Tag Archives: Freezer cooking

Supplies Needed for Freezer Cooking

It’s now been over a year since we started seriously freezer cooking – we’re in the middle of our 5th session – and I expect to have meals through May/June.  We’re trying almost all new recipes this time, with 2 favorites that we’ve previously made.  Dad is getting two soups for his lunches: Slow Cooked Split Pea Soup and Tomato Leek Bisque.  And I made some Cheesy Breadsticks (almost all of them mad their way into the freezer!) and Garlic Bread for appetizers. The rest of the meals are primarily for dinner.

I’ve talked about the planning and the shopping. But what about supplies?  We cooked and canned a lot prior to starting freezer cooking, so we had many of these supplies already, but you do need larger pots and pans to be able to cook some of these recipes.  We have an induction burner that is our primary burner, so you may not need to spring for the specific versions of things we have as we need the “induction-ready” stainless steel.

  • Large stock pot – we have both a 20qt and a 40qt one.  We need the heavy stainless steel for the induction burner, you might be able to find similar sized ones cheaper (although, those are pretty cheap!).  The 40qt is used for cooking 5 lbs of potatoes at once, simmering soups (and canning).
  • Large mixing bowls – We have a set from Oxo.  The 5qt one is used a lot.  If you try any of the recipes from the Dream Dinners book and triple them, the 5qt will barely hold it all.  You’ll want several mixing bowls in general, of various sizes – we use them to store chopped onions before putting them in recipes, mixing sauces and spices.
  • Measuring cups/spoons – several sets!  We have 3 full sets and one partial set, and we’re still washing measuring utensils all the time.  We use mostly pyrex 1-4 cup measuring cups.
  • Good knives – whatever style/brand you like, you’ll likely need a chef’s knife, a slicer, and maybe a deboning knife or cleaver – depending on the meats and cuts you prefer.  We each have a knife so that we can work at the same time.
  • Onion Goggles – seriously, just get them (or come up with some other way to chop 10+ lbs of onions without crying).
  • Saute pans – We have a 3qt one, and wash it often.
  • Sauce pans – You’ll want at least a 2qt one, but the stock pots can replace sauce pans for the most part.
  • Dutch oven – Several recipes want a dutch oven rather than just a stock pot, so you’ll want one – at least a 7qt one. It needs to be able to go from stovetop to oven.
  • Crock pots – If you’re just doing single batches, you can get by with the standard 4.5qt crockpot.  If you double or triple the batches, you’ll want the smaller one *and* a larger 6-7qt one.  We have both because you want the crock to be at least 3/4 full of “stuff”, if you don’t have that much, the larger crock pot will be too big and burn your food.
  • Freezing containers/bags – we’d like to use less zip-top bags for freezing, but we haven’t found a great replacement yet.  We use the no-leak Pyrex (buy at shopworldkitchen.com for better prices) where possible, but for marinades, the bags are still the best.  For soups, we use wide-mouth pint and pint and a half jars with storage caps. (Buy those at your local hardware store, much cheaper!)  We even tried marinades in the mason jars once, but it didn’t work out so well.  For casseroles, we use foil pans covered with foil (half-size chafing pans from Costco, once rinsed and clean, we can recycle them).

Much of this you probably already have in your kitchen.  You may not have the large sizes that I mention here, but you can always reduce a recipe to fit whatever you have, instead of trying to make it all at once.

Shopping for a Freezer Cooking Session

I arrived back home on a red-eye flight form San Francisco this morning, so I slept in and didn’t go to work (hey – I was “working” on the flight home!), so I went grocery shopping for our freezer cooking session.  I had already put together the shopping list in plan to eat, so I was ready to go – along with other errands that needed running.  I first looked at the All You grocery circular tool, and discovered that boneless, skinless chicken breasts – of which I needed almost 30 lbs – were $1.99/lb.  Not the absolute best I can do ($1.98/lb), but better than Costco – and hey, it was at the local Wal-Mart – which is our “normal” grocery store.  So, I stopped there first, to check out the quality of the chicken breasts as well as buy the rest of the items I needed in smaller quantities.  The quality looked good, so I bought them out of chicken breast packages (6 5lb packages).  I also picked up almost everything except the other meats and the hard liquor we need (blackstrap rum for a molasses/rum chicken).

After running some other errands, I went to Costco to get the rest of the meat – and a bunch of things we’d been putting off until the beginning of August.

Wal-Mart grocery receipt

Wal-Mart grocery receipt

At Wal-Mart, almost 100% of what I bought was for cooking, there were a few spices that Dad needed for his pickling habit, and some Picante sauce for our taco nights (and we really didn’t need an entire box of Chardonnay for cooking, but Dad requested it).  I ended up spending $141.94 at Wal-Mart – for a cart full of stuff.



