With the air more-than-a-touch cooler and the days a lot cloudier (and wetter), I’ve been yearning for warm, soothing fall foods. Soups, risottos, squashes, legumes. Not only for myself but also my little ones who are expending so much energy on growth spurts and teething, developmental changes and long weeks at school, learning new things, getting to know new people and situations. They need comfort, inner warmth and nutrition these fall foods provide to sleep well and adjust smoothly to this new rhythm of our days.
Cooking these often time-consuming foods seems to be lacking, though, especially on school days, when they are needed most. Dinnertime has long been a struggle for me as my girls tend to need lots of attention and monitoring in the hour or two before that key meal of the day, often resulting in me throwing something super fast and less-nutritious-than-I-would-hope-for into the microwave, feeding the girls, getting them to bed and then ordering out for myself and Keith, too exhausted to do any more. Frustrated and on the lookout for a better way to nourish my family, I’ve been devouring Soulemama’s and the Kitchen Witch’s recent posts on canning, freezing and stocking up for the weeks and months ahead. Inspired, I’ve set about stocking up my freezer. Slowly, I’m building up a stock of wholesome, healthy, yummy foods that allows me to feed my family in the “flashest of flashes.” *
What I have so far:
– Pizza Dough: A staple in the Nelson household, I wasn’t sure how to go about freezing it until I came upon instructions in the Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook: Whole Foods To Nourish Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women – And Their Families. I’d used this cookbook a few times while pregnant and liked it and when someone mentioned it recently as a good resource for recipes that can be easily frozen, I dug it back out.
– The Kitchen Witch’s Black Bean Burgers (Vegan-Friendly): We ate these for the first time a couple nights ago and they are sooo good. Pop them in the skillet right out of the freezer and 10 minutes later you have a gourmet burger. Even the girls liked them. They were fast to prepare, too; I used the food processor for all the chopping and substituted Annie’s Goddess Dressing for the hot sauce and garlic (there is garlic in the sauce). I will heed her advice next time and pat dry the beans and veggies; they were a little on the falling apart side. Didn’t affect the awesome flavor, though!
– Winter Squash Butter: A different take on apple butter with all the delicious fall spices – nutmeg, ginger, cloves. For snacks or sandwiches or whatever. I roasted the squash a few days in advance and then made the spread when I had an extra few minutes after the girls were in bed. One good-sized butternut squash made 4 1/2 small Ball jars of the orange spread. Enough to enjoy for the next couple weeks and freeze a couple jars for later. I like stuff like this less sweet than the recipe usually calls for so would probably cut the sugar in half next time but either way it’s delicious! Recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates: Festive Meals for Holidays and Special Occasions.
– Basic Black Beans: For use in soups, tacos/burritos, rice dishes, whatever. Soaked overnight then cooked in slow cooker during the day. Not much work and I was able to use part of the batch for a couple meals and freeze a bunch, too. I wish I’d made an even bigger batch of these and probably will next time.
– Refried Beans Without the Refry: My favorite (non)refried bean recipe. For use in burritos, nachos, etc. Followed the same process as with the black beans, slow cooking them during the day (these don’t need soaking overnight). Had enough for a couple meals right away and froze 5/6 cups as well.
A note on the beans: I read somewhere that it’s useful to freeze beans in 2-cup batches as many recipes call for the equivalent of this in can form. It’s also a useful amount when improvising meals. I did this for the black beans but, being out of freezer containers, not for the (non)refried beans, which I now regret. Thawing and using 5/6 cups in the week or so they’ll be good will be a challenge.
Freezing some favorite soups (I’m thinking the delicious and flavorful tortilla soup recipe from Organically Raised: Conscious Cooking for Babies and Toddlers, for starters) and the Butternut Lasagna from Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook.
Additionally, I’m starting to make our own wheat bread from scratch (using a bread machine) and I want to try making some of the oh-so-yummy-and-healthy rolls that Aria’s school makes (without a breadmaker) soon. Once I have these processes down a few times I’ll try freezing the breads too.
Getting used to making foods in advance is a bit of a slow process for me as I’m still figuring out which recipes freeze well and often I have to balance the desire I have to make freezer foods with the fact that my family also needs to eat today, but I feel like I’m making progress. I’m making bigger batches of everything so that I can freeze some and also have some for more immediate needs and I’m already seeing the benefit in terms of less stress and fewer time crunches around dinnertime during the week. This is also allowing us wholesome, healthy meals that I like sooo much better than most of the takeout we get and it’s ready in much less time than if I tried to cook it from scratch at 4 in the afternoon. I’m also trying to have the girls help more, in whatever way they are able, and having some of the food prepared beforehand allows me more time to include them in the process as I’m not just rushing to get it all on the table. They love helping and having the freedom to devote enough of my attention to them that I feel they can safely be in the kitchen makes dinner prep a lot more fun and relaxed for all involved. Not coming to the table stressed out (me) or spiraling out of control (them) makes the whole dinner together way more peaceful from the start, and that makes for a better night all around. Amazing what a little freezer can do, huh?
What are your favorite freezer recipes?
*Quote from the movie, Love Actually, the clerk at the department store, while wrapping Snape’s (c’mon, you do it too, don’t you?) naughty necklace.