Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Freezer Cooking and Frugal Living Part 1

All right, let’s talk freezer cooking and frugal living. The two do go hand in hand. A great way to save money is to cook in bulk and freeze. As many of you already know, I have been freezer cooking for over 3 years now. I have also, up until recently, organized a group of 10-15 ladies every month for a Freezer Cooking Day. That was a lot of fun. But I know that it isn’t easy for all of us to get together with friends and have a big cooking day. That might not be the season of life you are in right now. And that’s OK. You can still make meals for your freezer without really taking any extra time out of your day.

One of the easiest ways to start filling you freezer is to start cooking bigger meals. If you are making lasagna, make 2. It won’t take you but 5-10 minutes longer to assemble that second one, but it will save you an hour another day! Eat one of the lasagnas that night and stick the other one in the freezer. This is truly, one of the simplest ways to fill your freezer fast. Just think if you doubled 2 meals a week, by the end of the month you would have 8 extra meals in your freezer. That means 8 nights next month that you won’t have to think about dinner!

I have learned that even freezing little portions of leftovers is a huge blessing. Even if it is just one serving, don’t toss it, or let it sit in your fridge for a week thinking someone will eat it. Freeze it! Eventually you will have enough one-portion servings to feed the whole family a fun smorgasbord one night. Or you could take the one-portion servings and stick them in your hubby’s lunch. If it is something really good than you can enjoy yourself one day for lunch while the kids eat PB&Js. Like our mothers have always said, “waste not, want not”.

And, of course, you can always do a day of cooking meals for your freezer. This works best when you find meat on sale. That way you can stock up without draining your pocket book.

I often get asked what the best way is to freeze food. My answer? Freezer bags! Freezer bags can be laid flat and you can stack them high. One of the main things you have to remember is to get as much air out of the bag as possible. I also flash freeze my bags before stacking them. To flash freeze them I just lay them flat on a hard tray and stick them in the freezer for a couple of hours. Then they are ready to be stacked and the bags won’t freeze together or freeze into some funky shape that makes it impossible to get out of the freezer.

I once saw a picture of a regular top freezer that had 24 main dishes, 12 side dishes, 10 desserts, and 10 breakfasts all neatly stacked in freezer bags. And they had room to add more! So freezer bags are definitely your best bet if you want to maximize your space.

Unfortunately there are some things that can’t be put into a freezer bag, like lasagna. Oh, that would be messy :o) So lets chat about using pans, any size or shape. There are 2 ways to do pans. First, you could use aluminum pans. They have every shape and size you can imagine at any Dollar Store. They even sell some that come with the lids. If it doesn’t have a lid than you will want to cover it tightly with plastic wrap, or my favorite, Press N Seal. And then cover it with foil tightly.

If you don’t want to go out and by aluminum pans then here is what you do. Take one of your pans, again, any size or shape that you need for what you are making, line it with saran wrap. You want the saran wrap to be over the edges quite a bit. Make the meal in the pan on top of the saran wrap and then stick in the freezer for a few hours; it needs to be pretty frozen. Once it is frozen, you can take the food out of it and wrap it all up in the plastic wrap and then foil. You have basically used your pan as mold. Now when you are ready to eat that meal take it out of the freezer, unwrap it completely and put it back in the same pan you used to mold it and let it thaw. Presto, it’s all ready to go and you didn’t have to waste all your good pans by keeping them in the freezer for weeks!

Another question I am often asked is where do I get all of my recipes. One of the best places to find recipes for your freezer is in your own cookbooks! Just about everything freezes. Seriously! If you are worried about something not freezing well just take a sample of it and stick it in the freezer and see how it does. I have tried doing this many times and have only had a few flops and I can’t even remember now what they were. So try freezing some of your family’s favorite meals. You can also find lots of recipes on line. Just type in freezer meal recipes, recipes for the freezer, etc…. Some of my favorite places for recipes are: (all the recipes are for your crockpot and most of them can be put int the freezer before cooking) (the 30 Day Gourmet is chock full of recipes. Some of them you will need a pass word to get to but most of them are free for the looking!) (I have not had the time to play around much on this site, but it looks promising!)

You can also click on any of the links on my side bar to see the freezer books that I use. I would recommend owning at least one book on freezer cooking that you can use as a guide. The one I would highly recommend is "The Freezer Cooking Manual" from 20 Day Gourmet. They have a lot of charts in this book that will help you convert your recipes into larger quantities. They also have great shopping lists and so much more!

You don’t just have to stick with main dish dinners for the freezer. You can do side dishes(like rice pilaf, mashed potatoes) desserts(cakes, ice cream pies, cookie dough), breakfasts(egg burritos, biscuits with eggs, cheese and a meat) and lunches. The possibilities are endless.

Another frequently asked question, "What is the best way to thaw your meals?". Well, the best way is to thaw them in the fridge. But I rarely do it this way because I always forget to take it out of the freezer in time :o) Most of the time (if it is in a freezer bag) I thaw in the microwave on the "thaw" setting or I put it in the sink and run cold water over it for 5-10 minutes or until it is thawed.

So that is what I have for you for a quick overview of freezing cooking. If you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments. You can also browse around past posts to get a lot more info on freezer cooking.


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