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How to reheat a frozen casserole in the oven?

How to Freeze and Defrost Casseroles

Look at you, thinking ahead! The mere fact that you are reading this means that somebody (you) is getting ready to prepare some dinner for nights to come, and that future you is surely going to look back at present you and think “Thank you, you are a wonderful person, and I owe you one.”

Which Types of Casseroles Freeze Best?

Pot pies, lasagnas, pasta casseroles, enchiladas, any kind of hearty casserole with meat and vegetables, like a moussaka. And while not technically casseroles, we have to mention chilis, stews and most soups (other than creamy ones).

What Casseroles Do Not Freeze Well?

Those with a lot of cream or dairy, mayonnaise, and eggs. The exception to this seems to be macaroni and cheese, which usually freezes pretty well, though the sauce can become a little grainy when it is reheated. Casseroles heavy on starchy vegetables, like potatoes, also tend to not freeze so well. The vegetables send to break down and become mushy or grainy when reheated.

How Do You Freeze a Casserole?

To make it easy to pop out a casserole from its pan, line the pan with foil so you can freeze it in the pan, then lift it out and store it in another freezer proof container.

If possible, undercook a casserole if you plan to freeze it, so it finishes cooking when you reheat it. Casserole with meat, however, should technically be cooked through before freezing for safety reasons, though many of us have broken that rule (but technically…..).

Make sure your casserole is chilled or at least at room temperature before you freeze it. If your casserole has any garnishes, like parsley or scallions sprinkled on top, hold those back and add them when you reheat the casserole.

What Are the Best Containers for Freezing Casseroles?

The best of all possible worlds is to freeze a casserole in the pan you baked it in, and pop it out and place it in a plastic container that is just the right size to hold it (it can’t be too big or you might get freezer burn), or a freezer proof zipper top bag with all of the air pressed out. Then when you are ready to reheat it, remove it from the bag or container, return it to the original pan and reheat. When you label your casserole, also write down which pan it should be reheated in.

Plastic (look for BPA free)or glass containers with airtight lids are great, if you can spoon the food into them. You want to leave about 1/2-inch headroom between the food and the lid because the food will expand when it freezes and you don’t want it to rise up and pop off the lid. But don’t leave too much room or you might risk freezer burn.

Freezer proof zipper top bags are also great if your casserole doesn’t have to hold it’s shape – make sure to press out any additional air before you seal it. Or as above – freeze the casserole first so it holds its shape. The zipper top bag packages marked specifically for the freezer are thicker than regular zipper top bags, and definitely better for freezing. Freeze any food with the bags in their sides so they lay flat, which makes them easier to store, and also thaw faster.

You can also wrap a casserole very well with several layers of plastic wrap or aluminum foil.

If you have the space and can spare the baking dish, go for a baking dish with its own lock-on plastic lid (and again – make sure you have just a little bit of headroom between the casserole top and the lid.

How Do You Prevent Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn happens when air gets into contact with food. Make sure you leave a small amount of headroom in a container, or a tiny bit of extra space in a zipper sealed plastic bag for the casserole to expand slight when frozen, but no more than a little bit.

How Long Can You Freeze a Casserole?

Did you know I was going to say it depends? It does depend. Most casseroles will do quite well for up to four months, and I have definitely gone longer, especially when there is no dairy in a casserole.

How Should You Label a Casserole?

Excellent question, and good for you. I can’t tell you how many little bags and containers sit in my freezer filled with things I was certain I would remember freezing and know what they are. One is either pureed plums or beets, I’m just not sure.

Traditional masking tape with the name of the food and the date you froze it is great. If you are planning to freeze lots of things, splurge on some freezer labels. If you have specific defrosting and reheating instructions to add, add them!

Use as much tape as you need, and also use a Sharpie or other indelible marker (trust me on this – I also have a lot of faded writing on tape in my freezer) Many freezer proof zipper top bags also have a white space for you to write on. I am a Sharpie addict – I use them for EVERYTHING.

How Do You Defrost—or Thaw—a Casserole Safely?

