Freezing Food, Part 1: Chemistry & Containers

While I’m new to VOAMC, I’ve been freezing leftovers for awhile.  The only experience I’ve had with freezer burn was a carton of soy ice-cream that was left in for too long – turns out cardboard is lousy at keeping out air.  Go figure.

Still, here’s what I do know:

Label the freezer bag FIRST.  Before the food is in, label the bag with the name of the dish and the current month.  I know it seems obvious, but I kept catching myself ladleing hot stews into unlabeled freezer bags – and trying to label a bag of liquid legibly is difficult.  (You can reuse the container later by removing the label with a sponge and some baking soda.)

Leave some room at the top.  Water expands in volume by about 9% when frozen, and cooked food is made up of varying degrees of water.  Soup will expand more than, say, a veggie burger – but you can’t go wrong with leaving at least 10% of the container empty.

Get the air out.   If the food is exposed to air below zero degrees farenheight, water in the food can actually subliminate directly to the vapor phase, leaving the area still safe, but all dried out – freezer burn.  But without exposure to air, this isn’t a problem.

If it doesn’t say ‘freezer’… Freezer bags, freezer tape, and freezer containers are great.  But as awesome as it is to recycle soy yogurt and margarine containers, they’re not built to effectively work in the freezer, and they aren’t worth the risk of freezer burn.

Arranging the freezer bags:

  • Get them horizontal.  Once they’ve frozen in a flat, rectangular shape, you can either stand them up like books on a bookshelf or keep them stacked.  Either way, they freeze faster and it saves a lot of space.
  • If in doubt, double-wrap.  I normally don’t double-wrap things in the freezer, but some people recommend putting several quart-sized freezer bag inside of a gallon-sized bag if you’re worried about freezer burn.  If I’m using aluminum foil, I’ll always wrap it twice, but that’s about it.
  • Use wax paper to keep bags from sticking.  There are probably other ways to keep them from sticking, but I thought it was easiest to just put a sheet of wax paper between each bag while they froze.  I removed the paper the next day.
  • Give them enough room so that the air in the freezer can circulate around the bags.  I made 2 columns of freezer bags that had an inch or so free behind them, between them, and in front of them.  If you have a stand-alone or chest freezer, this may be less important – but it seems to be a good idea for refrigerator freezers, which are sometimes less capable.

The USDA has a good site on the safety of freezing food:  Focus On Freezing.  While a lot of their advice doesn’t apply to vegans, it’s worth reading for random entertainment value (i.e., when they warn you not to freeze eggs in their shells.)

Do you have any other freezer tips or advice?

August 10, 2009 at 12:48 pm 3 comments

The Tiny Freezer

I moved the bags of flour and flax seed to airtight containers in the cabinets, we stopped using the mixing bowl as an ice resevoir, and then rearranged the shelves on the freezer door to hold more of the frozen veggies.

The lasagna isn’t in there yet (still in the fridge), and if it weren’t for dinner last night and lunch today there’d be at least twice the amount of mac & cheeze, but it looks like there’s room for everything!  Awesome.

August 9, 2009 at 7:58 pm Leave a comment

Menu A: Cooking Day Adventures

I didn’t start cooking until 1:00 yesterday, but I was finished with washing all the dishes and cleaning everything up at 8pm.  I wasn’t in a big hurry because I was watching shows on Netflix, which slowed me down some, so I’d bet you could get everything done an hour or so earlier if you really wanted to.

I tried a lot of the meals as I went, since this was my first time making a lot of these recipes – and I can tell you right now, the Un-Beef Stew is AMAZING.  It ranks on my top 3 favorite dishes EVER.  I didn’t want to freeze any of it at all – I just wanted to keep it out and eat it all day.  Getting even three bags of it in the freezer was a definite accomplishment.  I’ll be making it all the time from now on.

My boyfriend and I had the Vegan Mac & Cheese for dinner – I guess most OAMC books recommend going out to dinner after taking a full day to cook, but we really wanted to try the Mac & Cheese – and it was great!  He’s an omnivore, and he loved it.

