Saturday, February 23, 2013

Freezer cooking 101

I have been freezer cooking for several years now. It is a great way to ensure that I get hot home cooked meals on the table even on busy nights. What is freezer cooking? Basically, it is preparing and storing meals in the freezer that are ready to thaw (full or partially) and cook. Some meals are cooked before freezing so that they just need reheated and some are assembled and frozen raw. It really depends on what is being cooked. I have been asked by many friends to explain how I do freezer cooking. I decided to share here what I do.

Fully stocked freezer with 22 meals, plus all the sides and veggies

Step 1: Make a plan
In order to prepare large quantities of food to be stored in the freezer you have to decide what you want to cook. Start by brainstorming your families favorite dinners. Head on over to Google to search for more ideas. Things to consider are to choose foods that freeze well. Even if a dinner has some ingredients that don't lend well to freezing, don't completely pass it by. Pasta does not hold up well in the freezer in my experience (unless it is lasagna or manicotti because those have special cooking instructions) but my family LOVES chicken alfredo. I will brown chopped grilled chicken breasts and add to a batch of yummy homemade alfredo sauce then freeze with instructions to pour over freshly boiled pasta. I can have a family favorite on the table in less than 30 minutes and clean up is a breeze!

Here is what I am planning to prepare and freeze over the next few weeks (updated to add links to the recipes that I used for inspiration, as usual I did tweak them to suit my families tastes and needs).

Lasagna w/ garlic bread
Pizza w/salad
Mac and Cheese (with cauliflower) w/broccoli
Pulled pork w/rolls and coleslaw (add horseradish to the slaw for a fun kick!)
Pork chops with Au gratin Potatoes w/peas
Salisbury Steaks w/mashed pots and corn (Used cube steaks instead of ground beef)
Teryaki Chicken with rice and broccoli
Turkey with stuffing and gravy w/ rolls (slices of turkey breast slow cooked in gravy served with stuffing and rolls)
Stromboli w/salad
Manicotti w/garlic bread and salad
Salsa Chicken w/tortilla and black beans
Brisket w/mashed potatoes and green beans (I puree the vegetables that are cooked with the brisket and use them with the pan drippings to make a gravy (cornstarch gravy)
Man Pleasing Chicken w/butternut squash and bread (no knead bread) (I use pre-cut squash in the steamer bags)
Forgotten Chicken w/peas
Chicken Tenders w/french fries
Bourbon Chicken w/fried rice
Balsamic Pork Tenderloin w/bread (no knead bread) and mashed potatoes
Rotisserie chicken (crock pot) w/salad
Spinach Lasagna rolls w/ salad
Chicken Alfredo
French Toast

I will also freeze several bags of cooked ground turkey and beef for insanely fast convenience meals and several bags of cooked grilled chicken to toss with salads.

Chocolate Chip cookie dough
Snicker doodle dough

Favorite recipes and shopping list (3 pages long) for all of the meals I have listed here.

Step 2: Write a shopping list
First gather up all your recipes for every meal you planned in step 1 (including sides that can be frozen). Write down all the ingredients you will need (I write them all down, then visit the pantry to take note on how much of each I have and if I have enough I cross it off, if not I write how much more I need). This is how I write the shopping list.

Chicken breast (boneless skinless): chix alfredo, man pleasing, bourbon, teryaki, forgotten, tenders, salsa chix
Milk: alfredo, mac&cheese
Flour: pizza dough, Stromboli dough
Rice: forgotten, teryaki, fried rice

I go ingredient by ingredient like this so that when I am looking at the chicken breasts I can quickly decide how many pounds I need to buy. Don't forget to write down items needed to STORE your food (freezer bags, foil, disposable Tupperware, foil pans, etc). Look at each recipe and decide the best way to freeze them (some recipes online will already have this information included).

Freezer bags?
Foil pans?

Step 3: Plan your cooking date(s)
Look at your calendar and decide when you want to do this. You will need to set aside about 45 mins per recipe (give or take). You will need to decide if you want to do a single marathon weekend or split it up into a couple weekends. Once you decide on your date(s) you can plan to go shopping a day or 2 before. If you are planning on splitting the cooking up make note of this on your shopping list. I go through my list and highlight the menu items for each weekend. So everything needed for weekend 1 will be green, weekend 2 yellow, etc.

Make sure when planning that you look at HOW each recipe cooks. You do not want to commit to 2 long cooking crock pot meals on the same day.

