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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Make the Most of Your Time -- Freezer Cooking

I’ll admit, I’m not as good as keeping up with this as I should be or would like to be.  However, when you do find the time to stock your freezer, it makes life so much easier.  There are several ways to do this…
1)  Make extra batches of food as you prep your meals.
2)  Set aside a day or two and devote all of your time to prepping freezer meals.
3)  Gather up some friends and do a freezer meal swap or freezer cooking class.
I’ve done all three ideas, and they all work.  However, I find that I can get the most accomplished by using the 2nd option.  With that said, here are some foods that I like to keep on hand in the freezer (not that I actually have any of them in my freezer now…lol).
Italian meatballs – can be frozen cooked or uncooked…I prefer to freeze them cooked and then throw them in the crockpot with a gravy mix or spaghetti sauce.
Chimichangas – I make these from scratch using taco meat, Mexican rice, black beans, and cheese.  I then roll it all up into a tortilla and bake them.  They freeze beautifully.  Although I’ve never tried it, I’m sure you could freeze them fresh, too.
Roll-ups – There are so many different varieties of these…taco, pepperoni, chicken/broccoli, ham/cheese, spinach/cheese, etc.  You decide your filling of choice, and then use crescent rolls or another dough of your choice to make a roll.  Slice it, and then either bake them and freeze or freeze unbaked.
Pasta dishes – Again, there are so many varieties that freeze well.  I typically only cook the pasta and meat in these dishes.  You can either add the cheese and freeze, or you can wait and add the cheese when you decide to bake them from frozen.  Some of our favorites are baked spaghetti, baked ziti, chicken and spinach, spinach and mushroom bake, etc.
Burritos/Enchiladas – Just like the previous two ideas, there are so many variations that do well with freezing.  Some of our favorites are beef enchiladas, egg burritos, chicken enchiladas, etc.
Hamburger Dishes – There are several hamburger foods that can be frozen cooked or uncooked.  Some of our favorites are meatloaf, German Frikadellen, hamburger patties, saucy mozzarella patties, taco meat (I cook this before freezing), etc.
Chicken Tenders – My family loves homemade Parmesan chicken tenders/nuggets.  They’re really simple to make, and they freeze well.  I’ve baked and frozen them, and I’ve also frozen them unbaked. 
Bananas – You’re probably thinking I’m crazy, but I freeze bananas all the time.  I peel them, and cut them in half or quarters and flash freeze them.  I then transfer them to a freezer bag.  They’re great to use in smoothies, and you can also make “ice cream” using frozen bananas.
Muffins/Cupcakes/Cookies – While I don’t typically make cupcakes to freeze, I have done it in the past.  I do make muffins though and love freezing them.  I’ve also frozen unbaked cookie dough.  It’s not something I do often, but when I find the time, it’s nice to have frozen cookie balls that you can just plop onto the cookie sheet and toss into the oven. 
Waffles/Pancakes – I’m not the waffle or pancake cook at our house…that duty falls on Brian.  When I can convince him, he’ll make a big batch of either, and then we freeze them.  They make for a really quick breakfast, and they’re probably much better for you than the store bought versions (although I do have store bought in my freezer now…SHAME ON ME)! 
Homemade Pizzas – This is another favorite.  I make up a dough of choice, and then I roll it into small personal size pizzas.  I then par bake them and freeze them either topped or untopped.  It makes for a quick lunch, and my boys love them.  You can also make family size pizzas and freeze topped/untopped…just make sure to par bake them.  The parbaking helps to make sure your dough doesn’t get soggy.
As you can see, there are so many ideas when it comes to stocking your freezer.  The key is to stock up on items you know your family will eat…otherwise, it’s not worth it and becomes a waste.  It’s also a good idea to keep containers that are freezer safe on hand.  I typically use gallon Ziploc bags or glass pyrex dishes.  I’ve also been known to buy throw-away aluminum containers when I’m in a pinch. 
Also, as to cooking before freezing, there are various opinions on this.  Some items it makes no sense to freeze uncooked; however, others…they just need to be cooked.  I’ve thought about partially cooking items, too…for instance, cook the meatballs or chicken tenders for half the time needed.  Then, when I’m ready to use them, finish cooking the rest of the time.  I’m not particularly picky as to the approach I use…it just depends on how I’m feeling at the moment.  Smile
Now, it’s your turn…what are some of the things that YOU stock in your freezer to make life easier?  Or – if you’ve never given this a try, I say go for it.  It’ll truly make life easier on those nights when you really don’t feel like cooking…you can plan ahead and pull out something that morning and dinner will be ready in a jiffy.  Or – cook from frozen…that works, too.  Smile


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