I forgot to get pictures of the Chickpea Cutlets, but I’ll try to remember when I unfreeze them.  You can tell the Lasagna got a little burnt – I didn’t put enough sauce on top – and the picture of the gumbo is terrible, but life goes on.

I’d definitely recommend having a TV or some music going while you cook, since it makes the hour or so of chopping a little more interesting.   Overall, I was really happy with how everything went.

August 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm 1 comment

Menu A: How-to

I wrote these out before doing all of the preparation and cooking (I needed some idea of how I was going to approach making 11 recipes in one afternoon), and then revised them once I found out what did and didn’t work.

The basic scheme:

  • The Veg Curry is done the night before, along with the chopping for the Mexican Gumbo
  • The day of, the non-chopping dishes are done first so that the chopped vegetables aren’t sitting out for too long.
  • All of the day-of chopping is done at once, separating the vegetables into bowls based on what recipe they’re for (and when they’ll be added).

The order of cooking is dependent on the temperature the oven must be heated to.  The tofu for the Unbeef Stew should be done first thing because it needs to be at only 200*, then the mac & cheeze (350*), and then cutlets and lasagna (both at 375*).  Doing the oven dishes in this order makes it more likely the oven will actually be at the right temperature.

The crockpot dishes are ordered as they are because the Mexican Gumbo, which requires the least amount of chopping or preparation, can be started quickest in the morning.  The Unbeef Stew is supposed to be a crockpot dish, but here I’m just cooking it on the stove to save time.  If you happen to have two crock-pots, you can cook it at the same time as the Gumbo.

A very strong case could be made for switching the order of the Mexican Gumbo with the Veg Curry, letting you do almost no prep the day before cooking.   On the other hand, it also makes a lot of sense to chop everything the day before, especially since the Veg Curry requires a fair bit of chopping.  I’ve taken the middle ground here and am just doing the Veg Curry the day before, so that’s how I wrote the instructions.

The chickpea cutlets can be baked or fried.  I’m baking them because frying requires more attentiveness, and the oven will be at the right temperature for the lasagna anyway.  If you’re really set on frying them regardless, the authors of Veganomicon recommend frying the cutlets in a pan with a thin layer of olive oil, cooking on each side for 6-7 minutes until they’re “lightly browned and firm to the touch.”

For the lasagna, I didn’t cook the noodles beforehand, since 1) I’m lazy, and 2)I didn’t want to increase the odds of the lasagna getting soggy when reheated.  Also, if you really want to sub frozen spinach instead of fresh, remember to thaw it and wring it out multiple times to make sure you’ve gotten rid of the liquid, and write that into the overall instructions.

If you want to mince your own garlic (!!) make sure you add it to the instructions – either as a general item to do the day before cooking, or the very first thing on the morning of the cooking day.  I’ve written the instructions to assume that you can just scoop the required amount out of a jar at a moment’s notice.

So here are the instructions – change them up however you want!  If you’re used to having a lot going on in your kitchen, you can probably just grab the chopping directions and the order of the recipes and disregard everything else.  I’ve saved it as a Google Docs file.

Link:  Menu A Instructions (doc file)

August 9, 2009 at 5:41 pm 6 comments

Menu A: Grocery Shopping List

I did my VOAMC shopping the day before cooking, and I really recommend that.  I liked being able to leave everything out on the kitchen table instead of putting it away.  Regardless, I’d stay away from shopping on the same day that you cook!  Just carrying all of those grocery bags into the apartment was enough work for one day.

Here are the lists I’ve made for the recipes of Menu A.  I’d suggest copy/pasting it to Word and deleting everything you already own, as well as ingredients in [[double brackets]] if you’re making Veganomicon black bean burgers, or everything in *astericks* if you’re making the alternative black bean burgers, before printing it.   (Bonus Vegan Points for already owning the proper amount of wheat gluten and nutritional yeast!).

