Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Food in Hibernation

I cook for the freezer pretty regularly. I started when I was pregnant with my second (now 14 months) and love knowing that I have delicious meals hibernating downstairs in the deep freeze. I have two distinct processes that work well for me.

One, I cook stews and hearty soups. Burgundy Beef, Flemish Beef, Hungarian Beef, White Chili (chicken, tomatillos, hominy), Chicken-Corn Soup, Coq au Vin, Chicken Paprika, Lamb Korma, you get the picture. I make large batches (usually enough for four meals for my family of two adult and two young children) and then freeze them in meal-size portions. These are fully cooked; all I have to do is defrost/reheat, steam a vegetable, boil some potatoes or cous-cous or reheat some leftover rice to soak up yummy gravy.

Two, I make what I call “freezer marinades.” I put meal-size amounts of raw meat (bone-in chicken breasts, pork chops, cubed leg of lamb are my standbys) in a freezer bag, add a marinade (orange marmalade-ginger-garlic, balsamic-honey-garlic, curry-yogurt), squeeze out as much air as possible from the bag, seal it, and lay it flat on a tray in the freezer (this makes the packages easier to store once they’re frozen). Ideally, I get a package out and defrost it in the fridge for 24 hours, though I often forget to do this the evening before and wind up getting a package out in the morning and leaving it on the kitchen counter to defrost. Since food defrosts more quickly if the package is in contact with metal (which conducts the chill away), I put frozen packages in an aluminum cake pan. Depending on the meat, it will need to cook at 350-400F for 10-30 minutes. Again…I just steam a veggie or maybe do a stir fry while the meat cooks.

For dinner tonight, I tossed leeks from our garden with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and started them in the oven at 425F. I left a little room in the baking dish for two slabs of polenta (leftover from a big batch I made earlier this week and spread on a jelly roll pan) . After about 25 minutes, I put the polenta in the pan with the leeks and Pork Medallions With Balsamic-Honey Marinade in another pan (a wonderful Le Creuset roaster that I won in a raffle years ago). I turned the oven down to 350F and left everything to finish cooking for another 10 minutes or so. I had all of five minutes of prep (cleaning the leeks, cutting them in half lengthwise, and seasoning them) and paid virtually no attention while everything cooked. And Mike only had two baking dishes plus dinner dishes to wash afterward (we plated everything in the kitchen to avoid using serving dishes).

I’ve never eaten or made roasted leeks before. Amazing! Crispy and salty on the outside, creamy allium deliciousness on the inside. This could be the new roasted garlic. And the marinade made a rich savory sauce for the polenta and pork. It was such a satisfying meal; I must admit part of the satisfaction came from feeling rather clever for putting it all together with so little effort.

Here is the basic recipe for tonight's pork. You will want to multiply the quantities depending on how much meat you want to prepare at once. I usually double this recipe when preparing it for the freezer. I also find I prefer more marinade than called for.

Pork Medallions With Balsamic-Honey Marinade
Serves 4-6

1 ¾ to 2 pounds pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons high heat oil such as coconut or sunflower for searing
½ cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Put vinegar, honey, olive oil, mustard, garlic, and rosemary in a small bowl. Stir to combine. salt and pepper, stir to combine.

Slice tenderloin into 1-inch rounds and season with salt and pepper. Set pan on medium high heat and cover the bottom with oil. When pan is hot, add pork slices in a single layer and sear for 1 minute. Turn and sear 1 minute more. Remove from pan and allow to cool some. Label freezer bags with content and date. Transfer meal-size amounts of pork to bags and evenly divide the marinade between the bags. Squeeze the air of the bags, seal, and then lay them flat on a baking sheet to freeze. Once frozen, I store the bags upright in a plastic shoebox size storage box, making it easy to flip through the bags when I'm looking for something to defrost.

To cook, defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Preheat oven to 350F. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes or until done.

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