Costco receipt

Costco receipt

At Costco, almost everything I bought was not related to our cooking session – not even all the meat.  I have a particular fondness for Filet Mignon, so I tend to buy some at Costco when I go – very high quality and not too expensive ($13.99/lb).  We also bought some ground beef for a BBQ we’re hosting next weekend, and anything left over will become tacos for dinner.  Our total Costco bill was $257.97, but only about $99 of that was related to our freezer cooking session.

Tomato-Basil Soup before its blended

Tomato-Basil Soup before its blended

We’re going to have an estimated 280 servings (140 meals) out of all of this.  Tonight, we started the Tomato-Basil soup – which is the only recipe we have to actually cook before freezing.  This picture shows it before it’s made its way into the blender.

Freezer Cooking Planning – Take 3

Now that this is the 3rd time we’re planning on doing a massive freezer cooking session, I think we have the system down. Planning out a full menu for a few months just doesn’t work for us, so we’re picking the recipes we like (or might like), and making them, putting them in the freezer, then planning as we go.

Our freezer after our first freezer cooking session

Our freezer after our first freezer cooking session

The first few steps of freezer cooking planning are the same, but after things are placed in the freezer, we’re just going to look at the freezer inventory and pick recipes for the month as it comes up.

I don’t like using the oven during the summer, so we’re picking recipes that can all be grilled or put in the crockpot.  I know summer’s more than halfway over, but it stays hot here until about mid September, and we’re planning for enough food to get us into October, when we’ll make more “comfort” food.  I’ve also selected more simplified recipes, so that we don’t need that many ingredients.  We actually have a good bit of the ingredients for these recipes in our pantry.  Most of the recipes are from Fix, Freeze, Feast, with maybe a few adaptations – for example, I don’t like chicken thighs, so the Chicken Peanut Satay we’re going to do is going to use chicken breast.

I’ve already done most of the planning, and I have a shopping list, but we have budgeted the large grocery bill in August, so I’ll be shopping and preparing the first weekend in August.  Some of the recipes have the estimated per serving price listed in plan to eat, but not all.

Have you done once a month cooking or the freezer cooking that we do?  How has it worked out for you and your budget?

The Recipes:

Massive Cooking Session – how’d it work out?

Now that the weekend is over, I wanted to report back on how well (or not) our cooking sessions have worked.

First, the plan was to do some chopping and prep work on Friday – I managed to get to Costco and the grocery store, and not much prep work was done except getting the beans soaking overnight.

Saturday, Dad and I worked during Daughter Person’s nap (2 hours), and we were able to chop quite a bit of veggies and cooking the beans.  Then, we worked after she went to sleep for about 3 hours.  We put aside 25 meals: 15 Ginger Beef, 4 Black Bean and Vegetable Chili, 3 Vegetable Chili, and 3 Wild Rice and Nut Bake.  (I also made 2 batches of Basic Red Sauce in there, but those aren’t meals…)

Sunday, we were at a birthday party during naptime, so we didn’t start until Daughter Person went to bed, and Dad was tired, so we put up shop at about 9:30.  We got 23 meals/sides put aside: 4 meals Beef Barley Soup, 3 of Penne with Rosemary Chicken, 16 of Rice Pilaf.

Dad is not working on Monday and Daughter Person is at daycare, and he’s supposed to be making the Chicken Curry and the Port BBQ Chicken during the day since those need cooked and cooled before they can go in the freezer bags.  Once that’s done, that’ll leave us with 6 recipes to finish.  Which is good since I’m working on Daughter Person’s birthday cake as well (2 years!) for Tuesday night.

We’re going to shoot for the Baked Ziti (and another batch of Red Sauce), Swiss Chicken, and 3 cheese spinach soup tonight.  And if we’re doing well, we can get the pork tenderloin with pears and provencal flank steak.  Maybe getting the corn muffins too, since they’re just throw stuff in the mixer (and hope the mixer is big enough).

One of the lessons we’ve learned this time around is that the Dream Dinners recipes are *huge* and our biggest mixing bowl is *not* big enough to hold a triple batch.  That makes it a little more difficult to mix since we have to break them down into 3 separate mixes.

Also, Onion Goggles are apparently pretty awesome.  Dad bought a pair, and he chopped all the onions with them – while I had to leave the room since even my eyes were tearing and I wasn’t chopping the onions.  They don’t fit my face very well, and Dad wanted to try them, so while I’ve put them on, I haven’t tested them yet.

Freezer cooking 3: Planning cooking session and shopping

After you’ve planned your meals and when you want to have them, comes what I think is one of the harder parts of massive freezer cooking – planning your cooking session and shopping session.  We’re going shopping this weekend, so now it’s time to get all this done.

Cooking Plan:
Time will tell if we follow this, but this is the plan. If things go beyond Sunday, we’ll be working in the evenings.

