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As I mentioned previously, I've been working hard these past few weeks to stock our freezer in preparation for Little Miss Bubbles' imminent arrival. I'm personally working with the a long half of a side-by-side freezer/refrigerator combo (hate it!) and a chest freezer (love it!). While I'm not going too crazy with the freezer meals, I thought I'd impart some information about what I've been making as well as what I've learned about freezing food. For your convenience, I also put together a few free printables at the bottom of this post. A Freezer Inventory List and a Freezer Food Cheat Sheet.
My Favorite Freezer Meals:
Let's start with the good stuff- here's what I've been making and freezing for meals and some ideas of non-perishable items that I try to have on hand to go with them:
Mom's Meatloaf- This is so quick to make and freeze! I freeze this raw and then thaw and bake it as per the original directions. This always goes well with potatoes or rice and some sort of veggie.
Greek Yogurt Chicken- I love a good dump recipe! I freeze this raw and in the marinade and then I thaw it and dump it into the pan to bake. I love serving it with rice.
Balsamic Chicken- This is a recipe I found a while back at Julia's Healthy Italian Kitchen and it has become a regular in our dinner rotation- SO delicious, and freezes beautifully in the marinade to dump and bake once thawed. This also tastes great if you grill the chicken. We seriously LOVE this recipe! I love to serve this over white rice, which absorbs the sauce beautifully.
Marinara Sauce- So many uses and great to make a huge batch and freeze in smaller batches! I keep pasta on hand in my pantry and of course Romano cheese.
30 Minute Turkey Chili- Can I tell you how hard it was for me to freeze this instead of eating the entire batch? Absolute torture. I make this recipe from beginning to end and then freeze it. Once I thaw it, I just heat it up in the microwave or on the stove when I'm ready to enjoy it! I try to keep a bag of frozen shredded cheddar in the freezer, ready to go as well as some tortilla chips in my pantry. All the other topping are fresh, although I usually have those on hand as well.
Chicken Enchiladas- I found this recipe on Pinterest a couple years ago from A Sweet Pea Chef and it has been my go-to Enchilada recipe for a while now. I don't even look at the recipe anymore, I just do it (and everyone loves it!). To freeze, I assemble the enchiladas and freeze at that point in the recipe so I can thaw and bake them. I keep a can of refried beans and some yellow rice in my pantry to serve along with this dish.
Freezer Bean Burritos- These are meant to be frozen anyway, so you can just follow the directions in the original recipe and you're ready to go. This also goes nicely with the aforementioned yellow rice that I keep in my pantry.
Freezer Friendly Bagel Pizzas- One again, made for the freezer and oh-so-convenient to grab-and-go!
Chicken and Parmesan Soup with Spinach and Orzo- This is so comforting and it goes nicely with the Italian bread that I keep frozen in smaller batches.
Minestrone Soup- Once again, I make this and freeze it completely made. Delicious!
Aunt Jeanne's Cabbage Soup- As with the other soups- make and freeze!
Freezer Friendly Breakfast Burritos- Once again a recipe that's made to be frozen and a delicious breakfast to grab-and-go!
The Easiest Slow Cooker Taco Meat Ever!- This is always a winner in our home. I mix all the ingredients together and freeze them raw so that all I need to do is dump them in the slow cooker. These not only make amazing tacos but are also awesome on a salad, over rice, in quesadillas....the possibilities are endless!
Zucchini Pancakes- I could eat these for days! The cook up so quickly and easily and once they've cooled will freeze beautifully!
Uncle Richard's Clams Casino- These are another recipe that is meant to be frozen ,so you can follow the directions on the recipe. This is great for when you have guests and also a delicious lunch along side a fresh salad!
Slice and Bake Cookies- In addition to being super easy and delicious, these freeze beautifully- you can either freeze the logs then thaw, slice and bake or you can bake them off and freeze them until yo're ready to enjoy! This is another that is great for guests and delicious with coffee or milk.
Banana Bread- This freezes up so beautifully once it's baked and is just as delicious once thawed. I like it with butter and a nice cup of coffee!
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread- Much like the Banana Bread, this snacking cake freezes beautifully once fully baked and is delicious on it's own of with a little butter.
