Monday, January 17, 2011

Why You Could Use a Second Freezer and Utilizing it to Your Best Advantage (Part 2 of 3)

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Welcome to part two! If you’re new to cooking in bulk and freezing, the idea of getting 50 pounds of meat and dealing with it may sound a little overwhelming. Coming from a large family, it doesn’t sound like much, but I know I’ve stunned a lot of people when mentioning how much meat I had frozen. It does make for a long and busy day or couple of days, but it’s definitely manageable for anyone, and you’ll thank yourself when you’re done! It’s a little harder with lots of little ones, but still definitely doable (after all, we all make time for what we want), and with the busy lifestyle munchkins bring, a lot more rewarding. Just make sure to utilize a comfy baby carrier during the process!

I’m going to bring you into my kitchen on some of my cook-off days, or normal days when I tuck a little away at a time, and show you what it looks like. We’ll explore chicken (boneless breasts and thighs), ground beef, meals, meal starters, and some veggies.

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Most veggies are pretty simple, and don’t require very long. Some, like green beans and corn, need to be blanched for a short amount of time. Then I bag them in quart sized bags (no flash freezing necessary), label and freeze. If I have something that I need to blanche, I try and clear out a morning or an evening for it, so I can get it all done at once. I don’t like washing pots I’m going to be using for the same thing a few hours later. J Other veggies, like green peppers, I just chop or cut into strips and freeze. So, those are easier to do as you go along, if you have a hard time clearing out a larger space.

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Fruits, too, are typically pretty simple. For peaches, I just wash and slice, then dump in gallon Ziplocs. Usually, I carve out a couple days of planning on just accomplishing the basics to get these done, since they ripen up fast. If they’re really juicy, I might flash-freeze them to make it easier to get them apart later. I wash strawberries if I didn’t get them locally, and then stick them in a bag, tops and all. Works great for smoothies! Blueberries go right in the Ziploc bag at the patch, and get popped in the freezer when we get home.

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I just brought home 50 pounds of ground beef, so step into my kitchen! First, I decide how I’m going to divide it up. This is different for every family, and it varies for us from batch to batch, depending on what we have leftover from last time, and what we ran out of first. Here’s a possible example:

10 pounds (cooked) burrito meat, freeze in 1 pound bags

10 pounds (cooked) Italian sausage, freeze in 1 pound bags

12 pounds hamburger patties, freeze in 1 ½ pound bags

6 pounds amazing meatballs (cooked), freeze in 1 pound bags

6 pounds Salisbury steaks (cooked, and in sauce), freeze in 1 ½ pound bags

6 pounds cooked, plain, freeze in 1 pound bags.

That takes care of all 50 pounds, but other times I might also make tacos, sloppy joes, etc. If I’m doing a cook-off day for my family, I obviously do much larger quantities.

I’ll be cooking a total of 26 pounds of ground beef on the stove, so first priority would be putting meat in a couple pans, depending on the size of my pans. I usually do 5-10 pounds each in two pots. It works most conveniently to cook the amount you need for a particular recipe, so in this case, I’ll put 10 pounds in each pot- one for burrito meat, one for Italian sausage. That way, I don’t have to measure it out before adding spices, and then measure again to bag it.

Assuming Vivi’s still happy in the ergo or another carrier, once that’s sizzling away, I might try and throw together my Salisbury steaks really quick. I make some cream soup, mix up the patties and cook them on my broiler pan (so all the fat drips out), and while keeping an eye on that and stirring the meat every so often, I’ll start the meatballs in the same large pot I assembled the Salisbury steaks in. (Why create more dishes if you don’t need them? Everything that happens in my kitchen is about maximizing the use of my dishes!) When the Salisbury steaks are cooked, I can start cooking meatballs on the same broiler pan(s). Meanwhile, I’ll also drain the meat on the stove, mix in all the spices, let the meat cool a bit, and then measure into 1 pound bags. (2-2 ½ cups cooked beef equals 1 pound). I’ll also cook up the last batch of meat, which will later be drained and packaged. At some point when there’s a breather, I’ll whip up the hamburgers, shape them, and stuff in quart sized bags. I reuse all my Ziplocs except raw meat ones, so my burger bags are the only ones that are being “wasted”- hence, I try to use bags I’ve already used several times for those.

Basically, that’s all there is to it. Realistically, Vivi will grow tired, and need to be changed and nursed to sleep in bed. Lunch, dinner, or some meal will fall in there. Vivi might get fussy and just want to enjoy a play time on the floor together. Your 8, 6, and 5 year olds might need help with school. Your toddler might need a snack. All that means is, it takes a bit longer. Instead of finishing in just a morning, you might be putting the last away at dinner time. Or on a really busy day, you might be doing the last at 11 o’clock at night, dead on your feet. Been there, done that. If Vivi’s having a cranky day, or I have some of my siblings over and people need stuff, I’ll just turn off everything in the kitchen and forget about it for a bit. Being a non waster, I don’t like to turn the stove or oven off for as long as I’m using it (keep an assembly line going, and always have the next thing ready), but that doesn’t always work, and that’s okay. My family comes first- I’m not going to let nourishing them physically interfere with nourishing them emotionally. (but nourishing them physically is important enough that I must make a way for doing it to the best of my ability and knowledge!)

