Thursday, June 7, 2012

Freezer Cooking My Way

As much as I enjoy a hot, home cooked meal, most nights I honestly don't feel like spending more than 20 minutes actively preparing dinner.  Lately I've learned that keeping a few staples on hand in the freezer and pantry really aid me in getting dinner served without any hassle.  I keep a stock of steaks (nothing fancy, folks), various types of fish (salmon, tilapia, and cod we buy for cheap at Sam's Club), and veggies in the freezer, and quick starchy sides in the pantry.  When I stay stocked I can throw together a quick and satisfying dinner with little to no time spent in the kitchen.  I've also gained a repertoire of entrees and sides that we adore that I can make in bulk, freeze, and quickly prepare straight from the freezer.  Keeping myself stocked in this way has made planning and preparing weeknight meals a breeze, and I've noticed the huge added benefit that my weekly grocery bills have been cut in half!

 I recently ran out of a few of my freezer staples, so I planned a freezer cooking day to restock on my favorites and try out a couple new recipes as well.  My absolute favorite recipe to make in bulk and keep on hand in the freezer for quick dinners are Creamy Chicken Taquitos.  These taquitos have been in constant rotation in my house for well over a year, ever since I first made them shortly after Annie's Eats shared the recipe.

These taquitos are so near and dear to me that they made the menu of my 24th birthday last June when I made a full Mexican feast for 14 close friends.  They were definitely the crowd favorite among the dishes.  I've made these taquitos so many times now that I have the process down to a science.

I have ALWAYS doubled this recipe and until recently I would use a store-bought rotisserie chicken to keep things as quick and simple as possible.  After watching rotisserie chickens shrink in size but raise in price, I've started preparing my own rotisserie style chicken in the crock pot to shred and use in these taquitos.  I started with Busy Mommy's recipe for inspiration but I use seasonings that I think will compliment the taquitos: smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.  I mostly just eyeball the amounts to taste.  Once the chicken is done cooking in the crock pot, it will be so fall apart tender that it will practically shred itself for the taquitos!

I find that using the entire chicken provides the perfect amount of meat for a double batch of taquitos.  I use Mission brand small flour tortillas, scoop 3 tablespoons of the chicken mixture onto each tortilla and I always end up with 20 taquitos (which is perfect as the Mission small flour tortillas come in a pack of 20).

When I make these, I work in an assembly line fashion 8 taquitos at a time.  I warm the tortillas in the microwave, scoop the filling, shape the filling in a tight log, then roll the tortillas and line them up on a wax paper line cookie sheet that fits perfectly in my freezer.  These freeze beautifully and can be baked frozen, straight from the freezer.  I like to serve them with a side of Authenic Mexican Rice and a little steamed corn.

Another favorite that I think everyone should keep on hand for a sudden sweet tooth or unexpected guest are chocolate chip cookies.  These Award Winning Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies are my current favorite recipe and I love that the recipe yields such a large quantity, perfect for stocking one's freezer.  I make a full batch, portion the dough with a 1 1/2 tablespoon scoop, and freeze the dough until solid.  Store the dough balls in freezer bags and you'll be able to bake a cookie or two to enjoy as a weeknight dessert, but you'll also have plenty on half if you need to feed a house full of guests on short notice.  Just bake these straight from the freezer, adding an extra minute or two to the baking time, if needed.

These Twice Baked Potatoes from The Pioneer Woman are one of the two new recipes I tried for this round of freezer cooking.  I figured these would be nice to have on hand for quick lunches or as a side for nights we grill steaks for dinner (a nice alternative to the instant mashed potatoes I typically make).  Besides, who doesn't love a twice baked potato filled with bacon and cheese?

I followed Ree's recipe fairly closely but I decided to use 16 smallish potatoes rather than 8 large potatoes to have a larger yield but to also make these a more modestly sized side.  I followed the ingredients in Ree's recipe, adding in additional quantities until the consistency of my potato mixture was just right.  I filled the potato halves up with the mixture, froze them solid, then wrapped them each individually in plastic wrap before placing them in freezer bags for storage.

Lastly I made these Mini Beef and Cheese Empanadas (on the left, bagged up for the freezer, in the photo above) from Tracey's Culinary Adventures but unfortunately was pretty over the whole all-day freezer cooking thing at that point so I didn't snap any in-process photos to share with you.  If you want to see what the assembly of these empanadas looks like, I suggest you check out Tracey's post.  I plan to serve a few of these as a dinner entree with our usual "Mexican" style sides (rice and/or corn).

