When I was a kid, I grew up in a rather typical middle-income neighborhood of ranch-style brick homes that were mostly built in the late 50s.
Now the 50s sound like a LONG time ago, but believe it or not, our kitchen was pretty modern (for those days), with built-in ovens, a refrigerator and even an automatic dishwasher.
As with built-ins back then, and to some degree today, there are sacrifices. In this case, it was the freezer section of our kitchen’s built-in refrigerator.
It was pretty small.
Of course back then, frozen foods (Thank you, Clarence Birdseye.) were in their relative infancy. Frozen TV dinners and Swanson’s® Pot Pies were frozen pacifiers for kids, singles and lazy cooks.
No one really took frozen foods seriously.
As for me, I was one of the lucky ones. My mom enjoyed preparing fresh, home-cooked meals (At least that’s the way I’ll choose to remember it. She might tell a different story.), and our small freezer was relegated to ice cubes (And yes, in those days, you had to fill metal trays with water.) and (Thanks, Mom!) Popsicles.
I can’t remember leftovers ever making their way in or out of that small, frozen drawer, and I only knew of those frozen dinners from TV commercials and occasional trips to the grocery store.
Then, it happened.
My parents bought a standalone, upright freezer for the basement.
My life changed.
TV dinners became a shoppable retail experience on shelf 2 of our new basement freezer. Pot pies, frozen fish sticks, tater tots and other chicken-like foods as well as ice cream by the gallons filled every frosty inch of our new frozen-food closet.
Mom, bless her heart, still cooked fresh foods. But she did it when she WANTED to, not because she HAD to.
I’m sure, to some degree, she felt liberated, but as I look back on it, that new freezer kind of changed my life.
No longer did I have to wait until dinner was served. Mom didn’t control my eating schedule or what I ate. I didn’t even have to learn to cook!
I had the frozen buffet at my full disposal.
Needless to say, I ate more, got fat, watched more TV and had fewer friends.
To make matters even worse, as our family grew, it was decided that my new bedroom would be built in the basement, within site of…“The White Box.”
I now fast forward you to my life as it is today.
I’ve grown up, grown a bit slimmer, earned a culinary degree, gained LOTS of experience and made one or two more friends than I had when I was 9.
I’m older (and I’d like to think) wiser.
And most importantly (for this blog at least), I have a standalone, upright freezer–in my garage.
(Okay, admittedly, some things do change.)
Now this might seem a bit odd, especially if you consider that I’m single. You might believe that a second freezer is overkill or that I’m too lazy to cook.
Actually, it’s just the opposite.
I’ve learned to turn the tables on “The White Box.” It works for me now. And it stands for good not evil.
Simply put, there’s no rule that everything that’s frozen is poor quality, processed, full of preservatives, name brand or otherwise “junk.”
That rule doesn’t apply if you make it all yourself. And that’s what I do.
Actually, having a large freezer has allowed me the opportunity to free up my life to enjoy a huge selection of high-quality food whenever I want–just as conveniently as I did when I was 9.
I can choose from casseroles, prepared-meat entrees and an enormous selection of sauces and marinades–all my own recipes, all ready to thaw and heat. Even better, I make all of my recipes in batches large enough to portion them into 8 to 12 servings, and then I place the entire amount in a plastic container with a snap-on lid. They are all organized and all in easy-to-shop rows on my freezer shelves.
Zip Lock is my friend, and if you haven’t noticed, Nino’s is NOW serving its entire prepared Gourmet to Go entree line (at the full-service counter) in fantastic, reusable containers of even-better quality!
What’s in my freezer right now?
TOP SHELF (The Sauces)
● Country Chicken Demi-Glaze (Gravy) 2 – 1 Qt Containers
● Lobster Sauce (creamy & decadent) 2 – 1 Qt Containers
● Thai Peanut Curry Sauce 3 – 1 Qt Containers
● General TSO Sauce 1 Qt
● Enchilada Sauce 1 Qt
● Spaghetti Sauce with Meat & Sausage 1 Qt
● My Own Chili 3 Qts
● Beef Demi-Glaze Sauce w/ Mushrooms 2 – 1 Qt Containers
● Mongolian Sauce & Marinate 2 – 1 Pt Containers
● Orange Ginger Marmalade Sauce 1 Qt
● Maple Teriyaki Sauce & Glaze 1 Qt
SECOND SHELF (Prepared Meals)
● My Own Meat & Italian Sausage Lasagna
● Chicken Enchilada Casserole (chilaquiles)
● Individual Salisbury Steaks
● Beef Tenderloin Fajita Mix (with colorful peppers & onions)
● My Own Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
● Soy & Honey Braised Short Ribs (fall off the bone)
● Braised Barbecue Pork (2-inch pieces) in Sauce
● Chicken Quesadillas (filled with pulled chicken, beans, etc.)
● Chicken Marsala with Portobello Mushrooms
BOTTOM SHELF (The Basic Proteins)
● Jumbo Sea Scallops
● 16 to 20 Peeled & Deveined Shrimp
● Individually Wrapped Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
● ½ Slab Baby Back Ribs (individually wrapped)
● Alaskan King Crab Legs
● French Fries (HEY! How did these get here?)
My strategy has been to purchase fresh vegetables and/or starches and partner them with a portioned protein and a sauce or just reheat one of my prepared entrees and add additional sauce or a topping.
The bottom line?
Don’t let the temptations of all the prepared foods in the frozen-food aisle deter you from the enjoyment of cooking or from preparing the recipes you’ve enjoyed all your life. Let your freezer work for you. Gather a few of your favorite recipes, shop at Nino’s and set aside a weekend to cook a frozen buffet of some of your favorite dishes.
And you might even save some money! I know you’ll enjoy the experience.