Freezer Cooking for One (or Two) in the Studio Apartment
My whole apartment is smaller than some people's kitchens. I have two burners, but no oven. Needless to say, I don't bake. I also cop to buying my cabbage shredded. But that doesn't mean that I eat a lot of packaged meals or limit my shopping to primarily what I will use that week. I have a little more free time in the summer, so I have been prepping food and freezing it.
My reasons for freezer cooking are largely the same as they would be if I live in a house or had a household: I want to have high quality food without spending a lot of money. I want to have meals on hand for the occasions when I don't have the time or the wherewithal.
Some things are different, though, with regard to what I choose to freeze. I take into account the size of containers, the limited space: in the refrigerator, in the freezer, in the whole apartment. I take into account the slower rate that I use ingredients, and how that, too, limits the variety in the fridge. I like to have some take-and-go lunches and maybe a couple complete freezer meals, but some freezing is limited to prepped items.
Here are my tips for freezer cooking in the studio apartment.
Images by the author
Freeze Things That Are Messy to Make - Save Cleanup Time Later (Not Just Prep Time)
I have essentially no counter space. I am not sure if the lentil concoction you see above is sitting on the table or on a chair. Some meals are quick to prepare, but use multiple containers or utensils and often result in drops and spatters. Take falafel. I buy the mix dried from the bulk food bin. It does not take much time to add water and form little falafel balls. But I end up with things here and there, a gunky bowl, powder in places I didn't intend. If I don't clean the mess, it will sit there like a center piece. Best to make the falafel in quantity and freeze it.
There's no need to cook it beforehand. (Formerly frozen falafel fries fine.) There's no need to add other ingredients at this stage. If my shredded cabbage is apt to brown before I use it up, then maybe I want to freeze a wrap or two. Otherwise, it makes sense to just form some falafel into balls and put those in a baggy in the fridge. Later, some of those little falafel balls can be cooked together with the cabbage in a skillet. Deep frying is not necessary. The Sonoma tortilla can be warmed on top. It will be a one pot meal. (I'm not very good at wrapping wraps, anyway.)
There's a similar issue with making sauce. On the one hand, it is quite easy to make miso-tahini-chipotle sauce. Miso is cheap at Trader Joe's, and it lasts. There are also places one can get reasonably priced tahini. The resulting sauce is an economical and healthy thing to drizzle on vegetables. But one can't very well use the same spoon to dip all three ingredients, not if they are to last in the fridge. And, as fond as one may be of making one-pot meals, there are limits to what can be effectively mixed in one pot. Best to have the sauce made well before the kale is cooked.
Freeze Just the Fixings - Why freeze water?Click thumbnail to view full-size
I have sodium-free dehydrated refried beans in bulk: an abundance of pure flaked pinto beans with nothing whatsoever added. They'll keep well in the form they're in, and it's not difficult or messy to mix them up. But the things I might choose to add to them... that's another matter. Even if I divide the can of chipotle peppers in half and put part of it in the freezer until later, there's a good chance that part of what's in the refrigerator will go rancid. Salsa and olives aren't things I routinely have in the refrigerator. It's not practical for one person in a tiny apartment. My grass-fed cheddar? It's kind of expensive if I don't portion it out.
At first, I was mixing up beans and adding the fixings to freeze. It didn't seem like the best strategy, though. I decided it was better economy of space and better salsa usage to just freeze the fixings. (Also, why was I cooking the beans in my little skillet when I'd be cooking them again later?)
Mixing things together beforehand is a good idea when the fridge is small and it's necessary to pull out multiple things to get to the desired ones, Sometimes I'm literally squatting, setting things beside me on the wood floor. The freezer is a bit more manageable, if only because there's no risk of spilling -- but why not consolidate? I decided to add some pepper and onion mix (already frozen) to the salsa mix. Alas, I am running short of containers...
Freeze Things in Stackable Containers - Petite, flat, and uniformClick thumbnail to view full-size
I have bought Trader Joe's chocolate pomegranate seeds a number of times, as an add-in for homemade muesli. I reuse those cute containers. Who knows how many times some have been washed, filled, frozen?
Still, I don't have the ideal freezer cooking accessories yet. I have only half a dozen or so Trader Joe's containers. I don't have enough containers that are freezer friendly, small to medium size, square, and more flat than tall...
Stackable... and You Can Reuse Them
It makes more sense to have multiple things the same size than to go with nestable sets. These are termed 'disposable' -- but the description says they are dishwasher safe. (Those of us who live in studio apartments don't have dishwashers, so the containers may actually hold up better.)
The containers remind me of my Trader Joe's chocolate pomegranate containers, but they come in two sizes, and the lids are attached. Another difference: You can have lots of them all at once.
Some reviewers say they use them again and again.
Dishes for One Person Freezer Meals
I have a couple of divided dishes. Sometimes its more practical, if one's cooking for one, to divvy things up and put multiple items in a single plate. What comes to my mind is an Indian meal: My turmeric lentil stew... The spinach paneer and other foil-pouch entrees that sometimes show up at the Grocery Outlet, intended to go over grains... It's not practical to have more than one such dish, homemade or purchased, in the refrigerator at once.
In short, it's not always practical to create a meal in the traditional sense for less than two unless you're making freezer meals.
Round isn't as space-saving if you've got a small freezer, but these are on the petite side.
Freeze Things That Come in Big Cans
Big cans: It's hard to find space for them in the refrigerator, and difficult to use up the contents. If a can's waiting to be recycled, it's likely to be waiting in plain view. If I leave it too long in the fridge, it may get to the point where I don't want to deal with it any time soon.
I like posole, but seldom make it. The most limiting factor is the hominy. There are 26-ounce cans of hominy at the Dollar Tree down the block. But... a can? A 26-ounce can?
It's not soup season yet, but having the time (and a new can opener), I portioned out some hominy. Later I'll add water. Later I'll mix in the Frontier's vegetarian 'chicken' bullion, sprinkle in some frozen onions and serrano peppers, a bit of fresh garlic. But, for now, the hominy isn't quite alone. I added one other ingredient: home cooked seitan. Which brings me to...
Freeze Ingredients That Take a Long Time to Cook
I get wheat gluten from the bulk bin. Making seitan is almost as easy as mixing up some dough, tearing it into pieces, and boiling it. But, aside from being messy, it takes a long time to simmer.
I made some recently (on a chill July day Seattle here in Seattle). I didn't want to freeze it all together and then have to figure how to use it in a matter of days once it was defrosted. Most of it I froze in semi-small containers along with the hominy. It's earmarked for posole. I froze one little container of plain seitan, which can be added to a skillet (or two) of cooked grain and vegetables.
Freeze Things That Are Expensive (or Bad for You in Quantity)Click thumbnail to view full-size
Sometimes they sell baba ganoush at the Grocery Outlet. There are various nifty spreads and fixings that sometimes enter my apartment. It's not that they would necessarily go bad. I mean, with some things all it takes is a spoon! But it's still better to portion it out and make some dinners. (Hmm... falafel... baba ganoush...)
When I have half and half, some usually does spoil. I could find more ways to use it. (Some fruit... a spoon.) But is it really a good idea to be looking for ways to use half and half? It can indeed be frozen in an ice cube tray (and then stored in a baggy). It may not resume it's original, pristine texture, but it's just fine to drop a cube in coffee.