Preparing for the worst in the kitchen

Nick Moase
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What's the worst thing that can happen to someone who loves to cook (and occasionally write about it)? Having no desire whatsoever to enter the kitchen. 

When you don't feel like cooking, there is nothing better than opening a jar of home made salsa or apple sauce. Being prepared for those days prevents eating out too much and still gives you a good meal. 

For most of October, that was what I dealt with. I don't think I made a single interesting thing last month.

Part of the blame can go to being sick. I picked up a nasty cold that lasted about a week. It's hardly fun being on the kitchen, and eating for that matter, when you feel like someone has taken steel wool to the inside of your throat. For that week I pretty much lived on soup, toast and cereal.

There might have been some lingering effects of the cold before and after it became full blown, but the fact remains I just couldn't have been bothered to make anything.

Despite not feeling like cooking, I can't exactly skip the eating part. I try and avoid pre-packaged food from the freezer aisle, mostly because I dislike how they taste. Thankfully, I had this covered.

When I look for recipes, I either adapt them to smaller portions for two meals, or make sure they can be frozen. Earlier this summer I bought a small freezer specifically to freeze all these goodies as I went along.

I probably ate out more last month than most months, simply because I didn't feel like cooking. However I saved myself a lot of money just by having a well stocked freezer.

Inside my freezer you will find many standard things, like frozen meats, vegetables and fruits. But a good chunk is devoted to freezing soups, breads and whole meals such as casseroles and sauces.

The other half of getting through last month was all of the preserves I had made. Apple sauce and salsa topped the number of jars I used, but I also made plenty of jams and jellies. Salsa makes a quick nutritious meal if paired with tortilla chips (regular chips are a bit greasy), or can be used in a wrap for added flavour. Apple sauce is a nice way to satisfy your sweet tooth, especially when made with just apples and a little lemon juice for preservation.

In a previous article I mentioned a few things that I like to freeze, but really it's not all that hard to figure out what can and can't be frozen. A quick trip through the Internet is all you need. Do a search for "Can I freeze (this)" and you'll quickly find out what works, and what turns into a nasty mess. Or just try it. Instead of throwing out leftovers, trying freezing a portion of the meal and see what happens. If it was going to waste anyway, it doesn't matter if it doesn't freeze well.

In general though, I've found just about any baked goods, casseroles, sauces and cooked meats freeze with little problem. If you're unsure, try it with a small amount first.

Don't bother freezing meals you didn't care for however. If you didn't enjoy it the first time, the freezer will do nothing to help. Save your space for things you genuinely like, and feed the meals that don't work to the compost.

To freeze things in a bag, take out as much air as possible from plastic bags. It helps prevent freezer burn during long-term storage of fruits and vegetables. Plastic containers work well as long as you eat it within a month or two, which most home made frozen meals and sauces fall under. There is nothing worse than reheating a meal and having it taste like licking the inside of your freezer compartment.

When freezing, also think about portion size. There's no point in freezing a gigantic container of stew, when you end up throwing out half of it after thawing. Here are a few tricks I use to help with portions.

Sauces: Freeze in ice cube trays if it's just for you. For most things, four or five cubes are all I need. For other things, like tomato paste, it's great because most ice cube trays are a tablespoon or two

Soups: Divide soup into muffin tins and freeze. Don't worry about putting too much broth in one or not enough in another for chunky soups. In fact, it's better to divide them. You can take one broth and one with less and combine them, since you need two in order to fill a bowl.

When frozen, put half an inch of hot water in your sink, and put the tray in the water. Wait a minute or so, then take the tray out and pop the frozen soup out. To store, use a freezer bag.

You'll be happy to know my cooking doldrums have passed. As mysteriously as they came in October, they vanished by the end of the month. I was back to spending an hour or two in the kitchen most evenings, and will soon build up my stock of meals again. A little preparation is all I need to be ready for the next time I don't feel like cooking. 


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