Step 4: Go grocery shopping
Now you may wonder why I am writing about something as simple as shopping. Let me explain. If you are looking at batch freezer cooking there is a pretty good chance you have at least one rug rat. Shopping for this kind of cooking is INTENSE (unless you are just doing a couple meals). My advise is to leave the kids at home with daddy, or send them to grandmas for the afternoon. If you have to bring them along make sure they are well rested, fed and that you have some entertainment for them (I also bring a snack when I have to bring my 4 kidlets). Speaking of being well rested and fed, make sure you eat a good meal before you go. People shop smarter when they are not hungry, you will more likely stick to your list and not splurge. It is often helpful if you clean out your fridge and freezer before shopping so that you have plenty of space to store your loot till cooking and freezing it!

Step 5: Cooking day(s) eve
The night before your big cooking day make sure you have a loose schedule planned. I like to set my day up so that I do all of my handling of meat at the same time, all my veggie chopping at the same time and all my sauce making is done as needed during the cooking and assembling of the meals. I always get crock pot meals in the crock first! I say to make a loose schedule because even with everything planned out things happen and you may have to go out of order. Plan for easy meals for the cooking day(s). My last piece of advice for this night is to get to bed early. You will be getting up early and working hard all day!

Step 6: Cooking day(s):
Set your alarm for at least 2 hours earlier than your family normally wakes. I do my batch cooking on Saturdays and Sundays. My family normally is up by about 8am those days. I set my alarm for 5:30am. I get up put on a pot of fancy coffee, hop in for a quick shower then grab a quick bite to eat. I always shower first so that I am fully awake. You do not want to be following a bunch of recipes and handling sharp knives half asleep. I recommend getting up early so that you have 2 hours of uninterrupted time to knock out a lot of the prep work, cutting up the meats, veggies, etc. After that is done the rest of the day is all about assembling meals and cooking them if needed.

That's Freezer cooking in a nutshell (at least how it's done at my house).

Friday, February 22, 2013

A whole year?

Wow, time sure flies when you're having fun... or just really dang busy!

In the last year I returned to work... full time... It has been an adjustment to say the least. My job title has changed from toddler teacher to substitute teacher. I really like the latter (an current) job title. I am learning so much that will prepare me for my very own classroom. Fingers (and toes?) crossed that I get my own class soon!

This has been a terrible year for sickness. I can't even begin to count the number of times we have been down for the count with some form of a bacteria, virus or other parasite. YUCK!

Little man has had a rough year too. He ended up falling into a bookshelf at daycare (in the first couple weeks there too) and gashed his cheek open. He ended up with FIVE stitches. That was hard on this momma. 4 kidlets and the baby is the first to need stitches. More recently, he had to have quite a bit of dental work done (more on that later).

The girls are doing good. Sassy as ever and keeping their momma on her toes.

T started middle school this year. OMG! Where did the time go? Where did my baby girl go? She is adjusting well to the demands of growing up. She also is now the very proud owner of her own cell phone (it is necessary for her safety). She is still on the gifted track at school and her MAP test results are still off the charts. Proud momma here! She joined the 6th grade choir, knitting club, and art club! She is applying for the National Jr Honors Society!

E is in 2nd grade. She has now been identified as gifted in both math and reading on the MAP test. :) Proud momma grins! She is playing soccer and I am her soccer coach. Her biggest accomplishment though is she has finally stopped sucking her thumb! She will be getting her ears pierced very soon as a reward for sticking to her goal!

C is in first grade. School hasn't come as easily for her as it has for her big sisters. We are in the process of working with the speech therapist at school to see if her previous language delays have anything to do with the struggles she is facing. I also am going to have them evaluate her for dyslexia. She works hard at school and we have hope that with the right supports she will start to make better progress. I am still very proud of her! She is also playing soccer and I am her soccer coach. She is a natural at soccer. I think we have found her niche. When she is on the field with a ball she is a powerhouse that nothing can stop, she is fearless!

Daddy went back to school. He is working on getting several computer related certifications. A++ and some networking things. He is more than ready to jump out of the food service industry into a career in computers! We celebrated our 10th anniversary in June. He did a great job surprising me. It was a great day!

I am hoping that I can get back into the swing of posting more! Coming soon is a great post on how I do batch freezer cooking to make meals during the busy seasons faster and healthier than takeout!