The best way is to place the casserole in the fridge for at least one day, but not for ore than two days. You can also defrost casseroles in the microwave if they are small enough to be able to rotate on the carousel tray which will allow them to defrost safely and evenly.

How Do You Safely Reheat a Casserole?

In a perfect world the recipe you are using has reheating instructions, but a good rule of thumb is to reheat the cooked casserole at the original baking temperature but add about 15 to 25 minutes. Otherwise most casseroles reheat well in an oven, in a pan loosely covered with foil. 350° F is a good general temperature to reheat casseroles.

The cooking time will vary a lot – if you are reheating it from a frozen state it might take a full hour. If the casserole has been defrosted it could take 20 to 30 minutes. When the inside of the casserole registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer it is fully cooked.

You can also reheat casseroles in the microwave, using the carousel tray—make sure the tray can rotate in the casserole – if it’s too big, use the oven.

Best Casseroles to Freeze and Defrost:

  • Cheesy Mashed Potato Topped Shepherd’s Pie
  • Huevos Rancheros Breakfast Casserole
  • Spicy Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas
  • Salmon and Vegetable Biscuit Pot Pie Casserole
  • Shortcut Moussaka

Now that your freezer is packed with delicious meals, dinner can be as easy as takeout with these simple steps.

WHEN THAWING…

Stews, soups, and chilis

• Place your frozen food, still sealed in a plastic bag, in a bowl or sink of hot water for 5 to 10 minutes or until it can be broken into pieces. If the food is in a freezer-weight container (usually made of thicker plastic to stop freezer odors from transferring to the food and to help prevent freezer burn), leave the sealed container in hot water until the food separates from its sides.

• Open the bag or container; invert contents into a saucepan (for stovetop heating) or into a microwave-safe bowl.

Casseroles

• At least 24 hours but no more than 2 days before reheating, place your frozen casserole in the refrigerator to thaw slightly. If the casserole was frozen in a foil-lined baking dish (see , next page), unwrap and return to baking dish to thaw.

WHEN REHEATING…

Stews, soups, and chilis on a stove

• Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup water to saucepan to prevent scorching.

• Cover and heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring frequently; boil 1 minute to make sure it’s fully heated, stirring frequently.

Casseroles in a conventional oven

• Unwrap the frozen casserole.

• Loosely cover it with foil and bake according to the recipe’s reheating instructions until the center of the casserole reaches 160 degrees F (check with an instant-read thermometer).

Stews, soups, chilis, and casseroles in a microwave

• Don’t be tempted to remove the carousel in your microwave to accommodate large casseroles — a microwave designed to rotate food won’t do its job properly without turning. (Always reheat large casseroles in the oven — see reheating instructions for each casserole, plus whether it’s small enough to fit in the microwave).

• Unwrap your casserole; cover the top with waxed paper, tucking it under the dish (make sure it’s microwave-safe) to keep in place, or use plastic wrap and turn back a corner to vent. Soups, stews, and chilis should be in a microwave-safe bowl, covered with waxed paper or vented plastic wrap.

• Heat in microwave according to the recipe’s reheating instructions, first on Low (30%) until ice crystals are gone and you can easily stir soups, stews, and chilis, or insert knife into center of casserole. Then cook on High until food is heated through and the internal temperature of your casserole is 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.

Use these tips, and our freeze-with-ease meals can hibernate for three months (see previous page for thawing and reheating steps).

1. Place liquids (soups, stews) in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before freezing; casseroles need half an hour at room temp, plus 30 minutes in the fridge.

2. Wrap casseroles tightly in aluminum foil or plastic wrap; seal soups and stews in plastic bags or containers designed for freezer use.

3. To maximize space, stack bags horizontally until frozen, then store upright. Or line your baking dish with greased foil before making the casserole. Then, once the meal is frozen, remove the dish.

How to Freeze a Casserole (and how to reheat it!)

