Thrifty Divas: Jenny, thank you so much for being available for our readers and answering our questions about freezer meals. I was able to look over some of your book you sent us and it’s fabulous! You’ve really done a good job of explaining the process and I personally can’t wait to try some of your recipes at our freezer meal party this weekend.
What got you started in the business of making Freezer Meals?
Jenny: Nine years ago I made my first freezer meal.This was just before I had my first baby and I was trying to plan ahead to make life easier for me when the baby came. I was also working as an apartment manager while putting my husband through school at BYU and money was tight as well as time. The first freezer meal I made was chicken enchiladas and when it came time to defrost the food and serve it for dinner, it came out just horrible. The cheese sauce curdled and separated and it looked and tasted nasty. We ended up throwing it out and I felt just sick for wasting all that food and money. I didn’t cook another freezer meal for 5 years. Five years later I took a cooking class at Orson Gygi from an incredible Chef named Kathy and while she was teaching us she talked about how organized she was when she had teenagers at home. She had meals for the week cooked up and in the freezer for each night of the week. (And this was a gourmet Chef, so I knew then freezer meals could taste good.) Her children were each assigned a day of the week to get dinner on the table using the frozen food. I didn’t think anyone could be that organized! So I took it on as my personal challenge. After I learned the basics and became an expert at making freezer meals I started teaching culinary classes at Thanksgiving Point and a local Ace Hardware in Bountiful. I saw how it made life so much easier in my own home, saved us hundreds of dollars and I have tried to spread the word ever since. Also, I have always dreamed of being an incredible mom who has a sparkling clean house with homemade baked goodies on the counter for my kids and their friends as well as delicious food on the table for family dinner. Now that I have 4 girls under the age of 8, one or two out of the three of those dreams are usually all that I can make happen every day. Freezer meals make it so that I always have a delicious family dinner on the table each night.
Thrifty Divas: How have freezer meals helped you in your family?
Jenny: Soon after I began making freezer meals, I started noticing I had more time to be with my family and that I spent less time cooking and cleaning in the kitchen. I also noticed an increase in savings in our food budget every month. Some months we had a few extra hundred dollars. We were also eating out less. I was excited to start using the money somewhere else (like to get my hair done or to buy some new clothes, etc.). Having meals in the freezer takes away the stress of having to plan meals for the week. I know we have lots of options and I can just open my freezer 30 min before dinner and decide what to make. I’m also able to put together a quick meal to take to a neighbor or family member in need at a moments notice. And did I mention I can make warm baked homemade chocolate chip cookies in 10 minutes (when the cookie dough is in my freezer.) It is a lifestyle change and a great improvement. Once you start cooking this way, you will never go back. The book Fabulous Freezer Meals really will change the way you cook.
Thrifty Divas: Having a freezer meal party like my friends and I are having, where we are making 14 meals for all three of our families sounds pretty scary. Do you have some advice for us?
Jenny: I think it sounds fun and it will really help you and your friends to eliminate the worry of “what’s for dinner” for the month. One thing I would advise is have a meeting before you start and make sure everyone likes the recipes. It is no fun to fix a freezer meal for your family and then have to eat it all because they hate it. Also, make sure the amount you each spend on the ingredients is the same. It is frustrating to have someone spend just a few dollars on noodles and sauce when you spend a lot more on the meals you prepare. Lastly, make sure everyone labels the freezer meals with the time and cooking temp on the packaging with a permanent marker. To keep the cost down, I use large zip topbags to freeze my meals in. You can use foil pans, but they cost more and are harder to squeeze into an already packed freezer. Zip top bags can be layered flat like bricks in the freezer.
Thrifty Divas: What would you say to someone who isn’t convinced making freezer meals is cost or time effective?
Jenny: I first started making freezer meals with a book called “Once a Month Cooking.” I took the book to the grocery store with me and bought everything it said I would need to make 30 meals. Then I started the prep work. Because I have small children, it took me 4-5 days just to get the prep work done. (You have to chop a lot of vegetables and cook a lot of meat to get ready to assemble 30 meals.) Also, I only had one set of pots and pans so every time I used them, I had to wash them. Finally after all the prep work, I assembled the meals and some were good, but others my family did not like (I have a family of very picky eaters.) I ended up eating a lot of the food (and then I became sick of it) that my family would not eat. I ended up with a lot of strange ingredients that we never used again. So…to me it wasn’t cost or time effective. My method is different then once a month cooking. I stock my freezer with the basics (cooked rice, browned ground beef, cookie dough, etc..) then make a freezer meal recipe once a week. For example, I make Lasagna (recipe makes 6 lasagnas) one evening for an hour. My freezer stocks quickly in no time and I am never without a freezer meal. The next week I make 100 pot stickers, the next week frozen pizzas etc…A freezer meal for me is most often assembled with frozen basics. I usually take something frozen and then add it to fresh ingredients. This cuts the cooking time, clean up AND we don’t have casseroles every night. For example if my family wants chimi-changas for the night, I take out frozen browned ground beef (or use Taco TVP), frozen tortillas, lime rice and frozen shredded cheese. Warm them all up, roll the chimi’s and quickly fry them in olive oil. I place the chimi-changas on a bed of lettuce and top with fresh salsa, guacamole and sour cream.
Thrifty Divas: Do you lose any nutrition with freezing?
