When planning meals in advance, your freezer becomes your best friend. Foods like casseroles, lasagnas, and soups can be prepared ahead of time, frozen, and then moved to the refrigerator the night before the dish will be reheated.
When prepping foods for the freezer, where do you start? Airtight seals are a must in order to prevent freezer burn. Casserole dishes that come with seal-able lids are a good choice as well as containers with lids that can be pushed down to squeeze out the extra air. Freezer bags are also a great option – just make sure to empty it of as much air as possible before sealing.
Don’t feel limited to dinner foods when planning meals. Cooked pancakes freeze nicely and are a snap to reheat. Cook home style potatoes or hash browns and freeze them for a quick side dish for breakfast or even brinner – breakfast for dinner.
When getting soup ready to be set back, cook, then let cool. Pour into airtight containers, leaving an inch or so for expansion. To prevent freezer burn, place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the soup before putting on the lid.
Meat freezes wonderfully as does bread and rice. When contemplating fruits and vegetables for freezer habitation, think about the water content. If they’re watery, like melons, lettuce, or cucumbers, they probably won’t freeze well. Other types of produce will soften, so it’s best to use them in cooked foods or smoothies.
Speaking of smoothies, those brown bananas that usually go to the compost heap make wonderful drinks. Cut them into slices and freeze in bags. They’re a great base for other fruits, juice, and yogurt, and they’ll make your smoothie smoother and sweeter without needing to add anything extra, like honey.
Organizing foods by preparing them ahead of time will save you last minute trips to the grocery store as well as meal time stress. A little planning and freezer prep will help make your kitchen a peaceful oasis.
Quick freezer use-by dates for quality:
• Bread – use within a month.
• Fruits and Vegetables – three to six months
• Soups – three to six months
• Casseroles – use within a month
Freezer Tomato Sauce
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small organic yellow onion, finely chopped
3 organic garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves
5 leaves fresh organic basil, chiffonade or torn
2 (32-ounce) cans or about 15 fresh and blanched, organic crushed roma tomatoes
Additional salt & pepper to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
In large heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion. Sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is slightly translucent. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and sauté another 3 to 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent and the veggies are tender, being careful not to brown the garlic.
Add in the tomatoes, bay leaves, basil, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Simmer, uncovered, over a low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 to 2 hours, checking the seasonings occasionally. When the sauce has thickened, remove from heat and let cool slightly. Remove the bay leaves. Working in batches, puree the sauce in a food processor or blender until smooth.
Pour into airtight containers and freeze for up to one month or refrigerate for up to one week.
When ready to use:
Allow the sauce to defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Put sauce in a large pot over medium heat. Add the stock to thin the sauce out to the desired consistency. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Heat through and serve with your favorite pasta.