Freezing Fresh Produce:
I'm a big fan of freezing produce- this is especially great when you're on the edge of the seasons and certain fruits and veggies go on sale at the market. Most fruits and veggies last around 8-10 months if they're well wrapped. Here are some very general guide lines for how to prepare some basic types of produce for the freezer:
Blanching- Most veggies do best when blanched first. This means putting them into boiling water for around 2 minutes and then submerging them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process. After you'll pat them dry, spread them in a single layer on a baking pan and freeze them. Once frozen, you can transfer them into a zipper freezer bag to use as you need them. Here are the most common veggies that you'd blanch before freezing and how you'd prepare them before blanching:
- Broccoli- trim stem and cut to desired size
- Cauliflower- trim stem and cut to desired size
- Asparagus- trim woodsy ends
- Peppers- remove seeds and stems and cut to your desired size
- Brussels Sprouts- remove outer leaf and cut if desired
- Carrots- Peel and cut to desired size
- Corn- Remove husks and cut the corn from the cob
- Leafy greens- Blanching is optional for these but either way you'll remove the fibrous stems first. (you'll note that blanching these will help them shrink down a bit so that they take up less space in your freezer- make sure you wring them out really well before freezing)
- Green Beans- trim the ends
- Peas- remove from pods
- Zucchini and most Squash- trim stems and remove the seeds as needed
Freezing Raw- Here are the most common veggies and fruits that you can simply wash and pat dry before freezing and how you'd prepare them before freezing:
- Tomatoes- remove the core (and if you want you can remove the seeds and skins before freezing by blanching them to get the skins to peel right off. I don't do this because I find that a quick soak in some warm water when you remove them from the freezer causes the skin to peel right off and my Vitamix takes care of the seeds for me if I'm pureeing them)
- Potatoes- Peel if you want them peeled and cut to your desired size
- Berries- most can be frozen as is, I trim the stems from the strawberries and halve them if necessary
- Cherries- remove the seeds and stems
- Stone Fruit- remove the pit and if you want, the skins and cut to your desired size
- Rhubarb- Trim the woodsy ends and cut to the desired size
How Long It Lasts:
As per foodsafety.gov, here are some general guidelines for how long most food lasts in your freezer:
- Hot Dogs, Deli Meat, and Sausage- up to 2 months
- Bacon- up to 1 month
- Ground Meat- up to 4 months
- Fresh Meat- up to 12 months, except for chops which is up to 6 months
- Fresh Poultry- up to 9 months if they're in pieces and 12 months if they're whole)
- Seafood- Up to 3 months (or 6 months for leaner fish)
- Soups and Stews- up to 3 months
- Cooked Meat and Poultry- up to 6 months
- Chicken Nuggets or Patties- up to 3 months
- Pizza- up to 2 months
Tips for freezing food:
- I always wrap the food really well in plastic wrap or foil and then put it into a zipper freezer bag. Less air getting in = less freezer burn and better flavor
- I like to freeze sauces and meats in marinades in zipper freezer bags so that I can freeze them flat and save room in the freezer (this is especially great for freezing breast milk)
- As a general rule, don't thaw something and then refreeze it. So if you started thawing chicken and then decide halfway through the thawing process to order in for dinner instead, don't pop the chicken back in the freezer as this could allow bacteria in and cause foodborne illness. The exception is if you ended up cooking the chicken- then you can freeze it at that point.
- The safest options for thawing food would be either in the refrigerator, directly into the oven or pan to cook (or defrosting in the microwave, though I don't often do this) or submerging it in a bowl of cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes.
- When in doubt- throw it out. No one wants food poisoning, trust me on this.
My Favorite Tools for Freezing Food:
- Ziploc Slider Storage Bags- These are especially excellent for raw meats in marinades. You can also freeze liquids flat in them to save space in your freezer. I like the ones with the slider, less room for error.
- Aluminum Foil Pans- These are great for foods that you want to throw directly into the oven. Saves on clean up and I like to get a variety of sizes. I usually don't bother buying covers since I use heavy duty foil around the house to begin with.
- Glad LockWare Containers- These couldn't be more perfect for soups and sauces. Ive found that you'll have the best results if you don't scrimp on the quality of your food storage containers for freezing I love the screw tops and have had the best success with these in keeping the freezer burn at bay.
Check out all of my food related posts here.
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