So this is the first part of my freezer cooking series, where I’ll share all of my best tips and recipes, etc. I’ve done freezer cooking for about 7 years now, and I use many different methods, and cookbooks. The important part is to find your groove, and know that it’s not an all or nothing deal. Freezer cooking for you might just mean that you make 2 meatloaves instead of one, and stick one in the freezer for a later date. That’s not too intimidating, is it?
My family is growing to the size that I need to do freezer cooking on a fairly big scale, but it’s also to the point where I don’t have a day once a month to devote solely to cooking for that month. I did “Once A Month Cooking” and we found it lacked the variety my family leaves, and it would take me days to recover! My pace is now “Once a Week Cooking” or if I’m ambitious “Twice a Week Cooking.” I still like cooking food fresh, without the freezer element, but I like having something ready to go for those crazy days.
First, I think I should go over what sort of equipment you’ll need to start.
Freezer This may seem like a no-brainer. If all you have is the freezer that’s attached to your fridge, that’s fine. It’s not ideal, but it will work on a smaller scale. What I don’t like about the freezer on my fridge is it doesn’t get as cold, and it’s opened more often. (It’s where the good ice cream goes!) Right now our family has a separate chest freezer, and a separate upright freezer. I love them both because they each have their own strengths. When looking to get a freezer, consider a few things:
–Chest freezers are the best value as far as it will keep your food good longer than an upright. You’ll get less of the freezer-taste for long term things. It’s more energy efficient. The con is simply it’s really hard to keep organized and it’s really easy to loose food in there. In my chest freezer, I keep all the meat, bags of vegis from the garden, blocks of butter, bags of cheese, chocolate chips, and most goodies. It also doubles as a great cutting table in my craft room.
–Upright freezers are really nice because you can organize it, and you have shelves. Shelves are awesome to have in the freezer. Many times I freeze something on a cookie sheet, and once it’s frozen I’ll transfer to some container. It’s nice to have a flat surface to put a cookie sheet. I also freeze my broth and soups flat so they store in the freezer nicely, and this is a great place to do that. When we got this freezer, we were told that although the anti-frost feature is tempting, it provides more air movement than the freezer that will frost in the inside. That air movement is going to add to the freezer-taste in your food, so you shouldn’t keep it in there as long. In this freezer, I keep most of my ready-made meals, frozen quick breads (banana bread, pumpkin bread, etc) for snacks, frozen broth, frozen roasted tomato paste, frozen pies, and vegetable overflow from the chest freezer when my garden gets a bumper crop.
Really Big Bowl (Affectionately known in this house as the “RBB.”) One of the best purchases I’ve ever made was a huge stainless steel bowl. I can mix 6 meatloaves in that baby. It was about $25, and worth every penny.
Really Big Pot My pots and pans set came with a stock pot that was an 8qt size. That was a good size for us for some time. I can fit most things in there, and I prefer it as a stock pot because it’s a good quality and heats really evenly. However, as I said our family eats more, we invested in a 16qt stock pot. I think ours was somewhere around $40-60. This thing is huge. The quality isn’t quite the same, but it works. It should at least be stainless steel with an aluminum or copper core base so it has even heating at least in the bottom. Do not get non-stick. You’ll be primarily making soups in here, and you’ll want some stick to it. Having an 8qt stock pot on hand is still very handy in addition to the 16qt. You’ll want a really long wooden spoon to go with this tall stockpot too.
2 Sets of Measuring Spoons/Cups I’ve found that when I’m doing a big bulk of cooking, it’s nice to have one set of measuring things for the dry ingredients, and one set for the wet ingredients. When I’m scooping out salt and baking powder and sugar, for one recipe, I rarely wash inbetween each of those dry ingredients. However, if I measure out some oil, you have to wash it before you go back and get some more sugar. It just makes the process go faster. For cups, I use flat individual cups for measuring dry ingredients, and large glass measuring cups like Pyrex with several measurements marked for the wet ingredients.
Freezer Bags The most common sizes I use are 1 gallon and 1 quart. It is essential you actually buy the ones labeled “Freezer Bag” as they will keep the food fresher months longer. You’ll need a Sharpie marker too.
9×13 Glass Baking Pans These are also essential for freezer cooking. You do not want to freeze any pans with non-stick coating on them because it will ruin your coating and it will flake into your food. I’m building up my collection of these and just purchased my 7th one. It really feels like you can never have enough of these with freezer cooking. Anything in here will have to be thawed before put in the oven, of course. Never put a glass baking dish from the freezer to the oven. I just thought I should add in that bit of wisdom.
If you intend to give away some of your freezer dishes to those in need of a meal, I suggest that you buy some disposable 9×13 pans. Disposable are no good to me personally, because way out here on the farm where disposing of trash is expensive, and we recycle everything. So if I make a lasagna in a disposable pan, I still have to wash it out well before we recycle it. I hate washing those things. It is nice for the fact that you don’t have to return them to people.
Large Stainless Steel Jelly Roll Pan I know these often come in non-stick, but I use my to freeze garden produce like peas separately, or freeze flat bags of broth. Non-stick and freezers don’t work well together. For those who don’t know what a Jelly Roll Pan is, it’s a cookie sheet with about a 1″ lip around the edge.
A Quality Chopping Knife Cooking days get long when you have a dull, uncomfortable knife. Make sure you have at least one that you really love and is really sharp. It makes the day soooo much easier.
Comfortable Shoes I know this isn’t a kitchen item. However, I want to point out that while I go barefoot most days, if I’m doing some serious cooking I put on my running shoes along with my apron . You should too. It will give you the endurance and energy to get lots done. Every time I forget the shoes, I burn out early. To me, this is as important as anything.
That’s all I can think of as essential tools that may not be in every kitchen. For those of you who do lots of freezer cooking, comment on anything that I might have missed. Next week I’ll post about what sorts of items and recipes freeze well. What sorts of things can you buy in bulk when they are on sale for when you have time to do some freezer cooking, and how long you should keep different types of food in the freezer before they “go bad.”