A few assumptions I made with this list:

  • Since we have to buy fresh basil for the Gazpacho anyway, I went ahead and subbed fresh basil for all of the dry basil called for in the other recipes (it’s about a 1:3 ratio of amounts, dried:fresh, so I recalculated it both here and on the instructions page).
  • Also, normally I sub ketchup for tomato paste, because 1)  I’m classy like that, and 2) I really hate opening up a full 6 oz jar only to use 1 lousy tablespoon.  You’ll use 1 full 6 oz jar and about 2 tablespoons more, so you may or may not want to spring for the 2nd jar.
  • The Mac & Cheese absolutely cannot be done without nutritional yeast, and the Veganomicon recipes for both Chickpea Cutlets and Black Bean Burgers can’t be done without vital wheat gluten.  Nutritional yeast is at natural foods stores – it’s yellow and either powdery or flakey – and vital wheat gluten can be found at normal grocery stores, usually near the flour (it’s used for bread-making.)

Produce

  • Onions – 5
  • Carrots – 9
  • Red bell peppers – 2
  • Green bell peppers – 2
  • Cauliflower -1
  • Tomatoes – 7
  • Zucchini – 1
  • Cucumber – 1
  • Eggplant – 1
  • Potatoes – 8
  • Lemon – 1 (for zesting, only 1 tsp of zest needed, though.  I skipped it.)
  • 1 bag of spinach (16 oz) <– I used only half the bag, but the other half made nice salads.
  • Parsley – 1/4 cup
  • Fresh basil – 4 T + 1 t (substitute 3 T fresh basil for the 1 T of dried basil in the Ratatouille recipe)
  • 1 lb. extra-firm tofu
  • 1 lb. herbed tofu (if that’s nonexistent, no problem, just use the softest tofu you can find.)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 lb. of firm tofu
  • 8 oz. vegan cream cheese)
  • 3 T. vegan margarine
  • Plain soy milk – 1.5 cups

Frozen

  • Peas (enough for 2 cups)

Canned

  • Tomato paste (6 oz + 3 T)
  • Tomato sauce (8 oz)
  • Spaghetti Sauce – 3 jars
  • Chickpeas – 16 oz can
  • Chipotles in adobo sauce – 1.  (Only need one pepper from the entire can – so even though they come in tiny cans, you may just want to save the trouble and sub hot sauce.  I happen to have a can in the pantry, so it didn’t deter me from picking the Mexican Gumbo recipe.)
  • Red or pinto beans – 1 16 oz can (for Mexican Gumbo)
  • Mexican-style diced tomatoes – 1 16 oz can
  • Black beans – 2 cans (16 oz)

Spices

  • Chile powder *2 tsp*
  • Curry powder (2 T)
  • Cumin seed (2 t)
  • Tarragon (1 t)
  • Nutmeg (1/8 t.)
  • Garlic Powder (1 T [[+ 2 tsp]])
  • Onion Powder [[2 tsp]]
  • Paprika (1 T + 1/2 t.)
  • Thyme (1 t)
  • Rubbed sage (1/2 t)
  • Bay leafs (2)
  • Oregano (1/2 T + 2 tsp.)
  • Marjoram (1/2 T)
  • Rosemary (a dash)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Ground cumin – pinch + *1 tsp*
  • Cinnamon – dash

Pasta

  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 1.5 lbs macaroni pasta
  • Vital Wheat Gluten (1 c) + *1 c*
  • Breadcrumbs (2 c)
  • Nutritional yeast (1 and 3/4 c)
  • Brown or basmati rice – 1/2 c. (for Mexican Gumbo)
  • Buns for the black bean burgers
  • [flour – 1 c.]

Condiments, etc.

  • Tomato juice – 3.5 cups
  • Red wine vinegar (2 T)
  • Hot sauce (enough for a dash) if you want (although if you do, you probably already have it)
  • Lemon juice (4 T)
  • Vegetable broth – at least 4.5 cups
  • Red wine (4 T)
  • Worcestershire sauce (check for anchovies in the ingredients list)
  • Cornstarch (5 T., although you may use less if the commenters at vegweb are right)
  • Soy sauce (roughly 1.5 cups.  I know.  I had to get a new bottle too.)
  • Canola oil (1/4 c)
  • Olive oil (at least 7 T + *4 T*)
  • Garlic (21 cloves + *4 cloves*.  I know.  I can’t imagine doing this without the store-bought jar of minced garlic – but even if you have one in your fridge already, I’d suggest getting another one.  I thought I had plenty, and I ran out at the end.)
  • Liquid sweetener – agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup – 1 T. (for Mexican Gumbo)
  • Mustard – a dollop (optional, for the Vegan Mac & Cheese)
  • Freezer bags
  • Wax paper (to put between the bags in the fridge for the first few hours so they don’t stick together).