Friday night: Dice/chop/mince all produce, cook beans (we’re using dried instead of canned)
Saturday morning: Put ziti together, Put soups together, lay flat to freeze.
Saturday night: wrap ziti in saran wrap and remove from dishes. Cook rice pilaf while putting together ginger beef. Put Penne with Rosemary chicken in dishes.
Sunday morning: wrap Penne with Rosemary chicken and remove from dishes. Put Swiss chicken in casseroles.
Sunday night: wrap swiss chicken and remove from dishes. Put together remaining marinades/dishes.

Grocery List: (generated by plantoeat.com)

No Category
Low-fat shredded cheese blend  3 cup

Seasoned dry stuffing mix  6 cup

Beef bouillon granules  ¾ cup
Cayenne pepper  1 1⁄2 teaspoon
Cornmeal  3 cup
Dry mustard  1 1⁄2 tablespoon
Flour  5 cup
Honey  1 cup
Molasses  1 1⁄8 cup
Paprika  1 teaspoon
Pecans  1 1⁄2 cup
Salt  1⁄3 cup
Vegetable oil  5⁄8 cup
Walnuts  1 1⁄2 cup

Canned Goods
Black beans  105 oz
Chicken broth  10 cup
Cream of chicken soup  97 1⁄2 oz
Hot pepper sauce  ¼ cup
Kidney beans  165 oz
Marinara sauce  9 cup
Pear halves with syrup 45 ounces
Tomato paste  24 oz + ¾ cup
Tomato sauce  56 oz

Buttermilk  3 cup
Cheddar cheese  10 cup
Eggs  18 ct
Milk  10 cup
Mozzarella cheese  3 cup
Non-fat cream cheese  3 cup
Nonfat cottage cheese  1 1⁄2 cup
Nonfat milk  12 cup
Nonfat sour cream  1 1⁄2 cup
Parmesan cheese  1 1/2 cup
Provolone  8 oz
Swiss cheese  1 lb + 3 cup

Dry Goods
Baking powder  2 tablespoon
Balsamic vinegar  1 3⁄4 cup
Black pepper  3 7⁄8 tablespoon
Bulgur wheat  1 1⁄2 cup
Chicken bouillon granules  ¾ cup
Chili powder  5⁄8 cup
Curry powder  ¼ cup
Dried basil  2 1⁄3 tablespoon
Ground cumin  3 tablespoon
Ground nutmeg  2 teaspoon
Italian seasoning  1 tablespoon
Oregano  2 2⁄3 tablespoon
Pearl barley  2 cup
Penne pasta  3 lbs
Pepper  2 1⁄2 tablespoon
Pine nuts  2 cup
Red pepper flakes  1 1⁄2 tablespoon
Rice  24 cup
Sea salt  1 1⁄3 tablespoon
Soy sauce  5 1⁄4 cup
Thyme  2 1⁄3 tablespoon
Wild rice  3 cup
Worcestershire sauce  ¾ cup
Ziti pasta  3 lbs

Port  1⁄3 cup
Red wine  1 cup
White wine  9 cu

Beef, flank steak  6 pounds
Chicken breast  16 1⁄2 lbs + 12 oz
Diced cooked chicken  3 lbs
Ground beef  3 lbs
Italian sausage  1 1⁄2 lbs
Pork tenderloin  4 1⁄2 lbs
Stew beef  30 lbs

Ketchup  2 cup

Button mushrooms  3 cup
Carrots  23 cup
Celery  22 cup
Diced tomatoes  101 oz + 8 cup
Dried cranberries  ¾ cup
Garlic  1 tablespoon
Ginger  5⁄8 cup
Ginger Root; minced  2 tablespoon
Green bell pepper  4 each + 1 1⁄2 cup
Lemon juice  2 tablespoon
Mushrooms  1 lb
Onion  31 3⁄4 cup
Parsley  7⁄8 cup
Red bell pepper  1 1⁄2 cup
Rosemary  1⁄3 cup
Scallions  3 each + 36 ct
Shallots  12 + 5 oz
Spinach  30 oz
Zucchini  3 cup

Freezer cooking 2: Planning your meals

I’ve been trying to plan our meals for the last two weeks, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I really suck at it.  We operate more on the “what’s in the freezer/fridge this week?” meal planning.  Every Friday, I look at the list of what’s in the freezer (handily on the upstairs fridge), and fill in our meal plan for the week.  Then on whichever weekend morning I’m getting up with Daughter Person, we head to the grocery to get anything we need for the week – mostly fresh stuff.

So, that leaves me without a multi-month plan.  Which I’m OK with.  If you’re more of the need to plan better type – you’ll need to write down what you want to eat on every day you’ll need food.  We just plan dinner for the most part, although I’m starting to get into planning lunches as well, so that we have more interesting lunches.  At this point, for me, the lunches are just left overs, but this go-round, we’re making more interesting lunches for Dad.

