Cooking From Every Angle

Freezing Your Way to More Home Cooked Meals

By • January 9, 2012 • 73 Comments

 

lentil sausage

- Merrill

We've been saying we were going to do it for a couple of years now, and we finally did it. My husband and I bought a chest freezer. What on earth (you might ask) would possess a young couple living in a cramped New York apartment and expecting their first child to make such an outlandish purchase? After all, it's enough of a challenge to figure out where to store all of the baby gear without adding another large appliance to the mix.

Well, I've got news. The chest freezers of old, those massive, hulking objects reminiscent of Victorian-era steamer trunks, have been joined by a younger, sleeker breed. It was this stainless steel beauty that caught our eye last week and convinced us to finally take the plunge. It's nestled into a back corner of our dining room, where we plan to throw a tablecloth over it and add a vase of flowers or a bowl of fruit to complete the disguise.

Over the past ten days or so, I've been cooking up meals to fill our new freezer. It seems I'm not alone in this endeavor, so I thought I'd share a list of some of the recipes I've already made or am planning to make to tide us over when all my husband and I have time to focus on is changing diapers and stealing a few precious moments of sleep wherever we can. Whether you're expecting or just looking to stock your own freezer with great meals that reheat beautifully, this list should be helpful. And please feel free to make more suggestions -- I've still got a week!

Chicken Soupy Stew

Chicken Soupy

Pasta and Bean Soup

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with Sherry

butternut soup

Oliver Clark's Meatloaf

Slow-Cooked Pork Tacos (doubles as chili and taco filling!)

pork tacos

Weeknight Ragu (using pork breakfast sausage)

...which I then turned into lasagna.

Mashed Potatoes

mashed potatoes

...which I then turned into shepherd's pie, loosely following the Joy of Cooking recipe.

Lentil and Sausage Soup for a Cold Winter's Night (I used turkey sausage)

Lentil and Sausage Soup for a Cold Winter's Night

Pastitsio (using lamb and chicken sausage from Fleischer's, which just opened in my neighborhood)

pastitsio

Joan Nathan's Brisket with Sweet and Sour Sauce from the New York Times


Comments (73)

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over 2 years ago fudgefactor

My go-to freezer container is the quart sized ZipLock bag, especially for liquid, sauced, or soft food such as mashed potatoes. I turn out the bag edges to keep the zipper clean when filling the bag, fill the bag to the desired level, close the zipper except for one corner, then squeeze out the air and seal the bag. I freeze them flat on cookie sheets and then stack them once frozen.
They are great for soups and holds 2-3 servings nicely. If I'm in a hurry I stick a bag in the microwave for a coupe of minutes and then empty it into a saucepan to heat.
For sauces and pestos, I put in much smaller amounts into the bags, resulting in thin bags which defrost in minutes when laid on counter. Also, I roast pounds of tomatoes with onions, garlic, sometimes peppers, and put them in bags. They can be used as is or pureed for a sauce.
I roast potatoes, halve them, stack and freeze the skins for stuffing, mash and freeze the pulp unadulterated and you can use it for potato bread as is, or add milk, butter, whatever to use as a vegetable or savory pie topping. Same with sweet potato pulp, but here I discard the skins.
Too much stuff in the CSA box?: I blanch it and freeze it.
Vegetable scraps (including carrot tops) and peelings go into an ongoing gallon bag for stock. Bones into another bag.
Bread goes into gallon, or larger, bags. It's best defrosted at room temperature, though we frequently use the microwave on low power. When the kids were little I used to pre-slice loaf bread and just take off how ever many slices I needed. (I have always made all our bread.)
Unfrosted cakes and other baked goods freeze well - freeze individually wrapped pieces for family use and put them in gallon bags.
And those disposable/re-usable plastic containers are great for 2 servings of lasagna, casseroles, etc.
Flavored/compound butters freeze fabulously and are a great way of using excessing herbs. Just wrap them in plastic wrap and pop them into a bag.
Personally, I won't microwave anything in plastic beyond just getting it unfrozen enough to transfer to another container. Ideally, I get out what I need early enough for it to defrost in the refrigerator.
Label everything! Even when you are sure you will remember what it was!
I have two large freezers so keep a spreadsheet of most everything in them, except for bread. Now that it's on my iPad on the kitchen counter it's easy to keep up.
The chest freezer was a challenge to keep organized; The trays at the top are great for stacked ziplocks but I didn't want to use boxes below as they are heavy to move so I finally found some really inexpensive mesh bads on the Internet - like the sacks that bulk oranges come in. I tie long color-coded fluorescent tape labels to the pull ties on the bags - blue=beef, green= lamb, orange=fruit, etc., using permanent ink pens to write on the label "lamb chops", "berries", etc. It works well for me. (We live in a mountain town where food shopping is challenging, and entertain frequently, so buy a lot of stuff in bulk.)
Hope this helps. Good luck, Merrill. Enjoy motherhood and treasure every moment.

