Saturday, September 8, 2012

Eating Well on the Cheap: Keeping a stocked freezer

Growing up in DC, when it came to freezers all I knew was the tiny excuse for a thing that lives in the fridge and collects half-eaten ice cream cartons. That's what I thought freezers were for - well, for that, Eggos and Toaster Strudel.

Then we moved to Napa, went to our first Junior Livestock Auction and ended up with 25+ lbs of meat from the butcher a few weeks later. After trying to origami it into our fridge's freezer (*not easy to do with frozen goods, just saying*), it became very clear that we were going to have to seriously upgrade our freezer space.

Enter into the picture our 9-cubic-feet baby humming out in the garage. While she was a little bit of an initial investment up front ($199 from Home Depot, you can also find freezers on Craigslist), she's paid for herself many times over in the three years that we've had her.

The beauty of having a ton of freezer space is that you can load up on good deals - especially when it comes to protein. For example, if Whole Foods is having a sale on free-range chicken breasts for 99 cents a pound, go a little crazy and buy 10-15 lbs (or more!). Separate your take into meal-size portions, get out your Ziploc freezer bags and go to town. (Hint: Vacuum sealing is a huge help when it comes to freezer burn - Ziploc sells a cheap manual version at Target that has served us very well.)

One of the keys to getting the most out of your freezer is knowing what's in it and 'shopping' from your freezer when you make your weekly meal plan. Sounds pretty simple and obvious, but not when the bottom of your freezer is hiding under a ham, a sea of ground beef, a whole chicken or two, bags of tomato soup, etc. I've tried to make a habit of doing a freezer list update every quarter or so, and taping it to the wall next to the freezer so we can mark off things as we take them out. This works really well until we get lazy - hence the quarterly list.

I just did our 'State of the Freezer' inventory and found us to be pretty well stocked. Our list is below - you can see why our fridge freezer was simply not cutting it anymore.

Country style sausage - 3
Ground pork - 1
Ham - 1
Pork chops - 1
Pork country style ribs - 2

Ground beef - 4
Flank steak - 1
Tri tip - 1
Beef liver - 1

Venison sausage - 10 (50% pork - quite shockingly delicious!)
Blackstrap - 1

Chicken breasts - 5 (the 99 cent deal at Whole Foods - what a steal!)
Whole chickens - 1

Lamb steaks - 2
Lamb chops - 2

Salmon - 7 (my husband went on a deep sea fishing trip - SO WORTH IT)
Trout - 3 (from a long-ago fishing trip...looking pretty shady...)

Tomato soup - 6 (4 from 2011 - must eat!)
Tomato sauce - 3 (from 2011 - ditto; FYI that I recommend canning sauce vs. freezing)
Bolongese sauce - 1
Fava bean pesto cubes
Pesto cubes
Pesto in Tupperware - 4
Chicken broth - 4

Other Protein
Meatballs - 1 bag
Wild ducks - 7 (these babies are collecting dust...)
Lamb bones for stock - 1

Butternut squash risotto - 1
Rangpur lime juice cubes (we use these for our weekly iced tea)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Review - Dinner: A Love Story

There's a first time for everything - I don't think I've ever read a cookbook from cover to cover, but I simply could not put down 'Dinner: A Love Story.' I even plan to buy a copy (my current one is from the library), and lord knows that speaks volumes.

I've never been much of a blog reader (I know, how ironic - due to lack of time, not interest), but I discovered the Dinner: A Love Story blog about two years ago and was immediately smitten. You know it's good when you've read just one post and find yourself willfully adding clutter to your email inbox with a subscription.

When I read that the author, Jenny Rosenstrach, was publishing a book based on her beloved blog, I knew I had to read it. Apparently, so did half of Napa County - it took nearly three months to receive the copy I requested at the library.

The wait was worth it as this book is a keeper. I'm not sure what I love more - the prose that reads like a laugh-out-loud memoir, or the recipes, all of which have been winners. One of our favorites thus far, undoubtedly due to it being tomato season, is the Lazy Bolognese. I whipped up a meatless version the other night to go with some frozen homemade meatballs and fettuccine, and my husband and I had trouble resisting licking our bowls.

I used Jenny's recipe as inspiration, and instead of using the tomato paste and can of diced tomatoes, cut up a few cups of fresh heirloom tomatoes from the garden. It was amazing, and I might add, lived up to its lazy title. This one will definitely find a permanent spot in the dinner schedule.