Monday, April 19, 2010

My version of freezer cooking

I have read lots about freezer cooking or once a month cooking (aka OAMC).  I went to a place a few times about 4 years ago called My Girlfriend’s Kitchen that specialized in OAMC.   (The location near us closed about 2 years ago.)  It was a neat place, they had a menu for a month and you got to pick how many total entrees you wanted to make (usually 6 or 12) and then if you wanted full portions or half portions.  The thing I liked best about it was that everything was set up in stations and they had all of the supplies you needed right there.  If the recipe called for diced chicken there was a container there with diced chicken.  The concept was great.  The food was good, but not as good as “home cooking”.  I picked up some tips from going there a few times and from reading numerous articles on the subject and decided I could do the same thing at home with recipes that we like.

So, how did I apply this concept to my everyday cooking and food prep?  Well, one of the easiest ones is that if I buy a piece of meat , like a london broil, that I end up having to freeze I make the marinade for the meat in advance and put it in the freezer bag with the meat.  That way when the meat thaws the marinade thaws with it in the refrigerator.  I learned that sometimes there are steps that you just can’t do ahead of time.  If I plan to make a stir fry for dinner I can freeze the meat and the vegetables, but I need to make sure I have rice in the pantry to finish off the meal.  This also ties into the another concept freeze individual components of your meal such as the meat in one freezer bag and the vegetables in another freezer bag. 

One of the biggest challenges of freezer cooking is knowing when to pull out the dishes to thaw them.  I learned that a casserole or pasta dish usually takes 24-48 hours to really thaw out.  That of course requires some planning on my part, but knowing is half the battle! :)

I have learned to prep some items and have them ready to grab to put together a quick dinner.  I bought a 3-lb bag of onions about 2 months ago.  I diced the entire bag (with the help of my food processor) and put about 1/2 cup portions in individual baggies that I wrapped in foil (to keep the rest of the freezer from smelling like onions) and them put the entire batch in a large freezer bag.  I also freeze uncooked meats, like ground beef or chicken breasts, in package sizes that my family generally eats, so about 1 pound each.  I can easily go to my freezer and pull out a bag of chopped onions and a pound of ground beef from the freezer and have dinner started in a few minutes. 

One way that I keep my freezer stocked with freezer meals is by cooking double and freezing half.  I did just this last week when we had taco night.  I had a two pound package of ground beef.  I browned up the entire package and added two seasoning packets to the ground beef and froze half of the meat for another time.

It doesn’t take that long to make a recipe or two for the freezer especially if you don’t have to bake the dish or if you can utilize your crock pot.  I spent about an hour (if that long) Friday afternoon making baked ziti that I was able to freeze in disposable pans that came out to 3 meals for our family.  In that time I also chopped up 2.5 pounds of chicken that I cooked in the crock pot with barbeque sauce for chicken barbeque that I divided into two meal portions in a freezer bag.  I now have 5 meals in the freezer that I can either share with someone or enjoy on a night that I don’t want to cook – all in about one hour.

I do want to share one last thing, this is along the lines of food safety.  When I make dishes like baked ziti or the chicken barbeque that are still hot when I finish them I put them in the refrigerator for a while to cool before I put them in the freezer.  I don’t want the hot dishes to soften up my precious ice cream.  :)

How about you - do you freezer cook?  Do you freeze your meat in portions your family will use?  Do you prep any of your food before freezing it?  Do you cook double and freeze half?  Feel free to share any of your favorite recipes – I am always looking for new ideas. 


Saving Our Way said...

Freezer cooking & making double the recipe & freezing it for later - saves so much time, doesn't it?!

You had some great tips here!

I wanted to share my favorite recipe - the Mac & Cheese cups from OAMC. These are a fav of my toddlers & this way I don't have to make a huge casserole that we are tempted to eat more of than we should!

Miriam said...

With the frozen casseroles from the MOPS group, I found out that you don't HAVE to thaw them ahead of time (don't ask me how I figured that out :P ). Of course everything was pre-cooked, so it just needed to get hot. It takes about 1 1/2 - 2 hrs. in the oven for a 9x13 casserole to go from frozen solid to heated through. Of course you have to weigh time vs. money there, but if you forget to pull out the cass. ahead of time, you're not totally out of a dinner.

Ann said...

Saving Our Way - thanks for the recipe. The mac & cheese cups look so yummy. If I wasn't out of milk right now I would make them during naptime. That looks like a great way to use up some free and cheap pasta and cheese I have on hand. I am sure both of my girls will love it. BTW - I like your blog's new look. :)

Miriam - you are right you can bake the dishes from frozen. I also found that out through experimentation with a pasta dish I froze before Megan was born. The problem was that the sides cooked faster than the center and I didn't think it tasted as good as the one that I thawed and then cooked.

Saving Our Way said...

Thanks Ann - I love the new look too & am hoping that it'll be complete tonight! My blog designer is amazing but a little overloaded!

The mac&cheese cups are really good & I love that I can control what I put in them & they are a healthy pasta source & not processed!