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Freezer cooking has never been so easy, fun, and totally delicious. From Freezer to Table is the ultimate guidebook for transforming the way your family cooks, eats, and freezes. The chapters are packed with freezer cooking basics, practical tips for Freezer Cooking Parties and Freezer Clubs, and plenty of motivation and tools to make freezer cooking second nature. With more than 75 simple, family-friendly recipes—all made from whole food ingredients—this book shows how you can stock your freezer with favorites like Mixed Berry Oat Scones, Parmesan and Herb Chicken Tenders, and slow-cooker Killer Carnitas.
Prepare to reclaim your kitchen from processed foods, all while saving your wallet, your waistline, and your time! With a freezer full of the easy dishes in this book, you can enjoy tasty, stress-free meals around the table with those you love, even on your busiest days.
Sample recipes include:
Breakfast: Blueberry Avocado Muffins with Lemon Streusel Topping, Peaches and Cream Baked Oatmeal, Southwest Breakfast Burritos
Chicken: Chicken Parmesan Casserole, Individual Chicken Pot Pies, Sheet Pan Lemon-Garlic Chicken and Veggies
Congratulations on taking your first freezer cooking quiz ever! If you're like we once were, you noticed a few gaps in your freezer cooking knowledge. No prob. As self-proclaimed (and tongue-in-cheek!) "freezer cooking evangelists," we're passionate about resourcing you for this lifestyle change that will benefit you and your family over the long haul. In this section, we'll quickly motivate and set you up for success before you dive into filling that cold chest, addressing questions like: What are the advantages of freezer cooking? How should you freeze and thaw meals? What foods should you avoid freezing? How long can you freeze foods? Do I need a deep freezer?
FREEZER COOKINGPART Y: A one-time event where a group gathers together to cook, assemble, and package a variety of freezer meals.
FREEZER CLUB: An ongoing small group of friends who commit to regularly cooking freezer-friendly meals for one another. Members prepare recipes at home on their own time and then swap at a meeting. We'll also equip you with two ways to share the freezer stocking load with friends, both at one-time Freezer Cooking Parties and in an ongoing Freezer Club. Learning to freezer cook on our own and with friends has positively transformed how we prepare food, shop, eat, and spend our time and money. We think this lifestyle shift will do the same for you, too. Let's get started on a change you won't regret!
A Deep Dive into the Cold Chest
Freezer cooking pays off over time, but there is a little bit of a learning curve. That's why, in this chapter, we're aiming to motivate you with the big picture of this lifestyle. Then, we'll walk you through six essential steps to making successful freezer meals, as well as address all your burning questions. From the very basics to the very specific, we are diving in and sharing everything we know.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF FREEZER COOKING?
As we mentioned in our own stories in the introduction, freezer cooking can help you and your family in so many ways. Wow, isn't it motivating to know that it provides all of the following benefits?
1. Saves money because you'll be buying in bulk and eating at home. It's no secret that when you buy food in bulk quantities, it is usually cheaper. By planning your meals, especially in a Freezer Club (see page 25), and cooking in large quantities, you'll see your grocery bill go down significantly. We've found that when we cook this way, a four-serving meal tends to cost around $8 to $12 depending on the ingredients needed. This translates to about $2 to $3 per person for a wholesome, healthy meal. Plus, having ready-to-go meals within reach reduces the temptation to spend cash eating out. Who needs to wait for takeout when you have Turkey Pesto Paninis or Parmesan and Herb Chicken Tenders in the freezer, just a few minutes away from being piping hot?
2. Cuts down on prep and cooking time, leaving you with more freedom torelax and spend time with loved ones. Let's be honest. Cooking a well-rounded, healthy dinner every night is a daunting task for anyone. Deciding what to make, shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up can sap the last bit of physical and mental energy you have after a long day. Add a few tired, grumpy kids to the mix, and the dinner hour can be quite a challenge. By having meals that you doubled from a previous meal or made with a group of friends (see Chapters 2 and 3) ready to go in the freezer, you'll cut down on all those extra little trips to the store during the week. Even more importantly, you'll reduce your prep, cooking, and cleanup time regularly, leaving weeknights freer to relax, spend time with your family, exercise, enjoy hobbies, or whatever else has been crowded out of your life by the daily cooking grind!