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If you are looking to freeze meals ahead of time then you may be wondering where to even begin. There are many reasons to start freezing meals ahead. It’s a great way to save money and ensures that you will always have a meal on hand. When it comes to the best meals to freeze, it’s always casseroles. Casseroles are easily frozen and easily thawed and they also are meant to be a meal in one dish that can feed a crowd. Turning your favorite recipe (casserole or not) into a freezer meal is really quite simple! Read below for some great tips on how to freeze a casserole!

Step1. Look through all of the ingredients and make sure everything can be frozen.

Here is a quick list of foods that should NOT be frozen (this is a general guideline, results will vary based on preparation):

  • Fresh vegetables with high water content: lettuce, and cucumbers, for example.
  • Soft cheeses with a high water content: Examples include cottage cheese &ricotta.
  • Food emulsions: Like mayonnaise and cream.

Step 2. Decide whether it is best to pre-cook or put it into the freezer raw. (Generally speaking, meats used in a casserole should be cooked first.)

Step 3. Write a note on the frozen dish/bag/etc. including:

      • recipe title
      • instructions on how to cook the casserole on the “big day!’
      • date frozen

A note about freezing casseroles:

You may not to wish to freeze your casserole in a pan as the pan will be out of use (and stuck in the freezer) until the day you decide to eat it. In that case, you can flash freeze the casserole in the shape of the pan and then freeze it in plastic wrap and foil. Here’s how:

Line your casserole dish with aluminum foil and then add a layer of plastic wrap. Leave extra hanging at the edges so that you can pull it over the top later. Put the food in the dish and then put the dish in the freezer. Once the food is frozen, pull the lined food out of the dish and wrap it up with the remaining wrap then put the pan-shaped food back into the freezer.

How to cook a Frozen Casserole

Remove the casserole from the freezer and into the fridge 24-36 hours before cooking. Preheat oven and bake casserole loosely covered with foil as directed (I usually allow an extra 20 minutes depending on the density of the casserole). The final temperature of a casserole should reach 160 degrees F.

More great tips here

sources Good Housekeeping, Real Simple

I’m not a big fan of the whole microwave thing. I mean they take up heaps of space and most people rarely cook with them. But for years I kept one cluttering up my tiny kitchen because I thought I needed it for defrosting things from the freezer.

It’s been years since I ditched my microwave. And apart from when my friends wanted to heat up some baby food the other night at my early Thanksgiving dinner, I haven’t missed it one bit. I especially haven’t missed the feeling when you’re defrosting raw meat in the microwave and leave it in too long so that the edges get overcooked while the middle is still icy. Ick.

so today I thought I’d share:

the quickest and safest methods for defrosting without a microwave

in the fridge
Most of the time I’ve become more organised. I get things out of the freezer the night before and let them safely and slowly defrost in the fridge, like a good food-safety-law-abiding citizen. There are still times when I forget or the plans change, but you’ll be happy to know even these trying circumstances don’t induce microwave-longing.

straight into a pan / oven
If I want to defrost something like a soup or stew, I just run the bottom of the freezer container under the hot water tap for a little while, enough to loosen. I then deposit the frozen chunk into a saucepan and slowly allow it to defrost over the lowest heat. Too easy.

Most frozen veg, like peas, are best popped straight into a pan with a little olive oil, or into a saucepan of boiling water.

And I’ve recently successfully cooked two different sized turkeys on different occasions from frozen and ended up with the most wonderfully moist meat. The trick here is to use a low heat 160C (325F) and use a meat thermometer to make sure your bird reaches a safe internal temperature. If you’d like to learn more about this, I’ll be teaching this method in my Stress-Free Thanksgiving class this weekend.

defrosting on a metal surface
I thought meat and fish were more tricky, than tubs of soup, until I learned this wonderful new method. I picked up the idea from the food science book, What Einstein Told His Chef. Basically, things will defrost faster, the quicker their coldness is taken away from them. So you want a surface that will conduct heat to the frozen item (or take the cold away) as efficiently as possible.

While a metal sink is better than a wooden bench top at conducting heat, the ridged surface means that only part of the food is in contact with the metal. Much better to use a heavy cast iron frying or roasting pan for the maximum heat/cold transfer.

