A rather dull post about practical matters.
A couple of weeks ago I succeeded in almost emptying my big chest freezer in order to defrost it.
An almost empty freezer (some ice blocks, my ice cream machine bowl, half a bag of peas, a loaf of bread and a chunk of ginger) demands to be filled. Just the sort of project I enjoy.
As I said on this post my preferred freezer-filling method is to stock it with meal building blocks rather than ready made meals.
First I made pizza bases.
To do this I used this recipe which I doubled. Once it had risen I divided into 15 portions which I rolled out to into discs about ten inches in diameter. I then par-baked them for 6 minutes at 220°c (200°c fan oven). Once they were cool I stacked them in fives, interleaving with baking paper and wrapping well with foil before consigning them to the freezer.
Next I made a huge batch of simple tomato sauce and tossed that in the freezer along with a big bag of grated mozzarella.
The bases can be topped and cooked from frozen, the sauce defrosts quickly in the microwave.
There are usually other ingredients suitable for pizza toppings in the fridge -olives, mushrooms, peppers, ham.
Pizza night is just moments away.
The next thing I made was this big bag of oaty crumble ready to sprinkle over fruit and be baked for weekend puds.
I also stocked up on beans. I soaked and cooked a packet each (500g) of chickpeas, black beans and kidney beans. After they were drained and cooled I spread them on reusable baking liners on large baking trays and froze until hard. Then I gathered them up into bags so that I had free-flowing beans ready to add to a dish straight from the freezer.
I found a large plastic box to store my breadcrumbs in and made sure I got those crusts blitzed into crumbs before they went mouldy.
I can't do without my vegetable hash in the freezer. I needed the tubs I had frozen it in for other things so I popped the hash out of the tubs into plastic bags.
There was a good deal on small chickens, very small chickens -less than 3lbs each. I bought twelve.
I jointed nine of them keeping the leg joints whole as they were so tiny. I froze the joints on trays until hard then bagged them up.
I put the wings of all twelve chickens in a bag to use in one meal (there are only six in the bag in the photo because I didn't process all of the chickens on the same day).
I kept all the trim, carcases and wing tips. These I put into bags to make into stock later. Because the backs still have quite a bit of meat on them when I cook them up for stock I will salvage the meat before it gets cooked to rags.
The three chickens I didn't joint I poached so that I could freeze the cooked meat.
To do this I put them in a large pot (minus their wings) with a couple of carrots, an onion, some lemon and herbs. I brought it to the boil then put a lid on the pot and turned off the heat. I left them in the poaching water for an hour by which time they were perfectly cooked.
They look ghastly don't they?
I pulled off all the meat and threw away the skin and bones.
I then strained the poaching liquid and put it in the fridge so that the fat could rise to the top and be scraped off later. Then I poured it into tubs in 1 pint portions.
I shredded the cooked chicken and found I had just three lbs from those three chickens. Not much.
I bagged it in 12 oz portions to use in pasta dishes, on pizzas or salads.
The next thing I did was to cook a small gammon* joint with the intention of slicing it for sandwich meat.
I have always believed that this is the cheapest way of buying quality ham. I dislike wet, slimy, gristly ham. A 2kg joint cost me about £13 from Waitrose (bound to be cheaper elsewhere) . This makes it about £6.50 a kg whereas the packets of sliced ham I usually buy are about £12 a kg.
Thing was, once my joint was cooked and the fat stripped off it weighed 1 kg not 2 kg making it the same price as the packet ham.
Also, I cannot slice it as thinly as the packet ham, in fact quite often it won't slice at all disintegrating into bits.
I divided it into sandwich-sized portions by laying pieces out in the shape of a slice of bread. It took about 70g to fill one sandwich. A slice of packet ham is about 30g. I could have made 32 sandwiches by buying a kg of packet ham. My kg of ham has yielded 14 sandwiches worth of meat.
I have, however, got about ten pints of ham stock to add to my freezer stash. I put an onion and carrot in the cooking water .If you leave the last layer of skin on the onion your stock will have a good colour.
My freezer is now full to bursting and that is a very satisfying feeling.
By the way, I didn't do all of the above in one day. I've been working at it for about a week.
* Gammon is ham before it is cooked - I think.