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Category: Baking Day

The Method to My Madness: Start Where You Are and Learn As You Go

Every time I blog about a Baking Day or a Freezer Cooking Day, I invariably get a multitude of questions that go like this:

Can you tell me how you package the meals for freezing them? Do you just put them in a metal 9×13 and then cover the top with tin foil? Does this keep out freezer burn for you?

Or this:

I'm wondering if you use aluminum baking pans? I want to make up a bunch of stuff, but then I'd have to go out and buy a bunch of throw away pans for it…I've done it before. Now that I've cut my budget in half for groceries, I'm wondering if there is a way around this?

Or this:

It appears that you have frozen many items in the dish that they will ultimately be baked in; do you purchase additional dishes just for freezing? do you use foil pans? do you just own a billion more dishes than I do? I'm just curious as to your freezer storage method – not so much the wrap in foil/use a freezer bag, but do you use all your dishes and how do you fit them all in your freezer along with milk, butter, etc. that you seem to stock up on and freeze throughout the month?

For a number of months, I've just pretty much avoided these questions because I didn't really know what you'd think of me if I answered them. But I decided this Freezer Cooking Day it was high time I come clean on this whole freezing thing and what I do.

Are you ready for this?

I have no idea what I'm doing. Seriously. There really is no precise method to my madness; I just work with what I have and do the best I know how.

I'm not much of a "follow-the-directions" kind of gal (which is one reason I have a very hard time following recipes exactly!) so it's rather comical anyone is coming to me for advice–especially when it comes to cooking. I have a long history of flopped dinners. In fact, growing up, many of my family members were afraid to eat anything I made for fear of what it might taste like or be made of.

Practice has provided much progress in my cooking abilities, but I still have huge room for improvement. And as far as freezing goes, I'm just learning as I go.

So I'm probably not the person to go to if you're looking for specific and detailed instructions on how to freeze food. But I hope that my admission encourages you: it doesn't take much skill or knowledge or know-how to make up food for your freezer. It just takes some energy, some perseverance, and the willingness to make a few mistakes along the way!

Of course, I think it's helpful to check out books from your library on freezer cooking (you can see a few of my favorites here). But I think book-learning is almost always trumped by hands-on learning.

Now that I've confessed I don't know what I'm doing, here are the answers to your questions as far as what I do when it comes to freezing: I usually freeze half of the meals in the pans they'll be cooked in and half the meals in freezer bags laid flat (to conserve space). I usually try to use the meals in pans first as they are more prone to freezer burn. But I've rarely had a problem with this so long as they are sealed well.

I sometimes use a few foil pans–if I have some on hand–but most often, I just use freezer bags and glass or metal pans. I don't have a huge collection of pans (I'm a minimalist, remember?), but since I won't be doing much cooking because most of our meals are already made and frozen, I can tie up most of my pans for a little while without even missing them. I do try to make sure I set aside at least two pans of some sort since I usually have something or other I have to cook each week!

This is what works for me and for our family. It may not work at all for you or yours so please do what works for you. Amy has a post here with a freezing method that works for her. If you're the type who needs to have a detailed freezing tutorial, I'm sure they are out there. I've just never taken the time to look! (I take that back. I just did a quick search and found many different tutorials, including this one which is rather comprehensive.)

Think you're up for some cooking ahead (and I hope this week inspired you to save time and money by doing so!)? Don't be intimidated! Just start small, make a plan, work the plan, and learn as you go. You'll improve a little bit each time until you're soon an accomplished Freezer Cooking Pro!

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Who says you have to have a big deep freeze to cook ahead? I don't! You know all the meals I made earlier this week? All 21 dinners plus 14 breakfasts? That's them all stashed in my over-the-fridge freezer along with some frozen veggies and bread. Get creative with your freezer space and you can probably do a lot more with it than you once thought possible! I know that's certainly been the case for me!

Wondering how you can pull off Freezer Cooking on a budget?

Frugalfriday

Were you inspired to try your hand at Freezer Cooking this week but skeptical as to whether it's possible to do on a budget? FishMama shares tips for Freezer Cooking on the Cheap for her Frugal Friday post today.

Just for the record, everything I used to make my meals this week was well within our $40/week grocery budget. Best of all? We've yet to even touch any of the grocery money for the month of November–and I already have a freezer full of meals! Which means–you guessed it!–I'll even have more wiggle room to stock up this month on bulk purchases (and maybe even to splurge on some more healthful ingredients–like the coconut oil I've been eyeing for the past few months!).

Truly bulk-buying and bulk-cooking are allowing us to eat much more healthfully on a very slim grocery budget. It's taken some practice and time to get there, but that practice and time is starting to really pay off.

Freezer Cooking Day: The final results (and come link up your posts, too!)

I made it to the end of the list. Well, okay, not quite, but it's the end of the day so I'm calling it quits.