I recently put this to the test defrosting 2 similar sized scotch fillet steaks. One, I unwrapped and placed directly on my cast iron roasting pan. The other I left wrapped in it’s Styrofoam tray from the butcher. I turned both every 20 minutes or so. And the winner was undoubtedly the steak on the roasting pan which took about an hour to defrost fully. Whereas the other steak took about 3 1/2 hours to get to the same state. I love it when an experiment proves the point!

watch lamb curry with spinach video on YouTube.

Today’s recipe is a wonderful little Indian-inspired curry, Saag Lamb or lamb with spinach. Feel free to use frozen meat AND spinach, to try out the defrosting method.

saag lamb (lamb & spinach curry)
serves 2

Along with my butter chickpeas, this is a favourite Indian inspired curry. I prefer it with lamb but chicken or beef are also good.

For a vegan / vegetarian version of the curry, replace the lamb with tofu and equivalent amount of tofu or a can of drained chickpeas. Steamed potatoes would be another replacement as would cauliflower. Saag (spinach curry sauce) is also often served with paneer, an Indian cheese which is a little like a very firm ricotta.

Feel free to serve as is or with a bowl of fluffy rice and a little natural yoghurt (possibly with some cooling grated cucumber stirred through). I also like to serve this with a salad dressed in natural yoghurt like the one below.

If you aren’t sure how hot your chillies are, slice a tiny piece off the stalk end and touch it to your tongue. Don’t make the mistake I made years ago and nibble the tip of the chilli (it’s the least hot part) and end up adding way too much.

2 tablespoons garam marsala (+1 teaspoon, optional)
250g (1/2lb) lamb backstrap or fillet, chopped into small chunks
3 – 5 large green chillies, finely sliced crosswise
1 can tomatoes (400g / 14oz)
1 packet frozen spinach, defrosted & finely chopped

1. Combine gram marsala with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss in lamb to coat in the spiced oil.

2. Heat a large frying pan on a high heat. Add lamb and chillies and stir fry for a few minutes or until just cooked though. Remove lamb from the pan.

3. Add tomato and spinach and simmer for about 5 minutes or until it looks saucey.

4. Return lamb to the pan and bring back to a simmer. Taste and season, adding the extra garam marsala if you think it needs more spice.

shaved cabbage & yoghurt salad
serves 2-3 as a side

This isn’t traditional at all, but I love a good salad on the side of most of my meals. I often find a curry & rice extravaganza can be a bit lacking in the freshness department. This salad has it all, crunchy AND yoghurty coolness.

If cabbage isn’t your thing, try the dressing on baby spinach leaves or even on shaved cucumber.

6 tablespoons natural yoghurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 small clove garlic very finely chopped
1/4 small white cabbage

1. Whisk together yoghurt, garlic and lemon. Season generously.

2. Remove outer leaves from the cabbage and slice the remaining cabbage as finely as possible.

3. Toss cabbage in the dressing. Serve now or keep in the fridge until you’re ready.

Enjoy!

With love,
Jules x

ps. Tired of deciding what to cook?

Looking for a weekly meal planning service where someone else comes up with the ideas for what to have for dinner?

Then check out my Soupstones Meal Plans.

For more details .

FSIS

As soon as raw or cooked meat, poultry or egg products begin to thaw and become warmer than 40 °F, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply.
Perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. There are safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave.

Refrigerator Thawing

  • Planning ahead is the key because a large frozen turkey requires at least 24 hours for every 5 pounds.
  • Small amounts of frozen food — such as a pound of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts — require a full day to thaw
  • Food will take longer to thaw in a refrigerator set at 35 °F than one set at 40 °F.
  • After thawing in the refrigerator, items such as ground meat, stew meat, poultry, seafood, should remain safe and good quality for an additional day or two before cooking.
  • Red meat cuts (such as beef, pork or lamb roasts, chops and steaks) should remain safe and good quality 3 to 5 days.
  • Food thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some loss of quality.

Cold Water Thawing

  • This method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention.
  • The food must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Also, the meat tissue may absorb water, resulting in a watery product.
  • The bag should be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw.
  • Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood — about a pound — may thaw in 1 hour or less.
  • A 3-to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours. For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound.
  • Once thawed food must be cooked immediately. Foods thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.