Like on the previous entry, everything for Veganomicon’s Black Bean Burgers is starred, while the ingredients for the alternative black bean burger recipe are in [[double brackets]].   Both recipes should be doubled, so the amounts given are for the doubled recipe.  For cases where they actually use the same ingredient, instead of starring AND parentheses-ing, I just left it as normal.

Groceries!

Groceries!

August 7, 2009 at 3:19 am 3 comments

Menu A: Recipe List

This menu is influenced heavily by what I had in my kitchen already, but I like that I can use tomato juice in two recipes, that most recipes had a good mix of vegetables, and none of these recipes involve scalding soymilk, making crusts, or any other cooking trickery.  The 8 oz of vegan cream cheese required for the Cheezy Lasagna isn’t something that screams ‘budget cooking’, but dude, look at the pictures of that lasagna.  I have a feeling the cream cheese will be worth it.

The Recipes for Menu A:

  1. Vegetable Curry (crockpot)
  2. Mexican Gumbo (crockpot)
  3. Best Vegan Mac & Cheese Recipe Ever
  4. Chickpea Cutlets (double batch)
  5. Raging Ratatouille
  6. Veganomicon’s Black Bean Burgers*  (or [ Black Bean Burgers ]) double batch either way
  7. Cheezy Lasagna
  8. Great Gazpacho
  9. Un-Beef Stew (crockpot)

Only about 3 people will be eating these – and most times only 2 of us will be here, so this is easily enough food for a month.  I can’t imagine it’s a month of food for most other families or groups, so if that’s your situation then either this menu will be a good start to your OAM menu, or you can use it for a bout of Once-Every-2-Weeks Cooking.  (Which, if google is to believed, isn’t actually a thing.)

*  My boyfriend and I love the Black Bean Burger recipe from Veganomicon and can’t be persuaded to go a month without it.  If you have Veganomicon, you should use this recipe (p. 97).  If you don’t, you should go buy it (it’s the vegan bible!) but barring that, the recipe in brackets has most of the same ingredients.

August 7, 2009 at 1:04 am 1 comment

Once-A-Month cooking?

The first and so far only topic where the internet ever truly failed me was “Vegan Once-a-month cooking”  (where are the comprehensive websites?  Where are the grocery lists, the discussion groups?  The forums where people with witty usernames debate freezing techniques?) and so I’m starting this blog to document my attempts.  Hopefully anyone else doing some internet research can learn from the mistakes I’ll be making.

OAM cooking always seemed like a great idea to me – just fill the crockpot the night before, wake up, freeze the meal and chuck something else in the crockpot while getting started on a full day of cooking and freezing, and wham!  You get the month-long payoff of homemade fast food on a budget.  Like magic.  (Of course, there’s that whole “full day of cooking and freezing” part, but I think anything has the potential to become fun when you only have to do it once a month.)

Most omni sites emphasize the amount of saving you can achieve on your grocery budget by synchronizing your monthly grocery day with the advertised meat sales.  Since advertised tofu sales don’t exist here in Kansas, I can’t claim to be saving money that way.  Still, I’ll be saving money by eating meals made from scratch at home instead of spending the extra money on the Achilles Heel of my budget – vegan TV dinners.  (I know.  It’s terrible.  I have almost no patience when I’m hungry.)

Potential setbacks here include all of the chopping required, the planning, my mediocre cooking skills,  and my lack of freezer space.    I have only a small freezer above the fridge which I share with my little sister/roommate, but since I’ll mostly be cooking for 2 (and the occasional guest), I think we can make everything fit.   We come from a family where bananas, batteries, ground coffee, bread, and milk are all most commonly found in the freezer, so I see it as my genetic draw to stuff as many meals in there as possible.

Rest assured, if freezer space runs out, there will be pictures.

August 6, 2009 at 11:02 pm 6 comments

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