Freezer Meal-ing It
I’m jumping on the bandwagon of freezer meals. Yes, I’ve made stock and brine in the past and have frozen them for later use. But I haven’t really had ready-to-go meals at my fingertips in the freezer.
My life has slowly been slipping to disarray with fundraisers to chair, meetings to plan, kids to keep up with, work to be done and not to mention house work… and how it doesn’t get done. Come 5pm, I realize it’s close to dinner and have NOTHING in mind to cook. We stock frozen meats and vegetables in the freezer but I think about thawing those meats a bit too late in time for dinner. So somehow we end up eating something to the effect of, “refrigerator surprise.”
I seriously feel like I’m on an episode of “Chopped” sometimes:
“Your ingredients: mustard, onions, cheese. You have 30 minutes to make an entree (that your family will eat) and your time starts….. NOW.”
I’m sorry to say it’s like that more often than not these days. I used to be one to “cook from scratch.” It’s how I was raised – I was never used jarred pasta sauce until I became a mom and grabbed one out of convenience and curiosity. When it came to casseroles, I’d whip up a roux and add milk and nutmeg to make a cream sauce. Now, I’ve resorted to opening a can of “cream of whatever” if I had one in the pantry. I do keep fresh onions and garlic on hand, though. They have a pretty good shelf life.
About a month ago I did a bit of research and started making a list of meals to stock in the freezer. I don’t have a lot of room, plus I need room to freeze sugar cookies before I bake them so my list is small. Some people set aside a good part of their day to dedicate to freezer meals. With my schedule it’s hard for me to do. So instead, I’d make 2 entrees with similar ingredients for dinner at once, then freezing the one that’s not on the menu for the evening. It seems to work out. I have used a few meals already. I mostly need them for the days that the girls have evening swim lessons since we get back at dinner time. It’s a lifesaver.
I got a few recipes from What’s Cookin’ Chicago (which I found on Pinterest). I also converted some of the dishes I make into freezer meals. The key is to label, label, label! This includes cooking instructions.
Here are a few things I’ve made:
Honey Dijon Pork Chops – See the label and instructions? This was super easy. Sear the salt and peppered pork chops, place them in the bag and then add the marinade of honey and dijon.
Lasagna - I didn’t have those oven-proof storage containers. So I lined a 9×13 pan with foil and froze the lasagna (w/pasta sheets uncooked). Once fully frozen I popped it out of the pan, and re-wrapped it in more foil for storage. This freed up my pan for other uses. When you bake it, remove the outer foil and put it back in the pan with the original “liner.” I sprayed a piece of the “outer-wrapping” foil with cooking spray and covered the lasagna to bake. It makes for an easy clean up, too.
Cookie Dough – I scooped out the dough and froze them on a baking sheet, then placed them in a freezer container. This was great since it makes a quick treat or dessert. We’d start dinner and I would set the oven to preheat while the frozen dough was sitting out on a cookie sheet. Once it’s in the oven, it’s finished at about the same time we finish dinner, making for fresh-baked cookies for dessert!
Cinnamon Rolls – This is another Pinterest find. I used Ree Drummond’s recipe (minus the maple icing) since it makes a lot. I froze the rolls individually on a silicone cookie sheet then popped them in a freezer bag. I can see making the icing as well and dividing them into smaller bags to freeze. To prep for baking, I set these out to thaw overnight with a wet towel covering it. I would get up for my morning run, throw the uncovered/thawed rolls in the oven and set the timer to bake for 18 minutes. (Yeah, yeah – the instructions on the bag aren’t clear. It looks like you’d thaw overnight in oven at 375. Don’t judge. Hey, but at least I understand it.)
Crepes – The kids would ask for crepes, and it’s hard to make just a small batch. I stored the extra crepes with a piece of parchment on the top and bottom of the stack and placed them in a freezer bag. You can stack them in batches that would suit your family so you don’t have to thaw the whole bag to use it. So for my family, I’d separate the crepes into 8 (2 per person).
Things I didn’t have photos of:
Pizza Dough – Pizza dough is ridiculously easy to make—if you have the time. Most recipes make enough for 2 pizzas. To store, coat the extra dough in a little bit of olive oil and wrap it with plastic wrap then place in a freezer bag.
Chicken and Spinach Stuffed Shells - I used the same method of lining my 9×9 pan with foil and freezing. The shells were cooked to al dente before they were stuffed.
Dad’s Chicken Afritada – This is a Filipino dish comprised of chicken, onion, bell peppers, and potatoes cooked in a tomato sauce (seasoned with bay leaf and fish sauce). I cooked the chicken and simmered it in the sauce. I left the potatoes and bell peppers uncooked and threw them in the bottom of a freezer bag. Once the chicken/sauce mixture cooled, I poured it into the same bag and stored it flat.
The meals have been working out great—especially since I figured out how to use my oven timer! I’ll probably remake some and figure out more things I can freeze.
Gallon-sized cans (or whatever size they are) of whole tomatoes are a DEAL. I went to Costco and picked up a ginormous can of whole tomatoes and tomato puree and used these when preparing my meals. I couldn’t use it all at once, but they kept in the fridge for the next few days as I prepared the other meals. So I used the tomatoes in the lasagna, afritada and some other things I made during the week. Seriously, you can’t beat $2.79 for a big can… especially if you’re going to use it right away. Compare that to paying 89 cents per 15oz can.
I’m starting to run low on my freezer foods now. What little I’ve made has lasted me almost a month! I don’t use the meals all the time. They’re only for the days that I know that I’d be too busy to make dinner. It has worked out great. My family eats more balanced meals and I don’t begrudge making dinner… at least not as much as I used to.