Microwave Thawing

  • After thawing in the microwave, always cook immediately, whether microwave cooking, by conventional oven, or grilling.
  • Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed and, indeed, the food may have reached optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow.
  • Foods thawed in the microwave should be cooked before refreezing.
  • Also, never thaw foods in a garage, basement, car, dishwasher or plastic garbage bag; out on the kitchen counter, outdoors or on the porch. These methods can leave your foods unsafe to eat.

Cooking Without Thawing

  • It is safe to cook foods from the frozen state.
  • The cooking will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry.

Remember: Even though the center of the package may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter, the outer layer of the food could be in the “Danger Zone,” between 40 and 140 °F — temperatures where bacteria multiply rapidly.

Thawing Freezer Meals

On February 15, 2018 by Once a Month Meals

How to Thaw Frozen Meals

One of the questions we hear the most is, “How do I actually eat my freezer meals once they are all cooked?”

Well, the simple answer is that it is really up to you! There are some simple tricks and tips for making efficient use of your freezer stash, and making sure your meals are thawed safely and ready to eat at dinner time.

Another comment we hear is, “I just don’t like freezer meals. The texture is always off,” or, “You can’t freeze foods with cheese/milk/potatoes/pasta, etc. That will taste gross when it thaws.”

We’re willing to bet this opinion in many cases is due to food that has been thawed improperly. There is a short list of things that we don’t freeze. And if you have taken a trip down the freezer aisle in the grocery store, you’ll notice the same thing there too.

The key is to follow the directions for thawing or cooking! Each of our meal plans comes with custom labels with detailed thawing instructions, but here are some general tips that you can apply in your kitchen.

How to Thaw Freezer Meals

Once you have your freezer stocked, how do you thaw meals and get them on the table to enjoy? Here are four methods for thawing freezer meals!

Thawing Freezer Meals

Posted by Once A Month Meals on Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thaw Your Meals Safely

The following methods are safe for thawing freezer meals:

  • Refrigerator Thaw

    The refrigerator is the safest place to thaw food. It will always stay well below the “danger zone” temperature where bacteria can start to grow. This method may take the longest amount of time, but it is the preferred method for thawing freezer meals. It also helps foods to maintain their original texture.

    A fully cooked freezer meal (meaning a soup, casserole, or skillet dish that has already been cooked before it has been frozen) will typically take a full 24-48 hours to completely thaw. For meats that have not been cooked prior to your serving day, each pound can take up to 24 hours to completely thaw.

    When you thaw in the refrigerator, you may wish to place your freezer meal atop a kitchen towel, into a bowl or baking pan, just in case the bag begins to leak or simply to catch condensation.

  • Cold Water Thaw

    If your meal is sealed in an airtight container (freezer bag, sealed plastic container, or mason jar), you can safely place the food into a sink or bucket full of COLD water to thaw it. Be sure that the food is submerged. You will want to check on the food every 30 minutes or so to make sure that the water is still cold.

    If the water becomes warm, then you are in danger of bacteria growing and you will need to drain and add more cold water. This method is a lot faster than the refrigerator. A pound of meat can be thawed in approximately one hour. This works great for main dishes like marinated meat, sauces, and soups.

What Thawing Methods are not safe?

There are a lot of ways to thaw a meal, but not all of them are safe. The bottom line is this: bacteria do not grow on frozen food, BUT as soon as the temperature reaches 40 degrees, it comes out of hibernation and can start multiplying again. Gross right? This is why we do not usually recommend thawing your freezer meals on the counter or running them under hot water.

If the food item is something that can normally be stored at room temperature, such as baked goods (bread, muffins, pastries, etc.) or produce, then you can safely allow them to rest on the counter until thawed. However, any other foods should be treated the same way you would treat them when you bring them home from the grocery store. Meat, eggs, dairy, and dishes containing these items (even cooked dishes) should not be left out.

