Before my second child was born (7 years ago yesterday), I shared with my mother-in-law that I was trying to freeze quite a few meals to make life easier after the baby arrived.
Later, a mutual friend asked me what kinds of casseroles I had frozen.
I had no idea what this person was talking about. After a very confusing conversation, I realized that my MIL had assumed that when I said I was freezing meals, I meant casseroles.
Really, that’s an understandable misunderstanding.
I also used to think that if you were going to freeze a meal it had to be a casserole. Only after hearing a speaker at a mom’s group did I start to re-think what could be frozen.
I’m not anti-casserole. In fact, I’m about to share my Mexican casserole recipe below. There’s just one teeny-tiny problem I have with frozen casseroles.
You have to thaw them.
Like, a day ahead of time.
A whole DAY ahead? Really? My brain just doesn’t work that way. Even if I have a menu planned, the chances of me remembering to check that menu before 3 p.m. for that night’s meal . . . are pretty slim. And if the planned meal is a frozen brick 3 hours before dinnertime, I’m stuck scrambling.
I’ve tried to defrost them in the microwave, but I’ve never been able to get the middle thawed without turning the outside into rubber. And because the directions always say “Just pull out of the freezer and put it in the fridge the night before to defrost” I never know if-you-can/how-you-could cook it long enough from frozen to make it come out right.
While I’m working hard to be more organized and do better at stuff like this . . . there are areas where I have to accept how my brain functions. Better to do freezer cooking in a way that works for me than to fill my freezer with things that will never be eaten.
As I shared in my freezer cooking plan last weekend, I generally pre-cook and freeze basic ingredients. Chicken, ground beef, beans, rice, etc. can all be cooked ahead and frozen, allowing me to make home-cooked meals in an instant.
As an example, here’s my recipe for Mexican casserole. I had this for the first time at a potluck dinner at my church in Thailand, and it tasted just like home to me. I often make it for potlucks, and people always ask for the recipe.
Here’s how I made it last night.
I dumped a frozen hunk of pre-cooked ground beef into a glass casserole dish, and put it in the microwave for a minute and thirty seconds at 20% power. My goal was not to re-cook it, or even to fully defrost it. I just wanted to be able to break it apart into smaller chunks.
I then dumped it in a large skillet and added a can of Ranch Style Beans. If you don’t have those where you live, you can use Chili Beans. I had planned to use the beans I cooked yesterday, but since my Crock Pot died and I had to switch them over to my other one, they weren’t quite done. If your beans don’t have enough flavor, you can add taco seasoning at this point. I added a dash of each of the ingredients in the home-made taco seasoning I like to use.
I then added a drained can of corn.
Yesterday, my rice wasn’t frozen yet, but when it is, I take about a two cup chunk and put it in the glass casserole dish that I used to defrost the beef. I put it in the microwave for about 2 minutes, on 40% power, until it breaks apart easily.
Break up the rice and mix it all together until it’s all warmed through.
You can eat this as a skillet meal, or put it back in the casserole dish, top with cheese, and put it in a 350 degree oven long enough to melt the cheese.
I went ahead and made this last night (so I could take the pictures), but we’re actually eating it tonight. Somehow, the birthday boy didn’t want Mexican Casserole for his special dinner.
We had corn dogs and macaroni and cheese.
This is just one example of an ultra-fast meal you can make with frozen pre-cooked basic ingredients. Chances are, many of the meals you already make could be thrown together faster if some of the ingredients were pre-cooked.
Just a note – in case you’re like me and make this recipe “from memory.” Don’t forget the rice. It’s an important ingredient.
Especially don’t forget it if you’re taking this meal to a family with a sick mama.
If you are on your way to take it to the family . . . and something just doesn’t seem right about it, you probably forgot the rice.
FYI, this recipe is included in the two week plan that I teach you in Make Dinner Happen, the least fancy, most practical cooking course ever. You can learn more and see what recipes are included here.
I’m linking this up to Money Saving Mom’s Freezer Cooking Days. Go check out more freezer cooking ideas.
I love my freezers – but there's nary a casserole in them 😉
This looks good – we do a similar 'making a mess of stuff' type meal we had last night – diced potatoes [we use red] and a little cooked ground beef, some breadcrumbs and a little olive oil, onion, italian seasoning, salt and pepper, parsley and top with some mozzarella – bake – delish.
I am learning that if I add defrosting the next day's dish to my weekly plan the day before I can get it done [sometimes two days before – if it's something that might take awhile to defrost in my very cold fridge] but I only bother with raw meats I want to cook . . . sometimes I'll make up the MIX of the ground beef for say, meatballs and freeze it raw, etc.
otherwise I'm a nuker like you LOL
I make something similar to that. It's tasty and easy when feeding company at the last minute.
My problem is that casseroles don't defrost overnight! It's more like 2 days! So even remembering one day in advance isn't enough.
