I Am That Girl Now

Monday, October 30, 2006

Time is of the essence

I hate to cook during the week. I love cooking on the weekends, but on weekdays it's a whole 'nother story. After a full day at work, what I mostly want to do is leave my brain on autopilot for an hour or so, so I hate having to figure out what's for dinner. It doesn't help that my hungry Hub will peek into the kitchen ever few minutes looking mournful and asking if dinner is ready yet, which puts a whole extra pressure on me; he doesn't want to wait, I don't want to cook, and dinner will take a certain amount of time no matter what.

I'm always looking for stuff that I can do on the weekends that doesn't mean cooking a whole meal in advance-- I don't trust us to eat a full pre-made meal before a) it goes bad in the refrigerator or b) I put it in the freezer and then we lose track of it for forever. Why? Well, because we're fickle people. What we want to eat depends on the weather, on how our days went, on what we had for lunch, on what sounds good. I'd rather keep food in easy-to-assemble components until dinnertime. The problem is that food that comes as easy-to-assemble components tends to be a) flavored in ways I don't want, b) too full o' sodium or fat or both, and c) just too fucking expensive. Seriously, the price of chicken breasts versus whole chickens is bad enough, but taking that to the next level and buying par-cooked cut-up chicken? Oh hell no. Rice is another one; we like having brown rice with dinner, and it's pretty much necessary for things like my Mexican-mess-in-a-pan (rice, tomatoes, ground chicken or turkey breast or Boca ground, black beans, taco seasoning) and stir-fry and such, but it takes FOREVER to make.

I may have made my very own kit meal.

Frozen stir-fry veggies are pretty cheap, compared to frozen stir-fry kits, so I just buy bags of those veggies. I made four batches of my favorite from-scratch stir-fry sauce (I'm big on ginger and low-sodium soy sauce so hey, what the hell), poured each into a little snack-sized ziplock bag and froze 'em. I've got a bunch of chicken breasts cooked and cut up and portioned up in the same kind of baggies, and for my final experiment I cooked a big pot o' rice and divvied it up, half a cup per baggie (we don't go with the full cup per person), pressed them flat, and froze.

I was pretty sure this would work for stir-fry assembly, and if I wanted to throw together some kind of chicken dish I could still use that portioned chicken for it, and if I wanted to make something that involved rice I could still use the rice for that. I wasn't entirely sure how it would go, though, which is why tonight was a big night: tonight was the first time I tried this stuff out.

The sauce and rice packets got thrown under cold running water for a bit to thaw out, and then I emptied the rice packets into a bowl and threw 'em in the microwave. Two minutes later: fluffy hot rice. (I'm sure it's not exactly the same as fresh-cooked rice, but I must admit I couldn't tell the difference and neither could my Hub.) Hot wok, frozen chicken tossed in, then after a minute the frozen veggies, then after they were all thawed I added the sauce. I grabbed the nubbin of fresh ginger from the freezer and grated off about an inch into the whole mess, which really upped the scent profile. Let it get nice and hot and then served over the hot rice.

Pretty darn tasty. Not perfect, but better than take-out from down the street, significantly less greasy, less expensive, and it actually took less time to throw together than it would have taken for delivery or take-out. And I didn't have to think or work very hard after work. Hooray!

Other things which have come out of my "do ahead and freeze the fucker" mentality: the stuff my sister calls "garbage broth", made from the scraps of vegetables thrown into a freezer bag and eventually turned into vegetable (or chicken, if we've also been saving chicken bones) broth, and the made-ahead mire-poix (carrots/celery/onion, which serve as the base of many a dish) which I chopped up en masse and froze. My Hub was very dubious of both these ideas and has since decided that both of them are fabulous. My new rule of thumb, I think, is that if a sauce can be mixed and frozen ahead of time, or a meat can be cut and cooked and frozen ahead of time, or a vegetable can be chopped up and frozen ahead of time, then by God I'm going to do it. As long as something will be cooked anyway and thus won't mind the cellular damage due to freezing, then why not? Freeze stuff as flat as possible so that it can be defrosted as fast as possible, and voila: homemade convenience foods.

Future flat-bagged freezer experiments: pasta sauce, vegetables for roasting, soups, chopped onions (I may have, um, accidentally purchased a second bag of onions when I forgot we already had one), chopped apples (we always get a few apples badly bruised in each bag and this way I could cut off the bruised parts, chop and freeze the rest, and have ready-to-go apple-crisp apples) and pears (same with bruised pears), scallions... I'll try anything, what the hell. It's getting on winter, which means that more of our food is hot, even the fruit.

I'm going to beat this cooking-on-weekdays thing. Seriously, I am.


  • I've been doing the frozen chicken/ frozen stir-fry veggies/ frozen homemade sauce thing for some time now, but instead of frozen rice, I've been using plain ramen noodles (no seasoning.) Toss them into the stir-fry with the rest of the stuff, and quick yum. Oh, and add fresh garlic with your fresh ginger. Well worth the extra two seconds to put it through the mincer.

    By Anonymous JB, at 9:10 PM  

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