I went to enrichment tonight. We talked about food storage...namely freezer meals. I really like the idea of freezer meals. The sister that taught said she can make a months worth of meals for $100. MAN!!! If I could do that, that would be fantastic! She also said that it cuts down on time in the kitchen per day. That would be so nice!!! I spend so much time cleaning and in the kitchen and with the kids that I hardly get time to myself or with Eric. So anyway, here are some things that I learned tonight at enrichment and online.
Day One - Preparation and planning
The first day of my OAMC, I go to the shops. I check what is on special, and what is in season. I take note of what does not look good, too. I come home and check what is in the garden that is in peak condition to be used. This is my research phase.
Next, I clean out and defrost the freezer. I keep a written inventory of what I have in the freezer, and this clean-out helps me to check the inventory is up-to-date.
While the freezer is defrosting, I check my family's calendar for the next month and count how many dinners I would like to freeze. Then, with the knowledge I gained from my research earlier, I make up a list of what I will cook, and how many meals of each.
The next step is to make up a shopping list, broken up according to where I will be buying each food item. The last stage is to make myself lists showing what I will need to do to prepare and cook the food.
Day Two - Shopping and Chopping Day
The next day is broken up into two distinct phases. I like to get to the shopping centre early in the day while it is still not too busy. I buy all the food I will need, making sure to keep perishable items like meat cool by putting them in a cooler bag as soon as they are purchased.
After coming home and unpacking, I can start the second phase of this day. This is when I peel and chop all my vegetables except onion and garlic (they smell if cut too early), and trim and dice the meat. This is all stored in the refrigerator overnight.
The last job for Day Two is to freeze any meals that will not require further cooking. For example, I like to make Fish Parcels. This is where I place a boneless fillet of fish on a square of aluminium foil and top it with a little butter, lemon juice, herbs, garlic, chilli (or whatever flavorings I like at the time). The fish is wrapped in the foil and frozen. To cook it, I simply place the fish parcels straight from the freezer into a pre-heated oven. I add frozen garlic bread to the oven to heat at the same time, and prepare a simple salad.
Other ideas for meals that can be frozen without being cooked first include marinated chicken wings, lamb chops in marinade, hamburger patties, and so on.
Day Three - Cooking Day
The third day of the OAMC is the big one. But it is made much easier by having so much of the preparation work done the day before.
I start the day by cutting up all my onions and garlic and browning them. Then I brown all my meats. I can do several different kinds of meat simultaneously to save time, but I do them in small batches to avoid over-crowding the pans.
The next step depends on what you are making. Many dishes are fully cooked before being frozen, so they must be assembled and cooked. Others are only partially cooked, and are perhaps properly cooked in a crockpot (slow cooker) after thawing.
But whatever you are cooking, it all goes into labelled containers in the refrigerator to thoroughly cool before being frozen. I use rigid plastic containers, because I have been doing this for years and have bought a few at a time. A cheaper alternative is to use food-quality plastic bags to line a foil or plastic box. The bag is popped out of the box after it is frozen, so the box can be used again.
Using the meals
Once you have your freezer full of dinners, you will find there very little effort required to cook up some pasta to go with the frozen Bolognese Sauce, or some rice to have with the Beef Curry. Since I put tomorrow night's dinner in the refrigerator to thaw each evening, there is little left to do but re-heat the main course. A salad fresh from the garden is a great accompaniment to any meal and quick to prepare.
Some people might be concerned about the possible loss of so much food in the event of a power failure. The trick is to keep your freezer as full as possible. It doesn't have to be full of food - I put soda bottles half-full of water in the empty spaces. The idea is that the more frozen volume there is in the freezer, as opposed to air pockets, the longer it will take for the contents to thaw if the power goes off. This approach also makes the freezer work more efficiently, since it will turn on and off less often.
In summary, by concentrating your time and effort (and mess!) into a big cooking session once a month, you can have a freezer full of your family's favourite meals. This will give you more time, save you money, and give you peace of mind that your family can eat a proper meal every evening.