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Freezer Meals Tips, Tricks and FAQ

Here Is Your One-Stop For All Things Concerning Freezer Meals; Tips, Tricks And Some FAQS! This post will prove helpful any time you have a freezer meal or slow cooker question so, it might be long, but I promise it will answer a lot of the questions or concerns you might have. We have the questions sorted into four categories; Slow Cooker/Utensil Questions, Instruction Questions, Ingredient Questions and finally General Questions. Maybe bookmark this page for easy future reference? Have a question that isn’t listed here? Leave a comment below and we’ll answer it for you! If you have other tips not listed here, let us know those too and we’ll add them to our list to help everyone!! If you haven’t already, I recommend ordering the ebooks (available here: https://togetherfarms.grazecart.com/store/books) to help you get started on your freezer meal adventure and get some GREAT recipes! They’ll also give you the confidence you need to forge your own freezer meal path.  Slow Cooker/Utensil Questions TIP: Get to know your slow cooker. Some models run hot and fast, while others heat more slowly and gently. Most models perform best on low but each is different. If you are just getting started with your slow cooker, check all dishes for doneness at the beginning of the time range but allow extra time if necessary.1. How do I know the size of my slow cooker? Check the underside of the insert which is usually stamped with the size, or simply measure how much water it takes to fill the insert to just above the lip. 2. My slow cooker seems to be burning a specific spot of all of my meals, what's going on? Most slow cookers have a hot spot (typically the back side that’s opposite the controls) that can cause pastas, casseroles, and other dense dishes to burn. The America’s Test Kitchen found an easy work-around for this problem: Line the side of the slow cooker insert with an aluminum foil collar. To make an aluminum foil collar, fold sheets of heavy-duty foil until you have a six-layered foil rectangle that measures roughly 16 inches long by 4 inches wide for a large slow cooker or 12 by 4 inches for a small slow cooker. (Depending on the width of the foil, you will need either two or three sheets of foil.) Press the collar into the back side of the slow cooker insert; the food will help hold the collar in place during cooking, and the collar will prevent the food from cooking unevenly (or creating a hard-to-clean burned on mess). 3. What Type of Slow Cooker should I have? Need to buy one or maybe just want to try out a new slow cooker? America’s Test Kitchen rated slow cookers and this is their top 4 list for 6 Quarts: Highly Recommended: KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker with Solid Glass Lid, Model: KSC6223SS, $99.99Recommended: Crock-Pot Countdown Touchscreen Digital Slow Cooker, Model: SCVT650- PS, $89.99Recommended with Reservations: Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget 6 Qt. Programmable Slow Cooker with Spoon/Lid, Model: 33967, $59.99 (Reserva on: Because the temperature probe is only measuring in one spot the meat tends to be undercooked in some areas because it switches to “warming” from cooking too soon.)Recommended with Reservations: Crock-Pot Digital Slow Cooker with iStir Stirring System; Model: SCCPVC600AS-P, $69.99 (Reservation: Stirring feature, doesn’t prevent edge scorching because it only stirs in the center.) 4. What capacity slow cooker will accommodate these recipes? A 4 or 6 quart cooker will work just fine. If you are cooking for one, you could split the ingredients into 4 smaller portions and cook in a smaller slow cooker as well. The biggest thing to be concerned about is that the slow cooker is ½ to ¾ full (this is how they are designed to work best). You can also put a smaller oven-safe dish into the slow cooker and the put your food in that if the cooker is way too big. Don’t feel bad about having 3 or 4 slow cookers of various sizes either….it’s not hoarding until you needlessly have 4+ of the same exact size. :) 5. What if my slow cooker doesn't have a timer, and the cooking time is shorter than my work day? If you need to be out of the house for more than the recommended cooking time you can use a regular plug-in timer (like you might use for Christmas lights) to turn off your slow cooker an hour before you get home (any longer than that and you’ll come home to a cold dinner). 