8.02.2011

What's For Dinner?

A while back I shared that "freezer meals" were on the list of things that I love. One friend commented that she was curious about the freezer meals concept, which made me laugh. First of all, I'm hardly an expert at freezer cooking (if you want to see an expert in action, Jessica is your woman - she has just finished writing an honest-to-goodness freezer meals cookbook!), and secondly, I'm about the laziest cook ever, which is probably why freezer meals appeal to me.


Yes, that freezer up there is beautifully organized - so nicely labeled and easy to get to everything. My freezers, well, they look more like this...

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But both the beautiful example of freezer cooking storage that I found on Pinterest AND my slightly less-than-perfect real-life method, accomplish the same purpose. After a long day at work, I can come home, grab a pre-assembled lasagna and in an hour, we're eating dinner (with no prep work for me). My method of  freezer cooking is more like freezer prep. Wondering what I mean? Here's an example...

Last year, I found several great deals on bell peppers that were about to go bad, as well as a bag of onions from the Manager's Special cart at my local grocery. I came home and immediately brought out the cutting board and my favorite knife, and now I have several bags of chopped/sliced/diced peppers and onions, ready to be used in soups, fajitas, and chicken dishes as needed.

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Earlier this summer, I spent one day cooking meat, chopping onions, making sauce, boiling pasta, and assembling lasagna in disposable trays from Dollar Tree (3 or 4 for $1). It took a little more time than if I was just making one lasagna, but not a lot more. I now have six small trays and one large tray of lasagna in my freezers, ready to be thrown in the oven for an hour and gobbled up.

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Sometimes I simply put a pot of chicken on to boil while I'm doing something else. When it's done, I let it cool and then shred the chicken, divide it into freezer bags, and store for later use in soup or some other dish. If we make taco meat, we'll make a larger batch and freeze what we don't use. Same goes for pots of chili or chicken soup in the wintertime (with chicken soup, I leave the noodles out as they tend to get soggy with freezing/reheating).

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It's about working smarter, not harder. A few minutes of extra prep when everything is already out and dirty saves me time and stress on the days when I don't feel like doing anything but turning on the oven. This even works for assembling Crockpot recipes. For example, I make this super-easy chicken smothered in homemade fresh salsa. Instead of leaving everything separate, I put four chicken breasts in a freezer bag and threw the pre-made salsa mixture in with it. If I want to have it cooking in the Crockpot while I'm at work, I simply thaw it the night before and dump it in the pot before I leave. Cook on low for 6-8 hours and voila! Dinner is served.

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Freezing soups is one of my favorite things to do because you can reuse 2-qt. containers over and over. Fill with cooled soup (leaving room at the top for it to expand as it freezes), include a label of what it is on the lid (I use masking tape), and store for a cold day when you don't feel like cooking. Nothing is easier than thawing it just enough to dump it (still frozen) from the container, put the heat on med. and in a few minutes you have a bubbling pot of yummy goodness.

So there you have it...my take on freezer cooking/prep that makes life a lot easier for me. As an added bonus, if I know there is an easy meal in the freezer (which I made from ingredients that I found on sale/special/clearance), I'm much more prone to pull that out rather than going out to eat, which helps us stay on track with our financial goals as well.

4 comments:

  1. This sounds like it might be up my alley. I need to research more though. I'm confused about all the defrost time, etc.
    Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration.

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  2. Hey Molly - if you assemble stuff like lasanga (and I also do a yummy enchilada dish), you don't need to thaw it at all - just pull it straight from the freezer and stick it in the oven. You might need to bake it for 10-15 minutes longer than normal, but often you don't even need to do that. As far as the crockpot stuff goes, simply pull it out the night before and stick it in the fridge. In the morning, dump the bag (even if stuff is still a bit frozen) in the crockpot and set to low for 6-8 hours. Works like a charm! :-) Re: soups - if they are frozen I usually microwave them for 2-5 minutes to make them thaw enough to dump into a pot on the stove (usually still a frozen mass). Or if I think about it in time, I stick them in warm water in the sink for a few minutes to thaw away from the edges of the container so I can dump it in a pot on the stove. Hope that helps! Give it a try!

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  3. I tend to do my freezer cooking like you, more prep than meals. However in winter I do quite a few more casseroles. The masking tape idea is a good one, I'll need to borrow that one.

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  4. My freezer cooking is just like yours. Right now, so is my freezer! Straightening that out has been on my To Do list for weeks now.

    I can hardly wait for cooler weather and soup season!

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