Power Freezer Cooking Session: Meats, Veggies and So Much More!

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.

Here’s a picture (above) of how my table was set-up before I started. All my ingredients at one end. This left the other side of the table free to bag up my things when they were done, 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!

I also took time later on to cut up some various fruits so I could make these…….

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! :)

Freezer Cooking: Cooking Meat in Bulk

One of the big reasons we fall trap to unhealthier convenience foods is lack of time. I totally understand how it’s so much easier to just cook up something quick because our days can become so incredibly busy that we run out of steam by the time fixing dinner comes around.

This is one reason that I’ve tried to push myself back into “freezer cooking.” On the days when I have a little more energy and time, I can make up a few extra meals and all I have to do is defrost them later. A great thing to help get ahead for the week is to cook meat in bulk and freeze some for later when time is limited. I started doing this several years ago and it’s become a fairly big time-saver throughout the week.

On the nights when I have dinner already in a crockpot or when I already have to cook up a pound of hamburger, I take a little extra time and cook up several pounds of meat! If you have a pan that will hold a few pounds, it actually doesn’t take up much extra time. If you are looking for a new pan, I highly recommend the Cuisinart Everyday Pan with Dome Cover. I’ve owned one for 5 years now and it still looks like new. I can easily cook up two pounds of meat in one. I just recently picked up a second one so I could double the amount of meat I could cook in one session–and I use it for practically everything else, too.

Here’s one of my last freezer cooking quick sessions:

The day before, I made sure to thaw out 4 lbs of meat. I decided to mix it up and do two each of pork and beef. I divided 2 lbs into each of my pans and took a picture of the clock:

When the meat was cooked, I chopped it up with a Mix N Chop from Pampered Chef. This tool has come in handy for chopping up meat quickly! When everything was cooked (and after dealing with the “Mommy Factor” of having to stop and help the kids with something) I took a picture of the clock again:

It took me under 15 minutes to cook and chop up 4 lbs of meat and I ended up with this:

Now before I had started my freezer cooking session, I had added all the ingredients (minus the meat) to a crockpot for the Taco Chili Recipe. So when the meat was cooked and cooled a bit, I added in one pound each of beef and pork. It wasn’t too much longer and our chili was ready.

In the meantime, I took the 2 lbs of cooled meat that was leftover and put them in freezer-safe containers in one pound portions:

I’m going to save these for a later date. All I have to do is put them in the fridge the day before to thaw and I can quickly heat them up to use for:

Vegetable Beef Soup

Or any other recipe that requires pre-cooked beef/pork. Just add a few other ingredients for dinner to be done! We also had plenty of chili leftover from dinner. I put them in three freezer-safe containers. My hubby ended up taking one to work the next day and the other two I put in the freezer for later:

One of the containers I used was a Ziploc divided container. When my hubby needs another quick lunch for work, he can defrost it the night before in the fridge and then throw in some cheese and crackers in the side containers and he’s all set. I also have another larger container for another lunch or to use for chili dogs or topping for a potato bar night, etc.

As you can see, taking a little time on the days when you have just a little bit of extra time can help you out on the days when you are extra busy. You can also put your cooled meat in freezer Ziploc bags. Just lay them flat and you’ll be able to easily stack them in the freezer. You now have some “convenience food” ready to go without all the extra unhealthy things added to it.

Hope this helps save you a little time if you try it! I’ve found that cooking meat in bulk can be a huge time-saver for us!

How to Make Pizza Loaf

About 12 years ago, I found a recipe in a Taste of Home magazine that has become quite a favorite of mine over the years. It’s one for making a Pizza Loaf. I remember making one and bringing it in to work to share and everyone needed a photo copy of the recipe before the day was over.

I’m happy to see that they’ve posted the Pizza Loaf Recipe on their site. You can go there to get all the ingredients and tips for it. I made one recently and I took some pictures so you could have a step-by-step visual for it. You can make your own dough, but the nice part of this recipe is that you can just buy frozen dough at your store and let it thaw to save you some time. It goes fairly quickly after the dough is ready.

Spray your cookie sheet and roll out your dough.

Mix up the ingredients from the recipe and spread it across the dough.

Add on any toppings that you want. We used pepperoni, fresh mushrooms, olives, green peppers and yellow pepper rings for this one. The pepperoni is straight from the butcher and so good!

Next, top it with cheese. I used mozzarella in this one.

Here comes the tricky part. You need to start at one end and begin to carefully roll it up into a loaf, tucking in the sides as you go. But be careful not to stretch the top too thin and create a hole or your toppings will ooze out. You are going to lay it seam side down in the middle of the cookie sheet when you are done rolling it. And then brush with egg whites.