6. What is the ideal level to fill my slow cooker so that my meal cooks correctly? A slow cooker works best when it is at least 1/3 full but no more than 2/3 full. Don’t want to buy smaller slow cooker? Place a smaller oven-safe container inside your bigger slow cooker and cook your food inside the smaller one. 7. How long do recipes usually take to cook in a slow cooker? Most recipes will cook in 6 hours in a 6-quart slow cooker or 8 hours in a 4-quart slow cooker, but every slow cooker is different. Experiment and get to know yours. There is no easier way to make quick and healthy meals! Instructions Questions 1. How do I go about starting to make my freezer meals? Prep and organization will make bag-filling a snap! 1. Chop all your ingredients. 2. Assemble spices and sauces next to each other (I recommend alphabetizing your spices by first letter to make finding them even easier as you fly along). 3. Group the veggies (not spices/sauces) by recipe to limit the amount of walking around you do and then 4. start dumping! Basically you are making yourself a little assembly line on your table. 2. How long do these recipes last in the freezer? Technically, 3 months is recommended with a home freezer going through defrost cycles. I write 6 months out as the “Enjoy by” date, which is usually never a problem because I always need help getting dinner on the table! Plus, some of the ebooks (like the Back to School one) come with a freezer inventory sheet to help keep things really organized! 3. Couldn’t you just use the special slow cooker bags (liners) for these? I don’t really know much about the slow cooker bags, but I am going to stay away from them. Even if you can get BPA-free bags, it still has chemicals in the plastic. And when you heat plastic to high temperatures chemicals leach out. I have no problem using plastic bags for storage in the freezer because they stay cold, but I would not want plastic and my food coming into contact at high temperatures. For easy cleanup just wash your slow cooker crock right away or soak overnight! I also love these: http://www.grabgreenhome.com/kitchen-solutions/cookware-bakeware/ (note I’m not affiliated in anyway or getting anything from anyone to talk about anything…..I should be though!!!) :) 4. How many servings are in each recipe? Did you know that there is no standardized way to calculate a serving size?? Most recipes have six servings but some 12+. A general rule of thumb is 1⁄4 lb of meat per serving. Unfortunately, this does not account for any additional veggies, broth, etc but if you look over the ingredient list you’ll get a good idea of how many it can probably serve – depending on who is in your family and how big their appetite is! If you are cooking for less people, you can split each recipe into two freezer bags prior to freezing or you can cook and then portion into smaller containers to freeze for later or for lunch. If you need to increase the servings, recipes usually allow an extra pound of meat to be snuck in. You can also make sides to stretch the servings (rice, pasta, veggies, bread, etc). The labels provided in the ebooks or on the freezer meals available in the online store all have ideas provided for side dishes. The great news is that since the main dish is done, you will now have extra time for making veggies, bread, dessert….things that would have seemed to overwhelming or time-consuming to tackle in the past.  TIP: Sharpen your knives!!! This makes prep much more enjoyable. 5. Do the meals need to be thawed? According to the USDA: yes. According to my experience: not usually. I like to tear the bag apart at the seam while frozen so that you don’t have to spend 5 minutes scraping the spices, sauce, etc off the inside of the bag – you can just rip and dump. So, to make everyone happy, you could rip and dump your bag into the slow cooker crock, put that in the fridge to thaw overnight and then just put the crock in the cooking base when it’s time to start cooking. This works wonderfully if you plan your meals and manage your time well (and if you did that all the time, you wouldn’t be here reading this, would you?), but, I’m not one of those people – I realize while running out the door to work that I haven’t thought about supper, run to the freezer, rip & dump and start cooking. USDA is worried that it won’t get out of the “danger zone” (above 140 degrees) fast enough but eventually, it does and it cooks/kills things and we’ve never had a problem – I’ll let you decide what’s safest and best for you. If you aren’t literally running out the door, some people do thaw their bags in a water bath before dumping (but then you’ll be scraping!). 6. Do I have to freeze the meals before cooking them? No! You can skip the freezing step and cook fresh instead. This has happened to me before because the meal sounded so delicious I couldn’t wait to try it! The other excellent habit to develop is to prep once for multiple meals, for example, make two: one for now and then one that you put into the freezer for later! So you prep once but get two meals! You can also do this with certain ingredients that freeze well like onions. Onions are in almost every darn recipe, so the next time you need to dice one, just do two and freeze one so you don’t have to get all the stuff out and wash dishes next time, just rip open the frozen diced onion sandwich bag and plop it in! Works excellent for bell peppers too!    