Thaw Your Meals Quickly

We’ve all done it. Some days, no matter how hard you try, you still forget to prep and you come home to a brick of frozen food. How do you get freezer meals thawed quickly so that you can still eat without calling for pizza?

  • Microwave Thaw

    *Just a reminder that this will work only for meals stored in plastic or glass. DO NOT place foil baking pans or anything covered in aluminum foil into the microwave!

    This handy kitchen appliance is by far the fastest way to thaw food, but you probably also know from experience that it isn’t always the best way. Foods can start to cook around the outside but remain cold or even frozen still in the middle. Things can end up with a weird texture from thawing too quickly or with a funny taste from the plastic container. We like to avoid the microwave, although we do often recommend it for reheating meals that have been cooked and frozen on cooking day. One exception here is if you have a dish that has been portioned out into single servings. These smaller portions can typically be quickly and easily thawed just like your freezer aisle favorites. Since they are smaller, they tend to thaw more evenly. Individual portions of baked goods (i.e. muffins) also thaw quickly in the microwave with little to no effect on the taste. All that said, if you have to get dinner on the table quickly, the microwave is probably the way to go.

  • Don’t Thaw! Cook From Frozen!

    Yes, don’t thaw. It sounds contradictory, but it can work. You won’t want to do this with a meal that requires cooking or preparation on serving day. For example, you can’t put frozen food in the slow cooker as the temperatures are not high enough to keep bacteria from growing. However, some foods such as soups and casseroles can be cooked or reheated from their frozen state.

    If you are using this method, you can expect to add about 50% of the indicated cooking time. For example, if your casserole was supposed to bake for 1 hour, it will take about 1.5 hours to cook from a frozen state. Note, that you will want to allow glass containers to sit at room temperature before you place them in the oven as they can shatter when there is a drastic temperature change.

Please Note:

We realize that there are several other ways to thaw meals. We have all experimented in our own kitchens and broken the rules a little bit to get dinner on the table. Of course, you are free to thaw at your own risk in your own kitchen. But these methods are the only ones that are approved as thoroughly safe.

We wanted to give you the best and safest methods available, even if they take a little bit more time and planning beforehand. With that, let’s move into some ways to help you make sure that you can have your meals and your schedule organized so that you have time to thaw safely.

Inventory Your Freezer Meals

The first step in keeping your meals organized and your schedule running smoothly is to keep a freezer inventory. This is especially helpful if you have a large chest freezer in which things can get lost down in the depths. In a packed freezer, it is helpful to keep a piece of paper taped on the lid or door of your freezer and a pen handy so that you can add items to the list right away when you add them to the freezer.

Make several columns so that you can keep track of the food item or meal, the date frozen, the date it should be used by, and a column where you can put a check mark when you have removed the item from the freezer. You will also want to make sure that each package is labeled with the same name and dates so that you can make sure that you are checking off the right boxes.

One of our members, Cathy, shared with us how she filled a freezer for her daughter to take to college and sent along a similar inventory list with notes about thawing and reheating.

Using Your Thaw Sheet

Another easy way to keep track of OAMM freezer meals is to use our Thaw Sheet as your inventory list!

The Thaw Sheet is one of our meal plan resources that contains a list of all of the meals from your meal plan (even custom meal plans), thaw instructions, cooking time, and cooking type. You can write the date of your cooking day at the top of the page so that you can use up older meals first.

Just remember that each recipe is doubled, so make sure you know what system you will use to indicate that you have eaten one portion and have another portion left.

PRO TIP: Paste this to your fridge or freezer, and track what you have!

I’d recommend writing in 1 and 2 next to each item, and then crossing out the numbers when you pull that portion. You can also just add 2 dashes next to each meal and cross those off as you go. Remember, each of our meal plans also comes with custom labels for your food giving detailed thawing and reheating/cooking instructions and a space for the date.

Plan to Eat Your Meals

Now that you know what is actually in your freezer, you can easily meal plan from your inventory list!

