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At 03:54 PM 6/2/01 -0500, you wrote:
A group of Methodist women are talking about getting together and cooking up "casseroles" that we could take home and freeze. Say we had a group of 12....2 in each group...so that each lady could take home 6 casseroles...got any ideas or suggested recipes? thanks, L.
I had a lot of fun getting started on this, I will be posting the information from it this month. Here is the draft copy. maybe you will send me some feedback-
You have a special situation if you have a kitchen where 6 or 12 cooks can get together to cook at once! With 12 cooks, you are looking at about 50 servings each of six different entrees! But having two cooks get together to prepare 48-50 portions as 2 complementary entrees, or a double recipe of one is very feasible and offers many opportunities for both companionship and the practice of heroic virtues (patience, kindness, gentle communication, etc.) If you have a big freezer at the kitchen site, each cooking pair could cook one morning or afternoon, taking theirs home and leave the rest labeled in the freezer. Then week by week you would cook one morning and have 5 or 6 entrees, imagine that.
ENTRÉE EXCHANGE BASICS
Cooking an entree for 24-25 is pretty simple for most cooks- approximately 2 or 3 9x13 pans. It takes only a fraction more time or effort than a regular family dish and there are a lot of recipes (see below or Big Pots for some sample recipes). A 24 serving entree divides into 6 4-serving (1 quart) exchanges, or 4 6-serving (1 1/2 quart) exchanges.
4 to 6 cooks is a great size for exchange for a weekly or biweekly group. In a church-based group, you may decide to make a 6 unit dish, save 1 for yourself, exchange 4 and bank/give one to/for a family in need (sick or unemployed parent, death, etc.) With a larger group, you may decide on a dish exchange system where people don't get something from everyone every time. You do this by polling all the participants what they want,using the Entree exchange list below, total the requests and then adjust the totals to divide into the right number of cooks. Cooks select what entree they will make from under the "totals" column, resulting in the right number of exchanges of the desired dishes.
To start an entrée exchange group, here are some things to discuss among yourselves.
The Group Notebook- Copies of the actual recipes allow everyone to check for items their family members can't eat, and to duplicate popular recipes. Add membership contact list, notes about sales and sources, feedback records.
Consider a $1.00 to $2.00 contribution per month, that will help cover incidental costs. A copy of the group notebook with all the recipes makes a wonderful going away present for a departing member.
Together, write down the club's guidelines before you begin. Make copies and ask each member to sign his/her copy as a gesture of commitment.
Make a list of "Foods to Avoid" (or at least serve "on the side"). Is anyone allergic to cucumbers? Does someone hate broccoli? You'll want to make meals that everyone can and will eat, so be very specific and thorough!
Exchange Unit Size- How much is enough? Because of differences in family appetit fourses and cooking habits, there is a wide range of variation in serving size. Also, specific entrees may need larger servings. For example, most people like 1 1/2 cups of soup as a main dish, so 4 servings is 6 cups. But for a stew or cramed chicken, one cup is a good serving. Using a standard size casserole and agreeing on a basic serving size is fundamental. It is so very helpful if everyone agrees on what brand square or rectangular casseroles all the same size is the basic unit for exchange, such as Glad or Corning. The dishes usually are NOT exchanged (see the note on foil freezing below). Many of these dishes are frozen before baking or have to be reheated, and it really helps if the recipe fits your casserole!
If family size varies, you can agree to make one size, such as 4 serving, your unit, and then folks who need 2 units for a meal can bring two different entrees or twice as many units of one dish.
Completeness of the unit- Go over what it means to include all the parts of the dish. For example, the cook provides the uncooked noodles or spaghetti needed for a dish, and if the entree requires tortillas and needs some cheese sprinkled on it, the cook should provide a package of tortillas and a packet/ziplock of cheese, but the group has to agree WHO is responsible for the lettuce.
Agree on what items families will keep stocked. If the frozen stew needs potatoes added (potatoes do NOT freeze well), does the cook provide the potatoes, or does the receiving household?
If a cook prepares a low cost entree, sometimes she will supplement by including a dessert, bread or other baked goods, or a special condiment such as chutney, spiced peaches or pickled bean salad. This helps keep all the efforts approximately equal.
Packaging the units for exchange- As discussed below, make sure the frozen items are frozen hard and brought to the exchange in ice chests. At the exchange, packaging the entire unit in a doubled plastic grocery bag that can hold the unit with all its parts and can be tied closed is a very handy package- the receiving family puts the frozen item back in the freezer and has the rest all ready.
Storage- Casserole dishes, you line the dish with double layer foil, spray this with Pam, make or bake and then close the foil with baker/drugstore fold and freeze the foil wrapped package in a ziplock freezer bag. Remove from the dish and store without the dish. Casseroles are lots better if they are frozen before baking, reheating is not so good or tasty.
For items which don't go into a casserole, the VERY BEST family size storage is often a carefully labeled 1 gallon frozen food ziplock; you can pat the food out to one inch layer, it freezes fast and flat, and you can fit MANY into the space a few casseroles take in the freezer.
Meatballs and sliced things like meatloaf and sliced meats work better if sliced and frozen flat in servings, rather than in chunks.
FOOD SAFETY is always an issue and especially with shared food. The entrees to be traded are always brought already frozen. Food has to be chilled and then frozen quickly after cooking in order to start out safe. Then everyone needs to get an ice chest big enough to hold and bring their offerings and take their new dishes home. To work right, the ice chest itself has to be pre-chilled with a bag of ice, a couple of half gallons of frozen water in milk cartons or a couple of trays of ice closed in it for at least an hour or more before the dishes are taken out of the freezer and transported. Dishes that are partially thawed on the way to the exchange cannot be refrozen safely and have to be used within 2-3 days.
