Little known fact: my freezer is an excellent cook. I mean, no one’s awarded my house any Michelin stars on the freezer’s behalf, but it does a darn good job in a pinch. And by pinch, I mean that day when you’ve returned from watching the Boston Marathon (which was awesome) with your massively-melting-down 4-year-old (less awesome) late in the afternoon and haven’t yet had lunch.
Have any of those days (or similar, since that marathon thing happens only once a year)? Then behold, Chef Freezer:
The freezer can save you time and money in the kitchen in myriad ways; I’m going to focus on prepared meals that freeze and reheat easily. (If you’re interested in freezing specific ingredients, Mark Bittman did a great write-up on the topic here) Have a too-big-for-just-one-meal recipe? Just stick those extra servings in the freezer. Know you’ve got The Week From Hell coming up with work/kids/travel/etc? Make meals ahead and stash them in the freezer. Got a ludicrous amount of produce from your garden, and can’t bear to eat zucchini bread for 8 days straight? Have a little now, freeze the rest for later.
Ok, yes, we get it. But how does theory turn into practice?
First, cook more than you’re going to eat now (imaginary leftovers would be a good band name, but a useless addition to your freezer). Personally, I don’t have time to dedicate to cooking something solely to freeze it, so I just make extra helpings when I’m already preparing today’s breakfast/lunch/dinner. Second, divvy up the servings into freezer-safe containers, and slap a quick label on. Third – and much later – thaw out what you want to eat by letting it sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours or using your microwave’s defrost setting, then warm it up & eat.
I’ve found that 90% of the meals I make can be frozen and reheated without a dent in their tastiness. I went through some of the recipes previously featured on ETW that fit into the general groups of Stuff That Freezes Well. “So you’re feeding us leftovers?” That was my friend’s reaction when I told him about this week’s theme. And, yes, I’m doing a bit of recycling with the recipe suggestions that follow, but there is one new recipe in the bunch. I mean, what kind of host would I be if I just plopped some reheated verbiage in front of you? So read on for a few ideas:
Side dishes. Things like mashed sweet potatoes, quinoa with black beans and corn (from All Recipes here), and baked beans can be frozen in a big batch or smaller side servings, then quickly reheated if you’ve got a main but nothing appealing to pair with it.
Pasta-and-stuff dishes. I frequently make the six-serving turkey and vegetable pasta bake (here) and freeze extras for later. I don’t go to all this effort for just “pasta with sauce,” but if I’m going to be working with several ingredients in a big baking dish, I like to freeze and extend the dish. Sunchoke mac & cheese is another good option (from Cold Cereal and Toast here).
Soups. Seriously, can’t go wrong with these. And who’s making just a few servings of soup from scratch? No one, so you know you’ll have plenty left to freeze. Some favorites include butternut chipotle soup (from The Savory Notebook here), vegetable pasta soup from Souper Week, pumpkin apple soup (from Eating Well here), and this Italian sausage and kale soup that I worked up recently (recipe follows below):
Casseroles. This just narrowly escapes being in the same group as pasta-with-stuff; here, I’m thinking about things like nutty rice casserole from Weird Attachment to my Baking Dish Week.
Breakfast breads. Muffins, sweet breads and similar all hold up pretty well to freezing, and they thaw out super quick on your countertop or with a quick zap in the microwave. Try it with sweet potato bread I featured in Sweet Potato Week or these pumpkin carrot muffins (from Money Saving Mom here).
Ok, you’ve been patient through the parade of leftovers, so here’s that Italian sausage and kale soup I mentioned. And if you’d like some more freezable meal ideas, the Budget Dietitian had a great post on that topic here.
Italian sausage and kale soup (text file here)
This simple soup is hearty and tasty. Mr. Eating the Week eats it with grated cheese on top; I like mine as-is.
(4 serving, approx. 320 calories)
½ pound sweet Italian sausage (2-3 links), sliced into bite-size pieces
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½-1 large onion, red or white, chopped
3 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 15-oz can of Italian-style stewed tomatoes
1-2 carrots, peeled and sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 bay leaf
1 tsp olive oil
1 zucchini, chopped
1 bunch of kale, ribs removed, roughly chopped
In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Add the onion and garlic, cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the sausage and cook until browned (5-7 minutes).
Add broth, tomatoes, carrots, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
Add zucchini and simmer for 10 minutes. Add kale and simmer for 5 more minutes.
Take the Dutch oven off heat and remove the bay leaf. Scoop the soup into bowls (or freezable containers!) and serve.