Cooking from scratch sounds ideal, but the reality is that most of us are too busy with work and family to do it every day. These 5 things to make for the freezer will speed up prep and cooking time.
5 Shortcuts for Cooking from Scratch
I don't always have all these items homemade in my freezer. There have been times when I've felt so overwhelmed with work and family that I've bought everything in but, when I can, I like to get back to using basic ingredients. It gives me some semblance of control in my life and in what I feed my family.
1. Concentrated Stock Cubes
Making stock doesn't sound like a time-saving thing to do, but it's not a long job. Keep chicken carcasses in your freezer until you're ready, then put in the Slow Cooker for a day with a Bouquet Garni. That way you'll know that what's in your stock is pure and simple.
To make Concentrated Stock Cubes
- Make the stock (which I always make in the slow cooker)
- Strain it into a saucepan, set the hob to HIGH and leave it boiling
- Reduce to a quarter of the original volume (or less)
- Pour into an ice cube tray that makes cubes of about 25ml
- Cool and freeze. When frozen, put into a sealable bag and keep for up to a year
- NOTE: Always reduce stock before you freeze it to save space in the freezer, even if it isn't in cubes. Dilute as needed when you use it.
Use Concentrated Stock Cubes in:
- Stirfrys! The saviour recipe for many a working mother (or father). Also brilliant if you have a weekly veg box and have stuff left at the end of the week that you need to use up. When you need some liquid, add a frozen stock cube. You probably don't need to dilute it because you want the flavour
- Cauli Rice. This always tastes better with concentrated stock. Process a cauliflower until it resembles rice or couscous (or you can use a grater). Put it in a saucepan with a frozen stock cube. bring to the boil, cover, turn off the heat (leaving the pan on the hob), and leave for 5 minutes. I bet they don't know it's veg!
- Currys and risottos. In fact, anywhere that you want a little liquid and a lot of flavour.
2. Garlic and Ginger Cubes
I love using fresh ginger and garlic in recipes, but too often you buy them, use them once, and throw them away next time you remember they're in the fridge. This way, you will always have fresh ginger and garlic to hand.
To make Garlic and Ginger Cubes
- Peel the ginger - easiest with the edge of a teaspoon
- Using a small food processor or food mill, whizz the ginger until it's a paste
- Spoon into an ice cube tray that makes cubes of about 10ml
- Cool and freeze. When frozen, put into a sealable bag, label, and keep for up to a year
- Peel the cloves of garlic
- Repeat steps 2-4.
You can mix the two together if you usually use cubes of both.
Use Garlic and Ginger Cubes in:
- Stirfrys again. Depending on how much you put in the tray, 10ml cubes are about 2 cloves of garlic
3. Chopped/Sliced Onions
Yes, you can buy bags of frozen chopped onions and I'm quite happy to do that, but if you want to make your own it's so easy.
How to make Frozen Chopped Onions
- Peel 2kg onions
- Cut in half and put in the processor
- My large processor takes 500g at a time
- Pulse 10-12 times until the pieces look the right size. Don't over-process
- Freeze on a tray. When frozen, put into a sealable bag and keep for up to a year
You can slice the onions instead, using the slicing disc on the processor, if you use more sliced than chopped onions - or do some of each.
Where to use Frozen Chopped Onions:
Anywhere you need chopped or sliced onions. Don't worry if the onions stick together, they soon separate as they cook.
You will lose 10-12% of weight when you peel the onions, so reduce the weight you need in a recipe accordingly.
4. Frozen Cooked Rice
Whenever you cook rice, or other grains like quinoa, cook 2-4 times as much as you need (or more) and freeze for another day.
How to make Frozen Cooked Rice
- Cook the rice as usual
- After draining, run cold water through the rice to cool it quickly
- Leave to drain for 5 minutes
- Freeze flat in sealable bags, in the serving size you want
- Defrost a bag in warm water or in the fridge
- Reheat thoroughly before using
5. Batches of Basic Recipes
Batch cook some staples. Put aside a couple of hours and you really will reap the benefits during the following weeks. I'm always a little sad when I use up the last batch of Bolognese Sauce in my freezer as I know I'll need to get cooking again.
These recipes take a bit more time, but it doesn't take a lot longer to make enough Cheese Sauce, Basic Bolognese Sauce, or Basic Chicken Casserole for four meals than it does for one meal. The upside is that you have the basis for a few good meals in the freezer. Just add a few extras for an easy dinner. Click on the links to find the basic recipes and the meals they make.
If you ever have a surplus of milk, use it to make a batch of Foolproof Cheese Sauce. If you don't have any cheese, make a white sauce and add the grated cheese when you use the sauce. I make up 2 litres of milk at a time and freeze the sauce in 250ml batches.
Use Cheese Sauce for:
Basic Bolognese Sauce
Okay, before the Food Police get started, this is not an authentic Bolognese Sauce. Basic Bolognese is more about getting meat (usually minced beef) and loads of veg into your family without them necessarily knowing it - and this goes for adults as well as children, darling.
It's another good recipe for using up what's left over from a veg box. With the best will in the world, we all have some left week after week. When it gets overwhelming, I make Basic Bolognese Sauce, freeze it in batches and use it as it is with pasta or as the basis for other meals.
Use Basic Bolognese Sauce for:
Basic Chicken Casserole
Basic Chicken Casserole doesn't contain much more than chicken joints and onions, but it does form the basis of some tasty supper dishes.