Making Meals with Frozen Foods

I'll admit it. I have a chest freezer in my basement and it's filled with everything from individually quick frozen chicken breasts to San Francisco stir-fry blend to a couple quarts of ice cream that have been calling to me for the last few weeks! I love the convenience and variety that frozen food offers to busy home chefs. It's reassuring to know that I can put together a healthy meal even if I haven't put my regular amount of thought into it. While there's definitely a time and a place for ultra-fresh produce and meats, I am not about to unplug that freezer and send it to the curb. I like to think of it as my meal insurance.

So how do I take advantage of what's in there? I start by keeping track of what's in there. Next to the freezer is a huge whiteboard, dry erase markers and an eraser. When I purchase something new, it gets added to the whiteboard. I divide mine into the following categories:

  • Poultry
  • Beef & Game
  • Pork & Lamb
  • Fish & Seafood
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Desserts
  • Convenience Foods

I also add dates alongside things I add to the freezer so I can quickly look at the list and decide which items need to be used soon. That helps me know what's there and how long it's been there.

Inside my freezer, I try to make things as organized as I can. An upright freezer might be a bit easier to organize, but they also tend to "dump" much of their chill when you open them. A chest freezer means having to dig a bit more, but they are also more energy efficient and that makes freezer diving a better choice in my book. I have placed double-thick cardboard dividers into my freezer to allow me to separate meats and meat-type stuff from vegetables and fruit. There's even a little sliding basket that is home to those quarts of ice cream and a couple of other frozen desserts. This way, before I open the freezer I can look at my whiteboard and decide what I want to get. Then, when I open the freezer, I'm more likely to know approximately where I should be looking. It saves energy and keeps me from turning into an ice cube during my freezer diving!

Okay, now that you've got an idea of how I approach storing and organizing frozen food, I suppose you'd like to know what I do with it. I guess that's fair. In the spirit of Frozen Food Month and my particular affinity for these time savers, here is my favorite save-the-day recipe featuring frozen foods. Enjoy!

Curry in a Hurry

This dish can easily be tweaked to suit your tastes. Feel free to use different vegetable blends and add tofu, chicken or pork as desired.
  • 2 lbs. frozen mixed vegetables -- I like the kind with sliced carrots and cauliflower in them
  • 2 T. oil -- I like to use a blend of oil and canola oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 T. curry powder
  • 4 dried red chiles
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. plain yogurt
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch

Place the vegetables in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave, covered, on HIGH for 3 minutes or until thawed. Set aside.

Heat the oil in sauté pan and sauté the garlic until it is fragrant, but not browned. Add the thawed vegetables, curry powder, chiles and salt and cook until the vegetables are completely heated through -- about 5-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the yogurt and the cornstarch.

Remove the vegetables from the heat and mix the yogurt mixture in with the vegetables. Serve the dish over hot rice with additional yogurt.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes