There never seem to be enough hours in a busy Mom’s life, right? (Or, I’d argue, a busy non-Mom’s life!)
One aspect of homekeeping that can take up inordinate hours is cooking (and the derivative arts of baking; grilling is in another category of “Arts” entirely, and I leave it to the Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Fellow I married 14 years ago. He’s only singed his eyebrows off the once.)
Personally, I get a kick out of cooking. I like providing my household with nice things to eat. I like the cost benefits of cooking (and baking) at home. I like the control it gives me over ingredients, as much for what I can leave out, as what I put in. I like messing with recipes to get the flavors we like best.
(I also like showing off at potlucks and parties, but that’s because I’m a terribly vain person who likes to brush off compliments with a casual “Oh, it was nothing, really.” I hope no one ever really believes that. It was something, actually. I’ve just read far too many cooking and homemaking manuals from the 1940s and 1950s, and like to pretend I’m bits of Donna Reed, Betty Crocker, and June Cleaver, all mixed up together with a little touch of Tank Girl and perhaps some Seven Brides Julie Newmar, as well as Julie Andrews and (young) Angela Lansbury just for savor.)
So, I admit it, I like to cook. From scratch.
But, I don’t like to do it every single day. If I have to think about food that often, I can’t actually enjoy eating it.
Through the marvels of modern technology, I can have my cake and eat it too… by making things ahead and freezing them. Now, you can find all sorts of books in the library with recipes that make up and freeze well, so I won’t list out a huge bunch of instructions. If you take a walk through the grocer’s freezer section, you’ll get a lot of ideas of things that can be frozen successfully. If Big Food can do it, probably so can you.
- I try to portion recipes out into either family meal packets, or individual servings, and then package them for the freezer, so we have a lot of flexibility in what we pull out to eat. Freezing foods also works wonderfully for very small households, or households of one, where regular recipes that serve 4 to 6 mean a week’s sentence of the same meal, over and over and over.
- Be sure to label and date your packages, and include notes on any special handling directions you’ll need later.
- “Flash freeze” foods, naked on a baking sheet for 15-30 minutes, or until firm. Then you can bag them (or wrap and bag in the case of baked goods) without risking a huge Food Mass Lump frozen all together.
- If you don’t want to own 92 various casserole dishes and pans, just line your dish with foil, add the food, and freeze until the food block is solid. Then you can pop it out of the dish and wrap it well for freezer storage. To use, simply pop it back into the same size dish, and bake.
- Or, use disposable foil pans bought in bulk from a warehouse store or restaurant supply. Disposable pans are a bonus if you might be dropping off an emergency dinner to a friend or loved one.
- Save room by freezing liquids and sauces in plastic zip-top bags; lay them flat on a baking sheet to freeze solid, and then they’ll stack flat, or upright in small baskets, for better use of freezer space and increased organization.
So, here are some things we’ve enjoyed prepped and frozen, and how we do it!
Mix and form your favorite meatball recipe, setting them fairly close together on a baking sheet. Bake at 350*, until cooked through and decently browned. Drain, cool, and bag for the freezer! Pull out only how many you need. They’ll either nuke for a few moments to re-heat, or you can heat them through in sauce.
One year for Christmas, we gave my nephew a gallon-size freezer bag full of baked and frozen meatballs, sharing optional. He was delighted.
I’ll share my 3-Cheese Florentine Ravioli in another post. Form and flash-freeze, then bag. These will cook from frozen in about 3 minutes.
I use the ravioli filling to stuff shells, manicotti, or make lasagna. It’s just as much work and mess to make one pan as to make three or four, so I get it over with, and have a season’s worth of the dish in the freezer!
Oh, my family loves cookies.
(They like cookies with raisins, which I think are just gross (disappointed legless flies…), so I actually make cookies with raisins, because then I’m not tempted in the slightest to eat any.)
I don’t mind making cookies, but it’s rare I want to stand there and cycle through ninety pans of cookies. Instead, I mix up the cookie batter, then arrange the cookie dough balls on a baking sheet and flash freeze (place them close, as they sure won’t be expanding in the freezer!) When they’re firm, they get bagged and labeled. To bake, let them stand on a cookie sheet while the oven heats, and add about 1 minute to the overall baking time.
That same year we gave one nephew meatballs, we gave his brother bags of frozen cookie dough balls. (Obviously, frozen gifts only work if you’re not shipping them, or traveling a long distance to give them!)
Being freed from an obligation to bake the cookies the same day you mix them means you can make five or six batches in one day, freeze and label them, and have cookie baking prepped for a month, pulling out a half-dozen or dozen to bake fresh as needed.
Pot Pies (Meat)
We do these as pasties (turnover style) or in muffin tins, and freeze them before baking. Use your favorite pastry crust, and pre-cook any veggies, meats, or gravies for the inside. Let the filling come to room temperature before you fill and freeze the crusts. Flash freeze, and wrap individually, then bag for storage. (If you’re having trouble getting a frozen pie out of a muffin tin, try dipping the underside in hot water very briefly.)
Same process as for meat pies, actually. Fruit pies freeze the best. Avoid those with custard fillings, obviously.
We bake, flash-freeze, wrap, and bag both sweet and savory bread puddings. My husband’s favorite breakfast treat is a sausage-Swiss cheese bread pudding, briefly re-heated in the microwave. Muffin-tin portions are just right; one for smaller appetites, and two for hearty eaters. (Lemon curd for sweet bread puddings does not freeze well, though; home canning is the way to go with that one!)
Muffins (Sweet or Savory)
Bake, remove from the tin, flash-freeze, wrap, and bag by type. These pack in a lunch perfectly; they’ll defrost in time for lunch. If you prefer them hot, unwrap and nuke briefly. Both breakfast-style muffins and dinner-style (with things like caramelized onion and cheese mixed in) will freeze and reheat well.
I prepare dressing and a desperately addictive regional potato dish called “Funeral Potatoes” well ahead of holidays, and freeze them until they’re wanted. Having a small stash of tasty frozen side dishes makes it really easy to supply an emergency meal for yourself or others. My goal is always to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen on festive occasions.
My Hot Spinach-Artichoke Dip makes a pretty good-sized batch… far too much to eat in an evening unless you take it to a potluck. I portion it out for singles (cupcake tins) or couples (mini-loaf tins), wrap, and freeze (or, freeze & wrap in the case of single servings). Ten minutes of actual effort, and I have multiple appetizer portions ready to go.
I don’t like to freeze entire bread loaves, but I’ve successfully made, formed, and frozen individual bread portions, and stored them for up to two months. Butter crescents, cloverleaf rolls and other shaped yeasted doughs just need to thaw on the baking sheet and reach nearly-room-temperature before baking. Take that, Poppin’ Fresh.
We also freeze and wrap griddled and cooled made-from-scratch English Muffins, but I don’t know how long they’ll keep. We’ve never managed to get past about two days, as we keep pulling them out to enjoy.
Home frozen foods: just one small way to rebel against fast food, restaurants, and the Boxed Food Conglomerates world-wide!