Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Deep Freeze

One of the best pieces of advice I received as a pregnant lady was to stock my freezer with meals before the baby arrived. Of course, when I received this advice and thought it was a great idea, I realized that I would never actually get around to doing it. But then, after reading this, I became convinced that a Foodsaver would change my life.

So we bought one.

Even with my handy new/totally unnecessary kitchen appliance, I questioned whether I’d be able to come through with freezer meals. Then it happened. I went through an insane nesting phase that literally made me the most organized and time efficient person on earth for about a week. I have never been so on top of my shit in my entire life. And with that burst of energy, I made ALL THE FOOD.

MM and I ate homemade meals four to five nights a week with minimal prep for a solid five weeks after Emme was born. After years of grand plans, weekly shopping lists, and post-work fatigue and ambivalence that led to many a night of spaghetti with sauce from a jar (not to mention wasted groceries), we were eating a home-cooked, healthy dinner nearly every single day. I realized then that freezer meals are the secret to almost everything, ever. So why stop at maternity leave? Since those first batches, I’ve been doubling and tripling recipes for freezing.

So what about the Foodsaver? Unlike so many products before it, it turned out that I was right about this one: It actually changed our lives. I’ll be honest, these appliances can be a bit finicky, and we ended up returning one that broke almost immediately. But after closer review of a little something called “the instruction manual,” our second Foodsaver has been spared an early demise.

You do not need a Foodsaver to effectively freeze meals; however being able to vacuum seal food does keep it fresh longer and totally prevents freezer burn. The special bags--yes, they require that you use special bags--can be boiled, so for some meals (chili works well with this) we often don’t even bother to defrost, we just toss the whole bag in a pot of boiling water.

If you do not use a vacuum sealer, the best freezing technique I’ve found so far is flash freezing. This works great for individualized items like lasagna rolls, muffins, etc. I’ve used this technique and then frozen items in a regular gallon-size freezer bag. Flash freezing also helps to lessen freezer burn.

We actually often flash freeze or refrigerate items so they have cooled below room temperature before vacuum sealing them, as it makes the vacuum sealer more effective. The squishier/warmer the food, the more the Foodsaver will try to suck out the moisture and the looser the sealing will be. One final Foodsaver tip: for items that are highly moist (like chilis or stews, we still haven’t attempted to freeze soup using the Foodsaver), we often put a paper towel between the food and the opening of the bag. This helps prevent moisture from seeping into the appliance as it sucks out the air, which keeps the Foodsaver working properly.

Here are several recipes we’ve had freezing success with:
Cincinnati Turkey Chili

Turkey Meatballs (I don’t make the sauce used in this recipe)

Individual Meat Loaves

Beer-glazed Black Beans (Mark Bitmann’s recipe from How to Cook Everything)

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins

Spinach Lasagna Rolls

Pasta Bake with Sausage and Spinach

Really, the possibilities are endless. I freeze in portions suitable for two people, which means we get three to four meals out of one casserole, but we never actually have to deal with leftovers. Keep in mind that the cooking instructions change based on whether you are reheating a frozen versus defrosted meal as well as if you freeze prior to cooking (or finishing cooking) or after.