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about 1 year ago Alicia Van De Kop

I want to be you when I grow up...

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over 2 years ago parksgirl

It was almost exactly one year ago that I made Lentil and Sausage Soup for a Cold Winter's Night and put it in my freezer in preparation for the arrival of our son. I did my cooking three weeks before my due date and my guy decided to show up 2.5 weeks early so it was just in the nick of time too. I didn't have my bag for the hospital packed before I went into labor but I had my meals in the freezer.

BTW it ended up being my favorite thing that I froze AND it became my standard meal to take to new parents. Excellent choice! :)

I did my cooking three weeks prior to my due date and then my little guy decided to come 2.5 weeks early.

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over 2 years ago buddingtaste

Congratulations, Merrill! One bit of advice is to add more one-handed meals to the freezer stock - I found stuff like cut-in-half calzones, quiche (crustless quiche/frittata can be cut into small portions and frozen that way), burritos, and lasagne that you like to eat at room-temperature are all great options - you can load them with protein and veggies and eat them easily while nursing or otherwise juggling (not literally) your newborn. Also, soups that you can sip out of a mug are great - basically, anything that you can grab and eat sans utensils while still standing in front of the open fridge are life savers for the days when it's suddenly 3pm and you realize all you've eaten all day is a handful of almonds. Best of luck!

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over 2 years ago MsJoanie

In addition to lasagne, I freeze stuffed shells with sauce and mozzarella -- I make mine with turkey, artichokes and ricotta.
Muffins and quick breads like zucchini and banana bread (add chocolate chips for a nice treat) and par-baked scones and great. I also make freezer biscuits to bake off only a few at a time -- it's less up front prep. I also ALWAYS have butter and mini-baguettes in the freezer, it's the perfect way to fill out a meal of soup or to have with a big salad with some leftover meat on top (steak, chicken, salami chunks) and of course, just plain great to nosh with some cheese.
I also freeze tons of spaghetti sauce (plain and ragu) in meal-sized portions, along with recipe ready portions of stock (1 cup, 3 cups, etc.).
I cook a turkey every once in a while and then shred the meat and freeze for specific recipes, like cream of turkey soup with wild rice (3 cups meat, 3 cups stock x2).
Enchiladas also freeze really well.
As you move through the seasons, you'll also be able to freeze wonderful fresh purees for the baby -- you can make applesauce and squash purees right now.
And of course, sliced fruits like peaches and strawberries, and any whole berries freeze very well and the baby will love them, especially when teething begins :-)

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over 2 years ago WendieW

There's a product called Press & Seal Freezer that is great for storing cutlets and the like. Really protects against freezer burn. If I'm making turkey cutlets I bread a few extra and put them in the Press & Seal and then in plastic storage bags. Also good for collecting the chicken tenders from boneless breasts. I save them up until I have enough for a stir fry.

And there is a new app, Freezer+, that helps you keep track of your stored food. No more "now when did I put this in here?"

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over 2 years ago Eve Fox

Congrats on the baby to be! My husband and I did the same thing before our son was born a few years back and I can't say enough good things about chest freezers. A few more ideas for you that have worked well for us: quiches (broccoli, cheddar, ham, bacon, etc.) - they reheat nicely, if you don't can your own tomato sauce, it's great to make a bunch of good sauce (including meat which is tricky to can but fine to freeze) to freeze and just defrost one at a time to turn plain old pasta into something special (we freeze that in yogurt containers), lassagna is great - we've started freezing in family-sized portions instead of having to defrost a whole pan at once, good veggie or meat-laden chili, or just plain old black bean soup - all so good. Oh and congrats also on having Fleishers nearby - such a wonderful store! We live in upstate NY and go to the original one in Kingston often.

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over 2 years ago susan g

So many excellent suggestions, but a comment from my experience -- you will be a mother, a new mother, but you will still be Merrill. My hunch is that you will find cooking from scratch very rewarding during the transition period when everything with Baby is new. I kept cooking and baking my own bread through the newborn days, sometimes holding a crying baby as I stirred. (Maybe that was unwise.) One of the delights of breastfeeding was that I had a free hand to hold a book (or lunch). That's how I read the Time-Life Foods of the World books as they came out. You and your husband still have to eat, but keep it simple and enjoyable. Enjoy this special time!