If you feel 50 or 75 pounds is too much, try 25. But keep in mind, it’s worth it to go big! It’s more worth your time, and the rewards are bigger. So count the cost before you decide you just can’t. :-)

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Alrighty, so how about chicken? It’s probably wiser to do them individually, but if I go to Sam’s Club, I typically bring home 40(ish) pounds each of thighs and breasts. If I get my breasts from the local market (which doesn’t sell thighs), I usually get it at the same time as ground beef. It’s just more worth the trip, and by the time I’m done, my freezer’s groaning with happiness. So, suit yourself, but as follows is a guideline of what I might do with both. Again, here’s a potential table of how I’ll use the meat:

Breasts:

20 pounds cooked/chopped (in 1, 2, and 4 cup bags- it should give me 40 cups total)

6 pounds spicy grilled chicken sandwich marinade (1 ½ pound bags)

6 pounds fajita marinated (1 ½ pound bags)

8 pounds strips for oven fried chicken or new recipes (1-2 pound bags)

Thighs:

12 pounds creamy crockpot chicken

The rest just plain, in 1 ½ or so pound increments. I might use them in chicken tikke musala (most amazing food!), marinate them in teriyaki sauce, or serve them a hundred different ways. But usually, I end up freezing most of them plain. It seems like there’s a few other things I like to do with them, instead of just freezing plain, but I can’t remember at the moment….

First things first, boil water in huge pots for the cooked chicken. Cook, then set aside in a huge pot or bowl. Once my chicken’s cooked, I put that in the lower priority realm. I’ll refrigerate it and get to it later- or maybe even the following day. The great thing about cooked chicken, is once you have the cooked part done, you can work at it a bit at a time without creating much mess, many dishes, or contaminated counter or hands. So you can do 4 or 8 cups at a time, and stick the rest back in the fridge.

Then I’ll get down to business with the raw stuff. A lot of the thighs are pretty easy, just weigh and throw in a labeled Ziploc. For the creamy crockpot chicken, all you do is add a bunch of spices and some water. (the creamy part, you add later during cooking) Just like that, you have 40 pounds tucked away.

The meat for sandwiches, I cut into sandwich sized pieces, and toss in the bags. Then I make the marinade and pour it over, evenly distributing. I use the same bowl for making the fajita marinade. For the fajitas, I just cut them in strips. That just leaves stripping the rest of the chicken and putting it in labeled bags. Easy as that, you’re done! Again, it’s easy to break in between to take care of your family, though the sooner you get it all done the sooner/less often you have to decontaminate your kitchen.

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If I plan to do a bunch of cooking, I might time it around the same time as a meat cook off, and leave some of the cooked meat out for stuff. Or, I might just get stuff out of the freezer.

I freeze meals two ways- sometimes, I get this urgent kick and spend a morning or afternoon or day just making meals for the freezer. Or sometimes, I do it lackadaisically, and just double or triple a dinner, and freeze what we aren’t going to eat. Both ways work well, depending on what I want it for.

If I’m preparing for a baby’s arrival, or some other such season of life, I’ll spend more concentrated time cooking just for the freezer. This friend (http://mommysblessings.blogspot.com/2010/01/works-for-me-wednesday-freezing-meals.html ) prepares 30 days of meals before the arrival of each baby. Not just 30 dinners….but 30 lunches and breakfasts as well as plenty of desserts and snacks. I haven’t done anything quite so elaborate, but maybe if I ever had a bunch of really little munchkins, I’d be driven to more desperate measures. And, certainly- I’d enjoy reaping the rewards!

You might be making a loaf of banana bread for dinner- make two or three, and freeze the extras. Or if you’re a large family, make 6 or 12 loaves. Make a large pot of soup, and freeze a gallon. Double your casserole recipe.

Do what works for you. That’s different from person to person. You might like to utilize your freezer to do once a month cooking. That doesn’t necessarily work well for large families. And it doesn’t totally appeal to me, because I like to cook. But it might work best for you and yours. Or perhaps you’d just like to do enough to have 1-2 freezer meals a week. It would be easy to prepare for, and give you a nice break during the week when you’re busy teaching kids, nurturing little ones, and keeping up with other life stuff. Whatever you do, it’s nice to have at least a couple meals on hand at any time for emergencies and to give away.

Stay tuned for the final part- recipes!

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2 comments:

  1. Your ambitiousness motivates me! :)
    You really have the system down!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've had lots of practice... :-) And, to be fair, bulk cooking is just something I enjoy. :-)

    ReplyDelete