Freezer Cooking is a necessity in our house. Between homeschooling, church, various activities, and work, sometimes it's hard to get a home-cooked meal on the table. With my husband's schedule I'm never sure if he'll be home at lunchtime or at suppertime. If he's home for lunch it's hard to stop school at 11am so I can have an hour to get a good meal ready before sending him off to work. So, freezer cooking has become one of those essential things for us. And now that I'm losing weight with Trim Healthy Mama I am experimenting and discovering new favorites for the freezer.
First off, let's talk about the methods for freezer cooking, from once-a-month cooking (where you prepare a whole month's worth of meals) to small batch cooking sessions. Here's a list of my favorite methods for freezer cooking:
Method #1:Freezing family favorites. There are some family recipes that are hands-down favorites and often requested. I experimented to see which would freeze easily. Sometimes I would freeze after the meal was cooked and sometimes I'd work out how to freeze things before cooking (fajitas are great for this!). We had a few things that didn't work out so well (beef stew with root vegetables - stew was great but potatoes were mushy and weird tasting) but overall this is a very successful method.
Method #2:Freezer cooking sale items. This is a great way to fill the freezer and save money at the same time. Right now cauliflower is on sale everywhere. So I've been buying a whole bunch. I "rice" a bunch of it in my blender (no need to cook it beforehand) and freeze it in 2-cup portions. Others I'll cut into pieces, blanch for a few minutes, drain, cool, package and freeze in meal-sized portions.
Carrots are also a big sale item right now. So I'll do the same with them - blanch and package for the freezer. I do recommend flash freezing (freezing things spread out on cookie sheets until firm, then bagging up; they'll all stay frozen but in individual pieces) if you have the freezer space so you can scoop out just what you want instead of having to thaw out a huge frozen block of carrots.
Same goes for many other things - chickens, baguettes (I live in Quebec after all!), vegetables - you get the idea! When things are on sale stock up!
Method #3:Small batches add up. All those individual things I listed above - those great buys that fill the freezer. That stuff adds up quickly! So, instead of some huge mega-cooking session. I do these little things. After looking through our local store sale circulars I'll make a note of things that I know freeze well (or google if I'm not sure about an ingredient!) and choose around 2-5 things with the intention of prepping them and freezing for a later date.
Some things will be more labor intensive than others. I wouldn't choose 5 things that require loads of work. But I'd choose two that are a bit more involved and a few that might require a quick wash and blanch before freezing.
Here's one example - whole chickens are on sale, as well as cauliflower and bell peppers. While I'm at the store I notice that there's a rack of day old baguettes marked down super cheap. So, I buy 8 chickens, a few heads of cauliflower, 4 bell peppers, and 3 baguettes. The baguettes get cut into thirds and put in freezer bags (very easy to reheat in the toaster oven when we want one). The bell peppers get cut into strips and frozen (no need to blanch- but these will only be good for cooking afterwards. If you want some to munch on do it while they're fresh). The cauliflower gets chopped, blanched, and frozen or turned into rice in the blender before being frozen. The chickens will require the most work. I'll season 2 with herbs and stuff a half a lemon in the cavity of each before bagging and freezing. The other six with get chopped into pieces, wings all put in one bag with a marinade and frozen, the rest of the pieces breaded and quick-fried (not completely cooked through though), cooled and bagged for the freezer. On cook day, those just need to be tossed in a baking pan and put in the oven (straight from frozen!) to finish cooking. That's a bit more work but worth it for the six meals that it provides.
In the picture below, you can see some of my more recent efforts. I riced cauliflower and bagged it in 2-cup portions. I cooked up a big pot of brown rice and another pot of beans and bagged those as well. So when I need a quick side dish or lunch - I can thaw out a single-sized serving. Half the work is already done for me!
Make a double or triple batch
. This one is simple. Once you have a few recipes in your recipe card holder that you know freeze well you are set. Say you want to make a chicken soup. Instead of making one small batch for one meal, double or triple that recipe. Portion out enough for your meal that day and freeze the rest. It's that easy.
Method #5:A Batch Cooking session. I don't do the once-a-month cooking thing but I do like to do smaller batch cooking sessions. Mine usually follow whatever is on sale. If ground beef is on sale, I will buy a bunch of it and plan my session around that. I might make hamburger patties, brown some up with garlic and onion, make a big tray of meatballs, and a huge pot of spaghetti sauce - all things that will freeze very well.
