Taste of Home is sponsoring a company weight loss program based on our new cookbook, The Comfort Food Diet. I asked one of the participants, Associate Web Editor Heather Gergen, to share with us her journey to a healthier lifestyle.
Last week, Mark Hagen, our Books editor and a former caterer, spoke to our Comfort Food Diet group about freezer meals. This topic is particularly appropriate for me as I’ve been on a mission to use up some of the food we have in our freezer. A spring-cleaning for the freezer, if you will.
Here’s some of Mark’s best advice:
Use frozen veggies in meals. Of course fresh vegetables are best, but the freezer varieties are just fine. They are flash frozen at their peak, so they are a much better option than canned. Throw them in your breakfast eggs or your dinner side dishes.
Freeze your own fruit and vegetables. I froze strawberries with great success last June, after I took the kids to pick them at a farm. The secret to freezing fruits and vegetables is to freeze them separately on a cookie sheet and then transfer them to a freezer bag once frozen.
Use frozen onions. Mark chops onions and freezes them on a cookie sheet, then pops them into a freezer bag, pulling them out as needed. The trick to frozen onions is to keep the bag in the freezer as much as possible. If the onions thaw out even a little bit, you will have to chip away at big frozen clumps. You can also buy prepared frozen onions at the grocery store. I keep a couple of bags in my freezer at all times. They are great for throwing in the slow cooker in the morning.
Cook it. Cool it. Cut it. Be sure to completely cool any cooked food before freezing it, and remove as much air as possible from the storage container. Air pockets cause freezer burn.
Freeze flat. Mark brought in a cooler with several examples from his freezer. When using a plastic freezer bag, he stressed the importance of laying items down on the bottom of your freezer, so that they freeze flat. When food is frozen flat, more of it can fit in the freezer. Make sure you don’t freeze food in a plastic bag on a rack shelf, or it will freeze around the grates and be difficult to remove.
Double your recipes. When making dinner, double your recipe so that you have enough leftovers to freeze. It seems like a simple concept, but I hardly ever do it. Mark also explained that if you are making a casserole that fits in a 13×9 dish, it can be easily separated into two 8×8 pans for two meals.
Save your baking dishes. How do you find enough pans to freeze all of those casseroles? Use foil instead. Line your baking dishes with heavy-duty foil sprayed with Pam before placing the food in the dish. Once the food has cooled and is frozen, use the foil to remove it from the dish. Wrap securely with more foil and put it in a freezer bag.
Freeze in single serving sizes. Wait for your food to cool, and then freeze it in foil-lined muffin pans for single servings. Or, cut lasagna and wrap it in individual portions.
Get organized. Spend the time to label and date your frozen food. No one wants to pull out mystery meat. Yuck! Speaking of shelf life, keep an inventory list of your freezer. As items are used and restocked, update the list.
Just don’t do it. These guys don’t like the freezer:
- Casseroles made with mayo, sour cream, yogurt or cream cheese, or gravies thickened with cornstarch and cream-based sauces.
- Raw produce with high water content such as cabbage, celery, lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, watermelon, tomatoes and citrus fruits.
- Cooked potatoes used in salads, soups or stews. Mashed potatoes and twice-baked are fine.
- Dairy items, such as milk, sour cream, yogurt and mayo.
Here’s a list of our favorite freezer friendly recipes.
What are your freezer tips?
What I Made This Week:
I love a good barbecue sandwich, and shredded meat sandwiches are particularly easy to make in the slow cooker. Both of these recipes are tasty and freeze well. Not only are they good on a sandwich, but also add delicious flavor to a salad without the added calories of a bun.
Get this recipe: Tangy Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Get this recipe: Shredded Beef Barbecue
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