Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rethinking freezer cooking

I have flirted with freezer cooking for years, but have not had a lot of luck doing it. I've tried doubling recipes and freezing half for later, freezing leftovers, freezing extra bits of things (like half a can of coconut milk or enchilada sauce), and Once A Month Cooking (a special kind of hell where you spend an entire day slaving away to make sixteen versions of basically the same dish and you are so tired of looking at them that you never want to eat them again). The only things that have really worked for me are taco meat and breakfast burritos.

My problems are as follows:
1. Freezer burn. I have tried wrapping in plastic, foil, and freezer bags. I have tried freezing in the dish. I have tried flash freezing. None of it seems to work - food that's cooked and then frozen just tastes like that when you reheat it - it's not as good as if it were made fresh.
2. Storage space. We have a freezer on top of our fridge as well as a chest freezer, but it seems like the kinds of thing I'm storing don't fit well in either freezer, and it's hard to get to the older things first, which means I use up new stuff so the old stuff just sits in the back and gets more freezer burned.
3. System. Keeping track of what's in the freezer and when it was put there is somehow beyond me. Writing the name of the contents on the bag is a good idea, but it doesn't do much good when you forget that it exists. We have a list on the fridge of what's in the chest freezer but I never look at it and it never gets updated. And the reorganization of newer stuff to the back/bottom of the freezer just doesn't seem to happen in my house.

I'd like to get better at this, because we're going to need some stockpiles of stuff for when the newest Baby M comes home. And "freezer meals" has been on my "before baby" checklist since we found out we were expecting, but I have been avoiding this task like the plague.

Cue a new idea!

What if I thought about freezer cooking in a totally different manner? What if I thought about it as stockpiling meals, rather than freezer specific cooking? What if I looked for components of meals on sale, stocked up on those, and froze the perishables, withOUT cooking them ahead of time? Keeping cans of soup, frozen veggies, rice or quinoa, and frozen chicken breasts on hand is not complicated, but toss all of those things in a slow cooker and you've got dinner! If I cooked them ahead of time and then froze them, I would never eat them - but knowing that I have the components on hand would be easier to organize and keep track of, and easier to throw meals together with some semblance of variety.

So. Here's my NEW freezer cooking plan:
1. Stockpiling. Keep an eye out for the following staples, and scoop them up x3 whenever they are on sale: chicken breast, ground beef, canned cream of ______ soups, canned corn, shredded cheese, frozen veggies.
2. Preparing. Chop chicken into bite size pieces, bag up into meal-size bags, freeze. Turn ground beef into taco meat, freeze. Freeze frozen veg (obviously) and shredded cheese (we do this with mozzarella for pizza; surely it would work with cheddar or mexican, right?).
3. Organizing. Get some shallow baskets for the chest freezer. Chicken goes into one basket, taco meat into another, cheese into another, etc. Add new bags to the back of the basket, take from the front. Baskets should be stackable so things don't get lost in the bottom of the freezer.
4. Preparing. Sous Chef posts are focusing on easy throw-together dinners that make use of these kind of staples, as opposed to requiring all fresh ingredients or things that I would only buy for that purpose. So hopefully when the time comes, I will be able to have a basic fresh produce shopping list for adding veggies and fruit to our meals, and otherwise be able to shop the pantry to make slow cooker or one-pot meals for my bigger family.

This seems like something I will actually be able to stick with. I already kind of shop this way - buying extra brats or cereal when they are on sale. I don't know why it never occurred to me to do it with meal components as well.


4 comments:

  1. I like this idea. I don't like freezing meals and reheating them. They don't taste good to me.

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  2. This is a fantastic idea. Cheese freezes great as long as you plan to melt it before eating it. It's not so great if you plan to eat it as is.

    Are you a baker? I stock my freezer with premade (but not baked) scones, pie crusts (for quiches or pies), and pizza dough.

    Also La Loma tamales are my go to freezer meal since they come frozen and can be heated in the microwave in just a couple of minutes.

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  3. Great idea! I found this link before I went back to work after maternity leave this year and it was wonderful for the winter (I'm not such a fan of hearty meals in the summer): http://kojo-designs.com/2012/04/getting-organized-a-whole-months-worth-of-meals-via-crockpot-freezer-cooking/

    The orange-chicken recipe was not very good, but everything else has been great.

    Each recipe would feed the three of us at least two meals, sometimes three.

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  4. I discovered the same thing after a time. I froze lentil soup, cooked ribs, etc, and was underwhelmed by all the reheated versions. Now I'm doing a bit more along the lines of making sure we have certain staples that freeze and recook ok: diced onions, frozen corn, green beans, and other veggies, chicken and other meats on sale. Our freezer's too small to hold VERY much but it's really helped keep me cooking even when we haven't had time to shop in a while.

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