You know those nights when the family doesn’t get home from school, work and extracurricular activities until right on dinner time? Making something from scratch usually isn’t an option. But what if you had a stash of beautiful dinners all lined up in the freezer, ready to heat and serve? Wouldn’t that be nice! All it takes is a couple of hours spent cooking on a Sunday afternoon or whenever you can spare the time, and the week’s dinners can be done and waiting for you.
Here are five top tips to keep in mind when freezing foods.
- Allow cooked foods to cool before you freeze them. Freezing hot food increases the overall temperature of the freezer, which may cause other foods to start defrosting.
- Put food in airtight containers or cover well with plastic wrap, snap lock bags or other. This helps prevent freezer burn.
- It’s a good idea to label foods so you know exactly what it is and when it was first prepared. Check out this government food safety website for a breakdown of appropriate storage times for frozen food.
- Some foods freeze better than others. Everyday ingredients that freeze well include bread, milk, grated cheese, butter, margarine and raw pastry.
- Avoid freezing dairy products, eggs and egg-based sauces, vegetables with high water content (such as lettuce and cucumber), soft herbs, foods with stuffings and plain yoghurt, single cream and cottage cheese.
Now you know the basics, here are two of our favourite freezer-ready meals to get you started.
Comforting chicken casserole
This casserole is just beautiful, easy to make and popular with everyone. You can serve it with mashed potato or toss through thick pasta sheets. Serves 4-6, depending how hungry your crowd is.
4 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup plain flour
500g chicken thigh pieces
1 brown onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
2 tbsp thyme leaves
2 tbsp oregano leaves, roughly chopped
4 rashers bacon, chopped
1 x 400g can tinned tomatoes
½ cup light red wine (optional)
½ cup tomato paste
- Preheat oven to 140°C then heat a little of the olive oil in a large, heavy-based casserole dish on high. Place the flour on a plate and lightly season. Dust chicken pieces in the flour, then brown in batches on both sides.
- Reduce heat to medium, add a little more olive oil then add the onion, carrot, celery and herbs. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened completely. Add the bacon and cook for a further few minutes, or until cooked completely.
- Pour in tinned tomatoes, red wine and tomato paste and bring to the boil. Return the chicken pieces to the casserole, cover with lid and place in preheated oven to slowly cook for two hours.
- Once cooked, allow the meal to cool a little. Transfer to a container and place in the freezer. Defrost and reheat to serve, along with some mashed potato and a green salad.
Top tip: If you freeze the casserole in a plastic container, be sure to leave a few centimetres of space at the top – the liquid will expand when frozen.
Tunisian lamb shanks
Another popular comfort food. Make a double batch so there’s extra for your freezer! Serves 6.
2 tbsp olive oil
6 x 300g lamb shanks, French trimmed
2 brown onions, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 tsp sweet paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
Juice of one lemon
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup prunes (pitted)
1 tsp lemon zest
- Preheat oven to 160°C. Heat olive oil in a large, ovenproof casserole dish (with lid) and brown the shanks on all sides. Set shanks aside, reduce heat, add a little more olive oil and cook onions and carrots for about five minutes or until cooked through. Add the spices and season to taste. Cook, stirring all the time, for another couple of minutes.
- Pour in lemon juice and stock and add dried fruit and lemon. Bring mixture to the boil, check seasoning then return lamb shanks to the dish. Cover then place in oven to cook for two hours.
- Defrost and reheat to serve, along with couscous, toasted flaked almonds and a sprinkling of coriander.
Top tip: You can substitute lamb shanks with other tough cuts for stewing and braising, such as lamb shoulder.
Being prepared can really make the difference to your sanity on the busiest week nights and you’ll love yourself for putting in that bit of effort in advance.