Thursday, October 11, 2012

Using Your Freezer Effectively

This summer I purchased a deep freezer for $60 on Craigslist. I bought it because I was feeling guilty for all the room I was taking up in the tiny freezer I share with a roommate. However, that freezer has changed the way I eat and cook. It also has paid for itself several times over again. Here is how:
  • I can buy large amounts of meat while it is on sale. Meat is easily the biggest part of my grocery budget.
  • I can now buy meat at Costco, which comes in such large amounts I could not take up all that room in our little freezer. Costco meat is about the same price as grocery store sales and the quality is much better. 
  • I can cook large amounts of things such as wild rice hot dish, sweet and sour stew, chicken soup and freezer the leftovers for quick and easy meals
  • While frozen vegetables are not my favorite, it is nice to be able to keep a few packages on hand for a quick meal. 
  • When I have food on hand, I avoid extra grocery store trips which saves money 
However, your freezer can cost you a lot of money if you do not use it effectively. You have to store things so they do not get freezer burned. I highly recommend the ziploc perfect portion bags. I tightly wrap food in the portioning bags, and then place those in a freezer bag. I label each freezer bag with the contents and the date it went into the freezer. Another solution is a Food Saver system. My dad uses it and I cannot say enough good things about it. He gives me frozen fish and wild game and I have never had a problem with freezer burn. I would own one if I had more space. From experience, I will tell you that normal ziploc style bags do not work (maybe if placed in a freezer bag?) and tupperware is even a more terrible idea.

Another recommendation I have is keeping inventory of what is in your freezer. I have a chest style freezer and things can very easily fall to the bottom as I am searching for something else and get forgotten. Either you will find something down there and be completely disgusted at how long it has been in there and not want to eat it or you will buy things you do not need because of the forgotten food towards the bottom.

And one last tip--when you buy food you intend to freeze, do it right away. Otherwise it will just sit in your fridge and by the time you get to it, it might be too late to send it to the freezer.

I know eating out of the freezer is not for everyone. I do prefer fresh over frozen any day, but for the sake of my budget and for the sake of convenience, the freezer is great.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wild Rice Hotdish

Wild rice hotdish was a staple in my house growing up. It makes an excellent side to so much of the wild game that we ate around our dinner table. Wild rice is also incredibly good for you. It is packed with protein, folic acid, niacin, magnesium and fiber. When the leaves start to change color and fall, I know it is time to start filling my freezer with wild rice hotdish, which is actually much more like a pilaf. This recipe is so easy and it freezes really well. It is so easy to grab a dinner sized portion of wild rice from the freezer and then cook it in the microwave with a splash of water or chicken broth.

1 onion, diced
4 stalks of celery, diced
10 oz. of sliced mushrooms (baby bella, white)
3-4 sliced of bacon, chopped
splash of olive oil

1 c. wild rice

3-4 c. of chicken stock (use homemade, Swanson's or the Costco brand)*

1) Preheat oven to 350.
2) In a dutch oven, let a splash of olive oil warm up over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, mushrooms and bacon and saute until the onions are translucent and the celery is no long crunchy.
3) Add the wild rice and the chicken broth and place the mixture in the oven for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.*

If you want to freeze it, I recommend measuring the rice out in two cup portions and either using a ziploc bag or one of the ziploc perfect portion bags meant for the freezer, and placing the portions in a larger freezer bag.

*Depending on what kind of cookware you are using, this might change. For instance, I found that in my cast iron dutch oven, the liquid cooked off much faster because it conducts heat better than my non-stick dutch oven. I use 4 cups of liquid versus 3 when I am using cookware that conducts heat better.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pumpkin Pancakes

Last night before bed, I mixed up a batch of pumpkin pancake batter. I am not much of a pancake person, but I do love pumpkin, so I decided to give these a shot. This recipe is from the farmer's who supply me with a weekly CSA. I did not use fresh pumpkin this time around, but Libby's canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix). I also replaced the milk with almond milk,  the flour with rice flour and added an egg. If you do it this way they are gluten and dairy free. Next time around I might add another egg because these were pretty thick. They don't bubble like normal pancakes while cooking. They were also incredibly filling. One was plenty! I ate them with some turkey sausage and Anderson's Maple Syrup (aka the best maple syrup). I will definitely do these again and they are so quick in the morning if you make the batter ahead of time.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What's for Dinner?

Tonight I made Giada's Chicken Cacciatore, served over spaghetti squash with some mixed greens. I followed the recipe almost exactly, except for a few things. I opted to leave out the flour. I added baby bella mushrooms at the onion/pepper/garlic step. I subbed dried basil instead of fresh. The grocery store did not have any basil and I killed my basil plant (hangs head in shame). The spaghetti squash was easy. I cut it in half, scraped out the seed and roasted it in the over for about 40 minutes at 375. The greens are simple and just served with some vinaigrette.