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!

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