Photography by Joshua Steadman

Fear Not the Freezer

In Eat, Feature Stories, June 2021 by Eric GinsburgLeave a Comment

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Local top chef Ashley Christensen and wife Kaitlyn Goalen collab on new must-have personalized cookbook for home cooks.

Even James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen and wife (and executive director of Raleigh’s AC Restaurants—as in Ashley Christensen) Kaitlyn Goalen don’t feel like cooking some days. Plenty, actually. 

“Cooking is work; cooking is labor,” Goalen says. “There are definitely times that even the most joyful hobbyist doesn’t want to cook, and there are certainly times when people who cook professionally don’t want to cook.”

That daunting labor of cooking, along with the intimidating nature of a freezer, are just a couple of the reasons why Christensen and Goalen wanted to write their new cookbook, It’s Always Freezer Season: How to Freeze Like a Chef With 100 Make-Ahead Recipes.

For a lot of people, their freezer may be an afterthought—or simply cold storage for store-bought Tater tots and ice cream, Goalen says. Saving and thawing different foods correctly can be a huge source of anxiety for home cooks, but “the freezer, more than any other appliance in the kitchen, will help you cook delicious, flavorful meals in less time,” as the introduction of the book reads. “A freezer full of the recipes that you’ll find in this book is like a savings account of emotional and physical sustenance.”

Part freezer instructional manual, the book walks through everything from how to thaw ingredients to outlining various do’s and don’ts. So: Do portion food into smaller containers so it will freeze faster; don’t put warm or hot food directly into the fridge or freezer. There’s even a cheat sheet on the lifespan of different foods.

“That practical information can be applied to things far beyond what’s in this book, and also everything that’s in this book is just a cookbook recipe that happens to freeze well, so it has this duality in that sense,” says Christensen.

In many ways, Freezer Season would’ve been the perfect pandemic cookbook, with many people in their home kitchens more than ever. But Goalen and Christensen largely completed the book before lockdown and never imagined the pandemic would still be lingering on its April 6 release date. Yet as businesses like AC Restaurants’ DTR spots reopen for dine-in, there’s arguably more reason than ever to cook smarter at home, saving time to enable more excursions beyond the walls of home.

Freezer Season is the duo’s second cookbook together. Their first, Poole’s: Recipes and Stories From a Modern Diner, is heavy on narrative, telling the story of Christensen’s signature restaurant. This time, Goalen explains, “it’s really a strategy cookbook.”

Freezer Season to me is like: Here’s a way to think about both cooking and your freezer to get the most ROI out of your time in the kitchen,” says Goalen. “It’s not just about putting a casserole in the freezer, but about thinking of your freezer as a prepped pantry and using the same philosophy that professional chefs use when setting up their stations.” The idea, she explains, was, when you do feel like cooking or have to cook, how do you make the most of that time and set yourself up to reap the benefits of that process more than just once?

For someone who knows how to wield a freezer like the kitchen tool it is, maximizing kitchen efficiency becomes much easier. As Christensen points out, it’s often about the same amount of time and “the same number of dirty dishes” to double a recipe. If you’re not afraid of ruining a dish by freezing it or worried about it going bad once you do, it can be freeing. 

Dedicated to two cooks who inspired them and who taught them to love cooking at home—their mothers, Lisa and Lynn—Freezer Season is informed by AC Restaurants (think Beasley’s and Poole’s), but is largely driven by their lives together outside the confines of work. “This book is so much more about our life together,” says Christensen. “We both have, I bet, a 50/50 split of recipes.” 

As such, glimpses of their life are scattered throughout the book—like a quick line in the braised greens and paneer recipe that mentions Goalen’s favorite takeout (Kabab & Curry, near NC State). Or the bechamel sauce, which they froze leftovers of while collaborating
on the Poole’s cookbook. 

Open up the couple’s Bedford Heights freezer, and you’ll likely find some of the turkey chili, carnitas and cornbread stuffed in there. Christensen likes bringing frozen meals on trips, whether it’s an excursion with chef friends or a family ski trip. Pre-prepared tomato soup paired with fresh grilled cheeses or a packed container of carnitas offers the quality you crave without the same exertion, she says. 

“You still did the passionate cooking, but then it’s like you have this access to something that is cooked just the way you want it, but you had nothing to do that day,” says Christensen. It’s great for bringing to a sick friend or a family member who just had a baby, Goalen adds—“putting food in their freezer is so much more convenient for them than just showing up with food that’s ready to cook.” 

It’s how they grew up eating, with Christensen’s family focusing more on ingredient preservation, while Goalen’s family used the freezer as a meal- prep tool, freezing things like individual cookie dough balls. And it’s also how the chef and restaurant director live their lives together now. 

“It’s the way we like to cook at home, and that was one of our favorite parts of writing it,” says Goalen. “Hopefully, this makes it easier for more people to eat delicious food, to eat healthy, to enjoy cooking, to waste less—and all of that is outweighing the maybe conventional picture of frozen food being lower quality.”

With Freezer Season, this can be the way you cook at home too—the practical, direct advice means there’s no more reason to be afraid. The cookbook demystifies one of the most underutilized kitchen appliances, and though the book came out just a few weeks ago, Christensen is already imagining how to build off of it, beginning with more than a dozen recipes they couldn’t fit in. 

“Folks’ excitement for the concept has my wheels cranking,” says Christensen. “I already feel like I could write a second one.”

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