Tuesday, May 15, 2012

5 Days of Freezer Cooking (Day 2)

Approaches to Assembly Day

I can think of three different ways of assembling freezer dishes.  Only you know which one will work best for your family.   I will list them in order from least intimidating to most.

1.  Doubling Up:  You know what you want to make for supper tonight, but instead of making just one chicken pot pie, you're going to buy enough ingredients to make two.  You'll eat one tonight, but the other you will assemble and put in the freezer for another day.  Or perhaps you make more chili or soup than your family could possibly enjoy before it spoils (or they get sick of leftovers).  Pour some in freezer bags for later.  I do this all the time with Broccoli Cheddar soup and I store it in individual servings.  It makes an easy lunch to pull out one and serve it with a sandwich.

This method is a slow, but steady way to build up a freezer full of meals.  On the positive side, it won't be a financial burden to buy just a little more each week (rather than 30 days worth of food at once).

2. Mini Sessions:  You see that boneless, skinless chicken breasts are on sale at a fabulous price so you pick up several pounds worth.   You scan through your recipes for those calling for chicken breasts or cooked/chopped chicken and plan to assemble 5-10 chicken recipes on Saturday afternoon.  This is sometimes called cooking by protein type or loss leaders.  To help plan for this method I developed my own Recipe Organizer pages.  There's a specific column to mark freezable dishes.

Recipe Organizer Printable

The benefits here are financial savings.  If you only buy what's on sale and you stock up enough to last till the next sale you'll be set.  A disadvantage is that until you go through a cycle of meat sales you may have a freezer full of chicken dishes and everyone wants beef. 

I suppose a mini-session could be just a batch of 4-6 recipes of various meats as well.  The book Once a Month Cooking offers two-week plans in addition to 30 day plans.

3. Big Batch Cooking:  You've got on your most comfortable shoes.  The kids are staying at grandma's house.  And your not leaving the kitchen until you've put up 30 dinners or more.  One shopping trip, one assembly day, and you don't have to do it again until next month.  The originators of 30 Day Gourmet used to assemble 75-80 entrees every three months.  The key to this method is planning, planning planning.  (I'll confess I've never done 30 meals, but I have done 14).

The More the Merrier or Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth

Your next decision will be whether you want to tackle this alone or work with a friend/relative/neighbor.  Up until this year I've always done freezer cooking alone.  I could start when I wanted to, work in the order I wanted to, spice the food as I wanted to.  Recently though, my mother moved down the road from me and we did a mini session together.  We still got the work done, but it didn't seem so tedious with someone to talk to. 

She could be washing dishes (a task she doesn't mind) while I was assembling something else.  We could both tackle a mountain of onions that needed chopping rather than me doing it alone.  If your a freezer cooking newbie, you might want the safety net of someone who has a few assembly days under her belt. Two cooks can mean two crock pots or an extra set of measuring tools so you don't have to stop and wash as frequently.

On the other hand, if you work with someone else you'll need to figure out a way to divide the costs, and the tasks.  One person will have to be willing to haul her bowls and tools to the other's house.  If you decide to each make 10 dishes and split them with each other, you'll have to put up with the other's taste in spices.  The work load goes down the more people work together, but the complications may go up.


Gather Your Tools

If you have the equipment needed to fix dinner in you house, you have all the tools necessary to fix freezer meals. 
  • Large bowls
  • Measuring Cups and Spoons
  • Kitchen timers
  • Hand held or stand mixer
  • Freezer bags or hard-sided containers

If you're planning to cooking the Big Batch method,  there are a few items that can greatly increase your efficiency.  If you have a birthday, anniversary, or Christmas is coming up you might suggest someone get you--

  • A food processor to help with the chopping
  • An electric can opener (trust me, you'll be opening a lot of cream of whatever cans)
  • A second set of measuring tools
  • A vacuum sealer
  • A professional chef's mat to stand on
Clean out your fridge & freezer

I would strongly advise you NOT to shop for ingredients on Assembly day.  It will just delay your start and make the day seem that much longer.  This means you'll need space to store perishables in your fridge at least overnight.  After assembling the dishes you'll want to space them to allow the freezer to work efficiently (after they're frozen you can stack bags/containers to make room for the ice cube trays and store-bought frozens).  So the week before an assembly day is the time to use up leftovers, defrost the freezer, etc.  I'm fortunate to have a second fridge/freezer downstairs so I can devote one to holding assembly day perishables and really spread out my dishes for freezing.

Check your staples

When reviewing your recipes and writing grocery lists don't assume that you have enough of any ingredient just because its a staple in your pantry.  Count how many cans of tomato paste are in the cabinet.  Peer into the spice canisters to see if there's enough oregano.  There's no bigger train wreck on assembly day than discovering the egg carton really only has 4 eggs left instead of a dozen .  If you have teenagers that forage for themselves in the kitchen you might want to put colored stickers on cans that you're saving for assembly day.  Let them know that red dots mean off limits.

From The Big Book of Freezer Cooking

Are you feeling motivated yet?  Take some time to decide if your going to assemble alone or with others.  Will you fill your freezer gradually or do one big batch of freezer meals?  Evaluate your kitchen equipment and see if you've got the necessary tools on hand.  Now, what will you prepare?  We'll talk about that tomorrow with Finding Recipes in our 5 Days of Freezer Cooking.   Don't forget to follow Ozark Ramblings by one of the methods to the right.

There are plenty of other "5 Days of..." blogs to check out!  Just click below.



Vickie said...

Pros and cons to preparation day. Good points on both sides.

In some ways, this would be a good way to teach teens to cook. If we are making several of the same dish, each child could be making and assembling a dish. While they'll go in the freezer, the whole lesson this there.

Hmmm.....wheels are turning here. Keep the ideas coming.

Jenn said...

Wow, I need to do this. Love the advice to not cram the entire process into one day. It's sad how exhausting the shopping can be.

Joelle A. said...

Thanks for this. I need motivation to do this. I keep hearing about it for the past 2 years, but still have not gotten myself to do it. I appreciated your post!

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