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Real food enthusiasts usually have a hard time with freezer cooking and for good reason. Most of the popular freezer and thirty day cookbooks are loaded with prepared ingredients like canned cream of barf soup and packaged seasoning mixes; things real foodies don't want in their meals. Back in the 70s my mother had a two volume series called "Make-a-Mix Cookery", the premise of which was to save time, health and money by preparing your own mixes. I used my mother's set until it was reprinted about fifteen years ago with the deletion of some recipes (like those involving raw eggs) and the addition of some new ones. I really recommend the older set but there is a new printing and it is available on Kindle now, see HERE. For the record, I am not an Amazon affiliate and get nothing if you look or buy, but deep down in the depths of my pantry believe that every busy family needs this cookbook. This book can help you with the recipe part of freezer cooking and I will help with the plan for bulk cooking. Today I am going to give an over view of real food freezer cooking and then for the next three Fridays we will focus on one aspect of cooking at a time.
Prepping the Meat
The idea with freezer cooking is that you prepare many meals, usually soups and casseroles, and freeze them for later thawing and cooking. While there are times when I like casseroles, I cannot imagine eating so many a month. I have a different idea. I think that the best way to prep meals is to cook the meat ahead of time in flexible portions as well flexible styles of preparation. For example, when I was still bulk cooking (which I did until I had six kids eating) I cooked pork sausage, ground beef, chicken, and shredded pork and packaged them in two cup portions (a pint's a pound the world around) in zip-top bags which I froze flat on cookie sheets as well as cooked chopped bacon in one cup portions to use as garnish. Then, I had small flat, easily stacked packages that were ready to go for meals. Let me explain further:
I would brown 6-8 pounds of pork sausage and use it later for meals like biscuits and gravy, sausage and sauerkraut soup, egg casseroles, spaghetti sauce, calzones, and pizza.
I would brown 12 pounds of ground meat in two batches. Half would be simply prepared with salt, pepper, garlic and onion for any of the myriad of ground beef American dishes and the other would be spicy taco meat which I used in a myriad of Mexican dishes. I also often make mini meatloaves by cooking them in muffin cups. These cook quickly, thaw quickly and reheat just as quickly and are even better with a cube of cheese in the middle. The recipe for meatloaf topping in this book is a family favorite.
I would roast six chickens and shred the meat as well as using the bones to make stock. This book would have you boil the chicken but I prefer the meat roasted and the stock properly made. Chicken is easy to use in soups, salads, casseroles, pasta dishes and in a million other things.
I would take a 12-16 pound pork shoulder and roast it with salt, pepper, garlic and onion slices at 350 degrees for seven hours. I would then shred it and freeze it. These could be used to make meals such as tacos, burritos, green chile, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, and runzas (meat, cabbage and cheese filled savory turonovers).
Prepping the Sauces
In any good restaurant, there is a saucier. This is the chef whose job it is to make all the delicious sauces that make up the best dishes. This book has an excellent cheese sauce made with stock and cream and is fantastic but must always be frozen flat otherwise it will be an usable block. I also used the spaghetti sauce recipe which includes a nice long crock-pot cooking stage complete with pork bones. The acids in the tomatoes nicely pull out all the delicious minerals of the bones and we miss it since the youngest ones can't have tomatoes (but I am not giving up, I hope to heal them). I have a modified version of the cream sauce recipe which comes from the older books and I will have details on it in the sauce specific post. It uses copious amounts of butter and some flour to make a paste which is frozen into small balls which can be added to boiling stock to transform it into cream sauce easily. I also make a red pepper sauce which uses stock, the butter balls, some grated parma and red pepper paste (recipe HERE) and the paste and butter balls can come right from the freezer.
Prepping the Baked Goods
If you have sprouted flour on hand, you make up your own baking mix by using the recipe in the book and substituting butter for the shortening in the book. I find that grating the butter into the mixing bowl gives the easiest results. But anytime you make a batch of soaked pancakes, muffins or other baked good make a habit of doubling the amount that you make so that you can freeze some. You can double line muffin pans with one aluminum one with a paper one inside it and then freeze the tray. You can pull out the frozen muffins and bag them. These can be cooked from frozen without a tray in a toaster oven giving each family member more choices about what to eat for breakfast. When freezing pancakes and waffles, freeze them on a sheet first so they do not freeze together.
Prepping the Garnishes
I mentioned earlier in this post that I would freeze one cup portions of chopped crispy bacon for garnishes, although I do it less frequently now. While grated cheese looses some flavor when frozen, it can be a boone to use it in cooked dishes like pizza and sauces and can often be added frozen with no problems at all (just shuffle the bag a bit every 20 minutes until frozen to keep it from freezing in a block). I also pulverize parma in a food processor and keep it around to use as a topping.
Prepping the Seasoning Mixes
I keep a lot of homemade seasoning mixes on hand, see this post HERE.
So now you know what we will be covering! I will be going into specific detail about what you will need for a cooking day (or two), how to shop, and how to pack in all in the freezer. When I only had four small kids, I could put six weeks of main dish foods prepped and frozen in the small freezer in my fridge. It can be done.
Are you ready to get cooking?
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