Friday, February 20, 2009

The Basics

When I began freezer cooking, the first thing I did was buy a bunch of glass baking dishes. Most of the recipes I freeze are some sort of casserole that I bake in pyrex glass dishes. Since I was cooking for just my husband and myself in the beginning, I bought about 20 (yes, 20!) 6 cup pyrex baking dishes, like these, to start with. Then any casserole type dish that I made that required a 9x13 baking dish, I put into 2 of these. They measure 6x9 and worked nicely for this purpose. When I bought mine, I found a better deal than what I linked to. I bought several at the Corning Ware outlet store, which can be found in many outlet malls. I also found them in sets of 3 at Linen's and Things (which is now going out of business). I found 4 sets of 3 on clearance for $8 each at Wal-mart when they discontinued the set of 3. They now sell them in single dishes with a lid. When I realized how easy this was, I began to double the recipe and make 4 half-casseroles (baking one right then and freezing 3 for later). This worked out great for us. We could eat it for dinner and have leftovers the next day. After that, it was pretty much gone, and there was none wasted. And it didn't take forever, like planning an all day cooking session would. I also purchased a few pyrex dishes that were smaller, and I have 4 of the 9x13 sized dishes. Sometimes I make full sized casseroles for whenever I may want to invite friends over for dinner. It makes having a dinner party a breeze.

I also take shortcuts when it comes to cooking chicken. Sometimes I buy 2 of the largest packages I can find of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I rinse them in cold water and then layer them in a large crock pot with a little canola oil drizzled between layers. I add cold water until just covered and cook on low overnight. I usually start cooking around 11 PM and then stop cooking at 6 or 7 AM. They will be very tender and fall apart easily. I do this the night before I am planning to make something that requires chicken. I also do it whenever I want to freeze chicken for later use. If I am freezing cooked chicken for later use, I use quart sized ziploc freezer bags and freeze 2-3 chicken breasts per bag. This allows me to take out small portions later to use for a dish such as chicken salad or chicken rolls (recipes coming soon). If I want to cook a lot and have not planned ahead with cooking chicken the night before, I sometimes will buy 2 rotisseried chickens at the grocery store and skin and debone them for my recipe.

I do the same thing with ground beef, except I do not use the crock pot for this. I buy the largest package and cook it all at once. I drain the fat and rinse it with hot water to remove more fat. Then I freeze 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cooked ground beef per quart sized ziplock bag. One bag is perfect for throwing together spaghetti really fast.

Meats can be frozen twice: once in their raw state and once after you cook them. Every time you freeze food, water is lost from the food during the freezing process. The more times you freeze something, the worse it will taste later. It will develop an unpleasant texture. Food that is exposed to air in the freezer will do the same thing. This is freezer burn. Because of this, I try to buy meat that has never been frozen prior to purchase and then I try to come home and cook it as soon as I can without freezing it in the raw state first. This way, my meat only ever gets frozen once which is after it is cooked. Having precooked meat makes it easy to quickly put together a meal on a busy weeknight.

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