Saturday, March 14, 2009

Freezer Cooking!

Those of you who know me know that I LOVE LOVE LOVE to freezer cook. You may call it by another name like bulk cooking, or once a month cooking. I like to call it Freezer Cooking! I Love it! It blesses my family, my friends, and whoever else I get to share it with! I wanted to share some of the common thoughts and principals behind my method. I just tend to get a lot of questions on this topic so I thought I would blog about it today. Let's face we as busy Mom's & Dad's all have the same dilemma. I am talking about that age old question that strikes fear in the heart of the strongest and the bravest of us! "Mom, Dad, what's for dinner?" Let's have a plan. Let's KNOW the ANSWER when they ask because we thought and planned ahead.. It will save you TIME and MONEY. In this economy, we all could use a little more of that in our pockets!

Freezer Cooking is great because it allows you to prepare several meals at once and put them in the freezer, labeled with cooking instructions, to be cooked at a later date. It can be something as simple as doubling that lasagna you were making for dinner tonight, and now you make two, and freeze one to cook later. Or, the way I like to do this is to make a list of several meals I would like to put in the freezer, see what I have on hand and what I need to purchase, and spend a afternoon putting several meals together and freezing them.

95% of all the meals I prepare and freeze are RAW foods. A few of these have partially cooked or have ingredients that are already cooked which just speeds up the cooking time for later. When you find meat on sale, buy as much as you have room for. Or, if you prefer to start small and work your way up- that is fine too. When I find beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, or pork tenderloin on sale- I snatch these up! Most of my families favorites are centered around these. I watch the flyer's closely and even ask the Meat Market Manager what is going on sale soon, that way I can plan around that! After I have found out what is on sale, I make my shopping lists for all of the items that I need for the recipes that you will be preparing. Most of the freezer recipes that I have found online or that I already have a copy of, has a handy dandy shopping list right there with the recipe so that you can cross reference it and see exactly what you will need to pick up at the store. I always shop one day and prepare the dishes the next. (When I have tried to do all of this in the same day- I end up cranky and exhausted! Not fun!) Chop any of the veggies that you will need such as onions, mushrooms, peppers, etc, and line them up on your kitchen counter for easily assembly. Then, move on to the meat preparation. I try to keep several pounds of cooked, ground beef in my freezer at all times. It makes for a quick night of sloppy joe's, spaghetti sauce or beef stroganoff when you are in a pinch for time! The same can be done for chicken. When it has already been cooked and chopped and separated into two cup bags, it is ready for a casserole, enchiladas, stew, soup, chicken pot pie, or anything else that may call for it. (Two cups is what most recipes call for.) I always use a sharpie marker and label the bag clearly with the date, the name of the item or dish, and the cooking instructions on the front of the bag. If you are not home that night, anyone in your household can pull the meal out, read the instructions, and stick it in the oven. It also helps to keep a running tab on the side of my refrigerator of what is in mt freezer at any given time. When we eat that dish, I mark it off the list, and it shows what we have left in the freezer right now.

What can you freeze? I have had great success with freezing everything except potatoes an carrots. I have found recipes that say that you can freeze these items, I just have not had any luck doing so! They just don't come out with the right consistency when I thaw them. Potatoes I only freeze after they have been fully cooked and mashed. But again- I try not to if I can help it.

How much time does it take? As much time as you want to give it. Some people like to do 30 meals in one day. Some people prefer to do all of their chicken dishes one day and their beef recipes the next day. This way you are only investing a few hours at a time. Some people prefer to simply take what they are having for dinner and double it or triple it and put a few away like this. That is really the easiest way of all. It may take you 15 minutes longer to do this but you have extra meals for another day!

What do I use? I got that question just today! :-) I always use freezer quality Ziploc bags or heavy duty aluminum disposable pans- double covered in foil! The last thing you want is for your investment of time and money to be wasted on freezer burn. DO NOT and I repeat DO NOT use margarine tubs, sour cream containers, or things of that nature to freeze your meals in. These might be fine for your leftovers in the frig, but they are NOT freezer quality containers. This really does save your family money in the long run because you will always have a variety of wonderful meals at your fingertips available for your family. If there is a sick friend or someone has surgery or a baby or an unexpected emergency, or let's face it- JUST ANOTHER BUSY DAY!- you will always have an answer to the never ending question- "Hey Mom! What's for dinner?!"

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