freezer cooking

freezer meals have been a lifesaver these last few days.  i made a bunch of them over the course of january, and i had decided we'd start eating from the stash starting march 1, baby or no.  i have really been glad to not have to think much about dinner prep at all the last few days.  the thing i LOVE about freezer meals is that the prep is all done, as is most of the cleaning up, so it's really a matter of turning on the oven and scrounging up a side dish (raw veggies are basically the best - also no prep or cleanup) and dinner's ready.

when i first tried freezer cooking (i think when i was pregnant with penelope), it was totally overwhelming because i had no idea what i was doing.  i've done it quite a bit since, just because it ends up making life SO MUCH EASIER in the long run, and here are things i've found work for me:

1.  i don't spend a whole day putting together a million different kinds of things.  instead, in january, i just wrote out a menu plan of meals that would freeze easily and then made two or three at a time.  monday night is lasagna night? instead of making one, i made three and froze two of them.  this seriously cuts down on clean up (you'd have to clean up the dinner dishes either way, right?), and really doesn't take much more time than you'd normally alot to meal prep.  (it does take a little maneuvering with the grocery budget, though, to pay for march's meals in january. just an observation.)

2.  i line my freezer-bound casserole dishes with foil and put the casserole inside the foil.  that way, after it's frozen solid, you can just run the bottom under hot water to release the foil, take the entire casserole out of the dish and pop it in a large ziplock bag.  that way i can reuse the casserole dish; plus, it takes up way less space in the freezer, which is at a premium since i only have a side-by-side.  (plus, who has like 20 extra casserole dishes just laying around waiting to hang out in the freezer for months on end?)

3.  sometimes it's equally as quick, but takes up way less space, to just put together a sauce or ingredients and do some basic cooking later.  last night we ate baked mac and cheese - i had made the sauce beforehand, then just cooked some noodles quick and poured it all into a dish to cook.  total effort last night? about 10 minutes to cook the noodles.  (when you freeze liquids in a ziplock bag, lay them flat on a shelf or cookie sheet; once they're frozen, they'll stay organized a lot easier and won't take up as much space.)

4. i put frozen casseroles directly in the oven without thawing.  usually at 375* for around an hour and a half, give or take depending on the size of the casserole.  if it has cheese on top, i cover it with foil until the very end so it doesn't get all dried out and gross.

5.  i undercook any noodles in the casseroles on the front end so they don't end up all mushy when i go to bake them.  i use rice pasta, so it might be a little different timing, but i boil the noodles for about half the time the package recommends before adding them to the casserole, then when they bake they soften up the rest of the way.

6.  i also put together 'kits' of things, so we're not just eating casseroles for a month straight.  for instance, a 'pizza kit' includes premixed (but unbaked) pizza dough, cooked italian sausage, some frozen chopped green peppers, and a bag of cheese.  all i have to do the day-of (after thawing in the fridge) is spread and bake the dough (10 minutes), open a jar of pizza sauce, and add all the toppings.  the only pan i have to clean up is the pizza pan.  easy.  this also works great for tacos (precooked seasoned meat, tortillas, cheese) and even bacon burgers (pre-cooked bacon, pre-formed burger patties, cheese slices and buns).  just add whatever fresh ingredients you need at the time.

7. some other easy alternatives to casseroles that freeze really well are crock pot 'kits,' most soups, and marinated or seasoned meat.  i just dumped some seasonings in with some chicken legs, and later on i'll thaw them and bake as normal.  marinade is really good because as the meat thaws, it's also doing the work of marinating right in the bag, so then you just dump it out and bake it. 

not sure if that helps anyone out, but i'd really encourage you to try it at least once.  (maybe soon i'll post some of the recipes that i've found work really well in the freezer.) it's awesome even for when unexpected company comes to just be able to grab a lasagna out of the freezer and act like you slaved away on it all day, just to make them feel guilty for showing up unexpectedly.

1 comment :

Jenni and Dan said...

Thanks for sharing Paige! Great tips. I hope to do this later on down the road.