This is the finished cooked product. It didn’t brown up quite as much as some have in the past. But still delicious!

Next you cut it into slices and then dip them into some pizza sauce.

I made a second one that was just veggies and shredded taco cheese. This was an extra for freezing for later. It didn’t take up much extra time to make a second.

I cut it up and put the slices in a stacking Lock n Lock Freezer Container. (There are actually two containers here, one stacked on top of the other.) I should be able to take one out when I need one for a spare lunch. I haven’t tried this before so we’ll see if it works! I’ve never had issues with freezing bread products so it should be fine. I’ll probably thaw in the fridge first, as that seems to work best with other bread products.

You can go to Taste of Home for the complete printable Pizza Loaf Recipe. I really do love the Taste of Home Magazine and have found several great recipes, such as this one, in there. I hope you end up liking it if you try it.

How to Freeze Fruit

A great way to save money is to buy items when they are in season and freezing them for a later date. I am a huge fan of fruit but it can really make the grocery bill add up fast. But there are times when fruit is on a really great sale and that’s when I stock up and freeze some.

While frozen fruit is no where near the same as fresh fruit, it can still make some delicious things, such as smoothies. My kids love them and I like that they are getting another portion of fruit for the day. I also love to add frozen fruit to oatmeal as it adds a little extra goodness to it.

I’ve found that fruit tends to freeze best when you “flash freeze” it first. While it will never hold quite the same form as fresh fruit, it’s usually your best bet to preserve the taste and help keep them from clumping together. When I flash freeze them, I can usually just pull out a few that I need later.

Flash freezing simply means taking the fruit and putting it on something, such as a clean cookie sheet, and letting it chill for awhile. Once it’s frozen solid, that’s when I add it to a Ziploc bag. Here are a few that I’ve tried it with:

We picked these blueberries this last summer. Had a fun outing and blueberries to enjoy most of the winter! Enjoyed them on pancakes/waffles, oatmeal, cereal, etc.

Pineapple – A whole pineapple always seems like too much for us to eat. So I cut up some of them into chunks, flash freeze them and use them in smoothies.

Strawberries – The cut-up pieces are what I took off some strawberries that were starting to get mushy. These work perfect in oatmeal, cereal, pancakes/waffles etc. The others, I just cored and will use those in smoothies. I just set the cookie sheet on top of the other stuff in my deep freezer and threw them in a Ziploc bag when they were solid.

Bananas – These are the over-ripe ones that I shared earlier. They stayed true to color and form for a few weeks. They did turn a smidge discolored after that.  Had I been thinking, I would have mashed them first, as I knew I was going to use them in banana bread. You could also cut them into chunks and flash freeze them for smoothies.

It’s very easy to freeze excess fruit or fruit you find on a great sale. You might even talk to the produce manager at your store to see when they discount slightly bruised fruit for extra savings.

What fruit have you tried to freeze? What ways have you found to use the fruit later?

How to Freeze Green Beans

One of the things in season right now, or soon to be for your area, are green beans. I had a plethora of them in my garden this week so I thought I’d take some and freeze them for when prices on green beans go up.

Freezing green beans is fairly easy. You need to cook them in a process called “blanching” and then put them in ice cold water afterwards to stop them from cooking more. The times cooking and soaking in the water should be equal. Green beans should take about 3 minutes for each step. (Information according to pickyourown.org)

If you don’t grow your own, several farmer’s markets will sell them, typically in large quantities for a good price. I didn’t grow any last year but bought a bunch at the markets and had farm-fresh tasting green beans during the winter months. While you might be able to get regular frozen vegetables in the store fairly cheap, there’s nothing quite like ones straight from a farm or your garden.

1) The first thing you need to do is wash your green beans and then pick over the green beans and pull out any that are blemished. Some of those you might be able to cut off parts to still keep. Cut the ends off your green beans. Next you cut them in 1″ pieces or you can keep them longer for things such as stir-fry recipes.

2) You’ll need a big pot of water to boil. Be sure you have enough water for the green beans to cook easily. Once it gets to a rolling boil, carefully place the green beans in, put the lid on and bring it back to a boil. Begin the timer for the blanching time as soon as you drop them in. Green beans should take about 3 minutes of blanching time.

3) As soon as the time is up, carefully drain the green beans and then submerge them in a bowl of ice cold water. Let them cool for 3 minutes.

4) Once the time is up, you’ll drain them and put them in Ziploc bags. I usually try to dry them off with a clean towel first, as I’ve found it helps them from clumping together or getting freezer burn.

