Friday, 16 May 2014

Freezer Cooking

 I love freezer cooking. It's a pretty basic concept, but the application is a little intensive.

Basically, you take some time, and prep a whole bunch of meals and put them in your freezer so when you want dinner, it's prepped and ready and just needs to be finished. Finishing varies on what recipes you do. I've done casseroles that just need to be popped in the oven for an hour or two, I've done barbecue meat that just needs to be thawed and grilled, but my favourite is slow cooker meals. You toss everything in a bag and then thaw it, dump in in your slow cooker and have dinner! Or, put it in a strategically sized container before freezing and then dump the frozen dinner in your slow cooker.

I haven't done this gluten-free, but I did do it a few times a few years ago. I always had a hard time getting all the groceries - it would take me a few days to find everything, and then I had to set aside an entire Saturday to do it all. I'm not sure how exactly I did things differently this time, but it worked a lot smoother.

I figured out what meals I wanted to make, made a combined list of groceries, went straight to the grocery store after work, got home around six, and by ten o'clock everything was in the freezer.

So. Step one: Lists. I browsed a few different blogs to find some recipes, and decided to stick with gluten-free slow cooker meals. I collected about ten different recipes, then read through them and picked my favourite five. I looked for meals with basic ingredients that I could find easily, and flavours that my husband would enjoy. I decided to make two batches of each of the five meals, meaning I would have ten meals. I made a combined list of all the ingredients I would need as well as a list of the five recipes I picked. You do not want to lose the recipes.

Step two: Shopping. I took my grocery list and hit the store right after work. The recipes I picked were all gluten-free and dairy-free, but they weren't necessarily natural. However, I somehow managed to make them completely natural. To explain, one of the recipes called for teriyaki sauce, another called for beef broth, but the gluten-free teriyaki sauce I found is also natural, and the only gluten-free beef bouillon cubes I could find were also natural (and vegan, hmm). Usually gluten-free recipes have other grain replacements, but the ones I used were made of meat, veggies and spices. I didn't plan this, but I am more than happy with it. It took me almost an hour of shopping, but I found (almost) everything*. All in all, I spent $159. That's about $16 for each meal, and considering each one will feed the two of us with plenty of leftovers, that's not bad. (Especially for natural, gluten-free, dairy-free meals!)

Step Three: Prep. Possibly the most daunting step of all, now the ingredients need to be put together. Some people will chop and prep all the veggies, then all the meat, etc, but I like to work one recipe at a time so I don't get confused. I pull out two freezer bags, label them with the recipe name and date, and then write the instructions on the bag (ex, add 1 cup of water and cook on low for 6 hours). Then I prep each item and dump half of it into each bag. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of celery, I find it easiest to chop two cups of celery and then halve it. Beautiful thing about cooking: Nothing needs to be exact. I added more chicken when it looked skimpy, I cut back on the onion because I don't like onion, and so on. And it will still turn out great!
So anyways, I worked from one recipe to the next, prepping each ingredient and dumping them into the bags. When I was done with a bag, I sealed it, shook it really well, pushed all the air out, sealed it again and layed it flat to freeze.

Step Four: Freeze. One of the biggest challenges for me was freezer space. I had to stop halfway through prep to clean out my freezer and rearrange everything.

Step Five: Cook. Easily the best step of all. All you need to do now is pull one of these bags out and put it in the fridge the night before. Day of, just follow directions on the bag. Some of them need to have ingredients added right before cooking, and a few of them will be served with rice or pasta, so there is a little bit of prep left, but it's pretty insignificant.

Now you have a healthy, natural, balanced meal for dinner, and you didn't have to go grocery shopping or dirty a whole bunch of dishes. Yay!

Oh, and something that I did (that I am proud of myself for) was that I kept a metal bowl next to my sink, and all the waste from the veggies went in it. All the peels, bad potatoes, seeds and stems went straight in this bowl. And when I was all done with all the meals, I ran the bowl out to my forgotten compost bin.

*There was one item I couldn't find, which I needed to go to a specialty store for, and forgot about, so when I cook that meal, I'll have to add it to the pot.

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