Pull Out Your Calendar

Once you have your list of meals in hand, pull out your calendar. Use paper and pen or digital calendar – whatever you like best – but make sure you use the calendar that contains all of your other obligations on it. You don’t want to plan a big roast in the slow cooker only to remember last minute that you had made plans with friends or your kids have soccer.

Look at Your Obligations

Take a look at your obligations for the week (or month) and take a look at your Thaw Sheet or inventory. You will probably find that some meals are easier (i.e. slow cooker recipes or recipes that are cooked and ready to go) and others will require some type of cooking (baking, grilling, or stovetop) on the serving day. Go ahead and pick the meal that suits your schedule for that day. For example, you might want to choose a slow cooker recipe on a day when you know you will be gone all day and have little time to prep dinner when you get home, and then save the grilling recipe for a lazy weekend day.

Again, if you know you have a batch of muffins in the freezer, you will want to plan to eat them on a day when you have to be up and out the door early, and maybe you will save your breakfast casserole for your Sunday brunch.

If you use the pen and paper method, don’t forget to write in reminders for pulling food from the freezer. If you are using a digital calendar such as iCalendar or Google Calendar, it is super easy to set a reminder when you schedule the meal.

One of our members, Katharine, suggested this idea, and I think it is brilliant, especially since you can share Google calendars with a spouse or roommate (even older kids!) and everyone gets a reminder of what is on the meal plan and can help with thawing as needed. Remember, you need to pull the meal from the freezer 24-48 hours before you want to serve it, so set your reminders accordingly.

Pull Out Your Freezer Meals for the Week!

Since meals will often take a day or two to thaw, one method I like to use is to plan the meals that I will need in the next 3-5 days and pull them out all at once to slow thaw in the fridge. There are a lot of different ways to make these systems work for your family or you can come up with your own system that works with your schedule. The key is just to take a few minutes at the beginning of the week or month and decide how you will use your freezer meals to in your meal plan to make your life simpler.

We hope this post helps you in the next step of your big Once A Month cooking day, enjoying your meals, and your extra time!

Me again. I was trying to remember the brand name of my defrosting tray and could not, but did find an identical looking one online which is called a Thaw Easy Defrost Tray, or Miracle Thaw. I also found a listing of thaw times using a cast aluminum griddle at http://www.allamerican-chefsdesign.com. Anne left a link to the USDA regarding safe thawing and I think the points made there should definitely be heeded. I also think that the thaw times given at the All American site are short enough to be safe. That being said, I also think it is important to remember not to leave defrosting foods on the counter and go out to pick up milk. This is a quick process, and I am usually in the kitchen almost the whole time getting the rest of the meal preparations done. When the meat is defrosted, the tray is very cold, having transferred the cold from the food to the tray the same way a pan transfers heat from a stove element. I also tend to package foods for freezing in flat packages which do thaw faster, and can be broken into smaller pieces while they are still partially frozen. That way I can put a flat pack of precooked ground beef on the tray to thaw, put a pot of water on to boil for pasta, and by the time it is boiling, I can break the beef into small pieces inside the freezer bag and start the sauce. I initially suggested a cast iron skillet because it works the same way and it is likely that more people would have one. Whichever way you choose, don’t leave any defrosting/defrosted food at room temperature. Refrigerate or cook immediately.

Food Articles, News & Features Section

Safe Food Handling: DEFROSTING

See also: Food Safety Videos

Uh, oh! You’re home and forgot to defrost something for dinner. You grab a package of meat or chicken and use hot water to thaw it fast. But is this safe? What if you remembered to take food out of the freezer, but forgot and left the package on the counter all day while you were at work?
Neither of these situations are safe, and these methods of thawing lead to foodborne illness. Food must be kept at a safe temperature during “the big thaw.” Foods are safe indefinitely while frozen. However, as soon as food begins to defrost and become warmer than 40°F, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply.

“Foods should never be thawed or even stored on the counter, or defrosted in hot water. Food left above 40°F (unrefrigerated) is not at a safe temperature,” cautions Bessie Berry, manager of the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.

