After my ice cream maker, my favourite appliance is my deepfreeze. I honestly don’t know what I did before I had both. Probably threw out a lot more food while fitting into my skinny jeans. While I could maybe get by without ice cream (I just wanted to see what that looked like when I typed it), a deepfreeze is an absolute necessity. Between my dad’s obsessive compulsive berry picking and my boyfriend’s mother’s gift for finding roasts on sale, the basement deepfreeze is so full it makes me feel guilty for ordering in on nights I’m too lazy to cook. I can feel it staring up at me from the basement every time we sit down with a feed of China House. It says things like, “I hope you’re enjoying that dumpling, Willow. Because there’s a whole lot of starving kids in Africa right now who would love to have five half-price prime rib roasts and two dozen baggies of frozen partridgeberries.” Then my fortune cookie will say something like, “Enjoy the bounty of food in your basement before picking up the phone” and the night ends in a flurry of tears and bloating.
Besides riddling you with guilt, deepfreezes are great for batch cooking. Taking one day, opening a bottle of wine, and cooking for nine hours straight might not sound like a party for some, but for me it’s more fun than a barrel of drunk monkeys. A few weeks ago I found myself staying in on a Saturday night to make chicken stock. It dawned on me that maybe this is what it’s like to get old: sacrificing a drunken night out for the sake of having a supply of homemade stock in your deepfreeze. Then I realized that THIS WAS FUN FOR ME and that was ok! And I wasn’t sacrificing a drunken night out, I was having a drunken night in! Getting older means being happy with where you drink. And if that’s at home on your own with a bottle of fifteen dollar of chardonnay, then you are my people and we should make chicken stock together.
Batching is a great way to save time and money and can also be a great way to show the people you love how friggin’ thoughtful and excellent you are. I’m not the best at buying gifts. I’m not a cheap bastard or anything, but when you have to buy a gift for someone (blaaargh Christmas) instead of wanting to buy a gift for them just because, it becomes a chore instead of something that should be joyful. Right? I mean, who really likes Christmas shopping? I like it a little when I have a lot of money (never) and when I don’t leave it until the last minute (never) and I can have lunch and few drinks first (ok that’s kinda fun). But I’m a big believer in making gifts, so I’ve started making people food at Christmas. Making food for people, not people food, you know what I mean. And now, when friends and relatives get pregnant (at an alarming rate I might add, I’m afraid to drink the water), I make food gifts too. Something to put in the freezer that’s easy to heat up so you can concentrate on not breaking the new baby.
If it was up to me, every new mother would be given a government-subsidized baby butler/bouncer for a good solid month. It would be someone maternal yet stern, like Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey. No one would get in to see the baby without her permission and she would say things like, “Sorry, everyone’s asleep. And you’re not scheduled until tomorrow, but please feel free to leave the cupcakes.” I think most people struggle with visiting protocol after a friend or family member has a baby. Well. Most people, not all. I’ve never had a youngster, but I’m guessing there are those who burst in the front door demanding an all access pass to the new human, followed by a cup of tea and something to eat. It’s hard to blame people, really. I mean, babies only have that new baby smell for so long, and everyone from your nan to your boss wants a chance to nuzzle that sweet little head at least once. But I always try to remind myself that new mamas need some head nuzzling too, even if those heads haven’t had a chance to shower in a week. So what to do? Where to find that balance between getting to meet the new human and showing your love and appreciation for its owners? According to a couple of friends of mine who’ve had babies, there are two perfect gifts you can give brand new parents.
1. Show up (not unexpectedly) with a large casserole, lasagna, or some other comfort food that can be easily reheated or frozen. Hard carbs and cheese-based dishes are preferred.
2. Put food in fridge, dig out some cleaning supplies (or bring your own), clean one room in the house, and then go home. Even if new human is sleeping and you didn’t get a chance to nuzzle it.
This makes perfect sense to me. You would definitely be loved forever and probably be named an honourary aunt or uncle. I think this would be a great gift for childless friends as well. Imagine if you just wanted some alone time and when you woke up after a nap there was a lasagna in the fridge with a note that said “Enjoy! I love you. Call me when you’re up for a visit and a cup of tea” and then you walked into your bathroom and it was sparkling. It’d be a little creepy, but mostly totally amazing.
So here are a few meals I’ve made for parents-to-be. They’ve been defrosted and approved by my sister and her husband who had their perfect little baby boy in January. Now, in addition to being on freezer duty when I visit, I’m in charge of occasional hand puppet-style entertainment for my nephew. The starfish is already becoming a bit of a diva.
And check out this link for a few more ideas on freezer meals for new parents. It’s a guide for what to make for yourself when you have a baby, but wouldn’t it make more sense if someone made the meals for you? A nice big fat hint to print on baby shower invites maybe.