TIP: Use name-brand freezer bags. The cheap ones rip and are not a cost savings at all. I do not like ALDI’s bags. I recently tried Ziplock’s vacuum bags and they leaked too. The reviews for Neat-O’s (a reusable, non-plastic resealable bag option) are not very good, so I don’t recommend them. I’m not an expert and haven’t google’d this but the biggest concerns with chemicals leaching from plastic come when we heat it, we are doing the opposite of that and just putting the plastic in the freezer, so it doesn’t make my list of things to worry about (see below for my slow cooker liner comment – it’s the opposite). I also do not recommend slider bags. 7. Can I re-freeze the leftovers? Yes. Once the meals are cooked they are the same as any meal. Portioning and re-freezing the cooked meal is recommended if you live alone or have very small needs (or hate eating leftovers right after making it the first me). This is the best way to divide up meals that use roasts or large cuts of meat that are not easily divided and will cook significantly different if they are. You could also cook them up and then jar them into pretty mason jars and give them as gifts to anyone that could use a little pick me up! 8. How does freezing affect the texture, taste, and nutrition of the meal? Since they’re frozen raw, the texture and taste doesn’t change a bit. According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the freezing process does not break down nutrients and the nutritional value should change very little. 9. How should I go about putting my raw ingredients into my freezer bags? The ideal way to fill your freezer bags is meat at the bottom (which also helps stabilize the bag better, sauces and spices in the middle (so they don’t stick to the bag but are right on the meat, marinating and injecting their deliciousness), and veggies/beans on the top. It doesn’t hurt anything to fill your bag in a different order – this is just what I consider ideal. 10. When I put my frozen ingredients into my slow cooker, I can never get the lid to fit back on because the ingredients are frozen too high, how do I fix this? When putting your filled bags into the freezer, think about the shape of your slow cooker – it is impossible to fit a frozen square block in an oval slow cooker. Freezing flat is ideal for other things, but it may not be ideal for this....just think about it. You could put the bag inside the crock and freeze them both and then keep switching the bag out to freeze (or use a similar sized pot) but this will cost you something in time and putzing around.  TIP: Grocery shopping and labeling your freezer bags ahead of time saves A LOT of time and energy when prepping meals.   11. When I go to fill my bags I end up spilling because I can't keep the bag up, what do you do to make sure your bag stays up? Baggie holders are a must. Cleaning up spilled tomato sauce on your kitchen floor is not fun. If you don't have baggie holders, try an ice cream bucket or coconut oil bucket! 12. Do you add extra liquid to any of your recipes? If the recipe does not include liquid, then no liquid is added. The meats and vegetables will release liquids as they cook, especially since they are frozen and the ice crystals give off even more liquid. If the recipe doesn’t call for liquid, you don’t need it! One EXCEPTION to this though; I have one slow cooker with a poorly fitting lid and another with holes in the lid so liquid actually has the ability to escape (I have a hard time understanding why they make them with these major design flaws) therefore, because I know my slow cooker, I add a little extra water or liquid otherwise it will dry out (see comments below about timers). You can also combat water loss by covering any holes with tape or putting a sheet of tin foil between the crock and the lid. 13. Do you put all of the ingredients in the bags to be frozen, or do you leave some out? For the most part, all ingredients can be added to the freezer bags before freezing. The only things I wait to add the day of cooking are broth (because I’d prefer to use up pantry space instead of precious freezer space), pasta (add the last 15 minutes of cooking), and some dairy products (like sour cream). If you add the broth to the freezer bag, and use the labels provided in the ebooks, just cross off the directions that say to add the broth on cook day or you might get confused. Ingredients Questions 1. Does the meat need to be cooked before freezing? No. I