Frozen Dinner

Frozen Dinner

frozen meatloaf In the comments thread on Monday , the topic of frozen dinners came up. Although I relied heavily on the small-size frozen mac-and-cheese and frozen lasagnes that winter after my brother died, for the most part, the weird gumminess of frozen dinners freaks me out.

Yesterday was one of those days — I had a couple of appointments over in Bozeman in the morning and then I just never really caught up. So at six, I found myself staring into the fridge wondering what I was going to eat. I didn’t want leftover lamb and white bean stew, and although I’d thawed a piece of antelope, it was one of those nights where searing a small steak just seemed like far too much work. So I took a look in the freezer — meatloaf? Meatloaf was an idea …

I’ve written about this recipe before — it’s from Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano, a cookbook I adore — everything in it is easy, and delicious, and most important, the recipes work. This is kind of complicated for a meatloaf recipe, but it’s really yummy and it makes a very large meatloaf. Last time I made it, I had a lot left over, so I did what I often do with leftovers, and froze them in individual portions.

This meant that staring into my freezer on a blinky Tuesday night, I had a single portion of frozen meatloaf, and a bag full of cooked greens from my garden that I’d also frozen in single portions last summer. I pulled out one mystery hockey puck of frozen veg — turned out it was roma beans cooked long and slow with a little bacon, one of the delicious surprises of last summer’s garden. I plopped them both in a dish, covered the dish with foil, pulled out a small potato and poked some holes in it. Into the toaster oven it all went at 350 for about an hour while I went downstairs to my writing office and tried to get a little work done.

dinner in a bowl An hour later, I had dinner in a bowl. Meatloaf. Green beans. A baked potato.

If you’re not cooking at all yet, this might seem daunting, but if you’re a person who does cook, it really doesn’t take a lot of time to freeze things in the kind of portions that will save you on those evenings when you stand there looking into a full refrigerator thinking “there’s nothing to eat.”

8 thoughts on “Frozen Dinner

  1. I’m new to your blog, but love it! Thanks for posting such thought provoking topics. I had a quick question for you: how do you wrap your foods to freeze? I am trying to cut down on our use of plastics in the house, but when it comes to freezing so that food stays unburnt, I am at a loss. How do you choose to wrap things for the freezer?

  2. Hi Mandy — I threw out most of my plastic this summer and replaced it with glass — so there’s a lot of stuff in my freezer like tomato sauce and chicken stock and soup (really, who wants to eat the same soup for 2 weeks?) frozen in mason jars. The key is to put them in the fridge overnight before freezing — you do not want to put a hot jar in the freezer or it’ll crack. The single-portion stuff I do a couple of different ways. The “hockey pucks” of frozen veggies I froze in these little one-cup anchor hocking cups I bought that have plastic snap lids (although i bet a muffin tin would work too). I froze a bunch of stuff, then turned them out onto waxed paper, wrapped them up and put them all in a big ziploc bag. It’s sort of pot luck pulling them out — I had beet greens the other night, then green beans last night. The meatloaf I did in foil, then put them in a single big ziploc. For anything that needs to last a while, I have a foodsaver vaccuum sealer that I adore — I blanched and froze a lot of plain greens early last summer that way. But for just leftovers, I tend to freeze them in something that will provide portion control, then wrap them after they’re frozen. And as James Brooks once had a character say: that’s not freezer burn, it’s “protective ice”!

  3. Great post. I think it’s really important for people who are starting to cook (or cook more, or more healthfully) to hear that the freezer can be your friend. Learning to integrate real cooking into your life seems so huge, if you’re not used to it – OMG I have to cook every dish from scratch every night for the rest of my life??? – that it’s easy to stumble into catastrophic thinking and imagine you will never be using a freezer or microwaver (or toaster oven) again. The freezer begins to feel like an evil portal that allows processed food to sneak into your house, when really it’s just another tool for extending good foods’ seasons.

  4. Awesome description, thanks! I remember being able to go to the grocery store and always find Mason jars as a kid, but I haven’t seen them lately, even in yhe heart of canning season recently. I will look at my local hardware store. I am making my own baby food right now from organic stuff I find at the farmer’s market (or in the frozen section at the grocery store) and am freezing that, but it’s time to branch out into our food now. For some reason, it never occurs to me that cooked turkey or chicken or whatever actually freezes well. Until recently, freezing things always meant freezing *raw* ingredients, not cooked. I’m gong to try the muffin tin freezing method ASAP. Thanks again!

  5. Freezing things in proper portions is a good idea, seeing as I’m culinarily challenged 🙂 As someone who is completely ignorant to the idea of *gasp* cooking, I’ve been easing myself into fixing meals for myself and my boyfriend. Since I don’t want to poison him by undercooking or overcooking something, I like to make Bertolli’s Mediterranean Style Frozen Dinners; they’re quick, easy, and delicious! You should check out and you can even see Rocco DiSpirito preparing some amazing dishes on the site! I work with Bertolli, so I can vouch for ’em 😉

  6. Mandy — you might also check out this piece that surfaced via Lifehacker this week — the Ultimate Guide to Freezing Food:
    I also rely on a book called Putting Food By (you can find it on the LivingSmall store link above) when I’m in doubt about what will or won’t freeze. I don’t worry about my own tummy, but for a baby I’d definitely be more careful — although I think the muffin tin method would probably be great for baby portions. And Chantelle — good for you starting to cook — people need to start where they are, and after a while with the frozen dinners you’ll start to see how the different ingredients work together. I’d still encourage you to branch out and buy and cook from real ingredients as you get more confident — it’s certainly cheaper — I love Bertolli and find great deals on their pasta at my local supermarket — even at retail, a 3 dollar box of pasta goes a long way —

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