I finally found time last week to get in another freezer cooking session. I did this one a little differently in that in the “down time” of waiting for some things to cook, I maximized my time by preparing snacks and cutting up veggies that we’ll all use during the week. This helps cuts down on even more time I spend in the kitchen the week after the freezer cooking session.
Now when it comes to freezer cooking, I always remind my readers that you don’t need to do large freezer cooking sessions. You’ll hear of some people taking an entire weekend to do a month’s worth of meals or a full-day, etc. But you can do one that lasts just a few hours or even something as simple as doubling a recipe or two throughout your normal week. Instead of making one casserole, make two and freeze one. Cooking up a pound of hamburger? – Cook two and freeze the other one for another day. Every little bit helps.
This last one I did lasted about 5-6 hours. Before I started, I made up a step-by-step plan of what I was going to do. Before I even started anything, I took out a bunch of pans, crockpots, bowls, measuring cups, etc that I was going to use so I wouldn’t need to dig for them later. If you have a smaller kitchen, you can always do this and put them in something like a Rubbermaid container until you are ready for them. It still saves time digging in all the cabinets. I also set up my non-refrigerated ingredients on one part of my dining room table so they are ready to go. All these things helps the freezer cooking session go a little more smooth. It can also help you see ingredients you might be missing like a spice or type of flour, etc.
The day before I did my freezer cooking session, I had taken my family out strawberry picking. I had cut off the tops of the strawberries of a bunch and put them on a cookie sheet in my freezer. I made sure to bag those up before I started and I’m now all set with strawberries for smoothies or frozen snacks.
The first thing you should always start with in your freezer cooking sessions are the things that take the longest. Since I do quite a few sessions, I now own two crockpots. Crockpots are a fairly inexpensive kitchen appliance and they come in handy when freezer cooking. Even during the week you can make your normal meal and have another going in a crockpot for time-saving meals. The first thing I made was a whole chicken in a crockpot. I had it cooking on high for around 4 hours, or until properly cooked. It will just basically fall off the bone when it’s done. I throw the bones back in and cook it for another 4-8 hrs, sometimes with some spices and cut-up veggies, and make my own broth.
The second thing I did was to peel some apples and make some Crockpot Applesauce. Since the recipe only makes around 4 servings, I tripled it. What I didn’t realize is….I forgot to plug my crockpot in. HUGE mistake. Thankfully it didn’t throw me off too far as I caught it about an hour into the session. Crockpot Applesauce smells delicious and I should have caught it sooner that it wasn’t cooking.
I then moved on to some stove cooking. I had a pan of hard-boiled eggs going on one side in the back and some pasta shells in the other. In the two front burners, I had two pounds of hamburger on one side and two pounds of pork on the other. You can read my posting on freezer cooking meat in bulk for more on this, and some pans/gadgets I recommend for making cooking/chopping all that meat a little easier. The meat is nice to have on hand for tacos, burritos, soups, chilis, casseroles, etc. It’s one less pan to deal with when you make these during the week and you can usually make a quick meal by just adding a few ingredients to them.
When these were done cooking, I placed them on my kitchen table that I had set-up with a heavy towel and lots of pot holders and trivets to keep the heat from burning my towel and/or table. I usually call this my “cooling station.” This is where I let everything cool down enough so I can put them into the freezer bags/containers. If you put them in when everything is still warm, you’ll have more of a chance of getting freezer burn on your foods. Also, you should never put warm items into plastic items as it can sometimes leach into your food.
It was about this time that I started cooking some bacon in the microwave on my microwave bacon cooker. In between bacon intervals, I made some baggies up of quick cooking rolled oats, following their sizes on the package. Next time though, I think I’ll make them half that size as it makes a lot of oatmeal. It was nice to have these ready to go in the morning as all I had to do was pour it pre-measured into a bowl and add some water and microwave it for a quick breakfast. I also added some frozen strawberries and a little honey for more flavor. I like the Bob Red’s Mill brand of quick cooking rolled oats, if you are looking for one to try. I kept my snack bags after I used them so I can get another use out of them.
At this time I also made up some non-refrigerated snacks for our week. When the kids were little, I used Gerber Bowls for their baby food. I kept them and use them for our snacks now, as they have lids and are a good size. This time, snacks included Triscuits, Pretzels, Organic Cookies and Goldfish Crackers. When our snack time rolled around, I just pulled out the bowls and added some fruit or cheese to them. Saved some time mid-day during the week.
OK, I now have bacon cooked and ready for the week. All I have to do is give them a quick re-heat in the microwave later. If after a few days we have a lot left, I will freeze them. (We never seem to have any left!) The bacon can be used for breakfast, for BLTs, as salad toppers, in pasta dishes, in soup that I’ll freeze, etc.
I now took time to wash up some sweet potatoes. I pierced them with a fork and then wrapped them in foil and baked them at 350 for around 40-60 minutes. Just until they were soft enough for the fork to go through it easily.
