Thursday, November 12, 2009

Freezer Cooking Day: Completed Meals and My Thoughts

I survived my first Once-A-Month Cooking Day!

Here's the list of completed meals and foods:

  • 2 Chicken Fajita Kits
  • 2 meals of Chicken Chimichangas
  • 3 quarts of Chili 
  • 3 meals worth of Fish and Veggie Packets : My first time freezing these so it's an experiment!  I don't see a reason why these wouldn't freeze well, though. 
  • 1 container of Hummus
  • 1 container of Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
  • 3 Chicken Pot Pies
  • 2 Spaghetti Pies
  • 2 Spinach, Mushroom, and Bacon Quiches
  • 2 Cheesy Beef and Rice Casseroles
  • 7 dozen Meatballs: 1 recipe; depending how I use them and how many people I'm serving should end up being about 6 meals. 
  • 3 quarts Spaghetti Sauce
  • 1 bag cooked brown rice
  • 1 bag cooked and cubed chicken
  • 2 bags cooked kidney beans
  • 5 bags cooked pinto beans
Whew! That's  a lot of food!

My thoughts:

  • The biggest hurdle to overcome when starting is to stop thinking about it and just do it. I dreaded making the lists and making it work with my recipes but once I got started it was not as difficult as I originally thought. I had read a lot about freezer cooking online and learned from my sister which helped a lot. I have also done a lot of freezer cooking in small increments over the years. Ultimately though, reading through Once A Month Cooking and seeing how they orchestrated the cooking days with their recipes and then following the tips in the book for adapting the process to your own recipes was my biggest motivation.
  • This didn't cost a lot of money. I planned the meals based on what I had on hand in the freezer and pantry and spent about $40 more to get the rest of the ingredients, which also included fresh produce and other things we needed that were not included in the cooking day.
  • Next time, I would like to plan ahead a bit better and have fresh meat to marinate and throw in the freezer, ready to cook. Some ideas would be roasts or whole chickens with a marinade or spice rub or any of these Dump Chicken recipes. ( The Lemon-Garlic chicken is good and I have the cranberry chicken in the freezer but haven't tried it yet.)The reason I would do more of this is that these would be less time-consuming than doing mostly casseroles. Because I used already frozen meat, I didn't want to thaw meat and refreeze it without cooking it.
  • All the planning was good. My personality loves checking items off lists and knowing exactly what comes next. Knowing this about myself, my list was made up of lots of small tasks rather than large chores, so I could cross things off more quickly. It was motivating to be able to cross things off relatively quickly. There's nothing more discouraging to me than working half a day and only crossing a couple of to-do's off my list!
  • While doing all the prep work the day before actually turned my cooking day into 2 cooking days, it was well worth it! My work space is quite limited and doing all the prep and cooking everything from scratch in one day would've been very overwhelming. Pulling prepared meats, veggies, rice, beans, ad cheese out of the fridge was wonderful! The assembly was pretty easy.
  • Next time, I will not plan to away from home the day before!
  • The Spaghetti Sauce is not my favorite. It has added cinnamon and cloves so is a sweeter type sauce. While good and certainly edible, I doubt I'll use this recipe again. Or if I do use it again, I'll omit the cinnamon and cloves.
  • This is not all we will eat for the next month. I have other meats in the freezer and I will still want to cook some nights to give a little more variety. That being said, I won't be surprised if this stash lasts us about 2 months. Most meals are enough for supper and lunch the next day for the two of us. My family will be visiting for Christmas and I would love to still have a few meals left by then to serve them! (If not, I'll have to make a few more.)
  • I'm planning a baking day for next week. I purposely did not include any baked items on the list because of previous attempts of making pizza dough, bread dough and casseroles at the same time. Too varied and time and space-consuming. The pie crusts for the quiche and pot pies was enough this time around!!!
  • As well as journaling my experiences here, I need to create a notebook or document on the computer with my recipes and lists that I used for reference for next time. Each time should get easier as I fine-tune the process to what works for me. 
  • If you're wanting to stock your freezer, do what works for you. You could do a  whole full-blown cooking day like I did, or simply double or triple your supper recipes for a week and freeze the extras. There's really no right or wrong way to do it. 
  • I'm not that terrrified of a little freezer burn, since we use stuff pretty quickly. My previous experience with freezer meals has been good. I do double wrap most items. All pans are wrapped in plastic wrap and then in foil. For Ziplocs, I use only freezer bags.
  • Standing a Ziploc bag in a quart jar and using a canning funnel is an easy and mess-free way to fill bags with soups and sauces. 
  • I laid all filled bags on cookie sheets so that they froze flat. After frozen, they can be stacked on the shelf or in a  basket.
  • I label everything. For pans, I just write the name, date and cooking instructions on the foil or on a sticky note which I tape to the pan. Labels are nice but I had run out of them. some day, I'll get all fancy and print some custom labels on my computer. Writing full instructions is important in case my husband is cooking the dish or if I use it for hospitality. I know where to find the recipe to see how to cook it but someone else may not. 
For easy reference here are all my posts about this freezer day:

Freezer Cooking Day- Menu and list of prep work.  (Recipe links.)
Freezer Cooking Day: Preparation
Freezer Cooking Day: My List and Progress
Freezer Cooking Day: Halfway Home
Freezer Cooking Day: Done! 

Food in the freezer is like having money in the bank. I can't wait to use it!


Bevy said...

Wow! You're amazing! I guess, I just end up making extra and freezing as I go along. I know I put somethings (extra) away such as items in bulk. I just know I enjoy the challange of getting a meal to- gether off the top of my head and not feeling guilty about changing my mind with intended meals at the last minute. If I had "planned meals" waiting to be used up... I would probably feel very restricted with my creativity, in the kitchen. I don't know if I make any sense, and believe me, I have my days of wondering what to make. It always comes together in the end.

Maybe I will rethink this one day. I have yet to try those beans. ;(

Debbie J said...

You did a good job! Congratulations on completing your first once a month freezer cooking day!

gail said...

congrats! your notes are great and will be so helpful as you continue to do this. i like marinated meats in the freezer too. i recently got some free apples and cut most of them up and froze them on cookie sheets and then transferred them to freezer bags. this is a first for me, but i hope to make lots of pies and cobblers out of them this year.

Mary Ann said...

Thanks, Gail.
Those apples will be yummy this winter!

TJ said...

WOW - I'm so impressed! This is just awesome. Maybe someday I will follow your example. It would be wonderful to just pop open the freezer for supper.

Beverley B. said...

Job well done! I am wondering why there isn't any Lasagne Soup in that freezer, though... LOL

At some point you might want to invest in a Food Saver. I got mine with my annual Costco rebate check a few years ago and love it. It "shrink wraps" food which helps retain freshness.

When I do Christmas cookies, one day I'll make all the dough that needs to be chilled and bake the next day. That way all the ingredients & utensils are put away when I'm baking. Another day I do all the bar type cookies. Then another day I'll do all the make and bake cookies, like Spritz or drop cookies that the dough doesn't need to be chilled..
It sure makes for a more pleasant baking experience.