All in all, a little over a day of work and my freezer will be stocked for several weeks.  I'd like to spend another day in the near future preparing a few other items that we enjoy that I know keep well in the freezer: garlic knots, sandwich bread, scones, biscuits, etc.  There are lots of variations on freezer cooking out there.  I tend to prefer to make items that are ultimately baked, preparing them to the point just before baking, then freezing them and baking them straight from the freezer as needed.  In my experience, these sorts of items keep the best and can be prepared from the freezer and taste just as delicious as if they were freshly made.

What are you favorite freezer-friendly recipes?

Mexican Style Crock Pot Rotisserie Chicken
inspired by Busy Mommy

3.5-4 lb. broiler/fryer chicken
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a small bowl, combine all the spices.  Prepare chicken: remove giblets, rise with cold water, and pat dry.  Season chicken with spices, making sure to get the cavity of the bird and under the skin as well.  Place chicken in a slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for 6-7 hours or on high for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, until the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 degrees.  Remove the chicken from the slow cooker (it'll likely fall to pieces it'll be so tender) and let cool until the chicken can be handled.  Separate the meat from the bones and shred the chicken into a large bowl.

Creamy Chicken Taquitos
yield: 20 taquitos
adapted slightly from Annie's Eats

6 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup salsa
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2-4 green onions, chopped
4 cups shredded cooked chicken (one Mexican Style Crock Pot Rotisserie Chicken)
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese (I like Monterey Jack or a cheddar jack blend)
20 6-inch flour tortillas
cooking spray
kosher salt

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, salsa, lime juice, and spices until thoroughly combined.

In a large bowl combine the shredded chicken, shredded cheese, cilantro, and green onions.  Add the cream cheese mixture to the chicken mixture and mix until completely combined.

Briefly warm the tortillas in the microwave to make them soft enough to easily roll, about 20-30 seconds.  Place the torillas on a work surface.  Spoon 3 tablespoons of the filling mixture down the middle of each tortilla.  Shape the filling into a tight log.  Roll up the torillas tightly around the filling.  Place seam-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling.

At this point, you may bake the taquitos immediately or freeze them for later use.

To bake immediately:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Space the desired number of taquitos evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Spray the tops lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle each with a pinch of kosher salt.  Bake 15-20 minutes, until crisp and golden brown.

To freeze for later use:
Transfer baking sheet with finished taquitos to the freezer and chill 30-60 minutes, until completely frozen.  Transfer to a freezer-safe container or plastic bag.  To bake from the freezer, I suggest decreasing the cooking temperature to 375 and baking 20-25 minutes to allow filling to heat completely without burning the tortillas.

Award Winning Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies
yield: 6 dozen
adapted slightly from All Recipes

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 (3.4 oz) packages vanilla instant pudding mix
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the vanilla pudding mix until well blended, followed by the eggs and vanilla extract.  Blend in the flour mixture slowly, just until incorporated.  Finally, by hand, stir in the chocolate chips until everything is evenly combined and no flour remains at the bottom of the bowl.

Using a cookie scoop (I suggest a 1 1/2 tablespoon scoop) for even portions, scoop the cookies and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

At this point you can freeze the cookies until solid, then store them in a plastic freezer bag for later use.  To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake 10-12 minutes if fresh or 12-14 minutes if frozen, just until edges are golden brown.

Twice Baked Potatoes
yield: 32 small halves or 16 large
via The Pioneer Woman

16 small baking potatoes, or 8 large baking potatoes
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup bacon bits
Lawry's Seasoned Salt (to taste)
black pepper (to taste)
milk (as needed)

Wash potatoes and place on a baking sheet.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until sufficiently cooked through.

Slice butter and place in a large mixing bowl.  Add sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon bits to the bowl and set aside.

Being very careful and using a dish towel as needed (the potatoes will be very hot!), slice each potato in half lengthwise with a sharp serrated knife.  Using a large spoon, scrap the inside of the potatoes into the large bowl, making sure to leave a little shell of potato left to support the filling.  Lay the hollowed out shells on a cookie sheet.

Once all the potatoes have been hollowed, use a potato masher to smash the potatoes together with the other ingredients.  Once the mixture has been sufficiently combined, season the potato mixture to taste with Lawry's Seasoned Salt and pepper.  If needed, add in a slash of milk and/or additional butter, sour cream, and cheddar cheese to taste.

Once you are satisfied with the flavor of your filling, spoon the filling back until the hollowed potatoes until all of the shells are full and the filling has been used up.

You could opt to bake these in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes immediately or freeze them for later.  For later, freeze solid, then wrap each potato half individually in plastic wrap and store in a plastic freezer bag.  To bake from the freezer, heat them in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until heated through.

Mini Beef and Cheese Empanadas
yield 40-48 mini empanadas
via Tracey's Culinary Adventures

3 3/4 cups (18 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and frozen for 10 minutes
1 1/4 cups ice water

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch ground cloves
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 pound 85% lean ground beef
3/4 cup low-sodium beef broth
1 teaspoon sugar
2 oz shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 large egg, beaten (for egg wash)

To make the dough: Add the flour, sugar and salt to your food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 16 pulses. Dump the contents of the food processor into a large bowl. Gradually add the ice water (about 1/4 cup at a time), and use a rubber spatula to work it into the dry ingredients. Continue until the dough comes together in a rough ball. You may not need all of the water, or, as I did, you may need slightly more. Turn the dough onto your work surface and divide it in half. Shape each half into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

To make the filling: Add the oil to a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5-7 minutes. Add the tomato paste, garlic, oregano, cumin, cloves and cayenne pepper, and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the ground beef, using a wooden spoon to break it up. Brown the meat - this will take about 5 minutes. Add the beef broth and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue simmering until most of the liquid has cooked off, the meat should be moist but not wet, about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat under the pan and mix in the sugar then season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the filling to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until completely cool. Remove the bowl, stir in the cheese, then re-cover and store in the refrigerator until you're ready to use (up to 3 days).

To assemble the empanadas: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with one disk of the dough at a time, place it on a lightly floured work surface and roll into a circle about 1/8-inch thick. Use a 3-inch round cutter to cut out as many circles of dough as you can. Transfer them to one of the prepared baking sheets. (Do not reroll scraps as it made the dough tough in the empanadas so try to get as many rounds as you can on the first go-round.) Repeat with the second disk, placing those rounds on a second baking sheet. Depending on how quickly you worked, you may want to cover the sheets and refrigerate the dough briefly before continuing with assembly. If the dough is still cold, you can move on to the next step immediately.

Place 1 rounded teaspoon of the filling in the center of each round of dough. Dip your finger in a small bowl of water and moisten the edges of the dough. Fold the dough over into a half-moon shape so the edges meet. Press them together with your fingers to seal, then use a fork to crimp (you can dip the fork in flour if it's sticking to the dough). Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue until you've filled and sealed all of the empanadas.

To bake immediately: Preheat oven to 425 F with racks in the upper and lower third. Brush the empanadas with the egg wash then bake for about 20 minutes (rotating the baking sheets halfway through), or until the empanadas are golden brown.

To freeze: Cover the baking sheets tightly with plastic wrap and freeze the empanadas completely. Once they're frozen, transfer the empanadas to a plastic freezer bag for storage. When you're ready to bake them, just put them on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake at 425 F for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Allow the empanadas to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.


  1. This is such a good idea. My husband is going out of the country for six months and I know I'm going to be less inclined to cook if it means I'll be the only one eating. Plus who wants to cook in the summer anyway? I am definitely going to spend a few days prepping freezer food!

    1. I'm sorry to hear your husband will be gone for so long. Perhaps that'll be a good time to experiment in the kitchen with recipes you love that maybe he didn't so much. Good luck stocking your freezer for the months ahead!

  2. Hi Amy, i saw this post on Facebook and I must say it attracted me instantly. I love mexican food (fist of all) and I love to cook... I don't have much time, so when I do make food I like to make enough to have at least a lunch. So I made my first ever chicken (with you recipe!) (thanks for the heads up about the giblets!) and then made the taquitos tonight.


    Fantastic! The only ick we had was too much cilantro, my step-daughter didn't really like. Other than that, it rocked. I must say you should add in a home-made salsa recipe for those who would like it (I have one if you're interested!)

    Anyways, thanks for the fantastic tips!

    xxxxxxx Danou

  3. Getting ready to have baby #3 and getting freezer meals ready. I am really looking forward to making these. I love this collection of recipes, I can only stand so much meat and rice, which seems to be the go to freezer meals out there. Thanks!


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