I live in the South (the American South, for those of you who are tuning in from around the world) and in the South it is somewhat commonplace to have a deep freezer.  It might be in the garage or on the back terrace, or maybe in the utility room-- but it's rarely in the house.  If you are getting ready to Google "deep freezer" because you don't know what I'm talking about, it's a separate freezer unit that gets much colder than the freezer in a typical refrigerator/freezer combo does.  This allows frozen foods to keep much longer.

However, I didn't have my own deep freezer until a couple years ago.  Up until then, all I had was the rather small freezer attached to my refrigerator.  The problem that I ran into a lot was that many of the "freezer cooking" guides that I saw online required a lot more freezer space than I had.  Once a month cooking?  Not gonna happen.

So I had to get a little creative in order to utilize the space more effectively.  If you're in the same situation, you may find it difficult to follow along if your Christmas Planning Guide requires doing a lot of cooking ahead and freezing.  Here are a few tips on maximizing your freezer space that I've gathered and learned throughout the years.

Freeze Prepped Ingredients

Keep an eye on the sales at the grocery store, especially on meat.  I like to buy bone-in chicken, poach it, shred it, and freeze it in two-cup amounts (two cups is usually what my recipes call for-- you may want to do more or less).  When you need it, you can thaw out the amount you need and assemble a recipe much quicker.  The same goes for ground beef-- you can brown it before you freeze it and use it later for tacos, casseroles, soup, or whatever.   And the good news is that they won't take up much space, because you can freeze them in bags and lay them flat. 

I've seen a ton of recipes on Pinterest for putting meat and vegetables together in a gallon bag that you can freeze and later throw together in the crockpot.  I can't personally vouch for any of those because I've never tried them.  I would probably try the recipe once first to see if it was something my family liked, rather than invest a lot of time and money into untried recipes.  But you're welcome to do whatever makes you happy.

Freeze Fillings, Sauces and Soups

If you have a favorite recipe for a casserole, enchiladas, or quesadillas (to name a few), the next time you cook it, make twice the filling amount and freeze half for later.  For instance, I might make enough chicken pot pie filling to make two pies, but it doesn't really freeze well with the crust on.  Plus a casserole takes up a lot of space in a small freezer.  So instead, freeze the extra filling in a quart or gallon bag.  Then you can thaw the filling, put it in a casserole dish, make the crust, and voila-- super easy and fast dinner. 

Quesadillas are even easier, because you can thaw the filling, slap it in between a couple tortillas, toast it in a frying pan and call it dinner.  Enchiladas take a little more work to assemble, but having the filling prepped and ready is still a huge time saver.

My husband hails from an Italian family and he makes a fantastic marinara sauce.  Whenever he makes it, he makes a ton so that we can freeze several containers of it.  We used to use glass jars, but we had a few accidents with not leaving enough "breathing room" in the jar for the sauce to expand as it froze.  And nobody wants shards of glass in their spaghetti.  Then I found some plastic containers by Ball that are specifically for freezing.  They even have the measurements printed on the outside of the container so you know exactly how much is in each one.  Now whenever we want a quick and easy dinner, we just thaw a jar, boil some pasta, and dinner is done.  Make a green salad to go with it if you're feeling extra industrious.

Most soups freeze well, as long as they don't contain pasta.  If they do contain pasta, make the soup base and freeze it without the pasta, then add it later when reheating.  I usually do this even if I'm not freezing it, because if you want it for leftovers the next day, the pasta will suck up the moisture in the soup overnight.  That's no fun. 

Freeze in Foil

If you do want to freeze a whole casserole, instead of freezing in disposable aluminum pans, line a casserole dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil.  Make sure you leave enough extra on the sides to wrap up around the top of the casserole.  Assemble your casserole on top of the aluminum foil, then put the whole thing in the freezer for a couple of hours.  You can then pull the casserole out of the dish by the aluminum foil and wrap the foil around it to protect it from freezer burn.  You may even want to add a layer of Saran Wrap around the outside.  When you're ready to cook it, take the frozen casserole (remove the plastic wrap first) and put it back in the dish you froze it in.  Then you can thaw it and cook it right in the aluminum foil.  (Easier clean up, too!)

I like this method because a.) aluminum foil is less expensive than individual aluminum pans, and b.) the individually frozen casseroles stack more neatly in a small freezer, whereas casseroles in aluminum pans might collapse on top of each other.

Lastly, here are a few common-sense tips for freezer cooking:
  • Label everything with the contents, date frozen, amounts (if you're freezing ingredients), and any cooking instructions.  You'll thank yourself later.
  • Organize your freezer shelf-by-shelf so that you can find things more easily later.  Put vegetables on one shelf, meats on another, breakfast items together, etc.  Do it however it makes the most sense to you.
  • If you're freezing ingredients, keep everything you need for each recipe together.
  • Cheese freezes well as long as it's already shredded.  Whole blocks of cheese will crumble when they thaw.
What are your favorite freezer cooking tips?



Post a Comment