, pressing flat and sealing it, then using chopsticks over the bag tic-tac-toe-style to create a grid. Freeze until solid. Then you can easily break off only as much as you need.

Liquids

  • Maximize room in your freezer by storing liquid items flat in freezer bags. Fill and seal bags (allow some room for liquid expansion when frozen), then lay flat on a baking sheet. Stack with additional filled bags, then freeze at least four hours or until solid. You can then store them on their sides in a container to keep them organized and easy to grab.
  • Chicken stock and cranberry sauce keeps well in the fridge for about three weeks, but you can also freeze it in small zipped bags or Mason jars. Like with anything else, divide into smaller portions.
  • Leftover wine or Champagne can be frozen in ice cube trays and used for cooking.

Baked Goods

  • Make sweet crumb toppings by chopping up leftover cookies or unfrosted cake and storing in a freezer bag. Use this as a fun topping for ice cream or yogurt or to mix into milkshakes.
  • Freeze brownies, bars and unfrosted baked goods (such as cornbread or Bundt cake) by wrapping first in plastic wrap then in a second layer of foil.

What Not to Freeze

  • Delicate greens, cooked vegetables with high-water content, such as green beans and broccoli, citrus fruits and pies can be frozen, but the crust texture won't be the same, so best to just eat!
  • You shouldn't freeze frosted baked goods, any custard dishes, soft cheeses (like Brie) or whole-baked potatoes. Any food that had already been previously frozen and reheated (for example, if you cooked and froze something in advance of the holiday) should not be frozen again.