What should be in my freezer?
November 11, 2017 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I really enjoy cooking, but I'm a first-year law student without much time to cook on weeknights. What can I prep ahead of time and freeze to cut down my cooking time?

I'm more interested in ingredients than whole meals, but if you have a great freezer-friendly dish, I'd love to hear it.

Examples of what I'm looking for: frozen cubes of chipotle in adobo to add to soup, frozen pesto to add to pasta, etc. Sauces that freeze well would be helpful!

(I'm doing most of my cooking in an Instant Pot at the moment, if that's a factor!)

posted by frizzle to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I dice big batches of onions, carrots, and celery and freeze them in separate bags—I use all three frequently in soups and casseroles and it’s so nice to have that prep work done ahead. I’ll also make a big batch of rice and freeze it in individual portions—quart freezer bags work well and you can store them flat. If ground beef is on sale I’ll buy a lot, brown it, and freeze flat in bags in smaller portions. Same with chicken breasts—poach them, chop them up, and freeze.
All of above are staples in my freezer and I get nervous when I start to run low on any of them!
posted by bookmammal at 11:58 AM on November 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Reddit's /r/MealPrepSunday is a goldmine, though primarily of whole meals.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:12 PM on November 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Fry up a diced onion and a large grated carrot in a big saucepan. Add half a kilo of beef mince and brown it. Add a can of chopped tomatoes or peseta and a glug of red wine. Dice a red pepper and throw it in too. Simmer it for a bit. Divide into portions and freeze, either in freezer bags or takeaway containers. This gives you a versatile base that can make a bunch of different meals.

Defrost it in a saucepan and:
Add basil and garlic and serve with spaghetti for a bolognaise.
Or dollop it on a baked potato.
Or add beans and spices to it and it becomes a chilli.
Or add gravy granules and frozen peas, serve with mashed potato and it's a shepherd's pie.

Of course that's not exactly what bolognaise/chilli/shepherd's pie is, but you can make a good student-calibre facsimile of all of them from the same starting point.

Oh! And gravy. Gravy freezes really well. I try to always have a couple of pots of it in the freezer.
posted by Lorc at 12:12 PM on November 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a big fan of this sort of thing. My highlights:
* Caramelized onions. Take a slow-cooker (InstantPot kinda works here but evaporation can be an issue if you don't stir more regularly), chop a bunch of onions, add oil/butter, set, let cool, put into ice-cube trays, when frozen, put into freezer bag.
* Mirepoix. Carrots+onion+celery, sweat down, freeze in parchment-paper tubes, carve off a hunk when you need
* Freezer-stock. Take a big gallon freezer bag, toss your bones in it, toss veggie ends, toss cheese rinds/ends, what have you. When the bag gets full, turn it into stock. Let that cook way down, then cool. Hopefully it's basically a solid block of stock-jello when it cools. Freeze into ice-cube trays, then pop back into a freezer bag for storage.
* Citrus zest. Have a lemon you're juicing? Zest it first, no sense tossing that out.
* Red sauce - one of my all-time favorites, they also have a pressure-cooker version if you're in a hurry
posted by CrystalDave at 12:13 PM on November 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

My go-to quickie Instant Pot meals are based on frozen boneless skinless chicken thighs and frozen meatballs, so I always have those. I also use a lot of frozen spinach and green beans just to get a green thing into stuff I'm making. I always have frozen okra for emergency gumbo, but it's quite good in any stew really.

I keep a big bag of bay leaves in my freezer, along with frozen chives, ginger whole and grated, lemongrass, cubes of parsley and cilantro and basil in plain and pesto form. You can split up and freeze cans of chipotle in adobo (lately I've been finding a version that's already pureed rather than peppers in sauce, which I like even better but can never use a whole can at once).

Make big batches of chicken stock (use wings, per Cook's Illustrated, I also keep a bag of those in the freezer) and veg stock, freeze in 1C portions.

Things I always have on hand that you could also keep prepped and frozen: onions, sweet pepper (chunks, dice, strips), warm/hot peppers (which I grow, so I have a massive freezer stash of jalapenos, anaheims, and shishitos). Celery, carrot, leeks.

If you make a lot of soups and stews, bake a few batches of these garlic cheese scones (tips: freeze your butter for 15 minutes and then grate into the dry ingredients; shape in a square and cut squares instead of wedges because the tips will break off in the freezer), freeze separately overnight, and then bag up. They thaw quickly in the microwave or oven.

I use pureed cauliflower as soup base, and tend to make a vat at a time with as many heads of cauliflower I can fit in the pot cut up. You can use pretty much all of the cauliflower, but do the stems first for 1-2 minutes and then put the florets and leaves in (plus some garlic cloves) and go another 1-2 minutes. I just stick-blender the whole shebang, cooking water and all, and then cool, portion in 1C servings into bags, and freeze those flat. Worry about salt and dairy and all that when you use it.

We eat a lot of chili, and when I make it I always make an enormous vat and freeze a few "sufficient for chili for two" bags but also freeze single servings, as these can become a component of chili cheese dogs/burgers/fries, you can make a fine omelette (try it with feta), it'll pass as pasta sauce or baked potato topping, you can even use it as soup base for a goulashy (American) type soup-stew.

Honestly a lot of my go-to Instant Pot staples are pantry, not freezer. Canned coconut milk, lentils and 12-bean soup mix and good dry beans (though you CAN make a fine batch of beans in the IP and freeze them for later, way better than canned), 28oz cans of diced tomatoes (the time for this is past, but next year at peak tomato buy and freeze some good ones whole, they'll disintegrate into whatever you're cooking), farro or barley, wild rice, dried mushrooms. Canned pumpkin (which is butternut and acorn squash) for soups. I keep one or two emergency jars of pasta sauce (one tomato and one alfredo, usually) and one emergency can of Campbell's Cheddar Cheese soup (sautee onions and garlic, steam broccoli for a minute, fork mash, add cheese soup and sriracha, serve with bread).
posted by Lyn Never at 12:54 PM on November 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have lots of rice, beans, carmelized onions, sautéed peppers, onions, garlic and corn (for topping my beans), quinoa, mashed potatoes (make them with lots of butter and cream and they thaw perfectly), cooked lentils, cubed butternut (Apparently you can roast straight from frozen but I haven’t tried yet), tahini sauce freezes well, falafel ‘dough’ also freezes well (add the baking powder AFTER thawing), And slices of lasagna and lentil loaf. Anyway, that’s what’s prepped in my freezer now. I personally find it helpful to make batches of things that work together but freeze them separately.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 1:08 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, and homemade pizza sauce in individual packets, packets of mozzarella cheese and pizza dough balls. I keep a bunch in the freezer - just pull the dough out to thaw the day before.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 1:10 PM on November 11, 2017

- Chicken stock! Rotisserie chickens are great for a busy life, and they make good bones for stock in your instant pot (I use this recipe which comes out a bit thin, but I like that because I can add salt, spices, or even bouillion to it depending on the recipe - if you like a richer broth, wait till you have more bones, or cook it longer).

- I really like to make this version of "Puerto Rican" black beans (based on a Nuyorican recipe I got on the internet somewhere years ago) and it freezes pretty well. This is for one can of beans but can be scaled up: Saute half a diced onion and a small diced pepper (bell or hot) in oil until translucent. Add half a packet of Goya Sazon and stir for a few moments. Add a can of black beans with the liquid and a minced clove of garlic. Cook on medium-low until some liquid has evaporated and it's the consistency you like. Freeze in quart bags - you can blend it and add stock to make it into a soup, or mix it with rice for rice and beans, or use them in eggs, or quesadillas, or nachos, or really whatever.

- Braised greens. Stem and chop some hardy greens (kale, collards, what have you). Put them in a heavy pot with enough chicken stock to cover, plus whatever flavoring you like (garlic is good, as is any sort of cooked pork product you have). Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer until the leaves are tender. Drain the liquid off, and store in small sealed bags (sandwich size is good). Like the beans, you can do anything with these greens: eat them as a side, put them in quesadillas or eggs or sauces or soups. I used to think I hated kale, etc. until Metafilter got me to cook them this way!

- Roasted cherry tomatoes: roast these at 450 in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, until they burst. Freeze in small baggies. Thaw and eat with pasta and italian sausage and feel like it's summer.

- Any big roast meat in the Instant Pot, either on slow or pressure: pork shoulder, pot roast, etc and then stored in sandwich-sized baggies. These are so easy to make delicious. For pork shoulder, I like this recipe(without the coffee rub). Or you can stick with a really simple flavor profile (half a cup of chicken broth, garlic, salt and pepper) and add flavor later depending on what you're in the mood for.
posted by lunasol at 1:15 PM on November 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you use tomato paste, put tablespoon size dollops on cling wrap. After it freezes, wrap individually. This is more of a money saver than a time saver, since most recipes only call for a tablespoon and that stuff in tubes is expensive. Plus in my experience, the tubes leak after a while.

If you use small amounts of bacon in cooking, you can freeze slices if you separate them with wax paper. You could cut it up and freeze in small amounts too.

I also keep lots of frozen fruit on hand for oatmeal and smoothies. I sometimes have a salad and a smoothie for a weeknight dinner.
posted by FencingGal at 1:41 PM on November 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you like the flavour of lemon, you can juice a bunch of them in one go and freeze the lemon juice as individual cubes in ice cube trays. Pop one out, microwave it, and add it to [salad dressing, pasta, sauces, baked goods, etc.]!
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 1:57 PM on November 11, 2017

Second the carmelized onions.
Pesto pucks (from partially filled muffin tins).
Cooked bacon, broken into pieces (toss in eggs, salads).
Smoothie ingredients (e.g., baggies of banana, kale, berries).
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 8:10 PM on November 11, 2017

This comment about foil packet cooking from modernhypatia is really great, basically composing foil packets ahead of time from previously-frozen chicken breasts or other meat portions, frozen vegetables, and seasoning, which you can pop straight into the oven from the freezer when you're ready to eat. I pull it out halfway through and stick a thermometer through the foil and into the meat partway, just for peace of mind that it reaches the appropriate internal temperature.

As far as sauces, this is about the time of year when fresh cranberries appear in the produce sections of markets here in the U.S.; cranberry chutney recipes like this one or this one work well as a substitute for cranberry sauce at holiday meals, but also freeze well and is a good accompaniment to many South Asian meals.
posted by XMLicious at 8:15 PM on November 11, 2017

One great thing I did once to use up some not-very-tasty bacon I got on sale was to make a giant pot of beans with the chopped up bacon thrown in with them as they cook. The result was super flavourful beans that I froze in small ziploc bags with some of their cooking liquid.

Usually, I'd throw them in a pot with some salsa to reheat, alongside some rice, or use them for breakfast burritos, etc.
posted by ITheCosmos at 8:00 AM on November 12, 2017

Meatballs! Make 'em yourself, or buy the kind already made and frozen from the store. You can then turn them into:

* Swedish meatballs (with the beef broth and evaporated milk you keep in the pantry) to serve over the rice or noodles you keep in the pantry--or eat on their own
* Spaghetti and meatballs (with the dried pasta and jarred spaghetti sauce you keep in the pantry)
* Italian wedding soup (with the chicken broth and whatever small shape of pasta you keep in the pantry, and the frozen spinach or kale you keep in the freezer)
* Cocktail meatballs (with the bbq sauce and grape jelly you keep in the pantry). Yeah this is weird but if it's part of your childhood experience of party food it can be fun to make for yourself.
* Meatball sandwich
* Meatballs on a plate, maybe with whatever sauce, condiment, or cheese you happen to have in the pantry/fridge (hey, it's low-effort protein)
posted by rhiannonstone at 4:58 PM on November 12, 2017

I'd say that if you use tomato paste the best thing to do is to get it in the squeeze tubes. That way it's easy to get a tablespoon or so but you don't have to freeze it.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:29 AM on November 13, 2017

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