Wednesday, August 5, 2009

FROZEN ASSETS, PART 2

Last week, we talked about how much stress you might save yourself by having meals in the freezer to pull out on those busy days, sick days, very-pregnant-or-just-had-baby days...or days when your brain is just tired to come up with anything new. Cooking from the freezer saves you money, too - buy bigger cuts of meat, buy staples in bulk, prepare and freeze it, and you simply grab a meal from the freezer. Score! Another wonderful reason to have meals in the freezer is that you will always have a quick, frozen dish to take to someone in need...someone who's having a bad, busy, sick, injured, or very-pregnant-or-just-had-baby day, too.

But once-a-month cooking sessions should not be entered into without preparation. Poor planning will waste you time and money, not save it. It's really not too complex:
You make a menu, gather recipes, make a shopping list, buy your food and do the the prep work on Town Day  Then, on Kitchen Day, you cook and freeze your meals!

Today we'll discuss the first planning step for your once-a-month cooking session: Deciding what you are going to cook.

 There are so many, many, many recipes online for this: Google "OAMC recipes" and you are sure to get plenty that your family will love. Of course, you probably have recipe cards in your own kitchen that will work, too.

Not sure about the recipes your found? Try one meal with your family first before you make 10 meals worth! If it is not a big hit, skip it. There are plenty others out there.

How do you choose your recipes? First, you must decide how many meals you are going to prepare. If you are new to bulk cooking, or don't have much freezer space, you might want to try cooking for two weeks instead of four, eight, or more. Make sure you size the meals for your family. No kids at home? You can probably get three meals out of every basic OAMC recipe, but you must be sure to portion and freeze them for two people, not six. It's also prudent to point out that you need not find 30 DISTINCT recipes. You can easily find 15 recipes and make each one twice. Or 10 recipes, and make each three times. You get the point.

Second, consider that preparing "like" foods is much cheaper and easier than preparing 30 totally unrelated meals. This means that if you choose 15 recipes that call for ground beef, you can ground all the beef at once, and create your dishes assembly-line style. Turkeys on sale after Thanksgiving? Find turkey recipes, or modify your chicken ones. The same applies to Easter ham. We get 12 chickens at a time, freshly slaughtered and plucked, from a local organic family farm about 3 times a year. Instead of sticking 12 chickens in my freezer, it is much more time-saving, in the long run, to prepare many, many chicken dishes for the freezer. I'm going to end up thawing out something....might as well be a prepared meal instead a raw chicken! (But Heidi, I don't want to eat chicken 30 days in a row!!) Me, neither. Once it's in the freezer, you can space your meals out however you'd like. I made 45 freezer post-partum freezer meals last spring, and those meals lasted us almost until summer. After the initial few weeks, we averaged probably two freezer meals a week. You don't HAVE to eat the meals immediately, but it's so reassuring to know that they're there! These mini-sessions also really help you buy food when it's cheapest, instead of sticking to someone's master OAMC plan that uses expensive, out-of-season food.

The good news is, lots of thrify foodies out there have already created entire OAMC plans based on food type. Google "OAMC food plans" for lots of options. Here are some, courtesy of menus4moms, to get you started:

Bulk Cooking: The Ham Plan
by Kim Tilley


Bulk Cooking: The Chicken Plan
by Kim Tilley



Bulk Cooking: The Hamburger Plan
by Kim Tilley

Fabulous Freezer Food: The Potato Plan
by Wanda A. Carter


Other great meal plans online:


Work Week Menus
by Tammy Paquin


Confessions of a Once A Month Cooking Drop-Out
by Peg Baron

Some Assembly Desired
by Jane Snow

Are you a paper-in-hand gal?
Here are some great reads to get you inspired!

Once A Month Cooking  
by Mary Beth Lagerborg and Mimi Wilson

Frozen Assets 
by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month: Frozen Assets Readers' Favorites 
by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Mega Cooking 
by Jill Bond

Make-A-Mix 
by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward, Madeline Westover

Don't Panic - Dinner's in the Freezer
by Susie Martinez, Vanda Howell, and Bonnie Garcia


The Everything Meals For A Month Cookbook: Smart Recipes To Help You Plan Ahead, Save Time, And Stay On Budget 
by Linda Larsen

Fix, Freeze, Feast 
by Kati Neville


To get you started with Recipes online:

Recipezaar's Bulk/OAMC/Freezer recipes

Robbyn's Friendly Freezer 
(She explains the different types of freezer-filling very simply!)

Real Food 4 Real People's OAMC guide

Meals Made Ahead

Freezer Cooking 101


Using your own recipes, but not sure if it will freeze? The best advice I can give is: Try it once. Make one serving of your recipe, freeze it, thaw it, eat it. Pretty good? Keep it!
Want more specifics? Frozen Assets author Deborah Taylor-Hough lists these ingredients as "do nots" for the freezer:

Greasy foods (they just become greasier)
*Cake icings made with egg whites
*Cream fillings and soft frostings
*Pies made with custard or cream fillings
*Fried foods (they tend to lose their crispness and become soggy)
*Fruit jelly on sandwiches may soak into the bread
*Soft cheese, such as cream cheese (can become watery)
*Mayonnaise (it separates; use salad dressing instead)
*Sour cream (it becomes thin and watery)
*Potatoes cooked in soups and stews (they become mushy and may darken. If using potatoes, cook until barely soft and still firm; then freeze quickly.)

Foods that change during freezing:

*Gravies and other fat-based sauces may separate and need to be recombined by stirring or processing in the blender
*Thickened sauces may need thinning after freezing; thin with broth or milk
*Seasonings such as onions, herbs and flavorings used in recipes can change during freezing. These are best added during reheating to obtain accurate flavors
*Vegetables, pastas and grains used in cooked recipes usually are softer after freezing and reheating (undercook before freezing, or add when dish is reheated)
*Heavy cream can be frozen if used for cooking, but will not whip
*Some yogurts may suffer texture changes
*Raw vegetables lose their crispness, but can be used for cooking, stews, etc.
*Many cheeses change texture in the freezer. Most hard cheeses turn crumbly (which makes them okay for grating, but not for slicing)

(But take my advice: You can always try it once. Some of those items she lists freeze just fine, in my opinion!)


Next week, we'll discuss the basics of creating a mega-shopping list.


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