The following is a guest post by Dr. Alice of Feet First.
Dr. Alice says:
I almost feel as though I should start this piece with an apologia, since I think most readers of this site already know how handy the freezer can be for make-ahead meals. However, I shall forge ahead and tell you a few of my freezer stories. This piece was really inspired by my relative and how she has come to rely on her freezer since her diagnosis. This really impressed me (she is the immunosuppressed patient I wrote of previously). Having moved into her temporary apartment at the treatment center and before she started chemo, my relative thought ahead and froze a couple of meals’ worth of food before I arrived. Although the apartment’s freezer compartment is small she had put it to good use, and there was not a TV dinner to be seen in it: instead it contained homemade spaghetti sauce, hamburger patties and black bean chili. She made the patties herself – bought the meat, seasoned it with salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce, then made the patties and froze them individually in Ziplock bags. These thaw quickly, since they are flat and have a lot of surface area, and are so much better than the preformed patties you get at the store. Since she currently has no car and is dependent on a shuttle to take her to the grocery store, using the freezer has become particularly important. This ensures that when her treatments fatigue her, or if she has caregivers staying with her who don’t cook, she has an easy dinner option available without resorting to takeout and spending extra money.
I was able to show her a few freezer tricks as well. She was surprised to see me put the flour and Cream of Wheat cereal we bought into the freezer – this will kill any bugs in the grain products and helps keep them fresh (her apartment doesn’t have air conditioning). I shared a few tips I learned from a Mark Bittman column with her, too. Here’s one: Did you know that you can freeze leftover wine? It won’t be great for drinking after it thaws, but will be perfectly fine for cooking.
What I mostly freeze at home is pasta sauce and soup. On a weekend I may buy in bulk, cook in quantity (maybe more than one kind of sauce), and freeze. This tomato vodka cream sauce is a good example of one to try, as it’s different enough to be a nice change, can be made in large quantities and freezes very well. You can make more than one kind of soup – lentil freezes well, as does black bean – or maybe a big pot of stock to freeze in two-cup increments.
Cooked rice and beans also freeze well. A few months ago after a dinner meeting I got my hands on a leftover pan of steamed rice that nobody else wanted, and decided to try freezing it – I used two cup plastic containers. What can you do with frozen rice? I’ll tell you: it makes GREAT fried rice. You thaw the rice either at room temp or on Defrost in the microwave, assemble your other ingredients (important since the cooking here goes fast), and get started. I find a wok really does make a difference here, but any deep frying pan will do. I also recommend peanut oil since it is stable at high temperatures, but corn or safflower oil will be fine. Start with some finely chopped onion and celery or carrot and let go for a minute or two. Add a clove of chopped garlic, then throw in your thawed rice and some frozen peas. Stir and toss like mad over high heat. Prior to beginning the frying process you will have scrambled one or two eggs with a splash of soy sauce. When things look just about done, move the rice to the sides of the pan and pour the eggs into the middle. Stir frequently; in a minute or so they will be half-scrambled. Mix the eggs into the rice, which will complete their cooking, and serve with fresh fruit. (Bean sprouts cooked with the other veg are nice if you have them.) This makes a great last-minute meal.
My relative told me that immediately after her diagnosis a friend had brought her several quiches, which she sliced and froze. One or two quiche slices plus a salad made a great dinner, she said, and she was happy to share her friend’s recipe with me. It has a crust made of shredded potatoes instead of pastry. It’s rich, but a real treat and freezes well.
3 T. butter (divided) 1/2 lb bulk Italian sausage, or Jimmy Dean
1/2 C. chopped onion 1/2 C. bottled roasted red pepper, drained & chopped
2 T. oil 20 oz pkg fresh potato shreds (hash browns)
6 eggs 1 1/2 C. cheddar/jack cheese, shredded
1/2 C. heavy cream 1/4 C. shredded Parmesan
2 dashes hot sauce 8 slices Roma tomato
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Melt 1 T. butter in a 10 inch heavy ovenproof skillet (seasoned cast iron is good) and brown sausage three mins. Add onion, saute 2 mins. Drain and transfer to a bowl with the pepper; stir to combine. Return skillet to burner and add 1 T. butter and the oil.
Arrange hash browns in pan, pressing them up the sides with a spatula to form a crust. Season with salt and pepper; dot with 1 T. butter. Cook 10 mins. or until the edges start to brown. Sprinkle cheese over potato shell and then spoon sausage mixture over cheese. (note: you can also use a Swiss/fontina cheese combination if you prefer.)
Whisk together eggs, cream, hot sauce, salt and papper; pour over mixture in crust. Arrange tomatoes on top and sprinkle with Parmesan. Place pan in oven and bake 25 mins., until filling is firm and the tip of a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let pan stand five minutes. Run a spatula around the rim to loosen and slide the quiche out of the pan. Either serve it or let cool completely, cut into slices, wrap each slice individually and freeze. When slices are frozen put them all into a large Ziplock bag and return to the freezer. Thaw and heat slices in microwave as needed.
Dr. Alice lives, works and blogs in Los Angeles. In her spare time she writes and collects cookbooks and craft ideas.
Be sure to visit her at Feet First.
If you are interested in contributing a guest post, please email Heather@Home-Ec101.com.