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Freeze-ahead convenience foods

You can either make intentional freezer meals or just double up recipes and freeze some for later

It won’t be long until spring gets underway and winter routines are replaced by long hours of field work. Knowing what lies ahead, now is a good time to start stashing away a few freezer meals to lighten the load.

Making freezer meals is easy and convenient. It can be as simple as doubling a batch of soup, stew or chili or as involved as spending a day making several meals just to freeze. Either method will go a long way to ensuring your family gets well fed when things are hectic.

Know your enemy

For best results, remember air, moisture and temperature changes are the enemy of frozen food. These three elements are the biggest cause of freezer burn, the dry grey-brown spots found on frozen food. It doesn’t pose a safety concern but it does cause poor flavour, colour and texture.

To reduce freezer burn and ensure best quality, try these tips for freezing food:

  • Keep your freezer at a consistent temperature of -18 C (0 F). Avoid opening and closing too long or too frequently or adding warm food to the freezer.
  • Cool food completely before freezing to avoid condensation and heating food already in the freezer.
  • Either dry food before freezing by wiping away surface moisture or suspend food completely in liquid such as freezing herbs in an ice cube tray with oil.
  • Use freezer-grade bags, containers or wraps that seal well and keep air out.
  • Remove as much air as possible by squeezing bags or using a straw or vacuum sealer.
  • Leave only enough airspace for expansion (about three cm below the rim of containers).
  • Freeze foods in convenient-size packages; e.g. single-serve or family-size portions.
  • Flash freeze food by placing in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  • Blanch vegetables before freezing to stop enzymes that continue to age vegetables in the freezer.
  • Label freezer containers before you fill them; include name, date and reheating instructions.
  • Use frozen food within six months and a year, and follow the first in, first out rule. Frozen food is safe to eat for months, even years later, but quality will deteriorate quickly after a year.

When deciding which recipes will work well as freezer meals, consider their key ingredients and whether they freeze well according to the following chart. While all foods are safe to freeze, those not recommended undergo texture changes that may not be very appealing. For example, potatoes turn mealy, cream curdles, gelatin dishes become watery, fried foods lose their crispiness and so on.

What to freeze:

  • Cooked rice, quinoa and whole grains;
  • Cooked meat, meatballs, meat loaf;
  • Sweet potato/winter squash (cooked);
  • Raw or marinated meat;
  • Soups, stews and chili;
  • Cabbage rolls;
  • Bread, buns, bread crumbs;
  • Canned or cooked beans;
  • Baked goods (cookies, muffins, waffles);
  • Dough and batter (cookies, pizza,
pancake).

What not to freeze:

  • Fully cooked veggies (brussels sprouts, green beans);
  • High-water vegetables (lettuce, cucumbers, radishes);
  • Potatoes (raw or cooked);
  • Foods with cream, yogurt or sour cream;
  • Mayonnaise-based dishes;
  • Foods with gelatin;
  • Fried foods;
  • Cooked fish;
  • Creamy soups or foods;
  • Custard or custard-based foods.

Unless otherwise specified, most freezer meals will cook better if thawed first. To do so safely, thaw food in a drip-proof container in the fridge. Never leave food at room temperature or in the danger zone (4 C-60 C) for more than two hours.

Here are two of my family’s favourite freeze-ahead meals.


Spinach-stuffed manicotti

  • 3 cups pasta sauce
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 cup shredded 
mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 4 tbsp. finely shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup chopped frozen 
spinach, well drained
  • 
7 manicotti shells

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add manicotti and return to boil. Cook for six or seven minutes or slightly undercooked.

Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside in a single layer allowing water to run off.

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).

Cover bottom of 8×8-inch casserole dish with 1-1/2 cups of pasta sauce.

In large bowl, mix ricotta, 1/2 cup mozzarella, two tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, egg, Italian seasoning, salt, nutmeg and spinach.

Using a teaspoon, a piping bag without a tip or a plastic bag with a tip cut off, fill pasta shells with cheese mix.

Place manicotti on top of sauce. Pour remainder of sauce on top.

Mix 1/4 cup mozzarella and 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese together. Sprinkle on top of sauce.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another five or 10 minutes, until cheese bubbles and turns brown.

To freeze: Do not bake. Cool assembled dish completely. Cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Label and freeze for up to six months.

To prepare: Thaw overnight in fridge, remove all wrapping and cook at 350 F (180 C) for 50 to 60 minutes. Makes: 7 manicotti noodles, for 3-4 people.

Recipe Source: www.gettystewart.com


Spinach-stuffed manicotti
photo: Getty Stewart

Chicken and salsa taquitos

  • 1/2 cup black beans
  • 
1/2 lb. cooked shredded chicken (1-2 breasts, 2-3 thighs)
  • 
1-1/2 cup grated cheddar or Mexican blend (6 oz./170 g)
  • 3/4 cup frozen sweet corn (130 g)
  • 
2 tbsp. green onions, chopped (1 green onion)
  • 1/2 tbsp. taco seasoning
  • 3/4 cup salsa
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 
12 soft whole grain flour tortillas
  • 
1 tbsp. canola oil (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Lightly grease large baking pan.

In large bowl, pour half the black beans and mash with a fork.

Add remaining ingredients (except tortillas and oil) and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Place tortilla wrap on cutting board or plate. Spread two tablespoons of filling down centre of tortilla. Don’t overfill. Bring tortilla edge closest to you up over the filling, bring the top layer of tortilla back slightly tucking some of it under the filling to form tight roll, continue to roll forward tightly.

Place taquito seam-side down on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling.

For crispier shell, brush tops of rolls lightly with canola oil.

Bake until crisp and cheese has melted, about 12-15 minutes, turning once.

Serve hot with extra salsa, hot sauce, guacamole, refried beans, sour cream and cilantro.

To freeze: Cool baked taquitos on wire rack. Place entire rack in freezer for an hour so each taquito freezes separately. Transfer to labelled freezer bag and freeze. Use within six months.

To reheat: Do not thaw. Microwave individual taquitos on high for 1 minute. Bake batches in preheated 350 F (180 C) oven for 20 minutes or until heated through.

Makes: 12-14 taquitos.

Recipe Source: www.gettystewart.com

About the author

Contributor

Getty Stewart is a professional home economist, speaker and writer from Winnipeg. For more recipes, preserves and kitchen tips, visit www.gettystewart.com.

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