Even though the center of the package may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter, the outer layer of the food is in the “Danger Zone,” between 40 and 140°F – at temperatures where bacteria multiply rapidly.
“When defrosting frozen foods, it’s best to plan ahead and thaw food in the refrigerator where food will remain at a safe, constant temperature — 40°F or below,” recommends Berry.
There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave.

Refrigerator Thawing

Planning ahead is the key to this method because of the lengthy time involved. A large frozen item like a turkey requires at least a day (24 hours) for every 5 pounds of weight. Even small amounts of frozen food — such as a pound of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts — require a full day to thaw.

When thawing foods in the refrigerator, there are several variables to take into account.

Some areas of an appliance may keep the food colder than other areas. Food placed in the coldest part will require longer defrosting time. Food takes longer to thaw in a refrigerator set at 35°F than one set at 40°F.

After thawing in the refrigerator, ground meat and poultry should remain useable for an additional day or two before cooking; red meat, 3 to 5 days. Foods defrosted in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some loss of quality.

Cold Water Thawing

This method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. The food must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Also, meat tissue can also absorb water like a sponge, resulting in a watery product.

The bag should be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw. Small packages of meat or poultry – about a pound – may defrost in an hour or less. A 3- to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours. For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound. If thawed completely, the food must be cooked immediately. Foods thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.

Microwave Thawing

When microwave defrosting food, plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwave defrosting. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed and, indeed, may have reached optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow.
Foods thawed in the microwave should be cooked before refreezing.

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service – www.fsis.usda.gov/

This article is part of Epi Loves the Microwave, our exploration (vindication?) of the appliance everybody loves to hate.

Your microwave would like to convince you it’s intelligent. Or at least capable of thawing whatever food you place inside of it. All you need to do is push the defrost button and input your food’s weight, right? But if your microwave’s attempts at thawing have left you with foods that are still frozen solid, there’s still hope: Just switch over to manual power. In other words, punch in cooking times and power levels yourself.

A few FYI’s before you start pushing buttons: Always thaw food removed from its packaging, on a microwave-safe plate or bowl, and don’t skip the flipping step. Microwave ovens have a tough time thawing evenly, even at reduced power levels, so quickly repositioning the food makes a big difference. For raw meat, you want it to be thawed but still cold throughout. If only a small portion is still icy, stop thawing and start cooking. With larger cuts of meat, there’s a good chance some portions will start to actually cook while most of the meat is still frozen solid, so avoid thawing any items that are heavier than 2 pounds.

On the other end of the scale, you also want to avoid using the microwave to thaw super-light items as well—they tend to cook instead of thaw even at reduced power levels. When it comes to cuts of meat thinner than an inch, quick-cooking proteins like fish and shrimp, and loose frozen vegetables, such as peas and corn, simply place the food in a colander and run cold water over until thawed. This cheatsheet for thawing common frozen foods will get you started:

Meat

Bone-in chicken pieces, frozen together in a pack

  1. Microwave at 50% power for 2 minutes; separate the pieces and flip them over.
  2. Microwave at 30% power, 1 minute for every 1 1/2 pounds (checking and flipping every minute).

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, frozen together in a pack

  1. Microwave at 30% power for 2 minutes; separate the pieces and flip them over.
  2. Microwave at 20% power, 1 minute for every 1/2 pound (checking and flipping every minute).

Bone-in steaks or chops (about 1 1/2 inches thick), frozen together in a pack

  1. Microwave at 50% power for 2 minutes; separate the pieces and flip them over.
  2. Microwave at 30% power, 1 minute for every pound (checking and flipping every minute).

Boneless steaks or chops (about 1 inch thick), frozen together in a pack

  1. Microwave at 40% power for 2 minutes, flip over and separate any pieces that are stuck together.
  2. Microwave at 30% power, 1 minute for every 1/2 pound (checking and flipping every minute).

Ground meat, frozen in block

  1. Microwave at 50% power for 2 minutes; remove all the thawed parts that come off easily and set aside.
  2. Microwave at 30% power, 1 minute for every 1/2 pound (checking and removing thawed parts every 30 seconds).

Vegetables

Packaged chopped spinach, frozen in a block

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