Homemade Frozen Food

It's the year of the baby in Kellyville. Four families within our group of friends are expecting babies to arrive around the holidays. And Eve has meals for moms on the brain. Usually, the gals in the group spend a week taking turns sending over hot meals to the new mom. This year, I'm thinking of sending frozen casseroles before the babies come. Then Mom can use them during the tired ninth month of pregnancy or save them for the sleep-deprived first month with baby. I made calls to the usual sources -- ladies who have opinions on all topics -- to get some tips on freezing meals. "I freeze just about everything," laughed foodie friend Nancy. "And I am a big fan of tripling recipes so that I have a few extra meals to freeze. But certain dishes where texture is important don't freeze well, like soufflés or mousses. And with chicken noodle soup, if you freeze it with the noodles, the noodles will soak up a lot of the liquid. So never put the noodles in with the soup to freeze it. Cook the noodles up and add them to the liquid when you are about to serve it."

Nancy continued, "With most food, it's a question of how you defrost it. Some things are harder than others to defrost. Muffins freeze nicely and then only take about 30 seconds in the microwave to warm up. Potatoes gratin, chicken dishes, meatballs, tomato sauces, soups, cookie dough, and meatloaf are all regular frozen items in my freezer. With meatloaf, I prepare it in muffin tins, so I have individual serving sized loafs. We call them 'meat muffs.'

"Any dish that calls for frozen peas, I add the frozen peas to the dish right before putting it into the freezer so the peas stay frozen and don't get mushy."

Nancy offered one of her favorite recipes to freeze. "It is a 40-clove garlic chicken," she said. "You slowly sauté chicken parts in white wine, chicken stock, butter, garlic, and salt and pepper. That dish is a good freezer meal."

Cathy prepares freezer meals for a different reason. "I hate cooking," she explained. "So if I prepare a meal for a friend, I also make one for my family and freeze it. Quiches freeze well if you prepare the crust correctly. My go-to recipe is governor's chicken, which only has a few ingredients: onion-soup mix, Italian dressing, and apricot preserves. Mix them all together and pour onto chicken breasts and bake for 25 minutes. Serve over rice. It's a take on a sweet-and-sour recipe, and kids always enjoy it."

Cathy also recommended chili. "The meat can be round steak or pork, and you add garlic, onions, bacon, diced tomatoes, wine, kidney, pinto, and great northern beans. Season with cumin, chili powder, and black pepper and simmer for three hours. Serve over cornbread with grated cheese. It's a great comfort food and a protein blast for the new mom."

Erica suggested a pasta meal. "I've been making stuffed manicotti shells, which are easy to prepare and freeze well. Cook pasta shells about six minutes until they are still a bit stiff. Make up the ricotta mixture, stuff the shells, and freeze them in Ziploc bags. When you are ready to cook them up, just pour tomato sauce over them and bake."

"I just made green chile chicken enchiladas from Sunset magazine's September issue," explained Jill, "and I must say, it was a crowd favorite. I'm adding it to my regular-meals list. The cooked enchiladas can keep in the freezer for a month. The recipe calls for roasted green chilies, but I used jarred green chilies from Trader Joe's. It also called for garlic, butter, olive oil, chicken broth, corn tortillas, salt and pepper, and sour cream."

Sarah suggested a tuna casserole. "It doesn't sound that tasty but it does come out delicious. Boil any type of pasta and add milk, any cream-soup mix, mayo, onion, tuna, and top with shredded cheese. I leave the peas out because my kids won't touch them, but the recipe does call for them and sliced mushrooms."

I found a few more freezing/thawing tips online at life.familyeducation.com . "Cool foods quickly before packaging. Don't let food stand at room temperature longer than 30 minutes before freezing.

"Do not freeze tomato-based or other acidic foods in aluminum baking pans or cover them with aluminum foil.

"Freezer burn occurs when foods are frozen for an extended period of time or not properly wrapped and sealed. Even though these foods do not pose any health risks, the freezer-burned areas will be dried out and tasteless.

"Never defrost perishable foods (meat, poultry, fish/seafood, dairy, eggs) outdoors, in a cold room in the house, or on the kitchen counter." Instead, the site suggested using the refrigerator to defrost "meat/poultry/seafood or casseroles 24 to 48 hours or until completely thawed.... For fast thawing, place frozen packages in a watertight, sealed bag and cover with cold water. In the microwave oven, remove food from store wrapping (foam trays or plastic wrap) that may release chemicals into foods. Allow six to eight minutes per pound of food when thawing in microwave on low heat."

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