Once you’ve gotten your plan ready – whether you’re going with my wing-it method or the more traditional write it all down method, we’re ready to move onto the next part – planning your cooking session(s) and shopping.

Freezer cooking 1: Picking your recipes

The first time I did a really massive cooking spree – I picked too many recipes. While hubby and I enjoyed the variety and the fact that we haven’t bought meat in 4 months, we both think we picked too many. We picked 24 recipes. They were heavy on the vegetarian and fish side since I was not going to be eating for most of a month, and Dad and Daughter Person like fish – I won’t touch it. Some of the recipes we didn’t like and won’t be making again – Like Thai Red Curry – I didn’t like making it anyway, needed too many strange ingredients. However, some we absolutely loved and will be making multiple batches of this time (Ginger Beef). I also acquired a new cookbook in a similar style – Dream Dinners – and I will try a few new recipes from there. The plan is to limit ourselves to several recipes and make multiple batches of the ones we know we like. We’re also picking a variety of recipes for dinner, breakfast, and lunch, so they can be mixed and matched. Dad wants mostly vegetarian meals for lunches, so a lot of these recipes are for his lunch.

On the recipe list:
Ginger Beef (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Rice Pilaf (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Wild Rice and Nut Bake (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Black Bean and Vegetable Chili (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Basic Red Sauce (Fix, Freeze, Feast) – for the vegetable chili
Chicken Curry (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Port Barbequed Chicken (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Beef Barley Soup (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Three Cheese Spinach Soup (Dream Dinners)
Corn Bread Muffins (Dream Dinners)
Penne with Rosemary Chicken (Dream Dinners)
Baked Ziti (Dream Dinners)
Provencal Flank Steak (Dream Dinners)
Pork Tenderloin with Pears (Dream Dinners)
Swiss Chicken (Dream Dinners)
Vegetable Chili (Dream Dinners)

I know this list is a bit longer than we initially planned, but there’s mostly new stuff in there. We want to try some new recipes (and Dad really loves new things), and so, I’m leaning towards trying new things (and less of them) than repeating older things. Most of the Dream Dinners recipes are only 3 meals rather than the full Costco size tray (although we’re still going shopping at Costco for the meat).

Once you’ve got the recipes picked out, the next step is to plan them out on a menu – this is where I generally fall short….

2nd cooking session and howto

We’re starting to run out of food in the freezer, and it’s time to start thinking about our next massive cooking session. This time, I’m not going to tackle as many recipes at once, and I’m not going to take off work to do the cooking, so it’ll all be Dad and I in the evenings after work. I’m going to start planning now, but I won’t go to the grocery store until January. In the next few days, I’m going to post our planning for other folks to follow along. Hopefully, it’ll make it easier for anyone else who wants to try their hand at freezer cooking. I’ve taken many suggestions from other websites on how to plan, and modified them to meet my needs, so take what works for you, and forget the rest.

Most of the planning is going to take place at Grandma’s while we’re there for the holidays. I also promised my mom that I’d help her make a few meals and leave them with her to show her how easy it is.

These are the general steps I follow, and as I post the details, I’ll link them in here:

  1. Pick your general recipes
  2. Plan your meals
  3. Write out all the prep work you need and decide what order you’re going to prep/cook in
  4. Write out your grocery list
  5. Go shopping
  6. Prep work
  7. Cooking/Assembling
  8. Labeling!
  9. Freezing
  10. Update your freezer inventory

Freezer Cooking Taste Results

I’ve now been traveling for over a week, with this past weekend spent at home.  Dad enjoyed the Sesame Salmon and the Shrimp Curry, and I got to enjoy the Ginger Beef and Sesame-Soy Sirloin.  I really liked the beef dishes, although I think I’d use filet or flank rather than sirloin for that recipe next time.  I’m just not a huge fan of sirloin – even if it is USDA prime meat.

Daughter Person reportedly enjoyed the Salmon, but had trouble picking it up with her fork and it made her frustrated.  She tried the Ginger Beef, but again, frustration with picking it up.  It did go into her mouth and didn’t come back out, so that’s a success in our book.

As a treat, we introduced Daughter Person to sushi this weekend.  We went to a local sushi restaurant that we enjoy, and ordered either cooked fish or vegetable sushi, and shared it with Daughter Person.  I don’t like fish, much less raw fish, so I keep to the veggie sushi – my favorite is oshinko, not Daughter Person’s favorite.  She liked the rice, ate an avocado maki roll, and played with a california maki roll a bit.  She was more interested in the “kid’s” chopsticks we got for her (with the rubber band and rolled sleeve).  She’s not going to be using chopsticks anytime soon, but she was able to pick a few things up by clamping them together with her fist.