do not recommend pre-cooking the meat. It will dry out, it will probably taste more like leftovers, and you are making unnecessary dirty dishes! We are not mixing raw meat with cooked food – everything is raw and needs to cook. The slow cooker will reach temperatures high enough to destroy bacteria. If you’re uncomfortable mixing raw meat with the other ingredients then you can simply freeze the meat portions separately. I have been doing this for many years now and have never had a problem. According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, freezing to 0°F inactivates any microbes present in food (such as bacteria, yeasts, and molds) and the standard freezer temp in the U.S. is 0°F. 2. Do I need to brown the ground meat before freezing it? There’s no need to brown ground meat before freezing. Just add it to the freezer bag raw, but broken into chunks, not breaking up the ground meat will cause it to cook into an unpleasant hockey puck. If you have time, you could partially cook the ground meat to get it all separated nicely into smaller pieces….again depends on how much time you have. 3. Do you need to blanch the vegetables before freezing? No! Think of all the extra me and dishes this would create!? Our goal is FASTER with LESS work. Blanching is only recommended if you’re intending to preserve vegetables for storage, such as over winter, but it still is not necessary. Fresh vegetables freeze fine without blanching. The only fresh veggie that I’ve had a problem with is broccoli so I always use already frozen broccoli in my meals. Fresh potatoes and sweet potatoes freeze fine. But, I recommend putting them into a bowl of cold water while chopping (and peeling) to prevent browning. 4. My vegetables turned out mushy, did I do something wrong? No! They are supposed to be mushy (cooked). I realize not everyone likes mushy vegetables, but my family and I usually like them that way. It is actually easier for your body to digest and absorb nutrients that way too. Many recipes are stew-like, so veggies are going to be very, very soft. We usually serve the meals with couscous, rice, pasta, etc. to add a bit of texture. If you hate mushy veggies you could bag some of them separately and cook in a skillet while the meat cooks in the slow cooker, or add during the last hour of cooking. All depends on your schedule!  TIP: Baby carrots do not work well in freezer meals. They come out of the slow cooker very water-logged and generally unpleasant. It was a nice idea to save some time, but just get the big, regular, out-of-the-dirt carrots and chop them up. I do NOT peel organic veggies so that saves some time too (and provides lots more nutrients!), just wash and chop! 5. Are the recipes healthy? Ohmygosh yes! You won’t find any ingredients like condensed soup or soda in these! Heck, you won’t find many allergens, like gluten, either and any you do find are usually pretty easy to swap out or cut. The ingredients in these eCookbook recipes are healthy, delicious, and sold at most local grocery stores so relatively easy to find. No Weird Stuff! Also the freezer meals are just as healthy as freshly-prepared meals. Freezing does not break down nutrients or change the nutritional value. 6. Are the ingredients hard to find? No. I am able to get everything at the local (big town) supermarkets. 7. Do I need to thaw the meat before using it to make my freezer meal? It is not necessary to thaw the meat first. I add frozen meat almost always, you can use fresh (not frozen) as well. Add the frozen meat to the bags frozen or wait to add it the day of cooking and just put everything except the meat in the freezer bag (concern here is that you’ll use the meat for something else and then when you want to use the freezer meal the meat will be missing). Bottom line: don’t thaw and re-freeze the meat!)   General Questions 1. Will you be posting more recipes and eBooks? Well, the Back to School ebook was the first one and provides a lot more narrative and back story. After getting more first-hand experience, hosting more workshops and getting feedback, I’ve re-vamped the ebooks to serve you even better! Namely, they now come with customizable grocery lists. But, I do need feedback from you. Do find them useful? Are you telling others to buy them? Because if it helps you – it helps me and I’ll keep making them! I’m pretty sure you are going to love them and this will all be fantastic and maybe even life-changing for you, like it was for me, so I’m assuming Yes! There will be lots more! I have been compiling and organizing recipes for years, right now I have over 500 pages worth! So I will keep churning these out for as long as you say you want them. Let me know! 2. Are the recipes budget-friendly? Yes. Especially if you consider how much expensive (short term price and long term health ramifications) convenience crap you are NOT going to buy and how much food is NOT going to be thrown away! To make them even more budget friendly, in the ebooks, I have put together all the meat you need for one of each recipe and for 2 of each recipe into bundles that are available from our farm (yes we ship!) and you’ll save 5% and 10% respectively. I am also in the process of putting these together for ½ hogs and ¼ steers (beef) that you can buy from us or from your favorite farmer – buying in bulk is the best per pound price you can get! And good fats are the most important place to spend your organic dollars (see the Ingredients section). See more about our bundles and buying in bulk in our farm store: www.TogetherFarms.com. 3. Do freezer meals actually taste good? Yes! I’m not going through all of this for something that tastes like crap. Now, we do all have personal taste preferences and I’m always tweaking as I go but we are starting from a really excellent place. Be sure to send in your reviews!! Also, since they’re frozen without any cooking ahead of time, they cook for the first time out of the freezer. That means they taste like freshly-prepared meals and not like leftovers at all. 4. What happens if I lose power and my freezer shuts off? If you lose power, a freezer full of food will usually keep about 2 days if the door is kept shut (a half-full freezer will last about a day). WARNING: Once you try slow cooker freezer meals you will get hooked. There is no easier way to make quick and healthy meals!

Grassfed Sticker Shock?

Are you a new customer to grassfed, locally sourced meat? Having an issue with sticker shock? It is no secret that clean meat is more expensive than what you may be accustom to. That is where it becomes helpful to know your farmer (that's ME!) because we can help! OUR TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY WHEN BUYING CLEAN MEATTogether Farms offers a few ways to save money when buying our "no weird stuff" meat because we know that when you by cut by cut from us it can quickly add up. Instead, use some of these alternative ways to save yourself some money! Buy In BulkBuying in bulk saves you money over purchasing by the individual cut and allows you to customize your cuts (i.e. pick thickness, how many items are in a package, etc.). If you are serious about eating healthy, clean, "no weird stuff" meat on a regular basis this is a great way to go.Visit our Bulk Page to see our tips and tricks to get the most out of your bulk purchase.Purchase A BundleOur bundles allow you to get a perfect variety of cuts without committing to an entire quarter of an animal. If you are on a budget with limited freezer space but want to test buying in bulk on a smaller scale this is the way to go. It also eliminates all the options that come with Buying in Bulk (if that is something that intimidates you).Get Our Meat Membership CardAvailable in $200 and $500 values, the Together Farms Meat Membership Cards will save you 10% to 15% off on your orders of regularly-priced items.How It Works: Say you purchase our $200 Meat Membership Card, you will receive $200 worth of meat but will only pay $180 for it (equaling a 10% discount).You can use as much or as little of the $200 as you'd like during your transaction as you'd like. Every time you purchase meat we will deduct it from your Membership Card balance (which I track for you) and notify you of your remaining balance for future orders. Think of it as a pre-paid debit card.Buy Ground Beef By the CaseLooking only for ground meat? We recommend buying it by the case to secure the best possible price per pound.You can purchase Ground Beef and/or Ground Pork by the case.Refer Your FriendsOnce you sign-up for a Together Farms' Farm Store account, you can share your referral link with your friends to get FREE money to use in the farm store.Simply copy your referral link and send it to all your friends telling them how great our products are.Every time a new Farm Store customer uses your referral link for the first time they get $5 to use and you get $10!CONVENIENCE IS AN ADDED BONUSWith our NEW home delivery options not only is our meat clean and free of "weird stuff," it also is super convenient to get. Simply place your order via our online farm store by midnight on Thursday and receive your products right to your front door by the end of the following week! This weekly delivery option allows you to make Together Farms a simple part of your weekly meal planning.  HAVE QUESTIONSStill confused or need more clarification? We are here to help, in fact, we want to help! Give us a call or shoot me a text at 715.210.4740 or send me an email at stephanie@togetherfarms.com. 

with customization by Grapevine Local Food Marketing