Eat More, Cook Less Series Part 3 of 4: 3 ways to use your freezer to cut your cooking time in half!

freezer

I have a confession to make: we bought our deep freezer solely for  breastmilk. You know you're a Mom when ... What I didn't expect once we got settled at home with a newborn was how quickly the freezer became my new best friend for keeping my sanity during meal time, snack time, and anytime in between.

We connected during sleep deprived nights, when freshly pumped milk had to be frozen at 3 am.

We had special moments during blood sugar crashes, when I remembered I had some black bean brownies that I could reach for anytime.

We bonded as much as an inanimate object and an overwhelmed new mother can. Kind of like the relationship that I had with my breast pump.

So when it got to the point that I had to choose my sanity over pumping (and sleep deprivation), I chose sanity. Suddenly, my strong relationship with our deep freezer seemed over, until we finally got home with our son from the hospital after 4 1/2 months, and meals weren't magically made for me like they were at the Ronald McDonald House.

That's when I started using my freezer so that I could have a hot, healthy dinner on the table without having to cook.

Looking back, I don't know how I did it.  I took advantage of the adrenaline rush of bringing Aleks home for the first time, and being re-united with my beloved kitchen after many, many months during a not-so-fun pregnancy and an even worse newborn experience, to make at least 30 single serve meals.

This adrenaline rush felt like the kind I always get when I start a new healthy routine, when I stay with it for a few weeks before life gets in the way and I fall off the wagon.

My adrenaline rush ended, just like it always does, but it left me with a whole months worth of hands free cooking!

Now that I'm a little more used to our daily routine, with dirty diapers (for Aleks), naps (hopefully for both of us), and multiple outfit changes (for me, damn you sneaky baby poop!), I steal 5 minutes here and there to make some quick, healthy snacks that I can store in the freezer and grab when I need them.  This usually happens when it's noon and I realize that Aleks has eaten 3 times, and I haven't had anything but my morning lemon water.  Hangry doesn't even begin to describe it.

Here's exactly how I use my freezer to reduce my cooking time by 50%, save money on expensive pantry necessities, and keep healthy snacks ready to pop into my mouth in a moments notice:

  1. Cook and buy in bulk: By far, the best way to save time and money in the kitchen is to make huge batches of crock pot meals, and freeze the leftovers in single serving aluminum containers with cardboard lids that can go straight from the freezer to the oven. If you can afford to freeze your meals in glass containers, please do! I write the name of the recipe and the date it was made on the lid (eat meals within 6 months for a deep freezer, and 3 months for a regular freezer), and put each aluminum container in a large Ziploc freezer bag so it doesn't get freezer burn. My favourite cookbook is "The Healthy Slow Cooker" by Judith Finlayson.  Most of the recipes are already for 6-8 servings, and since there's 2 adults in our household, I only need to cook 2 of these crockpot meals per week, which equals a minimum of 6 single serve frozen meals.  Do this for 5 weeks, and you have a whole months of frozen meals ready to go!  To re-heat the frozen containers, take the lid off, cover it with an oven friendly lid or aluminum foil, and cook it in a 375°F oven for 45-60 minutes until it's bubbly and reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.  Eat immediately, and never reheat or refreeze leftovers.
  2. Make free veggie and chicken broth: There's nothing inherently wrong with store-bought veggie or chicken broth, except it's usually FULL of sodium and tastes like crap. That's lose-lose! You know all of the sweet potato peels, celery ends, carrot stubs, and the outer layers of onions that you peel off? Instead of throwing them out, save all of those in a large Ziploc bag in the freezer, and when you have a full bag, put them in the crockpot, fill with cold water to the top, turn it on high, and leave it for 4-6 hours to make free veggie broth. For chicken broth, buy some chicken bones from your butcher (at our local butcher it's 50 cents a pound, you'll need 3 pounds of bones for one batch). Follow the same steps as the veggie broth, but add in the chicken bones and some vinegar (it pulls extra minerals out of the bones), and ideally cook for 6-24 hours. A full recipe for nourishing chicken broth is below. I freeze extra broth I'm not using within 4 days in glass mason jars, making sure I leave at least an inch in the top for the liquid to expand. Nobody wants shards of frozen glass in their freezer, waiting to slice your wrist open! This method makes between 2-3 litres of broth, costing a max of $1.50. The equivalent amount of store-bought, crap-tastic broth will cost you a minimum of $6. I must have been having a genius moment (you know, the opposite of a brain fart) when I thought of this money saving method. You're welcome.
  3. Keep healthy, single portion snacks ready to go: I love me some superfood snack balls, especially this recipe by Joy McCarthy, RHN.  I make a single or double batch, and freeze them. You could do the same thing with muffins, homemade power bars (like these ones), and even fruit crumbles. For sticky snacks, freeze them in a single layer on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. When they're totally frozen, you can transfer them to a glass dish or Ziploc freezer bag, separated by parchment paper. Same thing as the single serve meals above, label the bag with the date you made them on, and eat within 3 months for a regular freezer, and 6 months for a deep freezer.

In the next, and last (boo!), part of the Eat More, Cook Less Series, I’m going to show you the basics that I keep in my cupboards at all times so I can cook 95% of the meals I need to make.

To read part 1 of the 4 part Eat More, Cook Less Series, “The one time and sanity saving appliance that you need in your kitchen right now”, click here.

To read part 2 of the 4 part Eat More, Cook Less Series, "5 ways to fill your fridge so your 5 year old can make dinner", click here.

Leave a comment with the ONE thing you couldn't live without in your freezer!

HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK

FROM "NOURISHING TRADITIONS" BY SALLY FALLON

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 6 hours

1 whole free-range chicken, or 2 to 3 lbs of bony chicken parts, such as necks, backs, breastbones and wings
Gizzards from one chicken (optional)
Feet from the chicken (optional)
4 quarts cold filtered water
2 tbsp vinegar
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 celery sticks, coarsely chopped
1 bunch parsley

1. If you are using a whole chicken, cut off the wings and remove the neck, fat glands and the gizzards from the cavity.  By all means, use chicken feet if you can find them – they are full of gelatin.  Even better, use a whole chicken, with the head on.  These may be found in Oriental markets.  Farm-raised, free-range chickens give the best results.  Many battery-raised chickens will not produce stock that gels.
2. Cut chicken parts into several pieces.  If you are using a whole chicken, remove the neck and wings and cut them into several pieces.
3. Place chicken or chicken pieces in a large stainless steel pot with water, vinegar and all vegetables except parsley.
4. Let stand 30 minutes to 1 hour.
5. Bring to a boil, and remove scum that rises to the top.
6. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 6 to 24 hours.  The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it will be.
7. About 10 minutes before finishing the stock, add parsley.  This will impart additional mineral ions to the broth.
8. Remove whole chicken or pieces with a slotted spoon.  If you are using a whole chicken, let cool and remove chicken meat from the carcass.  Reserve for other uses, such as in the lettuce wraps.
9. Strain the stock into a large bowl and reserve in your fridge until the fat rises to the top and congeals.
10. Skim off this fat and reserve the stock in covered containers in your fridge or freezer.

Variations:  Turkey stock and duck stock
Prepare as chicken stock using turkey wings and drumsticks or duck carcasses from which the breasts, legs and thighs have been removed.  These stocks will have a stronger flavor than chicken stock and will profit from the addition of several sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together, during cooking.  Be sure to refrigerate and defat these