While the sweet potatoes were cooking in the oven, I chopped up some veggies. Some of these I’ll use for snacks throughout the week. Others will be “blanched” and frozen for veggie side dishes. And others I kept aside in a bowl for the soup that I planned on making the next day. You only chop once and then have multiple uses! I often cut up an entire stalk of celery and keep it in a container with water in the fridge. We use these as quick snacks and as part of veggie side dish for lunches. Same with carrots. Some of them I chopped into sticks. If you choose Organic carrots, they are often skinnier and work perfect for snack sticks. Some of the carrots I chopped into slices for blanching and for the soup.
In this session, I chopped carrots, celery, onions, green peppers, green beans and the tops off snow pea pods. The onions and peppers were cut in slices for a fajita mix. You can also see the bowl of a mix of these that I made for soup.
Once the veggies were cut, I started cutting up some various meats. I cut up a few pounds of boneless/skinless Organic chicken into pieces for chicken nuggets. I also cut up some type of steak-cut for fajita meat. And lastly, I cut up some ground sausage into slices for patties and small pieces for pizza toppings.
Around this time, I bagged up some of my food I had already cooked and I also mashed up the sweet potatoes. I’ll use these as a veggie side dish. You can top them with a little cinnamon–or if you want to go an unhealthier route, you can add some butter and a few marshmallows. I keep ours pretty simple, though.
Moving on, I cooked up the fajita meat and sausage. Since the chicken nuggets take a little more focus, I did those afterwards. For whatever reason, I didn’t take pics of “blanching” the veggies, which I did next. You can find instructions for most veggies at Pick-Your-Own. The basic concept, like these green beans, is to cook them for a few minutes and then drain them and put them in cold water right away to stop the cooking process. I haven’t had any issues just taking these out of the freezer, defrosting them and then microwaving for a quick side dish later. The sausage patties worked nicely reheated later for a quick breakfast paired with a hard boiled egg and some fruit, etc.
Here’s a picture of the “cooling station” again. You can see I have the mashed sweet potatoes, chicken nuggets, fajita meat, sausage and shredded chicken cooling. Right before I took this, I realized my chicken was done and I pulled it out of the crockpot and pulled off the meat. I threw the bones back into the crockpot, with some spices/veggies, and set it to make some broth.
I wanted to mention that when your foods are cooked, instead of putting everything into a freezer bag or into the fridge, you can take a little time to make up some lunches for the week, too. I found these divided containers and I really love them. They are a bit more expensive than the plastic ones you’ll find at the store but they are a thicker, BPA-Free plastic and I think there’s a chance that they might last longer. The lids are also colored and I gave each of us our own color to use. While things were cooler earlier, I made up some pasta ones that I could use for lunch during the week. You can see the second photo of a quick lunch later in the week. I love using Eden Organic Pasta/Pizza Sauce to make it a quick meal that I can just microwave. These containers work great for picnics or for making your own healthier version of a “Lunchable.”
I had also set some sliced strawberries on a cookie sheet to “flash freeze” and put those in freezer bags when they were done. These make for great toppings for pancakes, waffles, yogurt, cereal, etc. Great way to save money when they are out-of-season, too!
…flavored waters. I thought they turned out pretty good. Now if you are used to sugary drinks, you’ll probably want to add some sugar to them when you use them. I found myself drinking more water that next week due to having these ready to go.
Later that night when the broth was done, I let it cool and put it in the fridge. The following day, I took the bowl of veggies I had pre-chopped, some pasta, some hamburger I had kept aside in a dish, bacon, a handful of mushrooms and some broth and made some homemade soup. I took what was left and froze them in individual servings for future lunches. Good soup without all the extra sodium and preservatives that most canned soups have.
Here’s most of the end result of the cooking session. I ended up with oatmeal packets, pre-made snack bowls, veggies cut-up for snacks/side-dishes, blanched veggies for side dishes, bacon for all the uses I mentioned earlier, mashed sweet potatoes, 2 lbs of cooked hamburger, 2 lbs of cooked pork, sausage patties, sausage for pizza, homemade chicken nuggets, several fajita mixes, strawberries for smoothies/toppings, chicken for all sorts of uses, homemade broth, homemade soup, hard boiled eggs for many uses, pasta for lunch/soup/mac n cheese etc, flavored waters and very delicious homemade applesauce! Note: Not everything is pictured here.
I’ve been trying to remember to take pics of the meals I make with these for a later segment so you can see what I used them all for. I’m hoping that this might encourage you to set aside a day and do a freezer cooking session of your own! Just make sure that you have a plan in place before you start. The best way to get the most of a session is to use your downtime for things such as chopping veggies or making up some snacks, etc.
You can also read my past postings on freezer cooking, including one on how to get started. Make sure you plan a longer freezer cooking session for a day when you have enough free time to finish. The one I showed you above took me maybe 6 hours for most of it and I had a plan in place.
Hope you have fun freezer cooking and enjoy finding a new way of saving time on homemade meals throughout the week! One of my favorite things about freezer cooking is that I tend to have fewer dishes to wash in the weeks that follow!