A few nights ago Chris and I were talking about life before (or just without) electricity. The one roadblock I couldn’t get around was life without my fridge/freezer. I could survive without the TV, computer, phone, I could cook over a fire, I could even figure out fresh food on a daily basis thing with a cow and some chickens in the back yard. The one thing I couldn’t do was meat – if you butcher a cow, pig, sheep, or even a chicken, you need to be able to keep that meat safe for eating, and while I know that the pioneers did things like salt cure and smoke foods to preserve them, I love my freezers way too much. Yes, that was freezers plural – I have three. Nope, not even kidding. I obviously have the normal fridge freezer combo in the kitchen, but in my garage I have a stand up 14 cubic feet freezer, and for a while at least I’m also keeping safe (and making good use of) a friends fridge/freezer combo because it doesn’t fit in the apartment she’s currently renting. If you think, “who has three freezers, she’s nuts” or “yeah but I bet they aren’t all full” you’re both right and totally wrong. I have three freezers that are all about 3/4 full or more, and while there are two half gallons of ice cream and a frozen poundcake in there, most of it is all actual food too.
Let’s look at this from the begining though:
Chris and I lived in an apartment for our first 2 and a half (almost 3) years of marriage. In this apartment was a semi-smallish fridge/freezer. It was hazardous to open my freezer, odds are things would avalanche out and break your foot. It was imposible to keep organized because it was kept full to bursting.
Then, we bought our house – and a LOVELY new fridge, with a freezer on bottom combo. I love my fridge, I love how big and nice it is, I hate that the freezer still doesn’t hold much. It held more than our apartment, but it was still full to bursting most of the time. Luckily the previous homeowners left their fridge/freezer behind – granted it was about the same age, make, and model as our fridge from our apartment, but it was a second fridge and freezer, which dutifully took up work in the garage. The fridge was empty most of the time (except around thanksgiving when it always became vital) except for some cans or 2 liters of pop. Then, at the end of last summer, it died. First the fridge, then a little while later, the freezer. Just totally kaput. It was a sad day indeed – and it was right before thanksgiving.
So, around Christmas Chris and I bought ourselves a new present – our stand up freezer. Got a great deal on it at Sears, brought it home and set it up. It was the longest few days of agonizing wait for it to be cold enough to work. FINALLY I had freezer space, and let me tell you, it wasn’t even a month later that I was wishing we’d gotten the larger model instead of the mid size, because I already had it full – especially with our new Costco membership. Then, a few short months later, my friend moved, discovered her favorite fridge didn’t fit in her new apartment (just shy by about an inch) and I offered to keep it in the garage for her, so she didn’t have to get rid of it. Of course, I also plugged it in and have been using it since lol.
Thus you have the history of my freezers. Which really had nothing to do with this post, other than to point out that I am a big freezer person. I haven’t ever done a true “once a month cooking” type thing, but I have done similar food prep and storage things. Particularly with meat. I use my crockpot(s) often, so what I like to do is buy the meat in bulk, break it down into recipe sized portions, put in the seasonings and freeze the package. Then the day of the cooking, I just open it, straight from the freezer, dump it in my crockpot, add liquid ingredients, and cook – it’s AMAZING!
I plan to do a full work up on freezing, just like I have been with canning, but I had a couple friends ask me for resources, tips, and tricks recently, so I thought I’d do a small post on that in the middle of canning – besides, those canning posts are a lot of work lol!
So, first, let me tell you about my favorite resources:
My favorite cookbooks for freezer recipes are Don’t Panic Dinner’s In The Freezer, and it’s followup Don’t Panic More Dinner’s in the Freezer. I picked both these up two years ago at MOPS convention at a time when I was just starting to really try and be good at menu planning and was highly interested in once a month cooking (but didn’t have the freezer space). The reason I love these two books so much is because it tells you not only the ingredient requirements to make just one of the recipe, but also the needed amounts to make 3x, 6x or 9x (depending on the recipe it maybe 2x or 4x etc.) for all the recipes so you can make several quantities of the recipe at once, stick them in the freezer and you have lots of meals ready to go, not just one. Also, they break the instructions down into cooking day (when you make it all and put it in the freezer) and serving day (when you actually eat the meal) which is also nice.
There are of course LOTS of other books out there on this topic, I honestly haven’t looked at hardly any of them at all, so I can offer no opinion on them. There are also lots of blogs out there that talk about freezing make ahead meals, and once a month cooking, including Once a Month Mom, which has LOTS of recipes, full month menus (with a variety of nutritional requirements including gluten free, diet and vegetarian) and other great resources. I have a friend who is part of a once a month cooking swap, where they each make like 3 meals with four servings and swap them with 8 friends (or something like that, the numbers totally escape me) and that way they all end up with a months worth of different meals when they themselves have only made three or four different recipes – an idea I LOVE and would like to try, but have no desire to organize and plan said group. They use the Once a Month Mom site as a guideline and she says the recipes are yummy, and she really likes that they are tried and true for freezer results.
The biggest question most people seem to have when they start thinking about freezing foods is, what can I (or can not) freeze and how long are those foods good for. Great question! My best suggestion – google. Luckily I’ve done some of the work for you. lol
Clemson University has a GREAT PDF that is downloadable (I have a printed version in my cooking binder) with lots of foods, how to prepare them, and how long they are freezable for, you can find it here.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a small but nice list of foods that don’t freeze well (and best of all, why not) found here, as well as a guide for how to freeze foods in the form of a clickable list found here.
I will say this though, take all this with a grain of salt and don’t be afraid to experiment. Almost any list will tell you that pasta doesn’t freeze well, and by itself that may be true, but frozen pasta dishes (like lasagna and ziti) freeze great! For things like that, I tend to make a full recipe, but rather than bake it in a 9×13 I bake in two 8×8 pans allowing us to eat one for dinner (and still have leftovers for lunch) and letting me stick the other one in the freezer to have another super yummy dinner ready to go another time without all the prep-work involved.
If you are interested, but a little uncertain about freezing food, start with something simple that you can make and freeze easily and is a recipe that you know your family will like.
One of my favorite things to do, is to make muffins ahead of time and freeze in ziplock bags that I can pull out, stick in the microwave, and have breakfast on the table in under 5 minutes – especially since my family isn’t big cereal people. This last week I used this Universal Muffin Mix recipe to make about 8 dozen muffins in four different flavors and I still have enough left to make another 4 dozen or so. I loved it because the base turned into basically any type of muffin we could dream up – including a couple we would never have thought of, with lots of options to try. We LOVE LOVE LOVE the lemon poppy seed and Peanuts Butter and Jelly varieties, and I think for snack this weekend for our sunday school I’ll be making more lemon poppy seed and some blueberry with the remainder of the mix. But if I didn’t have to worry about nut allergies (which you should always be aware of when cooking for a group of people) I would totally be making the PB&J muffins – they are seriously my new favorite!
This brings me to another point – somewhat unrelated to freezing. I love make ahead mixes (think bisquick or cornbread mix). They are super convenient and make my life much easier. This is how I turn a regular recipe into a mix:
My favorite recipe for scratch cornbread is the Golden Sweet Cornbread recipe on Allrecipies.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 2/3 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 egg
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cup yellow cornmeal
- 3 cup white sugar
- 3 teaspoon salt
- 10 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a 9 inch round cake pan.
- In a large bowl, combine 3 cups mix. Stir in 1 egg, 1 cup milk and 1/3 cup vegetable oil until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.