Lenetta @ Nettacow says
Hmm, I do frozen brick casseroles frequently without thawing… I'm thinking I bake for an hour to an hour and 20 minutes or so at 350, and just stick a fork in the middle and see if it's hot yet.
Last summer, I had a frozen casserole that had been wrapped in heavy duty foil. I put it on the grill over medium or so and an hour and a half later, it was ready! I think the middle was still a little cool, but we just ate the edges. I'd have never thunk that would've worked!
Christine L says
Hi! I make 9×5 foil pans of lasagna and burrito pie and freeze them. I’m not organized enough to remember to thaw them out. I mean I’d have to remind myself to put the frozen thing in my fridge two days before eating it to completely thaw out. Well, 2 hours before dinner and I’m like, “oh crap! Dinner!” I pull out a pan of frozen whatever is in the freezer (tonight is Burrito Pie) and make sure the foil is coated with a bit of Pam spray so the cheese doesn’t stick to the foil. Throw it in the preheating oven (350 degrees) and cook it for about 2 hours. I try NOT to figure to thaw during the summer months because it’s too hot in Texas to bake that long.
Momma Shoe says
Really like your blog! I can relate but am finally getting the hang of the thawing thing:) Thanks for sharing your journey!
I took out a 4 pound roast yesterday hoping for it to be ready for supper… It is still frozen! Who woulda thunk?! Lol!
I place my raw or fully cooked meat/meals in a gallon size freezer bag, smush flat and freeze. Just be sure to get as much air out as possible to prevent freezer burn. I usually lye them on a box so they won't freeze around the bars on my freezer shelf(been there, done that). Then all I have to do is place in a sinkful of water for a few minutes and it will thaw evenly. If I need it fast, I put it in hot water, and flip after the first side thaws.
I do this with ground beef, taco meat, chili, soup, beef and broccoli(don't recommend it; broccoli came out soggy).
Works very well for freezer cooking.
Mary S says
I have been thawing stuff in warm water for 30 odd years and always get a laugh when I see a article about the dangers of doing this.My Mom did her food that way when I was growing up and every one in my family does it.I don’t know anyone who ever got sick from thawing foods this way.For the casseroles,I buy the 2 gallon bags at the Dollar Tree store and stick my casserole in it then place in warm water and in about a hour its ready to cook.
Au contraire! You absolutely CAN cook casseroles directly from a frozen state. I used to think that you couldn’t, and then one day I wanted to cook a frozen baked ziti casserole I had not thawed.
A frozen casserole cooks up perfectly well – it just takes longer. The rule of thumb is roughly 30 minutes longer than the cooking time called for in the original recipe. This can vary depending on the density of the casserole, and the cooking dish. (I find that those frozen in a foil pan are more solidly frozen and take a bit longer to reheat.) Cook with a foil covering, and then uncover for the last 15 minutes or so, to allow for browing.
You’re supposed to check for an internal temperature of 160F, but considering my frozen casseroles are either previously fully-cooked, or have just one uncooked element (for example, cheese on top) I don’t see the dangers of just heating until it seems “hot enough.” It’s been cooked, and then it’s been frozen… I don’t think there is any living dangerous bacteria.
Good info! And I agree that all my casseroles are “Pre-cooked” so warm enough is likely fine!
I have a really good tip for u. Boil ur rice in the microwave! I use a glass bowl or some other micro safe bowl) with a lid (or use the micro plastic cover lid). Then I can use the same bowl for cooking, serving and store left overs in the fridge.
U do see that big pot with stacky, hardened, almost-impossibly-to-clean rice pot in the sink? Nope. U don’t. Anymore. 🙂
So how long do you put it in?
Oh. I forgot that. 5-6 min on full heat, then medium for 15 min. But my micro is really old, so u have to adjust for ur own.
Jeez, sorry bout all the misspelling! My Swedish phone really don’t like me writing in english. :O
Alberta Deb says
I’m like you … meal planning is great as long as you remember to take the stuff out of the freezer. When I am in my “super organized meal planning mode” (which doesn’t happen nearly enough) I take out any large pieces of meat or casseroles that need long periods to thaw. This also forces me to stick to the menu of I’ll have a bunch of thawed food in my fridge that will spoil if not dealt with.
Our version of “Mexican Casserole” is different. We use ground meat, taco seasoning, and some type of beans like you (but I prefer black or kidney). After that it differs from yours. We use crushed tomatoes, cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup, and salsa. My mom adds olives, but I don’t because my husband dislikes olives. Then we take a handful of corn tortillas and tear them into quarters and spread a layer of them in the casserole dish. Add half the meat mixture, and top with grated cheese. Repeat with another layer of tortillas, meat, & cheese, and then bake for 20-30 minutes at about 350 F. My family LOVES LOVES LOVES this meal! Occasionally I think to put some sour cream on the table for anybody who wants to add a dollop.