Easy Bean Burritos*
4 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 red onions, chopped
1 head of garlic, cloves finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
4 tsp chili powder
4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp crushed red pepped flakes (optional)
Juice from one lime
2 heaping tbsp of sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp olive oil
16-18 flour tortillas (whole wheat are nice for this recipe)
A whole lotta grated cheddar (I think I used one whole 500g block. Yum. Cheesiness.)
Heat olive oil in a large pot and saute onions and garlic for several minutes, just long enough for the flavour to go through the oil. Add black beans, tomatoes, spices, lime juice, and sour cream. Let cook for 15 minutes or so, until tomatoes have lost their shape and the mixture has thickened slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add extra lime juice and red pepper flakes if you like more tang and spice. Or play it safe and leave them if you’re batching for someone else.
Once the mixture has cooled a little, spoon a couple of tablespoons into the centre of a tortilla warp. Be careful not to overstuff…it might seem like a great idea at the time, but they’ll be hard to close and messy when you’re wrapping them up to freeze. Top with some grated cheddar cheese and fold up. Fold the bottom, then two sides, then the top, then put the burrito aside with the folds facing down so nothing spills out when you’re making the others. You’ll get the swing of it after a couple of messy ones. Wrap burritos individually and tightly in cling wrap and freeze in tupperware or large freezer bags. Makes between 16-18 burritos, depending on how much you’re filling them.
*These are delicious and my sister really loved them. However, as a breastfeeding mother, the baby did not. I don’t really need to elaborate as this is a food blog. Maybe these can be for the dads, or moms who are bottle-feeding.
Two more easy-freezey meal ideas while we’re at it. A chicken and dressing bake freezes like a dream, and if you use homemade dressing, you won’t feel so guilty about using a can of mushroom soup (What? Like you’ve never).
And remember how exciting it was to eat TV dinners as a kid? The ones with the fried chicken, corn and buttery mashed potatoes? The ones you ate on Friday nights while watching The Tommy Hunter Show followed by Dallas followed by falling asleep on the couch to the dulcet tones of Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs on 20/20? Just me? I have no idea why I loved those things so much, but I can still remember how surprised I was that mashed potatoes tasted so good even after they’d been frozen. Probably because they weren’t real potatoes and mostly salt and preservatives. But the good news is, real mash freezes just as well. I make mashed potato cakes constantly and you will too when you realize how easy and addictive they are. If you like Yorkshire puddings and you like potatoes, you can’t go wrong. Just press a couple of spoonfuls of your favourite mash into well-greased muffin cups or mini-muffin cups and bake at 375ºF for 20 minutes or so, or until golden brown.
This particular batch was made with butter, sour cream, a head of roasted garlic, salt and pepper, and lemon juice. Lemon juice sounds a little strange, but think of those roasted lemony Greek potatoes that you’ve had, and now think of them in a fluffy baked mashed potato Yorkshire pudding shape. You’re welcome.
It goes without saying that everything here is best reheated low and slow, especially the chicken bake. You’ll have cooked it before freezing of course, but once it’s time to reheat, you won’t want to burn the dressing before the entire dish is hot, so take it easy and adjust accordingly. Microwaving is always an option, or defrosting in the microwave and then heating in the oven. But oven is always best, and easy if you remember to pop it in on 325ºF an hour or so before serving.
(Safety first! I once saw a hot Pyrex pan shatter into a thousand pieces instantly when placed on a cold sink. I’m assuming the reverse can happen if you place an icy-cold Pyrex in a hot oven, so if you’ve frozen your chicken bake in a glass dish, maybe put it in the oven first and then turn it on, so everything heats up gradually. If the reverse can’t happen, and people who know science are laughing at me, why don’t you go finish your blog about how the movie Gravity could never happen in real life and leave the rest of us alone.)
Burritos will take about 40 minutes between 325º and 350º depending on how hot your oven is. Potato cakes a little less at the same temperature. Remember, a fork stuck in the food and then on your tongue will let you know if something’s heated through every time, but don’t leave fork on tongue too long.
I’ve just exhausted everything I know about reheating frozen food. And as a side note, holy shit Hugh Downs is 93 years old. He’s been around longer than TV dinners.
A wee note before signing off. Apologies that these photos are limited and not my best work (she says, like she has “best work”). I packed my nice camera in my suitcase on the way to visit my sister, sat on said suitcase at the airport while waiting for a lift, and broke said camera. Camera has since been repaired and now every time I pick it up it shudders and says, “Please don’t drink all the free booze on Porter Airlines and sit on me.”
Now go cook something and hang out with your mom, your nan, a mom-to-be, a mom-not-to-be, or just some awesome gal who loves you and your food.