Panorama of recipes- Many groups only exchange 5 entrees per week, leaving one for going out and one for family cooking. Using a general category sheet such as the one below helps the group explore what types of recipes are interesting to your group. To start, choose a time period and let everybody indicate how many exchange units ("nights") of what sorts of dishes they think they would like to include on their menus during that time. Then you total the amounts across, and you have a guideline for your first round of cooking.
Getting off to a good start-
Here are common "bumps in the road" for entree exchange programs and some ideas for preventing or solving them.
Label troubles- Everyone has to label everything. Using freezer tape or inexpensive labels applied to the foil before freezing will usually work fine. On freezer paper, foil or Zip bags, write directly on it with a grease pencil or a Sharpie brand permanent marker right on the bag or foil. Write the name of the family, the meal, date frozen, side dishes which must be added such as rolls, fixing rice or salad, reheating directions and any specific instructions such as, "sprinkle with grated cheese before baking".
Expense issues/discrepancies- Either set a cost range with top and bottom expense, (people who want to can exceed it, but they can't complain about it), or agree on dishes ahead so that nobody feels like someone else is unexpectedly taking advantage. Setting a range works fine if everyone has about the same economic situation and food buying philosophy. Agreeing on dishes ahead lets someone with more time than money offer an effort-intensivedish such as a healthy bean stew or homemade pierogi or cabbage rolls while a cook with additional financial resources can offer beef fajitas, and everyone is still contented.
Decide together whether the cook or the receiving family will provide items like salsa or sour cream for the burritos, salad greens or frozen vegetables as side dishes. Either way works, but everyone needs to know what to expect.
Some exchange groups are very economy minded. Others find that some limitations on cost-cutting are useful; for example, many families really don't care for house brand spaghetti sauce and find the small extra cost for a premium sauce bought on sale makes a big difference in taste acceptance.
Salt, spice, fat: Nutritional needs and preferences- Salt can ruin a good exchange program. After everyone talks about their family health and nutrition goals, set a total limit per exchange unit on salt, MSG and soy sauce (soy sauce is exactly the same as salt in sodium). The same for fats and oils. Unless the group includes skinny elderly folks, a low fat approach is a good choice. Discuss whether the cook should include vegetables or provide them as a separate package.
Tastes differ- feedback without hurt feelings- Family tastes differ, so an inoffensive way to find recipes that taste good to everyone is for the responsible cook to make a set of index cards for each new recipe. Send home one card with each family, the card has the recipe name on it, and each family fills it out with this code: Green- family liked this as is, right flavor, about the right amount. Yellow- family would try again, but … then specify, change in spicing, ingredients, texture, amount etc. Red- for some reason, this just didn’t suit somebody in my family, and they don’t want to try it again. Allergy, etc. Not necessary to specify why. Do this for every new recipe, which is all at the beginning, and each cook will end up with a group of recipes that they can do that everyone likes.
Choices- You can freeze almost anything. Soups, casseroles, sandwich insides, meals to serve over rice, chicken dishes, meatloaf, etc. Agree to use only prefrozen potatoes (home frozen don't do well); barley or undercooked pasta are better choices for freezing. Don't freeze mayonaisse or Hollandaise or lettuce or hardboiled eggs.
Many hearty soups are tastier if the broth is frozen separately with the meat in a packet of its own and vegetables and maybe the starches frozen separately and added during preparation.
ENTRÉE EXCHANGE PLANNING SHEET
Beef slice/ chunk
Check out some OAMC recipes on the site:
Nicole’s Frozen Chicken Burritos- 6-8 large- adapted by Ellen
Fastest Homemade Frozen Pizza - 2 pizzas make 4 servings- one entrée exchange unit.
Thaw two 1 pound loaves frozen bread dough, or make dough using about 4 cups of flour. Divide each loaf in half (4 crusts). For most rustic flavor, sprinkle 1-2 drops of smoke flavor onto each portion and work it in as you roll. Sprinkle work surface with flour and roll out divided dough into four nine-inch circles. Line a deep-dish nine-inch pizza pan or iron skillet with wax paper so paper hangs over the edge and can be folded up over the entire pizza. Place one dough round in pan and arrange to fit. Lift out with wax paper.
Top as desired. Per 9" pizza:
Pesto sauce with drained chopped artichoke hearts, dried tomatoes, chopped chicken breast make a delightful adult version. Chop fresh veggies, wrap in a kitchen towel, squeeze out as much liquid as possible, put veggies in a freezer bag and freeze until ready to make pizzas. Or chop, squeeze, and use the same day and freeze whatever's left. Cook and drain ground beef or sausage. It works fine to assemble pizzas using frozen toppings.
For the cheese, mix together the fat-free, low fat and regular shredded mozzarella or Italian cheeses with some shredded Parmesan. Omit cheddar unless everyone agrees they like it. To save money, purchase regular cheese in bulk when it is on sale, shred your own. Try to buy the fat free already shredded as it's gummy when you try to shred it yourself.
Once all pizzas are assembled, fold the ends of the waxed paper over the top of each and stack. Put stack in freezer. Once solid you can slide each pizza into a large ziploc freezer bag.
Preheat the oven hot. Then remove pizza from freezer, carefully peel off waxed paper, place in pizza pan or heated iron skillet that has been lightly oiled. Some people also like to sprinkle cornmeal under the pizza before they put it on the pan. Cook at 475 degrees for 10-15 minutes until desired doneness, the high heat gives a crisp, puffy crust. I cook mine until the cheese gets a little browned. If you like them gooier, cook until crust is just done and cheese melts.
Look at the wide range of freezer entreés on the Big Pots Index.
Here are some additional offsite frozen entree links: