Frivolous Friday: Big Pots Of Things, Frozen Into Little Tupperwares

roasting pan with tomatoes peppers onions and garlic

If you live alone or in a two-person household, the cost-benefit analysis of cooking at home can be challenging. Eating convenience food or takeout/ delivery every night can be expensive and not that good for you. But it can be hard to find the time and energy to cook a whole meal every night. That can be true for anyone, regardless of your household size — but when I was living alone, I always found it extra-hard to be motivated to cook, and it’s almost as hard with just two people.

There’s a trick Ingrid and I have been doing for several years now. It’s not like we made it up, a lot of people do this, but it took me a while to figure out, so I’m sharing it here.

We make giant pots of food, divvy it up into single- or double-serving Tupperwares, and freeze them.

You get the convenience of pre-packaged meals or takeout, with the cheapness and deliciousness and healthiness of home-cooked food. You get the pleasure of cooking at home, without the hassle of doing it every single freaking night. Plus you get to make your food exactly the way you want it. Want Old Bay in the split pea soup? Want lentil soup with stock from the Christmas roast? Going low-fat, low-carb, low-salt? Obsessed with cardamom and are putting it in everything? Knock yourself out!

To do this you need:
A decent-sized freezer. We actually got a chest freezer when we had to replace our fridge and lost some freezer space in the process. A regular fridge-freezer can work fine, though.
A buttload of single- or double-serving sized Tupperwares or Tupperware-like objects. You can get glass ones if you’re trying to reduce your plastic consumption; if you’re on a budget, the disposable ones from the grocery store actually work pretty well and can last a while. Whatever you get, make sure they’re freezable and microwaveable.
A way to label the Tupperwares. Regular masking tape loses its tapey-ness when it’s frozen. We’ve been using a grease pencil, but we may break down and order some freezer tape online (it’s been weirdly hard to find in person).
Some reliable recipes for things that can be cooked in large quantities and that freeze well. Ideally, they should be recipes that can be easily tinkered with. Soup, chili, and pasta sauce are our standards, but we’ve also done enchiladas, and we recently had good luck with mac-and-cheese with butternut squash.
A certain amount of time every couple/few weeks. We generally do this as a weekend activity: cooking during the week sometimes feels like drudgery, but if we have the time on a weekend, cooking up a big pot of stuff becomes a fun, creative activity. Do be aware when you’re doing time management: a double or triple recipe of a big pot of stuff doesn’t take two or three times as long as a single recipe, but it does take longer, both for prep and for cooking. Plus you have to give yourself time to portion everything into the Tupperwares.

If you play your cards right, you can wind up with a nice variety of food in your freezer. Say you make and freeze a big pot of chili on July 3. You don’t eat chili every single night, that would get boring: you have it, say, every two or three nights. Two weeks later on July 17, you have about half of the chili left, and you make and freeze a big pot of split pea soup. Two weeks after that on July 31, you have about half of the split pea soup plus a couple/few chilis, and you make a big pot of roasted tomato sauce. Two weeks after that on August 14, you make a big pot of lentil stew… and you now have a bunch of lentil stew, a fair amount of tomato sauce, a couple/few split pea soups, and maybe one of the chilis. When we’re really in a groove with this, we wind up with a freezer stocked with five or six different kinds of meals. During a long, difficult week, that’s a really nice thing to have.

This is also a good way to help friends and family members who are seriously ill, grieving, recovering from surgery, have just had kids, or otherwise need help. A dozen Tupperwares of frozen homemade food gives important practical help, in a way that’s really personal.

I may start posting my favorite recipes for big pots of things. I’ve already shared Susie Bright’s Roasted Tomato Sauce; here’s the mac and cheese with fontina and butternut squash, although next time we may just use frozen squash, and while the Parmesan crisps and fried sage leave were lovely, they’re not necessary. If you have your own favorites, please post them in the comments!

Frivolous Fridays are the Orbit bloggers’ excuse to post about fun things we care about that may not have serious implications for atheism or social justice. Any day is a good day to write about whatever the heck we’re interested in (hey, we put “culture” in our tagline for a reason), but we sometimes have a hard time giving ourselves permission to do that. This is our way of encouraging each other to take a break from serious topics and have some fun. Check out what some of the other Orbiters are doing!

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Frivolous Friday: Big Pots Of Things, Frozen Into Little Tupperwares
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8 thoughts on “Frivolous Friday: Big Pots Of Things, Frozen Into Little Tupperwares

  1. 1

    I live alone and make my lunch for work on Sunday evenings. I found a recipe that’s pretty flexible.

    1) 1 lb. meat in bite size chunks, usually whatever is on sale that week
    2) 1 onion diced, 4 carrots sliced, 4 ribs celery diced
    3) leafy greens (usually one package of frozen spinach)
    4) root veg like a sweet potato or some beets cut in small cubes
    4a) additional veg (optional)
    5) 2 cups uncooked rice
    6) herbs/spices/garlic

    Saute 1-4, cook rice with water or stock. Combine. Makes 4-5 good servings.

    Frozen veg is a big help since it lets you add more variety. The recipe is intentionally vague to account for individual tastes/preferences and to allow for different ingredients.

    I’d also suggest making fridge pickles. They’re pretty easy.

  2. 2

    My spouse and I aren’t quite as disciplined, but we’ve begun getting a bit better at it. Anything that takes a good long cook to make are generally good bets! I’d love to see what y’all are making. Variety helps a TON!

  3. STH
    3

    I sometimes do this, but I’ve actually found that I prefer to freeze ingredients, then do the actual cooking when I’m ready to eat. For example, I chop up fresh ginger in the food processor, then freeze it in 1-tablespoon portions. Same with garlic in oil (there is a risk of botulism with homemade chopped garlic in oil, so you should only freeze it in small portions and used the thawed garlic within a few days) and leftover wine. I also make and freeze vegetable and chicken stock.

  4. 4

    We also do enchiladas, and have had good luck with several kinds of casseroles! Also your standard soups (I think we’ve got minestrone and a sort of corn chowder in right now), and my husband makes a mean stew and swears by his risottos. We tend to do small-batch pasta sauces, though, and never freeze them – we have to manage our freezer space carefully, as we only have maybe 4-5 cubic feet of freezer space and no option to upgrade at present.

    I find quiche freezes reasonably in single-serving slices (I was afraid freezing would ruin the texture, but I haven’t been disappointed), various lentil dishes have been very satisfying, and I like to make shakshuka with chickpeas added – then the only day-of prep needed is soft-boiling an egg or two to go on top!

    Some faves:
    http://www.theclevercarrot.com/2014/05/cuban-style-black-beans-rice-with-coconut-cream/
    http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2010/04/shakshuka/
    http://pinchofyum.com/carnitas-tamale-pie

    I’m also half-assedly collecting theoretically-freezable meals on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/kyrosion/lunch-box/ if you use that platform at all, and I’d love to have more cool people to follow – I find there’s generally an, er, increasingly specific site demographic that I don’t fit over there, so I have a bit of a hard time finding people who also aren’t quite that.

  5. 5

    Oh my gosh, we make a very similar butternut squash mac and cheese on the regular. You do DEFINITELY need to try out the frozen squash. It’s so much easier than the fresh squash, which was a huge pain in the ass for us at least, and we couldn’t tell the difference in terms of taste. If anything, it was a little smoother.

  6. 6

    I would like to offer one tip that’s related to this topic. Onions are easy to freeze. When I get a bunch of onions on sale I will chop them up and put them into freezer bags. They freeze well without additional prep work. The only downsides are that they will be a bit limp (which is why you dice them, no one will notice) and working with that many onions will make your hands smell for the next day or so.

    Celery also freezes IF you put them in boiling water for a minute first. Otherwise they turn brown. I don’t freeze celery as often though because I can taste the difference. But if the choice is between freezing it for latter or letting it go bad, in the freezer it goes. I found frozen veg is a big help in cooking, I just have to be sure it’s just the veg and not a lot of unnecessary chemicals and flavors added. It may (or may not) cost more than fresh but any extra you pay will have to be weighed against the time it would have taken you to do it yourself.

  7. 7

    I’ve been doing alot of stir fry recently (inspired by a trip to Vietnam that made us fall in love with Vietnamese and Khmer cuisine.) So I’ve been doing this freezer approach for that. I look for specials on meats and buy a bunch of chicken, pork, beef then chop them all up and freeze them in baggies or tupperware. I also do it for daikon/carrots/cucumbers (for Banh Mi) and onions, peppers and even chopped garlic. It makes it super-easy to whip up a meal quickly (though I’ve learned you have to dry out the frozen veggies with a paper towel or else the stir fry can get real mushy.) We also buy 10 lbs of roasted Hatch green chiles once a year (the only time you can get them here in Los Angeles) and keep a stash of them as well. I’ve even been considering starting to freeze leftovers of bulk soup broth.

  8. 8

    We freeze burritos, tomato sauce, soup, and huge quantities of chili regularly. I also freeze a lot of the scraps from all that prep to use for stock…which also gets frozen. Any time I make beans, I make a lot extra to freeze and then they’re easy to add to recipes and have a better texture than canned.

    Current favorite bean recipe: Saute onion. Maybe toss in some thyme or oregano. Add beans, water, and finely ground lapsang souchong tea leaves (I use a mortar and pestle). Simmer. Add good quality soy sauce near the end. These are good enough to eat on their own, serve as the base of a bean soup, or add to chili, etc.

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