Right ladies, I hope you’re ready for this. It blew my socks off when I got this email from a friend who was about to go back to work full-time and in true form, she aced it in the kitchen scene. This week is a guest post for all the busy mums out there on making the most of your freezer to get ahead in the mid-week cooking routine. Over to you Yvonne:
OK, I’ve waded through a gazillion moms blogs and sites to find out all there’s to know about working your freezer, so you don’t have to!
Here’s a little context to my approach. You might see it differently, so just adjust as you go along.
- My approach to cooking. I see recipes – anything that’s not baking – more as inspiration, rather than set in stone. I can’t help but season to taste and generally do my own thing a bit. So, from me you’d normally not get a recipe that’s written out to exact measurements.
- I’m the all or nothing type…. hence the list of dishes and numbers of meals I’ve made is extensive. I’ve had the time. I know freezer meals work for us – tried it with just a couple of dishes before – and I needed to get a head start. Once we’re rolling and I’m back at work with time being more limited, I’d make, say 4-5 meals in one go, rather than the full list below.
- Having said that, in total I’ve spent 1.5 days only at getting all of the below prepped & cooked excl grocery shopping. (I did have a little house help with washing up, cleaning & chopping some veg, but nothing major).
- For us it’s about having a good choice too. If the selection of meals in the freezer is too limited, then you’ll find yourself all excited 1-2 a week and still bored & stressed the remaining 5-6 days each week. In my mind that’s not that helpful.
- I’ve aimed to make as much as possible Paleo as well, as it’s not just about the dosh but the waistline too!!! I’d say we’re now aiming to be about 85% paleo. We’re still having dairy and I won’t cut that out, as well as the occasional legumes or grains. If not paleo then clean at least.
- I didn’t go organic. Would love to but just too expensive for now.
Here’re my thoughts:
- This is not just about ready meals. Your freezer needs to be used like your fridge. Everyday. It’s there to make your life easier and save you some dosh in the process. Consider the options:
- Ready meals – i.e. you cook a meal completely, season it, let it cool, fill in freezer bags and flat freeze. When needed, you thaw and re-heat.
- Raw meals – i.e. you combine the raw ingredients in freezer bags and flat freeze straight away. Here you can use still frozen produce too, as essentially you’re just moving it into another container, but aren’t thawing and then refreezing. When needed you thaw and cook in one pot or pan. With those it’s best to add your seasoning once cooking, as you can season to taste. Also, adding salt to raw fish & meats, will draw out moisture, which you don’t want.
- Freezer Pantry – i.e. you build yourself a little stock of produce you need all the time like say chopped onion, garlic, herbs, veg, smoothie fruits, marinated & chopped meat cuts or side dishes like sweet potato mash or cauliflower rice to dramatically cut down prepping time when you do cook a meal from scratch.
- Plan the day! Focus. Write out which meals you’ll make & what groceries you need. Shop, then cook. No later than a day later. Putting healthy meals in the freezer, only works if the stuff you put in the freezer isn’t already void of any & all nutrients.
- Don’t be too fussed about individual measurements – especially not veggies. Just chuck ‘em in! No zucchini left, green beans it is. There has got to be an element of improvisation, as you’ll otherwise go crazy sticking to each recipe. Let alone you may not get everything asked for….
- Label your freezer bags before you fill them. Easier & less messy! IKEA bags are excellent for that job, as they’ve a double zip top, so less chance of anything leaking.
- Do your mise en place first, then set up the assemble line.
- If you can’t set a separate time to do a whole batch of meals then plan a few nights per week where you make a dish, but rather than just for that night, increase the volume to say 8-10 portions and then freeze the rest. This way you can build your stock. Just watch out that your groceries are still fresh enough on the day you cook.
- Once you’ve got stock, use mid-week dinner cooking to keep it topped up.
- If you’re making things like lasagne, shepherds pie, moussaka etc then you might want to use aluminium baking trays. This way you won’t run out of containers, less washing up and it can go straight in the oven. (have not made any of those dishes on this run, but will do next time)
- Avoid freezing fruits & veggies with high water content (cucumber, celery, melon, fried food and anything with dairy (milk, mayo, cream, cream cheese, sour cream) as these don’t freeze well. Best to add those once you’re re-heating the meal.
- Check which meals might have the same ingredients, so you can double up quantities of say mince meat. i.e. it’s very quick and easy to make both bolognese & chilli con carne in one go.
- Make sure you remove as much air as possible and freeze your bags flat i.e. lying down. Will save you a huge amount of space in the freezer and is much quicker to thaw too.
- Don’t overfill your bags. Any liquid will expand and you don’t want your freezer bag filled to the brim explode.
- Thaw slowly, especially your raw bags – don’t put them in the microwave to de-frost, as it’ll part cook your meat or fish. Best to take out whatever you’re having for dinner in the morning as you leave for work.
