Friday, March 27, 2015

Freezer Cooking: The Big Day! (Part 4)

The day of freezer cooking has arrived.  Having a plan is so important.  Without one, you are left thinking what you should make next.  This wastes a lot of time, especially when you have a lot of food sitting out! 

Freezer Cooking Day Order of Events

1) Brown meat. 

If no one has allergies, you can start by browning ground turkey, then ground beef, then breakfast sausage, Italian sausage and end with pork if you have it.  Done in that order means no washing the pan between brownings!

2) Set up a meat draining station. 

We do this with a large bowl and strainer set on top of one another.  Then, create browned meat buckets with the various meats (e.g. one bowl for ground turkey, another for ground beef).  This saves you time in the browning process and consolidates all the grease in one place. 

3) Sauté veggies.

Using a large skillet, sauté up any mushrooms, bell peppers, or other veggies that you will need sautéed for your recipes.  I typically like to sauté all the veggies up front, so they are ready for assembly.  Place them in a large bowl when done. 

4) Assemble any breakfast items.

At this point, you should have all your meat, cheese and veggies ready.  If you are making breakfast items, this is the time to assemble them. 

If needed, make eggs (either bake them in muffin cups while browning meat, or scramble them up) and begin to create an assembly line to put together either the breakfast sandwiches or burritos.  Then, put together the bakes. 

Allow these too cool down, if needed, then wrap and get them in the freezer (more on how to do this in Part 5). 

5) Assemble main meals.

Now, you are ready to make the main dishes.  Begin with the “blandest” meals first so that you can minimize dishwashing if possible.  Using measuring cups in the meats and veggies will help you add the correct amount to the dish!   

Here are some tips:

  • If making a casserole that you typically cook in the skillet before putting into the oven (e.g., sweet potato risotto), cook as you typically would and then stop before baking. 
  • If you are making a casserole that only requires heating, or includes veggies you’ve already pre-cooked/sautéed, go ahead and mix that in a bowl without heating (e.g., unstuffed pepper casserole).
  • Be sure to spray the inside of the baking pan you are using before you add the main dish! 

6) Assemble soups, or meals in a ziplock bag.

Next up would be crockpot meals or soups, meals that can easily be stored in the freezer in plastic freezer bags.  What I learned (the hard way) in my first adventure in freezer cooking is that I should not fill the bags with ingredients I can easily add to the crockpot the day of cooking.  For example, I will not add:

  • Canned beans, tomatoes, broth
  • Dry pasta, barley, lentils, etc.,
  • Seasonings

By not placing these items into the freezer bag, I accomplish a few things:

(1) better taste,
(2) less space taken up in the freezer, and
(3) less likelihood of making a mess during packaging, or expansion during the freezing process! 

Yes, I am speaking from experience.  I had a bag leak in the freezer while I was freezing it (thankfully I had it on a cookie sheet!), and I also made a meal where all the seasonings stayed stuck inside the plastic bag! I ended up needed to add more anyway, which made me realize I should just add them fresh the day of in the first place. 

Let these dishes cool and then prepare them also for the freezer. 

7) Package away extras. 

At this point, your savory dishes are done!  Congratulations!  Now, you will likely have some leftover meat or veggies, cheese, etc., so take some time to package these items also for your freezer. 

8) Make desserts and/or muffins. 

If you have plans to make some sweet goodies for your freezer, make these now.  I recommend making dough for cookies and also batter for muffins. 

I learned of a really neat way to freeze muffins by just freezing the batter (no baking required)!  I love it.  There is nothing better than taking the frozen batter out of the chest freezer and baking them into warm muffins.  Seriously.  You must try it.  You can do the same with cookies. 

9) Clean up.  Eat cookie dough ;-) 

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to effectively package your meals for the freezer so that your meals and hard work don’t go to waste! 

Have you done your own freezer cooking day?  What order did you accomplish things in? Join the conversation over on Facebook!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Freezer Cooking: The night before… (Part 3)

‘Twas the night before freezer cooking day and all through the house, I was busy prepping ….. !

