Meatballs for fifty recipe. This is a reflection on how we can use a label maker and a vacuum packer to create order from the chaos of our freezers and therefore lead a calmer and less harried life!
When I first got my label maker, I admittedly went a bit mad with it. Pantry shelves were labeled "Asian" "Italian" and "Canadian". Kitchen drawers were labeled "Cooking Utensils" and "Serving Utensils" and on it went. My closet shelves? Of course! Every stack is labeled: t-shirts, turtlenecks, sweaters, jeans... My bureau drawers? Absolutely. Although, even I felt that I might be on the cusp of going too far when I attached a label called "Odd Undergarments" to the lip of a bureau drawer. Lest your mind wander too far afield, it contains such things as long johns and an old knee brace.
It was a phase, of course. A new toy. Going overboard is understandable. Phases come, and phases go. This one, however, stuck. Before long, I noticed that putting groceries away was just that little bit quicker. As was finding them when needed. I popped folded laundry onto the proper stacks more quickly as well. And helpful friends know just where to put the serving utensils when unloading the dishwasher, should they insist. There was definitely added efficiency on every front.
The labeler was especially helpful when combined with my previous new toy that never got old, the vacuum packer.
Let's digress. The vacuum packer is fun, and ever so useful. It's great for sous vide cooking, and also for making a leakproof ice pack for that sore back. (Fill it with vodka instead of ice for a permanent squishy ice pack in your freezer if your back pain is persistent). Create a waterproof pack of dry clothes if you go forth on a canoe trip. And, of course, vacuum pack your food to avoid freezer burn.
Which gets us back to the labeler and efficiency in general.
So many people love to say how busy their lives are, how stressed. They are always "on the run". It is almost a badge of honor to be harried! It is also an indication of inefficiency. So many problems can be alleviated by a labeler and a vacuum packer.
Let's look into your freezer.
If you are as smug as I am, you will see neat stacks of vacuum packets, clearly labeled with their contents and the date that they were packaged.
'Twas not always thus, I must confess.
I well remember the days when I had a chest freezer big enough to hold several bodies. It was full of an exhausting collection of mystery items encased in ice particles. The freezer was packed to the gills. When dinner time was approaching and the workday was over, it really was no time to tackle the mysterious contents of the freezer. It was too tempting to stop at the store on the way home from work and pick up something quick. Ordering takeout wasn't really an option in those days, but had it been...
But how did this problem come to pass? Well, there was that side of beef, portioned and wrapped neatly in butcher paper, their contents labeled with a wax pencil. And the fruits of hunting expeditions. And gifts from generous fishing friends. And, of course there was the garden. Long hours on hot summer days, of picking and trimming and blanching and freezing. And leftovers. What to do with the rest of that lovely lasagna, that fabulous soup? Into the freezer with it!
Oh it isn't that I never used those treasures. Not never ever. But somehow, no matter how I tried, the contents seemed to replicate and become ever more obscure. Just as Mr. Rochester conveniently ignored that little problem howling in the attic, I became less and less motivated to deal with my progressively less appetizing cache of unidentifiable edibles.
The Swedes (and probably everyone else) have an expression: Too soon old; too late smart. So you know where I'm going with this. Had I known then what I know now, I could have saved myself decades of sturm and drang.
If food is properly stored (vacuum packed) and gloriously labeled, it will be a means of alleviating stress rather than causing it. Pop out a main, add a veg and perhaps some pasta, rice or a potato and you are never more than fifteen minutes from dinner!
Of course, not completely losing your mind at a bulk store is helpful as well. But even then, you should either par cook, or at least divide quantities into useable portions before you pack them into your freezer. It is indeed a bit of a pain to do immediately after you haul your grocery kill back to your cave, but it is essential to good order and blood pressure to do so.
6 lbs. ground meat (beef & pork mixture is nice but whatever is on special)
1/4 cup ketchup or some tomatoey sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, chopped fine
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon dried chili flakes if you like a bit of a kick
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs or dry oat flakes
1 c. chopped parsley if you have some handy.
Combine all. Mix thoroughly. By hand is best to keep from over mixing. Add a bit of milk if it seems too dry. Dip hands in flour, roll meat into one-inch meat balls. Place on jelly roll pans or whatever you have with a lip, and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned and almost done. You will have lots!
Cool. Vacuum pack into an appropriate number for your family. Label. Don't forget the date.
Now you have a goodly number of fast meals ready to go. By the time you boil up the spaghetti and heat the meatballs in marinara sauce, dinner is served! Tomorrow, perhaps those barbecued chicken thighs nestled in the freezer.... Relax. Breathe.