5) Don’t forget to label your bag. It may seem obvious what’s in there but you want to keep track of the date so you know when to use them by.

This entire process is fairly simple. A lot of times, I blanch vegetables when I’m already in the kitchen getting supper ready and waiting on our dinner to cook.

I hope that you try to take advantage of Seasonal Savings and get some farm/garden fresh green beans in your freezer for when prices go up. It’s a great way to save on your grocery budget–and get some Organic veggies on your table.

Turkey and Noodles Recipe: Freezer Cooking Style

I thought I’d share this recipe in case any of you had some leftover turkey and were looking for ideas on how to use it. This recipe is one that you can freeze for a later date when you are hungry for some of that yummy turkey again!

96 oz. of Turkey or Chicken Broth
1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
1/2 Cup of Diced Onion
1/4 Teaspoon of Pepper
1 lb. of Frozen Noodles (I love the ones by Reames in the freezer aisle)
1/4 Cup of Flour
1 1/2 Cups of Milk
4 Cups of Cooked Turkey

How To Make:
In a large pot, heat broth to boiling. Add salt, onion and pepper. Add frozen noodles and bring to a boil again. Then reduce heat to keep from boiling over but let it still bubble freely. Cook for 10 minutes. In a bowl, stir flour and milk together and then add to the bubbling pot. Cook until the juices are somewhat reduced and slightly thickened. Add turkey. Salt to taste. Cool.

Once cooled, divide into the portion-size that you like and freeze. Don’t forget to label and date your freezer bag!

When you want to make this on a later day, thaw, remove from freezer bag and then reheat in a saucepan on low heat or you can also reheat in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave.

If you want a little color and veggies, you can consider adding some peas or carrots to it.

I typically make this and serve it over a nice heaping of mashed potatoes. It makes for a great meal just like that.

Thanks to 30 Day Gourmet for this recipe! It’s become one of my favorites that I make with any of our leftover turkey.

Freezer Cooking: Seasoned Hamburger

Since I posted my last Freezer Cooking Session, I’ve had a quite a few people wanting to know about Freezing Seasoned Hamburger. To tell you the truth, up until then, I had no idea myself that cooked hamburger froze so well. I had made up the recipe for Mini Beef and Bean Burritos from the book Fix, Freeze, Feast: Prepare in Bulk and Enjoy by the Serving. Well, I had run out of shells and decided just to test out freezing the leftover seasoned meat and it worked like a charm!

What’s great is, the original recipe of the mixture calls for 6lbs of meat. You’ll often find that stores will discount hamburger in bulk “family packs” of 3lbs or more. So you’d just pick up two of those at a great price. But you can alter the recipe for any size – just re-figure it accordingly.

What You’ll Need
6lbs of Hamburger
1 cup of Taco Seasoning (around four packets, but measure to be sure, as packet size varies)
3 cups of water

How to Make It

1) Brown the hamburger over medium heat and cook thoroughly until there is no longer any pink–about 20 minutes.

2) Drain and discard properly, any fat. (I even rinse mine to get more fat off.)

3) Add the Taco Seasoning and then stir in the water.

4) Simmer over a medium heat, for about twenty minutes. You’ll want to check it and stir it, if needed. Cook until the liquid is almost evaporated.

5)  At this point, I drained off any extra liquid that didn’t evaporate. Cool the mixture completely. This is important or you’ll have more of a chance of freezer burned food if you add the mixture while it’s still a little warm.

6) Label and date a Ziploc Bag, add the mixture and freeze. I lay my Ziploc bags flat to save room in my freezer. (Just make sure they are sealed really good if you do that!) :)

If don’t want to freeze all of the hamburger mixture but want to make some burritos to freeze, try this:

Spread a 1/3 cup of refried beans and 1/4 cup ground beef onto a tortilla. Wrap the tortilla burrito style and then wrap in tin foil, place them in a labeled Ziploc Bag and freeze. To cook, take them out of the Ziploc bag and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes if frozen or at only 300 degrees for 30 minutes if thawed, prior. These can make for a simple lunch.

It’s really quite simple to make this hamburger mixture. I love doing these big batches and freezing them so I can quickly pull out a bag of it and make some quick tacos or nachos, etc. You just take it out of the Ziploc bag and defrost in the microwave. Or you can defrost it in the fridge the night before and then warm it in the microwave the next day (after you take it out of the Ziploc bag!)

Freezer cooking is a great way to cut down on your time in the kitchen on busy days. I find that making meals ahead and freezing them often helps me avoid carry-out food or the quick processed foods.

If you make this recipe, please use all proper food safety guidelines. I hope that you find this little make-ahead recipe will help you save some time in the future!