Wednesday, November 23, 2011

WFMW: Freezer Cooking and Inventory

Another anonymous commenter recently asked for food tips:
I also love food stuff -- hearing what works for you, good recipes, tips, etc. I'm particularly on the hunt for good slow-cooker recipes these days, so if you've got any of those, please share!
This dovetails nicely with yesterday's post about saving money by cooking and eating at home plus Works for Me Wednesday, which I seem to do only about once a year when I'm trying to fill up space during NaBloPoMo :)

My first tip is to cook for a crowd. When I was first married, someone gave me a subscription to Taste of Home's Cooking for Two. I've got some great recipes I still use from that magazine, but honestly? I think cooking for two is a stupid idea. All that work, and all that mess, for two portions--no leftovers, even? Good grief!

I regularly cook for about 4-6 people (at least), because we eat leftovers for lunch almost exclusively. It's quick and easy, not to mention healthier a lot of the time. But last year when I was pregnant with Jude, I discovered the joys of freezer cooking. And oh my goodness, why didn't I do this before?!

Of course, it only works if you have the freezer space, and we just got a stand-alone freezer for this very purpose a few months before Jude was born. But really, it's life-changing. Anytime I'm making something that will freeze well, I double the recipe. It's so much easier to make a bigger batch once than to go to all the trouble and deal with all the cleanup two separate times! Some of my recipes are already big, so I don't have to double them--I'll just make half again as much, or make the regular batch and freeze half, only saving enough for us to eat it leftover once (which is nice because then we're not totally sick of it by the time we eat the leftovers three times). Soups freeze particularly well, and if you freeze them flat in ziploc bags, they stack and thaw nicely.

For dishes like lasagna or enchiladas, I line a glass pan with foil and freeze the unbaked dish just long enough for the food to be solid--then I pop it out of the glass pan and put the foil-wrapped food in a ziploc bag. When I want to bake it, I take it out of the bag and put the food + foil back in the glass pan to thaw in the fridge and then bake. Similarly for meatloaf, I put it on a cookie sheet and freeze it, then pop it off the sheet and put it in a bag.

I also freeze partial meals or ingredients. For example, I'll mix up all the ingredients for tuna noodle casserole except the noodles--so then all I have to do is boil some noodles and mix it all together, very simplified. Or I'll cook a huge crockpot full of dried beans and freeze them in one-can portions. I cook whole chickens and shred the meat, then freeze it (flat--it thaws much more quickly) in about one-pound portions, and I brown about 5-6 pounds of ground beef at a time and freeze it (again, flat!) in one-pound portions. Doing this makes taco night or spaghetti night a breeze, because all I have to do is add seasoning or sauce.

My other tip for freezer use is to keep an inventory. I typed up a list of things I commonly have in my freezer, organized by category, with extra spaces to write in other items. I then slipped the lists in plastic page protectors and taped them to the top of our chest freezer. I also taped a wet-erase marker to a string next to the list. I can tell at a glance what's in my freezer, so that things don't get buried and forgotten. It also helps me to plan ahead (I've only got one bag of beans left, so I need to add them to my grocery list and cook some more). Having the list taped to the lid and having the marker right there helps me not forget to add or erase things when I get into the freezer--otherwise this system totally doesn't work. (I have problems making it work for my upstairs freezer, which I'm in and out of a lot more often.) I still have to empty and re-inventory/reorganize the freezer about once or twice a year, but keeping an ongoing list helps immensely.

I'm so glad I've discovered all these tips and tricks for cooking in bulk and using my freezer! It was absolutely wonderful when I was newly postpartum. But even without a newborn in the house, it's a lifesaver. I love to cook, but with two little boys, life happens and it's sometimes hard to get a good meal on the table. Having pre-made food in my freezer means I have [healthier and cheaper] options besides take-out for those days when everything seems to fall apart, or when I know I'm going to be gone all day, or when I just don't feel like cooking. And it just plain makes life easier to make twice the food for the same amount of prep time and cleanup!

How has freezer cooking worked for you?

[Check out We Are That Family for more Works for Me Wednesday tips!]


Danielle said...

Great ideas, Amy! I've never done a lot of this and should try. We do eat leftovers for lunch (I love that) but have never cooked partial ingredients and frozen. That's a great idea, one I've heard before but have never practiced. The inventory idea is fab too! We do have a big freezer now. It's mostly full of chicken and green beans from the garden. I'm going to try to start doubling recipes now that would be good freezer meals.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for responding to my comment with such a great post! I especially like your trick for freezing and thawing with foil.

We don't have a big freezer, but this post certainly made me think about how we might make use of one in the future.

All the best to you and your family.