If you do dare venture out there into the big wide net and look into freezer meals, then you’ll find a lot of info on using a Slow Cooker. Especially by our lovely super mom friends across the Atlantic. I’ve looked into it, but don’t have one. Sounds appealing to me, but isn’t necessary to do this (at all). Will have another look into it to see if worth while, but so far I’ve seen you could pick up a fairly cheap one at Carrefour for around 200dhs. The concept here is that your freezer meals are always raw and then slow cooked for 6-8hrs whilst you’re out, just in time for dinner.
These are the meals i’ve made with list of basic ingredients:
Bolognese – 8 portions – ready meal
Pork & Beef mince, chopped onion, celery root & carrots, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, seasoning
Chilli Con Carne – 10 portions – ready meal
Pork & Beef mince, chopped onion, bell pepper, corn, red kidney & black beans, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, seasoning
Chicken Casserole – 8 portions – ready meal
Chicken strips, chopped onion, apricots, mushrooms, peas, corn, broccoli & leeks, seasoning. Cook completely but leave out the cream before freezing. Add that once you’ve thawed and are reheating to make a nice creamy casserole sauce.
Lamb Curry – 10 portions – ready meal
Lamb chunks, curry paste, chopped onion & garlic, aubergine & pumpkin, lentils, coconut milk, canned tomatoes, seasoning. Add squeeze of lime and sprinkle of coriander when serving.
Fish Cakes – 27pcs – ready meal
Salmon, Cod, Cream Dory, sweet potato mash, quinoa, shredded carrots and leeks, quinoa flake & panko crust, seasoning.
Few nice recipes here: http://paleogrubs.com/salmon-cake-recipes
Black Bean Patties – 24pcs – ready meal
Black Beans, finely chopped onion, garlic, coriander & mushrooms, seasoning.
Seafood Casserole – 8 portions – raw
Salmon, Cod, Prawns, Squid, peas, mushrooms, leeks, green beans, spinach, pancetta, lemon juice & zest, olive oil.
Thaw, cook in sauce pan, add cream or make as stir fry. Season.
Have not made this a ready meal, as seafood is delicate and don’t want to boil the living daylight out of it. Much fresher & gentler this way, as cooked once only. Also, must consider cooling chain / bacteria.
Salsa Chicken – 8 portions – raw
Chicken Strips (bigger), chilli paste, pico de gallo (ready made tub), olive oil, chopped onion, garlic & chorizo sausage. Thaw, stir fry & season.
Honey Lime Chicken – 8 portions – raw
Chicken strips, honey & lime juice, chopped onion & fresh pineapple, olive oil, cilli paste, mango salsa (ready made tub like pico de gallo).
Thaw, stir fry & season. Add roasted peanuts when serving.
Mexican Soup – 10 portions – raw
Canned tomatoes, fresh cherry tomatos, black beans, green string beans, chopped celery, onion & carrots, chilli paste and small cubes of smoked pork tenderloin (ready made in spinney’s pork section).
Thaw, add stock once defrosted in sauce pan only. Season & add squeeze of lime and sprinkle of coriander.
SIDE DISHES & OTHER STUFF
Cauliflower Rice – 12 portions – raw
Cauliflower + food processor. Make it look like rice. Totally paleo!
Freeze portions raw, thaw, microwave with a little water + oil/butter/ghee + seasoning for 2-3 minutes.
Sweet Potato Mash – 16 portions – cooked
Sweet potato, pumpkin & carrots. Steam, mash & freeze. Paleo!
Freeze portions in muffin tins – perfect size.
Thaw, then microwave. Add a little oil/butter/ghee & seasoning when hot. Jazz it up by adding grated parmesan or a bit of shredded coconut….. (omit butter and cheese for paleo option!)
Wirsing – 10 portions – cooked
German style side dish. Basically savoy cabbage stir fried with pancetta & cream (don’t add cream before freezing). Lovely with roast dinner.
Thaw, stir fry, season & add cream.
Life Changing Loaf of Bread – 1 loaf – baked
Amaze-balls bread. Have made it over and over again. Recipe here: http://www.mynewroots.org/site/2013/02/the-life-changing-loaf-of-bread/
Granola – 2 jars – not stored in freezer
Oats, roasted almonds, pistachios & hazelnuts, flax seeds, shredded coconut, raisins & cranberries. Baked with coconut oil, dates and splash of maple syrup + vanilla extract, cocoa and tiny bit of chilli salt.
Lemon Coconut Energy Balls – 24pcs – raw – currently not stored in freezer but will try out a couple to see how they turn out
Bananas & berries – a few bags – raw
Bananas peeled and cut in half – flash frozen on baking trays, before putting them in bags, so they don’t stick together. Perfect for smoothies or baking banana bread or muffins!
Baby’s Porridge – 16 portions – cooked
Made for him but is totally adult friendly with oats, chia, flax & bran.
Two types – Berries & Vanilla + Tropical with banana, pineapple & coconut.
Freeze in muffin tins, then put in freezer bag. Heat in microwave and add a dollop of greek yoghurt.
Here’re a few good links:
Generally pinterest is an excellent source for good recipes. Have a look on my Culinary Delights – savoury board (follow YvonneH on Pinterest). There’re loads!
Other than that. A little visual inspiration…