Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How to Freeze One-size Portions

I don't know how many of you will find this useful, but since writing my post yesterday, I realized that it wasn't a very informative one. ...So here's a "how to" post, to supplement the brain-dead blurb I wrote yesterday (can't blame a person, after spending 8.5 hours in the kitchen, right?).

What do you do if you want use the convenience of freezer meals, but don't want to defrost a whole 9"x13" pan of lasagna just for one meal for yourself? It's rather hard, doing this "freezer meal" thing for only one person, yet if you are making special-diet meals, you are really only cooking for one or two people.

There are several solutions to this dilemma;

- You could divide each pan into serving-size portions, and then buy a ton of little plastic containers to freeze each portion separately.

- You could really, actually, thaw out that whole 9"x13" pan of chicken casserole, and then eat nothing but chicken casserole for six days. (Chicken oatmeal, anyone?)

- You could freeze the whole lasagna in the big pan, then keep a hack saw, hammer, and chisel on top of the freezer, and use them each time you want to hack off a portion to thaw.

- OR you could do it this way:

Amber's One-Person Freezer-Meals Freezing Secret 
(The secret isn't freezing, of course; just the meals. ...Actually, that was pretty corny. It's past my bedtime, okay?) 

You will need
- Freezer paper
- A large cookie sheet
- Large spatula and knife
- A freezer (*grin*)
- Handiwrap
- Freezer bags
- 9x9 Aluminum pan (optional)
- One 9"x13" pan of whatever you want to freeze. This method will work will with just about anything you'd normally bake in a 9x13. Even "looser" casseroles, like rice and chicken. (I'm going on faith, there, actually; my first batch of that casserole is still in the freezer for the first step right now. But I'm sure it's going to work.)

It's pretty simple. First, bake the casserole. (This won't work with things that have to be frozen before baking. Sorry.)

Let the casserole cool completely. Almost every casserole will "firm up" a bit as it cools, which means it holds together much better cool than hot.

Once cooled, slice neatly into serving-size portions. (About 12 squares, for a typical casserole in a 9x13.)

Line your large cookie sheet with freezer paper, waxy side up. Do not substitute wax paper for the freezer paper. Unless, of course, you enjoy picking wax paper out of your spaghetti pie, or you like the taste of wax paper. I won't tell you how I know that won't work.

Ever so carefully, lift each square of casserole out of the pan, and set it on the freezer paper on the cookie sheet. (The freezer paper will want to roll up on itself, so I usually start out by putting one square in each corner, to hold it down. Bonus tip; no charge. :) )

If your cookie sheet is nice and large, you should be able to fit a whole casserole on one sheet. You can put the squares as close as you like so long as they are not touching. There's gotta be some space there. If the casserole is a bit soft, you may have to carefully press it into neat squares again after you transport it to the cookie sheet, but just be sure that in the end the squares aren't touching.

Cover the squares with another sheet of freezer paper - waxy side down, this time. Move the cookie sheet to the freezer, and make sure it's level on the shelf before you shut the door. (Why, no, our freezer is never crowded and I would never stack the cookie sheet on top of a uneven mound of bags in there. Why do you ask?)

After two or three hours - or however it takes for the casserole to freeze solid - take the cookie sheet out, and carefully pry the squares off the freezer paper. (Don't leave it in the freezer longer than overnight; it will begin to taste like the freezer.) Wrap each square tightly in handiwrap, and stack neatly in an aluminum pan, then slide the pan into a freezer bag. The pan is actually optional; I just use it because it makes the whole stack more sturdy in the freezer. A 9x9 square pan fits perfectly into a gallon-size freezer bag, if it's not loaded too far above the edge.

Now comes the fun part. Seal the bag almost all the way, leaving a space just big enough to insert a straw. Now (guess what?!) insert a straw in that hole. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Put your mouth on the straw and suck. You'll have the pleasure of seeing the whole bag shrink-wrap around your stack of squares, and look very professional. Slide the straw out and seal the bag in one quick motion.

You're done! (Probably in less time that it took to read that wordy batch of instructions. Don't you love all my parenthesis?) Now, anytime you want a freezer meal, pull out the amount of servings you need and unwrap them before putting them in a covered dish in the fridge to thaw. (The unwrapping part is important.) Once thawed, use your method of choice to re-heat them; microwave, toaster oven, oven, stove top, or whatever you want to do.

Enjoy a freezer meal just your size!


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