Thursday, January 17, 2013

Prepping Freezer Meals

You may have noticed over the course of the past few months that there has been a considerable uptick in baby related things on the site. Mostly sewing and craft related -- sorry to those who come around for the food.

The first 20 weeks or so I truly had no desire to be in the kitchen making food. I was lucky enough to bypass morning sickness, but I swear I could go to the store and stock up on munchies, then arrive home to not want any part of them, yet still be starving. Just a little frustrating to say the least.

But here we are, at the tail end of the third trimester and things are going to start getting real. Fast. Which means lots of dirty diapers and late late nights. Or more like just 2-hour-round-the-clock-naps. Which also means once again, zero motivation to actually be in the kitchen putzing around.

Instead of leaving it completely on the hubby's shoulders to feed us for the first couple weeks, I've been slowly putting together a few freezer meals here and there to hold us over until I'm ready to get back in the kitchen.

Let's take a sneak peek inside the freezer, shall we? Or, ahem, the deep freeze. We don't want to scare people away by looking into the depths of my regular freezer.

Here is my list of 7 "Not-So Traditional" Freezer Meals:

Okay, so chili might be more on the traditional side, but note that lasagna and other pasta-type casseroles are glaringly absent. I don't typically make heavy pasta casseroles on a day-to-day basis, and I was trying to keep our freezer list as close to our normal eating habits as possible.

Which, is not exactly the easiest thing in the world when the majority of your meals involve fresh veggies or creamy sauces -- things that really don't freeze and come back to life well.

The trickiest thing for me, however, is not exactly prepping the freezer meals, but how exactly to go about cooking them once we're ready to eat. The general rule of thumb is to extend the baking time by 50%. So a dish that requires 1 hour in the oven would now need 1 1/2 hours.

Of my list above, not a single one of them starts frozen (unless you count the tortellini in the soup), so adjustments need to be made for each. To make it easy for you (or my future sleep-deprived self), I went ahead and wrote out all the changes for each dish. Simply click on the picture or title to be taken to the full recipe.

Tortellini, Kielbasa, & Spinach Soup
Freezer Directions: Prepare soup as directed through adding spinach. Once spinach has separated, remove soup from heat and let cool completely. To store, place 2 cups of soup into each gallon-sized freezer ziploc bags. Freeze laying flat.

To-Eat Directions: Remove soup from the freezer and place in fridge the night before, or under running water until thawed. Pour soup into a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the tortellini. Simmer for 6 minutes, or until the tortellini is done. Serve topped with Parmesan cheese.
Red Wine Pork Tenderloin
Freezer Directions: Cut the tenderloin in half crosswise. Place the pork halves into a gallon-sized freezer ziploc bag. Add dry soup mix, water, wine, soy sauce, garlic, and pepper to bag. Freeze with bag in an upright position.

To-Eat Directions: Place frozen pork and ingredients into a slow cooker. Cook on low for 3 1/2 hours.
Slow Cooker Chicken & Dumplings
Freezer Directions: Place cream of chicken soup, broth, butter, onion, and seasonings in a gallon-sized freezer ziploc bag. Freeze with bag in an upright position. Freeze chicken breasts in a separate gallon-sized freezer bag.

To-Eat Directions: Place chicken breasts in a slow cooker with the frozen soup mixture on top. Cook on low for 8 hours. Cut or tear biscuit dough into small pieces, and add to crock pot, pushing down into the liquid. Cover, and cook on high for 2 hours.
Quick Marinara Sauce
Freezer Directions: Prepare recipe as directed. Puree with an immersion blender or by transferring in portions to a regular blender. Let cool completely. Place 1 cup of sauce into quart-sized freezer ziploc bags. Freeze bags flat.

To-Eat Directions: Place freezer bags under running water until thawed. Reheat in the microwave or in a small saucepan over medium heat. 1 cup of sauce covers about 8 ounces of pasta.
Freezer Directions: Prepare recipe as directed. Let cool completely. Place meatballs on a cookie sheet so they are not touching. Freeze for a couple hours. Remove from cookie sheets and place in gallon-sized freezer ziploc bags.

To-Eat Directions: Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Place meatballs on a cookie sheet; tent with foil. Bake for 15 minutes or until meatballs are heated through.
Slow Cooker Tomato Soup
Freezer Directions: Prepare tomato mixture on the stove-top as directed. Instead of pouring into a slow cooker, pour into a gallon-sized ziploc bag instead. Add the remaining chicken broth, reserved tomato juice, and bay leaves, stirring to combine. Freeze bag in an upright position.

To-Eat Directions: Place frozen soup mix in a slow cooker. Cook on low, 6 hours. Remove bay leaves and lower heat to "warm". Puree soup in the slow cooker with an immersion blender until smooth (or transfer in batches to a regular blender, then return to slow cooker). Add the cream, sherry, and cayenne and stir until fully combined. Add additional chicken broth if soup is too thick.
Chicken & Spinach Enchiladas
Freezer Directions: Prepare recipe as directed, stopping before adding sauce to bottom of the 9x13 pan. Instead, add 1/2 cup sauce to the bottom of 2 8x8 foil pans. Place 4 filled and rolled tortillas in each pan. Top each pan with 1/2 cup sauce and 1/2 of the shredded cheese. Cover pans with foil or plastic lid.

To-Eat Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake for 23-30 minutes, or until the cheese is melty and the edges of the tortillas are golden brown (may have to cover with foil if tortillas begin to brown too much). Each pan serves 2.
Freezer Directions: Prepare your favorite chili recipe all the way through. Instead of simmering for hours or placing in a crockpot, place 2 cups each in gallon-sized ziploc bags. Freeze flat.

To-Eat Directions: Thaw your chili overnight in the fridge or under running water. Finish cooking chili as directed by recipe.

One last thing: What's with freezing the bags in an upright or flat position? It kind of depends on how you're going to be preparing said dish. Anything that is remaining frozen and going into the crockpot (or large pot) needs to be frozen so it will actually fit into the pot at the start. (I might have learned this the hard way with soup in a pot over Christmas.) Anything that I'm planning on thawing first before preparing can be frozen flat (lay bags on a cookie sheet to freeze, then stack). Freezing flat can really save you some room in the freezer, but be careful with how full you fill the bags -- the thicker they are, the longer they take to thaw.

What are some of your favorite "non-traditional" freezer foods?


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