By using these methods you can quickly and easily fill your freezer. It can be as easy as buying a few veggies when they are on sale! The hardest part will be keeping it all organized in your freezer! Next week I'll share some of the quickest and easiest things you can put in your freezer.
All-Purpose Ground Beef Mix
One of my favorite methods for keeping my freezer full of things for quick meals is batch cooking. It's not a big all-day cooking session, but usually involves one item in the spotlight. This one features ground beef.
Now there's lots of ways to go about using up a big package (I had an 8 pound package) of ground beef. I tend to pick 1-3 recipes and make doubles and triples of things instead of making a different recipe with each pound of meat. Sometimes, if I'm really in stock up mode I'll choose one thing and make the whole batch into that. For example, meatballs. I'd make up a whole huge batch of meatballs and flash freeze so we can just grab some as needed. But that's not what I did with this batch!
Here's what I did:
First off, I made a plan. How much ground beef did I buy? How do I want to divide it up? What other ingredients do I need to purchase to get this in the freezer (and don't forget to add some type of freezer bags or containers to your list!)?
I had 8 pounds of hamburger I wanted to freeze but I didn't want it all precooked. So the first step was getting the raw meat out of the way. I made up 8 hamburger patties and got them into the freezer. Then I portioned out some more into 1/2-1 pound bags (1 cup raw is about 1/2 pound). Then it was time to deal with the rest of the ground beef.
One of my goals is to get meals on the table quickly. A huge help with that is having things precooked in the freezer. One of those things that I precook is a huge amount of seasoned ground beef. You'll find many variations on this basic recipe out in the freezer world, but this is the version I use the most.
All-Purpose Ground Beef Mix
4-5 pounds of ground meat (can be any mix of meats that you like, I just happened to use ground beef) 2 cups of finely chopped onion 2 cups of finely chopped vegetables (anything you have on hand - bell peppers, celery, or shredded carrots or zucchini) 8 cloves garlic, finely minced salt and pepper, to taste (not too much because this is just a precook - you'll be adding the mix to something else and you might want to season it up then)
So, the first step is to get that meat browned up. I like to do it in one big pot and then drain and rinse if the meat is fatty (then you can use it in an S or an E setting).
While the meat is sitting in the strainer, throw the veggies (all but the garlic) into the pot and get them cooking on medium heat. When they start to soften add the garlic and some salt and pepper before adding the ground beef back to the pot. Give it a stir and cook until the veggies are completely soft and incorporated into the ground beef.
Now, a word about the veggies. I use whatever I can find on sale. This week I got a package of orange bell peppers from the discount shelf in the veggie aisle at my grocery store so that's what I used. Be frugal!
Once it's all cooked and cooled it's time to get it ready for the freezer. I freeze in 1 and 2 cup portions. 2 heaping cups is more or less a pound.
If I'd had more ground beef, I would have dumped another batch in the pot and made up a big batch of taco meat the very same way, with the veggies and added some taco seasonings after the draining and rinsing. But I was out of beef so that was a no-go this time.
Now how do I use all that pre-cooked meat?
These past few weeks I've used some as a pizza topping (twice!), in a quick spaghetti sauce, in barbecue beef cups, and in Kai Si Ming (page 331).
Here are some more ideas for using that beef mixture using recipes from
Trim Healthy Mama : Cheeseburger Pie (page 326) Pizza Casserole (page 327) Chili (pages 328-9), Kai Si Ming (page 331) Hearty Red Soup (page 334) Alfredo Beef and Broccoli (page 340) Spaghetti Bolognese (page 350)
And one more recipe!
Barbecue Beef Cups
This is a quick meal to get on the table if you have some of Gwen's bread dough in your refrigerator and a bag of all-purpose ground beef mix in your freezer. Preheat your oven to 400 and get to work! Using individual custard cups (very lightly greased) press a small bit of dough into the bottom of each. I believe you want to keep your portion under 1/4 cup for an E. If you squish it really thin and have small custard cups you can portion that between two cups. Put the meat mix in a bowl and mix it with some barbecue sauce before dividing evenly between the dough-lined cups. Top with a light sprinkle of reduced fat cheese. Put in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the bread is cooked and the meat mixture is heated through.
So there you have it - in one quick afternoon, you can have 5-6 meals already started and in your freezer. Just thaw and season or add to something else and you are on your way. There's no reason to brown one pound of ground meat when you can brown five and put them in the freezer!