Friday, February 1, 2008

Dinner from the Freezer

No, I don't mean frozen dinners, not really. The freezer is a great extension of your kitchen cabinet and should be fully stocked with essentials that will help you pull a meal out of a hat. There are many times when I have "nothing" in the refrigerator, yet dinner is saved by some tasty dish I can conjure from the freezer. Here are some staples.
  • Chicken Stock. I always have homemade chicken stock on hand. It can be used to make sauces, to make soup, as broth in stir-fry, and many other uses. It is really not that hard to make. First, you save any chicken bones or chicken carcasses you have from your regular meals. (Freeze them in big ziploc bags.) Once you have 2-3 chickens worth of bones, you can make stock. To your bones, add 1-2 onions, 1-2 carrots, and maybe some celery or parsley if you have it. I often don't even peel the veggies; it makes the stock richer and golden colored from the onions. If you have no bones or want a richer stock, use chicken parts or a whole chicken, preferably an old fowl. I also add a couple of cloves, stuck in the onions, and about 10-15 peppercorns. You can add salt, but you may want to all just a little, so it doesn't affect dishes you will use the stock in. Cover with water, boil for 1-2 hours, depending on if you are using raw chicken, drain and you are done. Store in containers in the freezer.
  • Frozen Vegetables. Get the organic ones. Microwave, but don’t overcook, just 2-3 minutes for a bowl. Add maybe one more minute if veggies are not yet hot.
  • Leftovers. Plan to make a stews, soup, chili or tomato sauce once or twice a month and make extra. Freeze the leftovers and you will always have an easy meal or two to defrost.
  • Ground beef or thin chicken breasts. I often buy extra ground beef or thin sliced chicken and freeze it. Both of these defrost easily in the microwave and can be made into a wide range of dinners.
  • Frozen fish. Breaded fish sticks are OK for occasional dinners, but I really mean flash-frozen fresh fish such as Eco-fish. My food coop sells fish fillets of trout, tilapia, salmon, and tuna as well as scallops and shrimp. It is all frozen. It is so easy to defrost the fish, I usually wait until the last minute to do it, so the fish is really as fresh as possible. You take a big bowl of cold water and place the frozen fish inside, still sealed in its plastic pouch. Keep the tap running with a small stream of water over the fish until defrosted. Depending on the fish, this usually takes only 15-20 minutes. Shrimp and scallops are done in a similar way, but they have to drain. Put them in a colander and run cold water over them until defrosted, shaking a few times to be sure all the pieces are getting rinsed.
On your next grocery shop, think of filling your frig with staples!

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