Monday, March 28, 2011

Freezer Cooking

This post is a departure from my usual musings: no ice, no men, no embarrassments. I know, I know, what's the point, right? This post is about freezer cooking. I'm a fan of freezer cooking and have been asked a lot of questions about it. Since I recently did a freezer cooking day, in Alaska, I thought I'd post about it.

Freezer cooking is also known as "once a month cooking." Basically you buy a truck load of ingredients, cook a gazillion recipes in one day, stuff it all in your freezer and pray that the electricity never goes out. At the end of it, you have enough dinner meals to last a month. Or maybe more! And, cooking this way is cheap, cheap, cheap!
Ingredients. This pile pales in comparison to past cooking days.
My first introduction to Freezer cooking was through the 30-Day Gourmet Freezer cookbook. Some of the recipes are good but most rely heavily on cream of "whatever" soups, and other processed things. However, it's a good introduction on how to plan and organize your cooking day. I've been doing it long enough that now that I have a stack of recipes that I rotate through.

Bear in mind, this is not gourmet cooking. At least with my skills it isn't. If your palate is more refined than mine, this brand of cooking may not suit you. Certain things don't freeze well, like delicate emulsions, or sour cream, and as such it can be hard to convert what is otherwise a great recipe into a great freezer cooking recipe. My reality though is this: if all I have to do is stick a dish in the oven or heat something on the stove, I could be eating shoe leather. And! I have leftovers for lunch the next day! What's not to love?

So let's get down to it: grab a few of your favorite recipes that aren't too complicated. No hard to find, exotic ingredients. Multiply those recipes by however much you want to make, shop like a maniac, and cook it all up!

If cooking by myself (and I highly recommend roping a friend or two into this endeavor) I typically make choose 3-4 recipes and make 3 batches of each recipe. Each recipe typically serves 6. So then I have 18 servings from each recipe. Since I'm cooking for one, I package the meals 3 servings together. This allows me to have dinner, lunch and dinner again.

For this cooking day I made Turkey-Spinach Lasagna, Turkey Chili, Chicken Mirabella, and Turkey Meatballs.

I have done cooking days with friends where we cooked six batches each of 6 recipes. That, is a lot of food! And, it's a crazy day. Expect to use every single-dingle pot and pan you have and the neighbor's! You'll be washing and re-washing and re-washing dishes again just to make it through the first three recipes. And you'll be cleaning for awhile as well. Don't be surprised if a week later a lump of crusted mashed potato falls off the ceiling into your coffee. By the way, mashed potatoes freeze great! Couple that with a meatloaf and you are on the road to Happy Town!

Be forewarned, this is not cooking for the weak of heart! Fortitude, stamina and perhaps a glass of wine, will get you through the day. Once the shopping is done, there is no turning back. What else are you going to do with 64oz of cottage cheese, 6 dozen eggs and 24 pounds of chicken sitting in your refrigerator? 

To take on freezer cooking, you gotta have your grown-up apron on, a wooden spoon in one hand, a whisk in the other, and be ready to get down to business! It's no time to be wishy-washy about whether you prefer regular or dijon mustard. You'll like whatever comes in the 5 gallon bucket at Costco! 

Freezer cooking does require a decent amount of upfront planning. If you like spreadsheets and lists, you have hit pay-dirt. Oh lord, the lists! I love it. And should you throw in a label maker to mark your meals with, well then, let the glory of heaven be yours. 

Shopping and cooking day is a lot of work. Typically I shop the day before I cook, but for this particular endeavor I did both in one marathon day. Tip: make at least one meal in the crockpot. 
Assembling the lasagnas.
I package most of my meals in ziploc bags, but aluminum pans and plastic containers work too.
Chicken Mirabella!
My favorite: turkey meatballs
A stocked freezer is a beautiful thing and makes me happy.

A google search will give you plenty of sites to give you ideas and help you get started if you dare. One that I've recently been introduced to is: Once A Month Mom. She even provides recipes! I love her.

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