3. Provides a wide variety of wholesome, nutrient-dense meals to help youeat more healthfully. Freezer cooking, especially using the recipes in this book, makes homemade food full of real, wholesome ingredients readily available. We believe eating a healthy diet means consuming a variety of whole foods, ones that are closest to their natural state. Through research and our own experience, we've learned that when we consume real food-with an emphasis on lots of produce, whole grains, organic or local meats and dairy, wild- caught seafood, and healthy fats-our bodies tend to do what they are supposed to do. We have more energy, sleep better, avoid headaches and stomachaches, and feel comfortably full and stop from overeating more easily. Whole foods are the fuel our bodies are made to run on. The good news is that freezer cooking can help you eat more whole foods in two main ways. First, cooking from scratch allows you to control what goes into your food, thus avoiding loads of extra sodium, sugar, unhealthy fats, preservatives, additives, and food dyes that are packed into fast food and other processed, store-bought foods. Second, freezer cooking also means you will have nutritious, easy-to-prepare meals at your fingertips all the time, which results in fewer fast-food runs or prepackaged meal purchases. Once you learn how easy it is to stock your freezer, your family will be well on their way to eating a wide range of nutritious foods every day.
4. Allows you to always have meals on hand to take to a friend in need. With freezer cooking, it's easy to have meals ready to go to take to new parents or others in need. Over the years, we have given many new moms, people in crisis, grandparents, college students, and even a man recently released from prison some extra freezer meals to bake or warm up at their convenience. With meals in the freezer, you can be that friend who shows up at someone's doorstep with a healthy dinner and a few words of encouragement. It's a simple act of caring and thoughtfulness that can make a bigger impact than you may realize. If you choose to freezer cook with friends, there are even more advantages to reap.
5. Expands your family's palette. It's easy to fall into a rut and make the same meals on a regular rotation, isn't it? A Freezer Cooking Party or Freezer Club allows you to experience different kinds of cuisines, flavors, and ingredients that you may not normally prepare at home. This has been a great palate-expanding experience for our children (and husbands!). Even better, it has also allowed us to get more nutritional variety into our bodies and the bodies of our families.
6. Helps you become a better cook. Among other things, freezer cooking with friends can stretch you as a home cook. It has forced us to try our hand at all kinds of new recipes. As a result, our recipe repertoire and cooking skills have grown beyond anything we could have accomplished on our own. It's almost like taking a cooking class with your friends, but at the end you all leave as savvier, more experienced cooks with stocked freezers!
7. It's fun. Last and certainly not least, we think freezer cooking with our friends is simply fun! At our Freezer Club meetings and Freezer Cooking Parties, we often have coffee, wine, snacks, and a great time hanging out together. To top it all off, you get to come home and fill your freezer to the brim with already-prepared healthy meals. It's the perfect night out, if you ask us!
WHAT ARE THE STEPS TO SUCCESSFULLY FREEZING MEALS?
Freezer cooking isn't especially hard, but there are a few keys to success. To get the tastiest results, keep these six simple steps in mind.
Use high-quality fresh ingredients that stand up well to freezing andthawing.
Rule #1 of freezer cooking is that what you put in is what you get out. Be sure to select only the freshest, high-quality foods to use in your freezer meals. If an ingredient didn't taste good to begin with, it certainly won't be better after freezing. Also keep in mind that some foods freeze and thaw much better than others. While it's safe to freeze most foods, the texture and taste of some are extremely compromised after being frozen and thawed, as the box on page 5 shows. Additionally, seasoning and spices can tend to get stronger when they sit in the freezer in a meal. Season lightly before freezing, and add additional seasonings when reheating or serving.
