How to Put Your Freezer to Work, Plus Frozen Meals Made Fresh
On hectic weeknights when it seems like there's just no time to cook, few things are more welcome than ready-to-go meals that require little-to-no prep time. Occasionally that may mean takeout or delivery dinners, but it certainly doesn't need to, especially when you have a fully stocked freezer on which to rely. Whether you find yourself with extra food after a party or a lazy weekend of making big-batch soups or casseroles, commit to building up your freezer supply by saving the leftovers for those nights when you can't get to the grocery store or be bothered to make supper from scratch.
The secret to increasing your freezer supply is knowing how to freeze food safely and properly for best-tasting results later. No matter what it is you want to freeze, be sure to let it come to room temperature after it's cooked and before you add it to the frigid-cold freezer; doing so will help avoid spoiled food and the overwarming of anything surrounding it.
Although indeed tempting to fill up your freezer-friendly containers with as much lasagna or stew as they can handle, try to leave about an inch at the top to account for later increases. The same doesn't hold true for wrapped products, however, which should be snugly covered to help prevent freezer burn. Before you simply resign these packages to the back of the freezer, label them with their contents and the date they were assembled so you can easily find what meals are waiting for you. It's best to use up the earliest-dated meals first, as those have been frozen longest and are most prone to freezer burn.
Food Network Kitchens has two recipes for home-cooked versions of traditionally store-bought frozen meals: chicken tenders (pictured top) and fish sticks. Unlike the packaged products that likely have been deep-fried and then frozen, these are simply breaded and frozen before they're cooked. When you're ready to enjoy, transfer them to the oven and bake until golden brown and deliciously crispy.
If you struggle to make time for breakfast more so than dinner, look to Food Network Kitchens' Freezer to Oven Berry Muffins to make morning meals a cinch. Fill muffin tins with a traditional batter, dot with blueberries and finish with a brown-sugar topping, then immediately move to the freezer, as "freezing them before baking — instead of reheating after baking — ensures that they'll taste freshly baked, with soft tender insides and hot, gooey berries," according to Food Network Kitchens. Out of the freezer, a few minutes in the oven is all it takes to turn out warm, fluffy muffins.