Putting your freezer to work will save you time and money during the busy winter months (especially as we head toward the busy holiday season). If you can find a day or two to devote to some big-batch cooking, get to it — it will ensure you have healthy, prepared meals at the ready, and will help reduce the number of take-out dinners you rely on in a pinch.
Here are eleven ways to get the most out of big-batch cooking:
1. Make a plan: Decide on the four or five recipes you’re going to make in one session, and grocery shop everything at once. Double-check that you have all the spices and pantry items your recipe calls for; last-minute supermarket runs are frustrating.
2. Choose the right recipes: Don’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to freezer meals. Prepare meals you’re familiar with, and ones that are popular with the family. Look for recipes that call for inexpensive cuts of meat (shoulder, thighs, ground meat etc.) as these meats freeze best. Stews, soups and casseroles are classic freezable dishes.
3. Have the right containers on hand: Determine what containers or freezer bags you will need and have them before you start. You want your cooking to be efficient, and you want to be able to store things properly. When possible, freeze in containers that the meal can be thawed and reheated in.
4. Cheat the chop: Do not hand chop 6 cups of onions and two heads of garlic – you will never want to big-batch cook again! Instead, use your food processor to help when you can, this is meant to be efficient cooking. Tip: food processors are also great for grating cheese.
5. Don’t double your baking recipes: Baking recipes are like chemistry, it’s the percentage of each ingredient that makes a recipe successful. When recipes are doubled, these percentages are thrown off-kilter and you won’t get the results you’re looking for. Make single recipes a few times instead (but skip washing the bowls!).
6. Double (non-baking) recipes: The main concern when doubling recipes is spicing and seasoning. For instance, 1 tbsp of red chili flakes tends to react differently than 3 tbsp, even if the other ingredients have been tripled. Add spices moderately, tasting as you go when possible. The same goes for salt and pepper: don’t over-season, as you won’t be able to correct it later. Adjusting seasoning is a great idea once your meal is thawed and reheated. If you want to add more spices to a dish – “bloom” them first. To bloom, heat a small amount of oil in a fry pan, add your spices and cook just until fragrant – then add to your meal. This brings out the flavour of the spices and avoids the raw texture that spices can have.
7. Watch the vegetables: For soups and stews, slightly under-cook your vegetables. They are going to get a second round of cooking when the meal is prepared, and this prevents them from becoming mushy.
8. Cool foods fully: Let all dishes come to room temperature before freezing them, but once they’re at room temperature, freeze them immediately to prevent any growth of bacteria. For baked goods, it’s also best to freeze them as soon as they’re at room temperature – it seals in the freshness.
9. Get rid of the air: Air is the enemy in your freezer; it causes that dreaded ‘freezer-burn’. If freezing in a freezer bag, use a straw to suck out any excess air. If food doesn’t completely fill a container, lay a piece of parchment over the dish, tucking in the sides to prevent the air from getting to your dish.
10. Label, label, label: Sure, you might think you’ll remember the difference between your roasted tomato sauce and your regular tomato sauce – but once it’s frozen and three months have passed, you may not. Label with name, date and any recipe directions you may need once thawed.
11. Freeze in usable portions: There’s no point freezing 4 litres of chicken noodle soup in one solid block, unless you intend on using it all at once. Instead, consider the portion size you will need for a meal and freeze it in appropriate containers.
Looking for suggestions on some great recipes for big-batch cooking? Here you go: