Land of Leftovers

In honor of National Frozen Food Day -- which is celebrated on March 6 -- I'm taking on the challenge of making your own frozen foods. When someone asks you to imagine frozen foods, images of pizzas wrapped in cellophane, mixed vegetables piled into plastic bags and tubs of frozen yogurt often come to mind. While these are all perfectly acceptable options, preparing your own frozen foods gives you something that these other options do not: control.

This month, I'm offering you the choice of what toppings you want on your pizza, what veggies you want in your stir-fry and how those tasty morsels of chicken you pop on your salads are marinated. Now, it's likely that once you start making these tasty treats you'll want to dig in right away. That's why every recipe gives you two options. You can enjoy the fruits of your labors right away and hide away some leftovers in the freezer to be enjoyed another day.

Keeping your own frozen foods on hand for busy days saves you time, money and often extra calories as well. In most cases, you can take what you want to eat out of the freezer and thaw it in the refrigerator overnight or even pop it directly into the trusty microwave. You can warm them on the stove or in the oven. The key to it all is the fact that the lion's share of the work is already done. Your time and energy are freed up to put together simple side dishes, get a little housework done, or -- more importantly -- spend a little quality time with your loved ones.

When you put together your own frozen foods, you have the opportunity to take advantage of great deals on special ingredients, fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables and your favorite cuts of meat prepared the way you like them. If you spend a little time planning, you'll be ready for the mid-week rush or company at a moment's notice. To start you out on your frozen food adventure, I'm presenting a few of my favorite frozen food options.

From my kitchen to yours, enjoy!

Frozen Stir-Fry Medley

The best time to assemble this easy stir-fry combination is when snap peas and broccoli are available at their freshest.
  • 2 c. fresh sugar snap peas
  • 2 c. fresh broccoli flowerets
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 can water chestnuts, drained
  • 1 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 c. diced red pepper
  • 1 c. diced green onions
For Final Preparation:
  • 2 T. teriyaki sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 2 T. wok oil
  • 1 c. thinly sliced beef, pork or chicken pieces OR 1 c. cubed firm tofu (try a combination!)

Combine snap peas, broccoli and salt in a large steamer basket. Steam vegetables until crisp tender -- about 6-8 minutes. Add remaining ingredients to the steamer basket and mix until evenly combined.

To freeze the vegetable medley, spoon the mixture into carefully labeled freezer bags in 2 cup increments. Seal the bags and freeze for up to 6 months.

To stir-fry, prepare the sauce by combining the teriyaki sauce, garlic and red pepper in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

Measure the wok oil into a wok or skillet. Heat over high heat and quickly stir-fry your desired meat or tofu choices for 3-5 minutes or until meat is nearly cooked and/or tofu is slightly browned. Add the contents of the 2 cup frozen stir-fry medley to the wok and continue stir-frying for 2-3 minutes or until vegetables are warm. Add the sauce and mix until well-coated and warmed through -- about 4 minutes. Serve immediately over hot cooked rice.

  • Yields: 5 freezer bags; 4 servings prepared with each bag
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes for initial preparation plus another 15 minutes for final preparation

Pasta On-The-Go

This peppy sauce dish freezes well and is perfect for thawing overnight in the refrigerator. Making dinner in the evening can be as simple as microwaving it gently for a few minutes and pouring it over hot cooked pasta!
  • 4 T. margarine
  • 2 c. chopped onion
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 T. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 5 1/3 c. milk
  • 6 c. shredded Swiss cheese
  • 4 (15 oz.) cans great northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 (4 oz.) cans diced chili peppers, rinsed and drained
For Final Preparation:
  • 4 c. hot cooked penne pasta
  • 1 c. diced fresh tomatoes
  • Shredded parmesan cheese (optional)

Melt the margarine in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is tender, but not browned.

Stir in the flour and pepper. Add the milk all at once. Cook and stir the mixture over medium heat until it becomes thickened and bubbly.

Add the cheese and stir until it is melted. Stir in the beans and chili peppers.

To freeze the sauce, spoon the mixture evenly into carefully labeled 4-serving freezer containers. Seal the containers and freeze for up to 6 months.

To serve the sauce, warm the sauce in a microwave-safe container for 5 minutes at medium power. Stir the sauce halfway through. Pour the hot sauce over prepared pasta and garnish with tomatoes and cheese, if desired.

  • Yields: 4 freezer bags; 4 servings prepared with each bag
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes for initial preparation plus another 15 minutes for final preparation

Marinated Chicken Strips

These tasty chicken strips are perfect for adding to salads, casseroles and even just dipping and popping in your mouth!
  • 4 tangerines
  • 1/2 c. teriyaki sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T. sliced green onions
  • 1/2 crushed red pepper
  • 6 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Using a sharp knife, slice each of the tangerines in half and either squeeze the juice out manually or use a juicer. Take care to remove any seeds from the juice. Add the teriyaki sauce, minced garlic, green onions and crushed red pepper to the juice and mix well.

Place the 6 chicken breasts in a large plastic storage bag. Add the tangerine marinade and seal the bag. Rotate and flip the bag to generously cover the chicken breasts. Place the bag in the refrigerator and marinate for at least 4 and up to 12 hours -- flipping the bag occasionally.

To cook the chicken, prepare a grill with hot coals. Remove the chicken from the storage bag and discard the marinade. Grill, covered, until no pink remains in the center of the chicken breasts and the juices run clear -- about 15 minutes, turning once. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and slice into 1/2 inch strips.

To freeze the chicken strips, place each cut breast into a carefully labeled freezer bag. Seal the bags and freeze for up to 6 months.

Suggested uses for marinated chicken strips include: salad toppings, pita stuffings, pizza toppings, casserole additions, and appetizers.

  • Yields: 6 freezer bags; number of servings per bag varies with use
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus marinating time