Monday, April 30, 2007

Frozen Assets

Quite a few years ago, I was staying at my parents' house while they were gone for the weekend and for reasons that are now mysterious to me (other than the fact that I like the feeling of having something to do when I'm by myself for several days in a row, and I actually do occasionally feel motivated to take on some big project, and I'm just such a nice person, and I think their wedding anniversary was around the corner), I decided I would spend the entire weekend cooking food to make homemade frozen dinners for my parents to enjoy when they got back. Despite making a couple extra trips to the store to stock up on supplies I had misjudged the need for (e.g. aluminum foil), I got a crazy amount of cooking done in just two days. I stuck with simple things that I thought would freeze well and that could easily be made into a complete meal by adding a salad - the kinds of casseroles that I think of as "church potluck staples" - the kind of food you bring to someone's house when they have been in the hospital or a relative has died - lasagna, chicken tetrazzini, enchilada casserole, etc. I also made a couple dozen muffins. It was a lot of work, but fun, and seeing the surprise on Mom and Dad's faces was priceless.

Much later, I found out that there is an entire movement centered around this fundamental concept of cooking in large batches and freezing food for later meals (damn, I didn't make this up myself): OMC (once a month cooking). The core benefits of this type of cooking are that you take advantage of economies of scale in production (e.g. it doesn't take much longer to make a double casserole than a single one), you can purchase ingredients on sale in bulk without as much worry about waste, and like with the kind of cook-ahead process that I have been using for years, you can shift the chore of cooking to when you have the time and interest in doing it rather than when you get home from work, giving you the convenience of food being ready to be reheated when you are ready to eat.

With Robert working on his dissertation and me on my math so often, and with our lives looking only busier in the coming year, we had been pondering the whole "how to eat efficiently" question for the last couple months. Many of the obvious approaches were problematic - eating in restaurants is expensive and generally unhealthy, or at best of unknown health value (and still time consuming unless you do the fast food drive thru); convenience foods often don't taste that great (and figuring out which ones are good is a long-term process that requires making a lot of mistakes), are more expensive and less healthy than cooking from scratch, and require more freezer space for storage unless you are buying shelf-stable items of dubious quality (I am not prepared to start buying Dinty Moore or Spaghettios and cannot rely on Progresso soup, peanut butter, and canned tuna for all my dinner needs); hiring a personal chef is totally inconsistent with Operation Cheap Ass. So we kept coming back to the same idea - make our own frozen convenience foods ourselves.

Problem numero uno with this, of course, was the fact that our tiny freezer is already filled to the max with an ice maker that takes up a third of the space and the normal array of items like frozen vegetables, Morningstar Farms products, and my muffins. We generally are hard pressed to find room for the smallest container of ice cream for Robert's snacking pleasure. But with a bit of online research, getting lucky in stopping at a store as we happened to be driving by (note: Conn's has an incredible selection of home appliances), and about $500, we are now the owners of an 11.7 cubic foot upright freezer unit that lives in Leo's bedroom. (Cheaper units are available but we were set on getting an upright that allows you to see all the food organized on shelves, rather than one of the bottomless pit chest freezers. We already can't manage the space of our little freezer atop our fridge.) I also purchased the book Frozen Assets: Lite & Easy (Emphasizing Speed to Such an Extent We Spelled "Light" as "Lite" and Passed the Time Savings on to You), which contains general instructions on the OMC approach as well as a selection of simple, healthier recipes organized by type of protein. They center the recipes around mini-sessions in which you cook about 6 meals (which for me and Robert, will be more like 12-18 meals) that use the same base protein. Although the "eggplant session" will not be seeing much action in our house, many of the others sound good. And obviously, you can use any recipes you want for this process.

We have yet to delve into this at all, but I have already put up a couple dozen muffins from this weekend, when I decided it was silly to make a single batch of muffins when I have two awesome silicone muffin pans. (Seriously, silicone muffin pans are the bomb. If you bake, do yourself a favor and use silicone. Just make sure you get the kind with a wire holder because the pans are mad floppy without one.) We also cooked extra rice on Sunday to put some in the freezer. But I see a "chicken mini-session" in our future.

1 comment:

Tam said...

Awesome! We love our "bottomless pit" deep freeze but chose that style mainly because we didn't have room in the one place it could go for something that would open outward. But just in general, giant freezers rock. Soon you won't understand how you ever got by without one.