Cooking for the Freezer

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

When you have plenty of time on your hands there is nothing nicer than shopping each day for fresh ingredients and cooking scrummy food from scratch. However, the reality of our lives is usually a little bit more complicated than that.

I quite often work away from home for days at a time, staying in hotels, living on expensive room service or tasteless supermarket salads drenched in chemical dressings. Even when I am working in Cornwall long days can mean that it is impossible to get to local shops during opening hours and so I am faced with the inevitable dash into a supermarket when I am tired and hungry.

On these occasions I must be the manager’s dream customer – I race around wildly throwing anything that looks appetising into the trolley along with random cleaning products that promise to make my life simpler (!!!), a couple of bottles of shiraz and industrial amounts of chocolate. The chocolate gets eaten in the car so I arrive home still tired but no longer hungry and looking with despair at £50 worth of ingredients which won’t form themselves into any kind of meal no matter how often I re-arrange them. The only solution at this stage is to pour a glass of wine, slump in front of the telly and forget about dinner.

There are two solutions to this problem:

One is to ask Martin to shop partly because he can often find time to get to the local shops when I can’t but also because he is one of that rare breed of humans (I think they might be called men) who can go into a supermarket for milk and come out with…milk. If I go in for milk I come out with milk and toilet rolls (because we might need some in two weeks) and “oh look cake tins are all reduced and I need a new loaf tin” and so it goes on.  And I might well forget the milk!

The other solution is to think ahead and occasionally cook for the freezer so that there is always something good to eat for dinner.

So I am writing this piece for all those other people who become insane when they are tired and hungry (I think they might be called women) and in particular for Rachel who asked me for some ideas for tasty freezer meals. Rachel has a young daughter and is expecting baby number two in six weeks time and wants to get a bit ahead of herself in the kitchen.

I should stress at this point that Rachel has never appeared to be anything other than calm and entirely sane in my company and her tendency to plan ahead is just more evidence of this state but I do like to imagine that she also has her moments…

As Rachel pointed out on the bun scuffle Facebook Page (please visit and “like”) it is easy, but a little dull, to make and freeze cottage pie/Bolognese/lasagne/chilli i.e. anything made with minced beef. So I promise this will be a mince free zone.

There are some basic rules for freezing which you can find here – it’s worth reading them before you start.

Vegetables

You can include lots of veg in any dish that you make but, if you want to serve extra on the side it is best to prepare the vegetables as normal (e.g. peel, slice or cut into florets), blanch them, dunk them in cold water to chill them quickly and then pat them dry before spreading out in a single layer on a freezer proof tray. Put the tray in the freezer until the veg is completely frozen then transfer the vegetables to freezer bags. This way the prepared items won’t stick together and you can remove as much or as little as you need each time. Most vegetables will keep well in this way for around three months. This method works particularly well for carrots and other root veg, broccoli, cauliflower, peas and beans.

Pies and Pasties

Pies and pasties freeze really well. Just make your favourite filling as normal, leave it to cool then encase it in pastry and freeze it. Cook from frozen in a hot oven so that the pastry crisps as it thaws. The best way to freeze a pie is in the tin you will cook it in: Once frozen you can remove it from the tin and wrap it well in cling film. If you prefer you can make it and freeze it in a disposable foil tray which will protect your pie in the freezer and will transfer straight from freezer to oven.

Alternatively you can bake the pie before freezing. In this instance you will need to let it thaw before re-baking.

My favourite pie fillings are chicken and leek in a creamy white sauce, beef and ale (try adding dry mustard powder to your pastry mix) or curried vegetable (fry an onion in a little oil with garlic and a chopped green chilli, add 1 tbsp garam masala, 1tsp ground cumin and 1 tsp turmeric. Stir until the spices are toasted. Add some vegetables; carrots, cauliflower, parsnip, peas etc and half a pint of water – simmer until the vegetables are just cooked. Drain the vegetables and thicken the sauce using a roux. Return the vegetables to the sauce and leave to cool).

You can, of course, also make and freeze a range of fruit pies or crumbles – try apple, cinnamon and raisin, rhubarb and stem ginger or cherry.

Lemony Sausage and Fennel Casserole

Casseroles and Stews

Casseroles generally freeze really well but it’s a good idea to make them with a little more liquid than usual so that the main ingredients are completely submerged when you freeze them. You can always reduce the sauce when you re-heat it. You can freeze them in individual portions in freezer bags or in family sized portions in freezer boxes. It’s best to defrost thoroughly before reheating so that they can be properly re-heated without over cooking the ingredients.

Classic casseroles include boeuf Bourguignon or coq au vin but if you fancy something a little different try Venison Casseroled in Port, Nigel Slater’s Moroccan style chicken or this lovely lemony sausage and fennel casserole.

Favourite British stews freeze well too; Irish stew, braised beef or rich vegetable stews full of root vegetables, beans and pulses.

This section could also include those recipes which fall somewhere between a stew and a casserole such as beef stroganoff, goulash or a pork ragout.

Curries

Whatever your favourite curry recipe – you can freeze it.  If the recipe calls for yoghurt to be stirred in at the end then leave this stage out until you have re-heated it as yoghurt doesn’t freeze wonderfully well and has a tendency to split when you re-heat it.

Soups

Fresh soups taste so much better than bought soups and very little flavour is lost when you freeze and reheat them. I think Autumn is the perfect time for soups, they are warming on a cold damp day, can make a light lunch or a more satisfying no hassle meal with some crusty bread and some cheese and pickles or cooked meats. At this time of year carrot and coriander, spicy parsnip or roasted butternut squash soups are all hearty and warming.

Try this recipe for a roasted butternut squash soup spiced with ras el hanout (picture at top), make more than you need because you won’t be able to freeze it without eating a bowl first.

Bought Foods

It’s worth remembering that lots of good quality fresh foods can be frozen too. If you find yourself at the farmers market and you find something unusual; buy some for the freezer. We recently bought some wonderful duck burgers from Cornish Duck at the Cornwall Food and Drink Festival – we ate some fresh and froze some for later. They cook well from frozen and a really quick and tasty meal can be made in minutes. We also bought far too much of Baker Tom’s focaccia bread but found that it also freezes really well and the combination of the two was amazing – who needs burger buns?

Sweet Treats

Lots of batch baking can be frozen and used later on. When you have just had a baby you tend to get lots of visitors and if you want to offer them a “little something” with a cup of tea it’s good to have a batch of scones in the freezer or maybe muffins which can be re-heated from frozen and served warm.

My daughter recently baked my cappuccino cake for my mum’s (her grandmother’s) birthday. As my mum lives alone she had lots left despite our valiant efforts to help her eat it so she sliced what was left, wrapped each piece individually and froze it – apparently it worked really well so don’t be afraid to experiment with your own favourites.

Whatever you make, consider making extra for the freezer but please be careful – it is all too easy to eat all the extra food you made in one sitting without going near the freezer – or maybe that’s just in our house…

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