Thursday, December 04, 2008

"Naptime" Freezer Cooking

I have always loved cooking ahead and having a number of yummy main dishes, sides and baked goods ready to pull out and use whenever I want them.

Lately though, it seems I just haven't been keeping up with stocking the freezer. Between working at home and being a homemaker, I have a lot of different activities on my schedule each day. I love to cook and bake(which is why I don't just buy lots of pre-made foods) but it becomes tiring to cook a meal from scratch each night. Especially when I know I can cook ahead and save some time here and there! Having meals made ahead also really helps with hospitality.

One of these days, I would love to spend a whole day cooking freezer meals, but until then, I'm going to carry on with what I've termed "naptime" freezer cooking. With some planning ahead, I can schedule a few things to cook or bake while my childcare kids sleep. Doing this once every other week or so will ensure me a nice supply of make-ahead foods! Whatever I've planned should take me no longer than 2-3 hours to prepare and sometimes only about an hour will be involved. Perfect for a naptime or evening in the kitchen.

As I go along, I'll be sharing recipes, tips and ideas for things to freeze. There will be a variety of entrees, side dishes and baked goods as well as preparing specific foods such as pre-cooking meats or shredding cheeses to aid in fast meals later.

Today, I made pizzas and twice-baked sweet potatoes to freeze. (Not all my combos will make sense.:-) I will plan what to make based on what I have on hand. It all comes together when I menu plan each week!)

I made a double batch of my pizza crust and ended up with five par-baked crusts. I froze 3 plain and froze the other two with toppings, ready to go. The finished pizza in the bottom right has a stuffed crust(cheese baked into the crust). The other one is just regular.

Sweet potatoes were on sale for $.39 a pound last week, so I bought about 10 pounds of them. I knew I'd want to cook some and freeze them before they spoiled and also to enjoy later in the winter. I put the potatoes in to bake at lunch time and by naptime, they were ready to work with. I quickly mashed them in my mixer and soon they were ready for the freezer! These will be great for a side dish with any kind of meat.

I almost always double wrap my food before freezing with plastic wrap and foil. I have pretty good success with items in freezer bags not getting freezer burn. I double bag all of my bread or rolls. If you're going to go to the effort of cooking, you certainly want the food to be protected.

Another key aspect of freezer cooking is labeling. A permanent Sharpie marker is one of my well-used kitchen tools. I mark right on Ziploc bags and use sticky notes(attached with tape) or labels to write the name of the food, directions on how to heat, and the date it was prepared. Guessing what a frozen food is can be very difficult as they seem to often look the same after being frozen! Also, if cooking directions are clearly marked, there is no need to pull out the cookbook. My husband will also know exactly how to prepare the food if I am away.

Happy freezing!

What kinds of foods do you like to stock your freezer with?


Debbie J. said...

I love the concept of "naptime freezer cooking". I could do "early morning before leaving for work freezer cooking"! That way I could cook a double batch and have one that night for supper and freeze the other. If only I were that smart! Thanks for the motivation!

Debbie J. said...

I gave you an award!

DarcyLee said...

My husband and I bought a small separate freezer that we keep in the basement and that really helps us out when we buy things on sale so that we can stock up. About once a month or so, I cook up different kinds of dry beans and when cooled, I separate the beans into 2-cup (about 15 oz.)portions in small baggies. Then I put them into one large gallon-size ziploc and freeze them. It's alot cheaper than buying canned beans and I have them on hand whenever I need them. I also freeze leftovers if I know we won't eat them right away.

Kathryn said...

Well, you already know what I do! ;=) I'm too lazy to cook most evenings after work, so I do a freezer filler weekend every 3 months. I also defrost my freezer in March and Sept. and reorganize before filling it up again.

Most casseroles are best eaten by 3 months or so, so I make enough casserole dinners for about 3 months, plus meatballs, hamburger patties, breaded or marinated pork chops, etc. I have a list of tried and true recipes we like and then I usually try a new recipe as well.

Everything is packaged for one meal, although if I have company I can just take out 2 or more. I invested in about 17 9 x 9 pans from Ross, and I cover the casseroles with foil, write the directions on the foil and then slip them into a gallon ziploc bag. I then reuse the ziploc bags and pans. Thats the size of pan that works for our small family.