The first freezer cooking day I did this January was a long day.  8+ hours. Not sustainable.  The second one, I made more meals and had one less person helping and a baby to take care of in between naps in 5 hours!

What was the difference?  Preparation. 

Here’s what I recommend you do before the actual cooking day:

1) Dice veggies.

Chop and dice!  This can be done up to a week ahead of time.  Just be sure to check the recipes you plan to cook so that you get the veggies diced in the right way! 

2) Shred cheese.

Easy, but time consuming.  Do it ahead of time and store in the fridge, or even in the freezer if you are really ahead of the game.  If you need sliced cheese, slice it ahead of time too. 

3) Make rice.

If you are using wild rice or brown rice in any of your recipes, make it in advance.  Load up that rice cooker or pot on the stove and let the rice simmer away while making dinner one evening before the cooking day.  Store in the refrigerator until the day of cooking. 

4) Make any bread, tortillas or English muffins.

We make homemade tortillas, bread and English muffins.  You don’t want to be stuck on freezer baking day waiting for any of these, so be sure you’ve either made them or bought them and sliced them ahead of time. 

If you have done your own freezer cooking, what do you do the day(s) before freezer cooking? Join the conversation over on Facebook!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Freezer Cooking: Picking Recipes (Part 2)

Picking the right recipes to freeze is important!  You don’t want to end up with wasted ingredients for a meal that didn’t work out. 

From our two freezer cooking days, I have learned the following ingredients don’t freeze too well:

1) Barley – in a soup recipe, frozen with other liquids.  The barley absorbs too much liquid and doesn’t hold it’s texture. 

2) Beans (canned) – in a soup recipe that was then cooked in a the crockpot all day.  Texture was awful. 

3) Potatoes – while they taste OK, they oxidize and get really brown/black. If you don’t mind that, go ahead and include them.  I’d prefer to add them later. 

Now, to share some of our recipes that we have made and they have worked well in the freezer:

Breakfasts Items



Breakfast Burritos (new recipe coming soon)
Brunch Bake
Egg Bake
Muffins (like these orange zest cranberry ones!)
Granola
Freezer-Friendly Breakfast Sandwiches

Dinner Items

Veggie Lasagna
Brown Rice and Broccoli Chicken Bake
Unstuffed Pepper Casserole
Wild Rice Casserole
Calzones
Sweet Potato Risotto
Spaghetti Sauce
Pizza Casserole
Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
BBQ Turkey Meatloaf (stuffed with cheese and veggies)
Italian Grilled Chicken
Chicken Parmesan Burgers and/or Meatballs
Tater Tot Hotdish
Cheesy Lentil Bake
Easy Twice Baked Potato Casserole

Soups
Busy Day Soup
Beef and Barley Soup

What recipes does your family love to have in the freezer?  Join the conversation over on Facebook!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Freezer Cooking: Preparation (Part 1)

Before beginning my freezer cooking days, I needed to start by deciding on recipes and making a grocery list

I did some reading about things that freeze well, and things that don’t, scouted around Pinterest for some freezer-friendly meal ideas, and then went through my own recipes to pull ones that I thought would freeze well. 

For me, I was more interested in using my own, familiar, family-favorite recipes than trying something new! 

For planning and preparing, stick to these three simple steps:

1) Decide on what kinds of meals you want in your freezer. 

Do you want quick breakfasts?  Snacks for after school? Dinners? Desserts?  Or, some of each? 

2) Locate recipes.

Find recipes that fit kinds of meals you want in your freezer.  For example, do you want breakfasts?  Than how about freezer-friendly breakfast sandwiches?  Be sure to consider your family’s preferences, your method of cooking (i.e., thawing and baking, thawing and crockpot cooking), and ingredients on sale or on hand. 

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3) Consider doubling.

Let’s say you’re like us and you LOVE lasagna.  When you make your grocery list, get enough ingredients to make two pans for your freezer.  You’re already dirtying all those dishes, so double the take home! 

If you have done your own freezer cooking, what tips do you have about choosing good recipes?  Join the conversation over on Facebook

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