It’s warming up outside but we’re working on keeping our kitchens cool by stocking up our freezers and making dinner prep easier. Last time we discussed how to stock your surplus and find stock up deals to fill your freezer. Today we will cover big batch cooking and using #10 cans to add more to our freezer stockpile.
Before I ever started making freezer meals, I learned how to do big batch cooking for the freezer. These are simple, large quantity foods that are inexpensive to make and great for making quick dinners. I have a few standby recipes to share with you and methods that make this type of freezer cooking easy and uncomplicated.
First we’re going to buy some #10 cans. If you’ve ever been to a warehouse club or Walmart, you’ve probably seen the giant #10 cans of tomato sauce, veggies or applesauce and walked right by it thinking to yourself, “We never eat that much at one time!” Guess what? You don’t have to eat it all at once, you can freeze the rest! Here’s a list of my favorite foods to buy in #10 cans and how to use them:
1. Pizza sauce – A jar of pizza sauce is around $2 at most grocery stores. A #10 can of pizza sauce is around $3.50 and is the equivalent of approximately 5 jars. Not making enough pizza to feed an army? No problem, just use what you need, spoon the rest into pint-size canning jars and put them in the freezer. When you plan to use it, just set it out on the counter that morning and it will be thawed and ready for use by dinner. If you like making bread, you can also make homemade pizza crusts and put them into the freezer until you are ready to bake them. We don’t just use pizza sauce for homemade pizzas, but also for dipping pizza crusts in when we buy ready-made pizzas or make calzones, as meatball sauce for subs, or even pasta sauce in a pinch. Tip: If you don’t like making your own crust, buy a premade fresh deli pizza (Walmart sells a 16″ cheese pizza for $6 and it’s HUGE) and top it with veggies and meats from your freezer stock before baking.
2. Tomato sauce/diced tomatoes – I’m listing these two together because I usually use them together. I use them to make spaghetti sauce, hot dog chili, vegetable soup and regular chili. Later in the post I will share these recipes with you so you can use up your #10 cans too! At around $2.50 per can, they are too good a deal to pass up! You can put the leftover sauce/tomatoes into pint-sized canning jars or quart-size freezer bags and freeze. I also put tomato sauce in ice cube trays, freeze, then pop them into freezer bags. You can then add a cube or two to whatever needs a little tomato flavor. I mainly use the cubes to add to a small portion of pasta for Georgia when we are having mac and cheese (she has a dairy allergy).
3. Canned fruit or applesauce – These run $3-$4 each and are the equivalent of 5 regular cans or 3-4 large cans. These are a treat at our house, as I always try to buy fresh fruit instead of canned, but in the winter when fresh in-season fruit is scarce it’s a good option. I usually don’t have to freeze these, just open and serve, then pour the remainder into a 2 quart pitcher with a lid that we use exclusively for food items instead of drinks. It’s a clear pitcher so it’s easy for the kids to see what’s in it. Once I open it, I will offer it at least once a day and it’s gone by the end of the third day. Applesauce is a little slower in disappearing so I will serve it often but also make a few batches of muffins or snack cake with about half of it. It freezes well too so if it doesn’t disappear quickly, just jar it up and stick it into the freezer.
4. Black beans – These are around $3.50 a can. I love to add black beans to vegetable soup and chili, mix it with diced tomatoes and rice and corn for a filling meatless meal, or make burrito filling with salsa and chopped spinach (The kids think it’s cilantro and I’m not about to correct them!). Just open the can and scoop out what you need, drain and rinse the rest and put into quart-size freezer bags (about 2 cups each). Make sure you label them! Lay the bags flat in the freezer and they will stack well once frozen. I try to lay them out separately until they freeze and then stack them because sometimes they will stick together.
There are many other foods available in #10 cans – pudding, nacho cheese sauce, generic ketchup, vegetables – but I don’t generally buy them because it’s either something we won’t eat, we can make cheaper ourselves, or I don’t have confidence in how well it would freeze. If you decide to try something that I haven’t mentioned here, let me know what you did and how it turned out. Maybe we can add to our list of #10 canned foods!
Now that we’re stocked up with #10 cans, it’s time to open them up and do some big batch cooking. Here are a few recipes to get you started:
Brown 3 lbs of ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken or even Italian sausage) with 1 diced onion (use your frozen stash!) and drain. Using a large stockpot or crockpot, pour in one #10 can of tomato sauce and 1/3 to 1/2 of a #10 can of diced tomatoes, according to preference. If the tomatoes are chunkier than you like, you can put them in a blender or food processor first and pulse until they reach the desired consistency before adding them to the tomato sauce. Add your meat. Next add in Italian seasoning and garlic, salt and pepper to taste. I don’t really measure, I just know how much is about right for us. You can’t take it back out if you add too much so always start out with a little, taste it then add more if needed. Now add whatever veggies you have in your freezer stock or fresh in the fridge. I chop mine really fine with my food processor or my Pampered Chef chopper if I’ve had a stressful day and need to get some frustration out. The smaller it is, the less likely the kids are to notice and question it! Stir well and then cover, leaving it to simmer for several hours, stirring occasionally. When I make spaghetti sauce, I will boil enough noodles for dinner then after the meal, I will freeze the remaining sauce, cooling it and then putting into quart-size jars. Make sure the jars are completely cool before you put them into the freezer – warm jars will raise the temperature of your freezer and the shock of putting a warm jar in a cold place may cause it to crack.
Start the same as the spaghetti sauce by browning the meat and onion, pouring the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes into a large pot, then adding the drained meat and onion. You can also leave out the meat and make a vegetarian chili. Drain and rinse 2-3 cups of black beans and 2 cups corn (either canned and drained or frozen), then add to the pot. Add chili seasonings, cumin, garlic and chili powder to taste. Again I do this all by estimation and don’t really measure anything, just add spices and taste and adjust as needed. Stir it all up, add a lid and let it simmer and make your whole house smell good. Now make some cornbread or grab a box of saltines and dinner is ready! After dinner, do the same as with the spaghetti sauce – cool it, jar it and stick it in the freezer.
Hot Dog Chili
My wonderful mother-in-law recently gave me her recipe for homemade hot dog chili. I usually refuse to eat chili on hot dogs because the canned chili looks disgusting to me but I love her recipe, so I begged her for it. Here’s her yummy version: Brown 3 lbs of ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken) with 1 diced onion (use your frozen stash!) and drain. Add 2 envelopes Chili-O seasoning mix, 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz) and 1 can tomato sauce (15 oz). If your meat and/or tomatoes are too chunky, you can pulse them in the food processor before adding them to pot, but don’t make it too runny or it will dribble off your hot dog. Simmer on low at least one hour, stirring occasionally. Have hot dogs for dinner and freeze the rest, just like the spaghetti sauce and chili. Tip: use a glass measuring cup to measure the tomatoes and the sauce if you are using a #10 can – the ounces are listed along with the fraction measurements right on the cup.
Mix Match Veggie Soup
This is what I call a “use it up” recipe, which is why it’s called Mix Match Veggie Soup. Start with a base of tomato sauce (whatever is left in a #10 can after making something else), add diced tomatoes (again, however much is left in the can), and then throw in frozen veggies from your freezer stash, ground meat if you want it and your choice of seasonings. You can even add leftover rice or pasta. The longer it simmers, the yummier it tastes. Leftovers freeze well, just like the other recipes.
Chicken and Broth
This one is super easy – it doesn’t use a #10 can but it’s just as quick and simple as the others and makes a lot. Just take chicken and fill your crockpot (or a big pot on the stove) 2/3 full, add some seasonings and cover with water. If you have any veggie scraps (onion or carrot peels, celery leaves, etc) throw that in there too. Let it cook on low all day. Put a colander inside a larger bowl (big enough to hold all the liquid) and pour everything into the colander. The colander will catch all the pieces of veggies and chicken and let the broth drain into the bowl. Fish out the veggie scraps and throw them away – or add them to your compost heap if you have a green thumb – and set the chicken aside to cool. Take the bowl of broth and pour into small canning jars (pint-size, like you use for jelly) and add clean lids and rings. Leave it out on the counter until it’s cool to the touch. Once it’s cool, put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, open each jar and skim the fat off the top, then reseal and put in the freezer. The cooked chicken can be shredded or chopped and put into quart-size freezer ziploc bags – I use 2-3 cups per bag since it’s the typical amount needed for a recipe. Be sure to label the bags and jars before you put them in the freezer!
In the next post of the freezer management series, we will add breakfast foods and cookie dough to our freezer stock. As always, comments make my day! Please ask any questions you have or share your own favorite freezer friendly recipe.