Compared to FishMama's accomplishments, it looks like I didn't do much at all these past two days. But she's pretty much Superwoman's clone, so I won't feel badly (I used to live in the same town as her and have spent lots of time with her and she's every bit as amazing as she seems on her blog–even moreso in real-life!).

Here's the fruit of around eight hours of labor:

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Here are the final tallies along with links to the recipes:

2 dozen Whole Wheat Waffles
2 dozen Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
2 dinners' worth Freezer Mashed Potatoes
2 batches Granola
3 dinners' worth of Turkey Meatballs
3 dinners' worth of Slow Cooked Pepper Steak
3 dinners' worth of Farmhouse Chicken
8 dinners' worth of Chicken Tetrazinni (I made two different varieties since we really like this!)
4 dinners' worth of Chicken Broccoli Rice

All in all, we now have 21 dinners in our freezer plus at least 14 breakfasts and some snacks and sides. That will most certainly cover our dinners for the next month (and we still have some meals leftover from last month's Freezer Cooking Day!) plus a number of breakfasts, too. What a great feeling!

Freezer cooking is not for the faint of heart. It's a lot of work and I won't be lying one bit when I say that there's a point in the middle of every Freezer Cooking Day that I wonder what on earth I've gotten myself into. But it is worth persevering through as it saves me so much time, energy, and effort the rest of the month.

In fact, I rarely cook much during the month outside of my Freezer Cooking Day! And we eat out a whole lot less when our freezer's full, too. So it saves me lots of mental thought and physical labor the rest of the month and it also saves us a lot of money, too.

Things I learned from this month's Freezer Cooking Day:

::Always double-check to make sure you have more than enough ingredients on hand (so you're not trying to make a big batch of granola without oats!)

::Don't try to do other things on Freezer Cooking Day. Cooking a month's worth of meals is enough work for one day. Sigh. Why do I always have to learn these things the hard way?

::It's better for me to start early in the morning instead of waiting until the afternoon. Otherwise, I run out of steam way before I run out of recipes I'm supposed to cook.

::And in the same vein, I think it works better for me to do all the cooking on one day instead of breaking it up over two days.

I'm making a game plan for next month's Freezer Cooking Day based upon the successes and failures I had the past two days and looking forward to implementing it the first week in December when FishMama and I plan to hold another Freezer Cooking Day.

But for now? I have a very messy kitchen to attend to.

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Did you have a chance to do any baking or cooking this week? If so, post about it
on your blog and leave your link below to your direct blog post. I'd
love it especially if you could share pictures and recipes so we can get ideas for our next Freezer Cooking Day! And I'm guessing many
others would be inspired as well.

Freezer Cooking Day #2: Pepper Steak and Healthified Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

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I stuck the Pepper Steak in the crockpot to start cooking while I mixed up a batch of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.

We're experimenting with replacing refined sugar at our house right now so I redid this recipe to see if I could tweak it enough to make it healthful but still delicious. I used fresh-ground whole wheat flour, farm-fresh eggs, and 1 1/2 cups sucanat in place of the sugar.

They ended up turning out quite delicious! They are a little heavier than usual and wee bit less moist than the original recipe, but they are still very good and the girls didn't seem to notice any difference. I'm pretty sure that they'll gladly eat just about anything so long as it has chocolate chips in it!

Now if I could just replace the oil, make my own pumpkin puree, use chocolate chips made without refined sugar, and replace the storebought milk with organic farm-fresh milk, these would be the most nutritional muffins you ever did eat. But it's all about making little changes and babysteps, right? So I'll just guilt-lessly feed my family these healthified Pumpkin Chocolate Chip muffins!

Next up: Turkey Meatballs and Farmhouse Chicken

Freezer Cooking Day #2: Almost-Oatless Granola

After cleaning the kitchen, I went to mix together the granola and discovered that I had completely forgotten to check to see if I had plenty of oats on hand when I was making my grocery list. There was only about 1 1/2 cups left. Oops.

Instead of ditching the granola idea, I decided to get creative and see what I could come up with. I used this recipe here and what oats I had and then added in lots of wheat germ, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, coconut, wheat bran, almonds, and sesame seeds to make up for the rest of the missing oats. 

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It actually looks like it might turn out quite well. And it will definitely pack a nutritional punch!

Now I'm sticking the Pepper Steak in the crockpot and starting on the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.

Freezer Cooking Day #2: Starting at 8:00 a.m. instead

Freezer

So I said I was going to start at 1:30 p.m. again today, but after going to bed so exhausted last night, I decided to revamp my plan for today and begin cooking at 8:00 a.m. when I'm fresh and energized. I should have known better than to attempt a big marathon cooking session in the afternoon when I'm usually tired and ready to put my feet up! You live and learn, don't you?

Hopefully I'll be able to do a better job of taking pictures and live-blogging today as a result of starting earlier. That just didn't happen yesterday while I was madly dashing around the kitchen trying to make it through my list in four hours.

First, though, I must clean up my messy kitchen. And then I'll start in on my list for today!

I'll be back with an update soon.