While we're on the subject of feeding people, let me share with you a recent revelation:
Food can be prepared ahead of time and then stored in the freezer.
Until now, my freezer was the place where I housed ice cubes, a container of something that may (or may not) be fish stock, and the two-year-old bag of peas that doubles as an ice pack.
And then my friend, Finola, told me about how each Sunday night she makes a slew of sandwiches, freezes them, and then grabs them as needed when filling school lunch boxes throughout the week.
I tried it and was amazed - not only by the quality of the result (high), or how quickly the sandwiches defrost (an hour, in warm weather), but by how much simpler this small change made my normally fraught mornings.
It was the beginning of a mini-revolution in my kitchen.
I began freezing everything that stood still long enough to be put in an airtight container (has anyone seen the dog?), and in a matter of weeks, my most underutilized appliance was catapulted from obscurity to stardom.
Mornings are less stressed without the competing pressures of preparing breakfast, making sandwiches and finding missing shoes.
Evenings are easier, too. I don't cook less, but I do cook less frantically, knowing that, on busy nights, I can reach for something I made ahead of time and save 'a la minute' dishes for times when I actually have a 'minute.'
Things are calmer. More relaxed. Okay, just plain lazier. Which is how I like it.
And my once near-empty freezer now spilleth over with:
- School Lunches. I crave variety, but my children are happy to eat the same lunch every day. In winter, this means a thermos of soup but the rest of the time it is sandwich city. Lately, I buy a dozen whole grain rolls (and G-Free bread for DB), leg ham and cheese. Make sandwiches as usual, pop into a reusable container, chuck in the freezer, and grab and go throughout the week. In winter, you may want to transfer them from the freezer to the fridge the night before.
- Breakfast. Two dozen muffins (12 blueberry and 12 zucchini) and one loaf of Coconut Bread, stored in slices, saw us through many breakfasts. Pull what you need out of the freezer the night before, and, in the morning, crank up the oven or toaster. Add a bowl of yogurt and some fresh fruit, and all you have to make is the coffee. A good way to kick things off.
- Gluten-free Baked Goods. G-Free baked goods normally have a shelf-life of one day. By freezing them, I am guaranteed a ready supply of homemade cookies, muffins and cake that DB (my gluten and lactose intolerant guy) can enjoy anytime. Eating G-Free takes a lot of advance planning, and this way I am less likely to be caught unprepared.
- Soup. Pureed soups, such as Tim's Tomato or pumpkin, freeze well and, stored in individual serving sizes, defrost quickly for a healthy snack, lunch or dinner. Chunky soups, such as minestrone, that contain whole pieces of vegetable do not freeze well as the veggies tend to go mushy.
- Cookie Dough. Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I filed away a tip from Nigella Lawson, who said that whenever she makes cookie dough, she doubles the recipe and stashes half in the freezer, for future use. This is especially handy when it comes to shortbread or sugar cookies, which need to be frozen before you can roll it out and cut it into shapes. Other cookie doughs (eg chocolate chip) can be rolled into a rough log for easy slicing and baking later.
- Toasted Sandwiches. It took me 5 minutes to make 12 prosciutto and Fontina panini, ready for toasting for a quick, hot breakfast or lunch.
- Chicken stock. I am storing it in manageable, labeled units ('2 cups' or '1 litre'), which makes defrosting quicker and cuts down on waste.
- Things other people made. Little by little, I have been stocking up on food from the market that other people have made from scratch (not mass produced), such as lamb curry, pork dumplings and Lucia's meatballs, and stashing it in the freezer for easy eating later. All I need to do is make rice and steam something green, or boil pasta and toss a salad. Or maybe not even that, if the wheels have truly fallen off.
Notes: Advanced Freezing
I will never reach these organizational heights, but for those of you with powers greater than my own, I understand that one can also:
- fill ice cube trays with left-over wine (we've never had any), lemon juice, pesto, tomato paste, egg whites, etc;
- freeze overly-ripe bananas for baking later;
- buy berries and other fresh fruit when it is in season (and least expensive), and freeze for smoothies and baking later;
- buy meat and cheese in bulk (it's cheaper), freeze in portions and use as needed;
- make and store quantities of pastry, ready for impromptu quiche, tarts, etc;
- pick (or purchased) fresh herbs, freeze, and defrost as needed; or even
- take the "cook for a month" approach and spend one weekend a month cooking and packaging everything you need to produce thirty consecutive family meals. The mind boggles.