Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adventures in Freezer Cooking

This is something that, as a discipline, is new for me. Now, as much as I would love to pretend I'm a foodie the reality is I'm a junk food junkie who is all about convenience. Don't get me wrong. I love to cook. And I love to eat. But when I'm ready to do the latter, I have very little patience for the former. But I am sick of eating out (I never thought I'd say that!) and I miss having home-cooked meals. So, I'm willing to try different solutions to find something workable. I'm sure there are some freezer cooking purists who would say that, technically, what I'm doing isn't really freezer cooking because it's not making full meals, it's just extended prep. And after a while I may try my hand at more, but we're taking baby steps here!

Now, the thing that originally put me off of the idea of freezer cooking was simply the amount of prep and clean-up involved. Especially the clean-up. I HATE cleaning up the kitchen. HOWEVER, if I only have to clean one pot, it's not nearly as horrible. I can handle one pot. Heck, if Im creative I might can even get that one pot into the dishwasher! I might can even handle the prospect of one pot and one pan!

One thing I always dreaded was the preparing of the chicken. I eat a lot of chicken. I pretty much grew up on chicken casseroles. But the idea of boiling chicken every day (or even every other day) is not appealing to me. Plus there's the whole shredding it bit, which also doesn't appeal to me either. But I discovered a little tip on pinterest - put your cooked chicken (still warm) into your stand mixer with the paddle attachment and turn it on low for about 15-20 seconds and you suddenly have perfectly shredded chicken! Amazing! Why didn't I think of that? I can just freeze this and I'll be ready to go for just about anything. I cooked one large pack of chicken breasts (about six pounds) and, after shredding, divided it into four bags (so about 1.25 pounds each) I know Jeff will use one just to throw on top of salads. I have a casserole in mind, and perhaps some sandwiches or enchiladas. Only time will tell!

Another helpful tip - freeze meats in their marinade so that as they defrost they will also marinade and be ready to go! Love that! Especially for steaks or pork chops! Perfect for grilling and no pre-cooking is required. Awesome! I split a big pack of pork chops into three bags. Two I added teriyaki marinade and one I left plain.

Now, I have no idea why this never occurred to me, but I'm glad the switch finally flipped - pre-form hamburger patties. It makes it much easier to go from freezer to grill! The biggest reason we don't grill burgers at home is that it involves the fore-thought of defrosting the meat so we can make the patties. Now, we don't have to do that anymore. Love it! I used a 1/2 cup measuring cup to measure out my meat and make sure they were about the same size. I figure they were about 1/3 lb patties. I packaged them two to a bag so I can pull out two for just Jeff and me or more if we want leftovers!

Last but not least there is the pre-cooked ground beef or turkey. Take the mince (can you tell I've been watching too much BBC?) and saute it with onion and a little garlic (since I put garlic in pretty much everything anyway). Then I can divide it and freeze it and it's ready to go for tacos or spaghetti or a casserole or whatever. I divided my meat into two 1.25 lb bags - one just had the onion and garlic, but the other had some taco seasoning in it.

I had planned to do all my shopping and cooking in one day, but it just didn't happen that way. I did my big shopping at Sam's Club as the basis for all of this. I divided up the pork chops as soon as we got home since there was no actual cooking involved. I had the fridge space, so I saved the chicken and ground beef for the next day. I was expecting it to take a while, but it only took about an hour and a half to get it all done. I stuck the chicken on first thing. While it was boiling, I made hamburger patties (which really didn't take long thanks to my measuring cup. I'll have to remember that!). After that came the cooking of the ground beef. Once that was packaged the chicken was ready to go.

After it was over, I had one pot, one pan, one mixing bowl, one spatula, and one pair of tongs that needed to be cleaned up. That's it! It all fit in the dishwasher so it was super simple.

Next time, I'll probably try to put some carrot, celery, and onion in with the chicken and then drain and freeze the resulting broth, but I was pretty pleased with the results of this first attempt at everything! I've got at least 12 meals that can now be ready in 30 minutes or less with little to no prep time. Add this to my arsenal of crock pot meals and I'm pretty stoked about the possibilities.

Stay tuned for more adventures in freezer cooking that are still to come!

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