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over 2 years ago susan g

So many excellent suggestions, but a comment from my experience -- you will be a mother, a new mother, but you will still be Merrill. My hunch is that you will find cooking from scratch very rewarding during the transition period when everything with Baby is new. I kept cooking and baking my own bread through the newborn days, sometimes holding a crying baby as I stirred. (Maybe that was unwise.) One of the delights of breastfeeding was that I had a free hand to hold a book (or lunch). That's how I read the Time-Life Foods of the World books as they came out. You and your husband still have to eat, but keep it simple and enjoyable. Enjoy this special time!

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over 2 years ago SandyLaFleur

Things to put in the freezer : Things YOU like to eat. Things that you can turn into something good to eat with little effort. Things that don't require you go to the market for something essential to make the dish. A lot of these tips you can use in winter even when you are not having a baby, but so there is something at home in case you are snow bound for a few days. Use the freezer for things that do well by freezing.

Frozen Bread. Bake it yourself, or buy your favorite whole grain from your favorite shop, and cut it in half. Wrap it as airtight as possible, and thaw without opening, or in the oven. Whole foods sells very good bread that is almost all baked, and I have it at home for when I run out. They have French, Ciabatta...rolls. Very easy, and I usually pick it up when I see it's on sale. Bread for sandwiches, already sliced can go in there or in the refrigerator. You can always have bread pudding if it starts to look stale.

Cooked pasta meals in the sauce already. When we are talking about frozen meals, we are talking, "What freezes well?" You can pre cook pasta and freeze the extras just as they are but the frost will get them after a while. The sauce makes them into a lump that freezes better.
When you heat this up, add fresh sauce from the pantry. Microwave it, then finish it under your broiler, convection oven...dry heat to give it just baked taste.

You can save leftovers, especially beef and chili type things, and serve them in a tortilla with fresh veggies chopped on top. Yup, dad has to bring those things home, or you and baby have to go on a field trip to the market. Get cheese if you like. Sad but true, melted cheese makes the worst meal just a little more palatable.

The soup, the lady mentioned above. Beef stew into beef soup. You need beef broth in the pantry, and celery, onions, garlic, carrots, frozen mixed veggies. You can float leftover pasta in it or rice, or, if you eat this kind of thing, a scoop of mashed potatoes smiling up at you. Short ribs of beef, roast beef dinner, steak, even meatballs, make a great treat in your soup, as long as you have something that tastes like real beef stock. Bring out the flavors, if it is flavorless, with, sea salt, soy sauce, marsala wine, canned tomatoes/diced fresh tomato, shallots, garlic. Use the salt carefully until it tastes right. Use pepper before you serve it.

In your freezer, you should have all your favorite treats from Trader Joes. The petite peas, the french style green beans, the leeks, and the treats you like, like a pizza or burrito choice.
If you eat these things get hubby to make a salad for you. And of course, a few sweets from Trader Joes go well after a blah dinner, if it turns out badly. Perhaps you have another store that has frozen things?

Reheating frozen foods can be a challenge if they are in a block of ice. If you planned ahead you might thaw things in the freezer, but I would suggest, freezing some of your things in the shape of your casserole dish. You will have to put the plastic wrap in the casserole dish, and freeze it , and then take it out and put it in something else, like a zip lock bag. Or else freeze things loosely and then put them together. That is how I freeze chicken breasts, so I can take out how many I need.

Fish. Some fish is ok to eat after it has been frozen. We, on the east coast think this is nuts, and even have a hard time with frozen salmon. Cook thawed frozen fish only for a minimum time. Buy frozen fish that you actually like, and know what to do with. Some things fishy that are good frozen, are clam chowder, shrimp, cooked lobster, and maybe you might like to do something with tuna. Frozen seared tuna is not bad on a salad. Frozen salmon can make a nice salmon cake, or just buy the salmon cake already frozen. We like that salmon cake on a bun with lettuce and mayo.

Freeze raw meat when you see it on sale, buy two. Pot roast, chicken breast, whole chickens, a boneless turkey roast. These things thaw out and cook nicely, and taste just like they were fresh from the store. Use your big cast iron pot, and salt your meat, brown it a tiny bit and then roast it, add what ever you have, or just an onion or garlic. Put the cover on and forget it for some hours. Very easy. Frozen ground turkey can be turned into fabulous turkey meatloaves, but you have to remember to thaw the meat. I will post my turkey meatloaf recipe on my page here.

