As part of my frugal lifestyle-in-training, I find the idea of batch freezer cooking to be one of the best tips that I've come across. The idea itself is not unique, but it certainly is a timesaver.
What does batch freezer cooking entail? Well, for me, it may be a bit different than for others. Some people will spend an entire day preparing everything for 4 or more different casserole dishes, cooking them, letting them cool, wrapping them in aluminum foil, and putting them in the freezer. For me though, I try to do things a bit simpler.
Many of the dishes that I prepare for my family and that they like start with some of the same main meat ingredient. Ground beef. Plain old hamburger. I take a lot of ground beef, say 5 to 10 pounds of the stuff, and brown it. I make sure its very crumbly by breaking it up oftern while browning it over a medium-low heat on the stovetop. I'll add diced onion and garlic, and some of our favourite spices, particularly chili powder. Not enough to make your eyes water, but just enough so that you can smell it cooking in the beef juices.
When it's finished browning, I drain the fat away using a large collander. If your family is on a fat-reduced meal plan like mine is, then you could pat the ground beef with paper towels to extract more of the remaining fat. I will take out a portion of the cooked ground beef for whatever dish I am making that night, then let the collander of ground beef sit for awhile, until it has cooled enough to handle. After cooling, the ground beef gets spread on a clean cookie sheet in a reasonably thin layer. The cookie sheet goes directly into the freezer above our fridge for half an hour or so. This rapid cooling/partial freezing helps the ground beef retain its crumbly texture.
Using a measuring cup, I measure out portions into reusable plastic containers. Some get 1 cup, some get 2, depending on how many containers I have available to me at the time. The sealed containers then get stacked and put into the apartment sized deep freezer that we have. They are ready for use at any time. You should probably not let them stay in the freezer for more than 12 months, but my ground beef containers never stay in the freezer for more than a month. Did I mention we eat alot of ground beef?
When I'm days that I'm feeling too lazy to do any real cooking, or if I know I'm going to be compressed for time, I can pull out a container from the freezer. Our standby meals using this mixture are: tacos, chili, spaghetti, shepard's pie, and another dish I make that has no name, but is comprised of the ground beef mix, a can of diced tomatoes, mixed with cooked elbow macaroni and topped with shredded cheese. Yum!
I haven't yet ventured into other batch freezer cooking ideas, but if they all suit us as well as this one does, I'm sure going to like pre-planning our meals a whole lot more. The benefits of doing this one thing save us money by not having to order out, or eat out as much, saving money by purchasing larger quantities of ground beef when it is on sale, as well as being able to provide a home cooked for my family when time is limited.
Do you use any batch freezer methods that are simple, yet extremely helpful? Please share your ideas.