Make ahead food, sans freezer
February 8, 2015 2:36 PM   Subscribe

I've read quite a bit on the world of make-ahead freezer food (including a lot of suggestions from this great recent question). Now that my mental freezer is full of imaginary delicious freezer meals, I wonder if there's something similar out there for non-freezer food?

My freezer will soon be full of excellent make-ahead freezer food. What I lack in freezer space, though, I make up for in counter tops and pantry space. What kinds of food can I prepare ahead of time and keep at room temperature?

An example: I have a curry soup mix that I bought from my co-op. One half cup of the mix + one half cup of water = delicious curry soup.

Another example: calico bean soup where all of the dried beans are stored together in a bag. One bag + some other stuff from the fridge/store = awesome calico bean soup.

I've perused my library's very large cookbook section for make-ahead food, and only come up with freezer food and dehydrating food. Unfortunately, I don't have a dehydrator. I'm thinking more of putting together mixes for later. Just add water/fresh vegetables/broth/whatever and voila, the mix is now actual edible food. This does sound a bit like the sort of thing that doomsday preppers might keep barrels stockpiled in their basement...I suppose I'm aiming for something smaller scale than that.

1. What is this kind of food preparation called?
2. Do you have any recipes for this sort of thing? I'm looking for...

a. Recipes that could be stored on a counter top/pantry shelf for an extended period of time, in a bag or a sealed container
b. Something a bit more complicated that "yeah get some oats and add water and wow, you've got oatmeal"
c. Something a bit more delicious than the powdery "chili" that one would take on backpacking trips
d. Although I don't have a dehydrator, I suppose some other readers might, so dehydrator recipes are welcomed. Who knows, maybe I'll be inspired to get one.

posted by Elly Vortex to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Search for "meals in a jar" - I frequently see these kinds of things in homemade gift round-ups.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:55 PM on February 8, 2015

"____ in a jar" is a common description for this stuff. popular on pinterest.
posted by acidic at 2:55 PM on February 8, 2015

There's a reason that instant ramen is so popular - it sort of does this.

If you live near a biggish Asian market, see if they have packages of Chinese noodles available - I live near one that sells just the ramen noodles in bulk packages, with about ten or so single-serve bundle portions all stacked in a big bag. If you don't live near an Asian market, just go with the ten-for-a-buck things in your supermarket, open them up, throw out the "flavor packet" envelope of powdered gak inside, and put the noodle clusters in one box or something.

To serve - chop up some fresh veggies or grab a handful of frozen veggies, and whatever cooked meat you want (chop it up first); steam/cook/boil that in one pot. Heat up a couple cups of broth in a second pot and cook the noodles in a third pot - this will all only take about five minutes tops. Then strain the noodles, dump them in a bowl, dump the cooked veggies and meat on top, and pour the broth over everything. Done.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:57 PM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you have a dehydrator, you could use EC's method but make large batches of dried veg/spices ahead of time. Voila, homemade instant ramen, just add water.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:19 PM on February 8, 2015

Serious Eats did an extensive post building on EC's suggestion regarding instant noodle cups.
posted by telegraph at 3:26 PM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Make-A-Mix book might be just what you're looking for.
posted by metasarah at 3:36 PM on February 8, 2015

Back in the day, it was done by "canning", or preserving food in jars. Jams, jellies, relishes, chutneys, of course. Also, preserved fruits and veggies.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:18 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Definitely canning using a pressure cooker and mason jars. Watch out for botulism, though. Using jars with "clicky" metal lids can help determine if something is still safe.

Not quite countertop/pantry, but I went through a confit phase - cooking duck/turkey/pork in duck fat in a slow cooker and leaving the meat submerged in the fat. Store in the fridge, or "vacuum" packed in ziplock bags in the freezer. A root cellar in the cooler months might be acceptable.
posted by porpoise at 4:28 PM on February 8, 2015

What's your humidity like? Can you leave something like milk out or does it need to be refrigerated? I can't leave anything cooked out safely, but I can do dry mixes ahead. If you lived in cooler conditions with lower humidity, you could do xyz in a jar or in a bag pretty well. I have had 5-10 days depending on ingredients for hearty salads in jars, and also home-made bagged salads work well.

The Homemade Pantry is a lovely cookbook that focuses on recipes for make-ahead staples. I've only done two of the recipes so far but both worked and it's a very enjoyable book to browse for ideas.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:07 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

You could investigate how to dehydrate using your oven as well.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:27 AM on February 9, 2015

Seconding Homemade Pantry! Their instant oatmeal mix is above and beyond "oats and water" - it really is a homemade version of the "Just add water" packets you get in the supermarket. (And if you're going to try that - I find that the freeze-dried fruit you can get at Trader Joe's works PERFECTLY in that.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 AM on February 9, 2015

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