Frozen Assets: "Help! My Freezer's Too Small!"
by Deborah Taylor-Hough
One of the most common concerns I hear about preparing meals for the freezer is this: "I only have the small freezer above my refrigerator---how can I still do a full month of cooking ahead?"
For someone with only a fridge-top freezer, I usually recommend starting with twice-a-month cooking, or just doubling and tripling recipes as you go about your regular cooking during the week. As you get used to the method and learn ways to efficiently pack your freezer, you may eventually be able to store the entire month's worth of entrees in your fridge-top freezer. When I first began cooking ahead, we only had a small refrigerator freezer. It was at least a year before I finally had a second larger freezer to store my Frozen Assets---so it can be done. It just takes careful planning.
Before you do a big day of freezer meal cooking, clear out all the various non- essentials from your freezer. Wait until the freezer empties later in the month before stocking up on frozen bread, ice cream, etc.
To save freezer space, use heavy-duty freezer bags for storing most of your frozen meals, rather than baking dishes or disposable foil pans. When using freezer bags, remove all excess air (suck the air out with a straw, or press the air gently out of the bag from the top of the food toward the opening of the bag); freeze the bags flat; and then pack them in the freezer carefully. To prevent a possible landslide of stacked freezer meals, store your frozen bags of food standing on edge---much as you'd stack old-fashioned record albums (I'm dating myself a bit, aren't I?).
Another way to conserve freezer space is by preparing meals of sauces to pour over pasta or rice. Prepare the pasta or rice on serving day so it doesn't take up precious space in your freezer.
If you're in the market for a separate freezer but can't afford to buy a new one, don't despair. Ask friends, relatives and neighbors to keep an eye out for people moving out of state or updating their kitchens. I've known many people who have found perfectly good freezers for FREE just by making a few phone calls. Check your local newspaper's classified ads under Appliances, and also look through Garage Sale listings for any that are selling appliances. Also, keep a look out at yard sales, tag sales, appliance repair stores, and auctions of dented whitegoods.
The following recipe is an easy one to store compactly using freezer bags. My family loves this recipe---and it's one of the simplest I prepare.
(Serves 4 people; 4 times)
1 cup margarine
1 cup flour
8 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups cooked chicken, cut up
2 lbs. broccoli, cut up and lightly steamed
2 lbs. cheddar cheese, grated
Make white sauce: melt margarine in a large heavy pan. Add flour, stirring constantly. When it reaches the boiling point, add milk, mixing constantly with a wire whisk. Heat until almost boiling, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Place cooked chicken into four 8x8-inch baking pans; sprinkle each pan with grated cheese; cover pans with foil; label and freeze. You can also store this in zip-top freezer bags, saving the grated cheese to sprinkle on top at serving time.
To serve: Thaw. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes, or pour from freezer bag and heat in heavy pan on stove top.
Serve over cooked rice, spaghetti, or fettucine noodles (makes a Chicken- Tetrazinni type meal when served over pasta).
Deborah Taylor-Hough is the author of the bestselling Frozen Assets: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month and A Simple Choice: a practical guide for saving your time, money and sanity. She also edits the Simple Times email newsletter. To subscribe, visit Debi online at: TheSimpleMom.wordpress.com