4 x 4 chunks of lasagne, freeze exceptionally well, freeze them cut apart on a cookie sheet, then wrap them individually. You want easy servings. Raviolis, even the refrigerator style ones from the super market go nice in the freezer. Gnocchi. Stuffed shells, manicotti.

Sausages, including chicken sausage freeze well raw. They microwave and stir up in a pan or broil up in minutes (with vegetables if you have them.) You can make a bolognese sauce by thawing the meat you put away in your freezer, and stirring in sauce....and that same ground meat...turkey, beef, chicken, can make a taco. You cannot always expect The Works with your taco, just settle for cheese, tomato, lettuce or one of these...all from some frozen meat.

Think about nutrition, and getting your fresh vegetables and fruits, and put some effort into that. Those are the things, salad and fruits that you cannot freeze and you need to get at the store.

Any easy meal for moms everywhere: The chicken roasted at the store and carried home by dad.
No freezer needed, throw the mess away. This take out meal does not cost what restaurant meals cost. Whole Foods where I live, even has chicken without salt or flavors.

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over 2 years ago Mamak

Although I don't live in New York, my freezer, canner and food saver are must have's for me.

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over 2 years ago Mamak

Although I don't live in New York, my freezer, canner and food saver are must have's for me.

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over 2 years ago fayehess

That is a brilliant idea. I ate bowl after bowl of cereal after I had my baby. best of luck with the baby, Faye

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over 2 years ago avimom

I actually found myself making a whole loaf of bread into PB&J sandwiches and freezing them individually...as insurance for those days when I wouldn't have eaten at all if there wasn't a pre-made sandwich (super colicky baby + sleep deprivation + first-time mom = frozen sandwich for lunch). As well as those times, as lastnightsdinner says, when nursing leaves you famished. You'll also find the chest freezer is great for storing breastmilk! You won't be sorry you bought it. Congrats!

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over 2 years ago orlenda

do you just set it out on the counter to thaw then?

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over 2 years ago orlenda

do you just set it out on the counter to thaw then?

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over 2 years ago CampingCookWY

I buy bulk tomatoes and break them down for sauces, then I have vats of homemade (meatless) tomato sauce around for pasta, sloppy joes, lasagna, you name it.

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over 2 years ago CampingCookWY

I buy bulk tomatoes and break them down for sauces, then I have vats of homemade (meatless) tomato sauce around for pasta, sloppy joes, lasagna, you name it.

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over 2 years ago Christine Hardy Leaf

One of the best things I had done for my cooking self was getting a small chest freezer. It is in the coat closet, had a plug moved in there.
All the suggestions have been great. Just remember to label. I have zip locked bags with white stuff, is it mashed potato and parsnips or sake lees? Use the baskets that come with it. I find my self freezer diving all the times. Lots of mystery things.
Congratulations and have a healthy birth. This is going to be one of the most blissful times for you and your little family. Enjoy.

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over 2 years ago Robin O'D

Might want add some cookie dough to the stash of that great looking freezer. Don't underestimate the power of a peanut butter cookie in the middle of the night with a big glass of milk.

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over 2 years ago Droplet

If you happen to like beets, I was going to suggest some Cream of Beet soup as well. Beets are at their best now and will give plenty of iron that most moms and babies really need. They also help the liver detox effectively, which is believed to be a factor in reducing the amount of colic baby has.

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over 2 years ago fayehess

thank you for this! I have been trying to think of iron sources and never thought of beets.

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over 2 years ago lastnightsdinner

Waverly and betsykp bring up a good point for nursing moms to pay attention to. My little guy seems to have inherited my iron stomach, so nothing I eat seems to bother him, but it can't hurt to err on the side of caution, especially at first :) And I don't know about anyone else, but I had no idea how hungry nursing would make me - like, ravenously so. And thirsty! I guzzled glasses of water as quickly as my husband could get them to me when we were starting out, and I still need to have snacks on hand throughout the day. You've heard people say "sleep when the baby sleeps"? For me it's more like "eat when the baby eats"!

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over 2 years ago Waverly

Well, this a very informative thread re. freezing food. I will add my 2 cents - bread. Freeze bread - any kind. It won't mold and it tastes just fine (not as good as fresh, of course). My only other comment would be that nursing mothers should be careful at first what they eat - you might not be thinking about that now, but read up on foods that might upset a newborn. Their systems are not well-developed and while with some you can eat whatever you like, others do not do as well.
Last of all, Merrill, parenthood is an amazing and life transforming experience. When you hold your baby for the first time and look into its eyes, you will know what life is all about.