Jenny: No nutrition is lost during the freeze. There will be some moisture lost, but that can be corrected with a sauce or marinade. When you defrost a frozen meal, there is usually some extra water in the bag. It is okay to pour some of this out, but not all of it. Keep some to rehydrate the meal.
Thrifty Divas: Really quick, are there foods you should absolutely avoid freezing either because it’s dangerous or because it will taste horrible?
Jenny: Freezing whole eggs (the shells will break and you will get egg shell shards in your egg), raw potatoes (they will turn black in the freezer) and fully cooked noodles. Noodles turn into mush if they are fully cooked when you freeze them. If you can put the food in the fridge and it has no effect on it, you can freeze it. (For example you wouldn’t freeze crackers… they would come out soggy just as when you put then in the refrigerator). One thing I do often, if I am unsure of how the food will come out after the defrost, I take a small sandwich sized baggie, place a cup of the food in it. Freeze it for 1 hour and then defrost it. Try the food and if it tastes great, you can freeze the entire recipe. This is how I discovered caramel popcorn can be frozen, my cookie dough recipes, clam chowder, etc..
Thrifty Divas: How can someone take their own recipes and turn them into freezer meals?
Jenny: There are a few tricks with each recipe, to ensure they taste fresh and not soggy when you defrost. Those tricks are all in the first part of my book. For example, one simple trick is when you are making frozen pizza, you pre-bake the crust for a few minutes at 500 degrees F and then pour cheese over the crust to seal it before putting on sauce and toppings. A simple trick, but necessary.
Thrifty Divas: What’s your one “go-to” recipe? The one that always pleases the crowd? Will you share it with us?
Jenny: Oooh, this is a hard one. It is so hard to narrow it down to just one favorite. Daily I pull out homemade wheat bread to use for french toast, sandwiches in kids lunches, etc… I LOVE to bake my Big Fat Chewy Chocolate chip cookies recipe. I love to serve my cinnamon rolls for breakfast. We just had a New Years Eve party with neighbors and I served those for breakfast. My Cinnamon rolls are easy because you just pull them out the night before and let them defrost on the counter. In the morning you pop them in the oven for 15 minutes and breakfast is served (and your house smells AMAZING.) As far as main dishes, my “go-to” recipes are either pot stickers with ham fried rice or homemade pizza. The homemade pizzas are to die for. Thick chewy crust, crunchy crust on the bottom, delicious savory sauce and they bake up in 15 minutes.
They are easy to make and I will share this recipe with you. My mom made homemade pizzas every Saturday night and we keep this tradition going at our house.
by: Jenny Stanger www.freezerdinner.com
Yield: 3 large pizzas
(Just half the recipe if you have a kitchen aid.)
•12 cups white flour
•1 tablespoon salt
•3 tablespoons instant yeast
•½ cup sugar
•2 tablespoons dough enhancer (optional)
•½ cup canola or vegetable oil
•4 cups water (warm)
•1 tablespoon oregano
•½ tablespoon garlic powder or garlic salt
In a large mixer, combine the flour, salt, yeast, sugar, and dough enhancer. In a glass liquid measuring bowl, warm the water in the microwave for 2 minutes. Add the water and oil to the flour mixture a few cups at a time. When combined, let the dough mix for 2 minutes. Dough should be elastic and not stick to your fingers. Add more flour if too sticky, more water if too dry. Let the mixer knead the dough for 8 minutes. (The dough can be frozen at this point. Just place each piece in a large freezer zip-top bag, then label and freeze it. To use, simply defrost in the microwave 1 minute on high and roll out dough to make a pizza)
Preheat oven to 500ºF. Place pizza stone (best for a crispy crust) in the oven while it is heating up. Or use a greased baking sheet. Shape dough into a large circle, then cut it into three sections with a knife. Lightly oil counter top and roll out each pizza crust with a rolling pin. Fold over the edges and press down to form a crust. With a fork, pierce pizza dough every inch or two to reduce the number of bubbles in the crust. Sprinkle cornmeal or flour on the pizza pans and place pizza dough on pans by folding over half the dough on your forearm and then lifting dough onto pizza pan. Bake for 4 minutes at 500ºF. You can freeze pizza crust (when cooled) or continue with toppings. Remove hot crust from oven and top with ½ cup cheese first (this will keep the frozen pizza from getting soggy). Prepare pizza sauce (recipe follows) and pour sauce on top of cheese. Pile on toppings; top again with cheese. Cool pizza and then wrap it in plastic wrap without the pan. Label “500ºF for 10 to 15 minutes” and freeze. You can also freeze extra sauce in zip-top freezer bags.
To serve: Do not defrost frozen pizza. Remove and discard plastic wrap. Place pizza on a pizza stone dusted with cornmeal, or on an aluminum pan in the oven while it is pre-heating to 425ºF. When the oven reaches 425ºF, bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is golden.
(Yield: Sauce for 3 pizzas)
•1 large can (29 ounces) tomato sauce
•3 tablespoons oregano
•3 teaspoons minced garlic
If you decide to make 1 pizza, I use a 8 oz can of tomato sauce per pizza, 1 tablespoon oregano and 1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic.
Thrifty Divas: Thank you again Jenny for taking your time with this and being so kind to do this. Your book really is awesome and I hope our readers will definitely order it and see how fabulous is. One lucky reader is going to get a copy of it, but we will go into more detail about that later. 😉
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