FOODS THAT TYPICALLY DON'T FREEZE AND THAW WELL
Note: Some of these ingredients will freeze well within a recipe. However, the texture may change if frozen as a single ingredient.
VEGETABLES: celery, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, bell peppers, potatoes, radishes, sprouts
OTHER: canned food still in cans, eggs in shells, fried foods, pasta cooked beyond al dente
Chill cooked dishes before freezing.
It's important to let freshly cooked dishes cool before placing them in the freezer. There are a number of reasons for this. First, putting foods that are still warm in the freezer can raise the freezer's temperature. This can cause surrounding frozen items to partially thaw and refreeze, which can alter the taste and texture of those foods. Second, placing hot food in a plastic freezer bag or container can result in the plastic releasing chemicals into the food. Third, warm food freezes so slowly that ice crystals form on top, which can also alter the texture of the freezer meal. To avoid contamination while allowing food to cool, never let perishable food sit out on the counter for longer than 2 hours. To bring down the temperature more quickly, place partially cooled food in a shallow, wide container and refrigerate it, uncovered, until cold. Or, to chill soup or stew quickly, pour it into a metal bowl and set it in a larger bowl filled halfway with ice water. Stir occasionally.
Freeze in an airtight, freezable container.
There are multiple ways that meals can be stored in the freezer. Your freezing method will likely depend on the space in your freezer, the types of meals you make, and what containers you have on hand. Whatever method you choose, the goal is to prevent the food from being exposed to air, which can result in freezer burn. Freezer burn occurs when the moisture in the outer layers evaporates, leaving behind "dry" pockets. While it isn't harmful to eat freezer-burned food, the texture and flavor can be adversely affected. Wrapping food tightly and using the four freezing methods we recommend on page 8 will help keep freezer burn at bay. It's also helpful to label your meals so you know exactly what they are and how long they have been in the freezer. Affix a label to each container with the name of the dish, number of servings (or volume/weight), and the date you put it in the freezer.
Freeze quickly and at the right temperature.
The faster food freezes, the better its quality will be once it's defrosted. Slowly frozen food forms large ice crystals that may turn the food mushy. Here are some tips for freezing food quickly and at the right temperature: Store all foods at 0°F or lower to retain vitamin content, flavor, texture, and color. Use a freezer thermometer to ensure this. Do not crowd the freezer, so that there is enough room for air to circulate around food, allowing it to freeze rapidly. Never stack packages to be frozen. Instead, spread them out in one layer on various shelves, stacking them only after they're frozen solid. Store soups and stews in freezer bags, which can be placed flat and will freeze quickly. Store foods in small servings, when possible, to help them freeze quickly. This also allows you to defrost only what you need. A secondary freezer is not a necessity for freezer cooking, but it can be helpful if you want to make freezer cooking a lifestyle. It can actually store food at a more constant, lower temperature than a refrigerator's freezer, protecting the taste and texture of food longer. Plus, it provides room for stocking up on ingredients when they are on sale, saving produce when it is in season, and stacking up all of those freezer meals you'll be accumulating soon. A secondary freezer doesn't have to be huge and expensive, though. Simply start with a standard chest freezer. If you want something bigger, both of us have the Frigidaire Gallery 2-in-1 Upright Freezer and love it.
Follow recommended storage times for freezing meals.
From a safety standpoint, food that is properly packaged and safely frozen (kept at a constant temperature of 0°F or lower) can be frozen indefinitely. Yes, indefinitely! However, even though something may be safe to eat, that doesn't mean it will taste its best after a long time in the freezer. The chart on page 10 provides some general guidelines for how long to freeze particular foods and still maintain their quality. These recommendations are conservative and somewhat subjective, to be honest. We have frozen food much longer than some of these times with good results. There are many variables that affect the amount of time food can be frozen (type of freezer, ingredients in the recipe, quality of the packaging, etc.), so it's hard to say exactly when a freezer meal will go "bad." Regardless, it is good to have a rough idea of how long something can hang out in your freezer.