Author Topic: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking  (Read 871 times)

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Iris

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Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« on: January 19, 2014, 06:47:43 PM »
Hi all,

I'm getting ready to go back to work for the year after holidays and in the interest of healthier eating I'm trying to pre-prepare some meals to avoid those "too tired to cook, let's get take-away" days. I have been cooking meals or meal bases and freezing them. I was wondering, though, if I would be able to freeze the RAW ingredients for a slow cooked meal and then pop them in the slow cooker before work.

The things that I could see being a problem are that it would be a mix of meat and veges and that I might have to defrost it first. Defrosting first isn't a huge hassle I could easily pop it in the microwave for a while but then frozen-microwave defrosted-slow cooked might negatively effect flavour and texture. Ideally I'd like to just pop it frozen, as is, into the slow cooker on low and then go on my merry way.

So has anyone done this? Did it work? Any tricks to pass on?
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NyaChan

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2014, 07:13:00 PM »
I've done it before without problems, especially easy with ground or cut up meat.  I don't freeze any liquids that go into the recipe, though I don't know that it would make a huge difference.  Keep in mind though that a solid frozen roast is naturally going to take longer to cook than if you had put it in already thawed - that timing issue lessens if you cut up the meat in chunks to shred after cooking or bite size pieces before freezing.

Nikko-chan

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2014, 07:31:35 PM »
So, other ehellions might chime in and say "No don't do that" but is there any reason you couldn't brown certain stuff beforehand? like get a nice brown crust on stew meat and then let it cool down a bit and then pop it into the freezer? So you can just take it out, pop it into the slow cooker and add the other ingredients before you leave for the day?

blarg314

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2014, 07:43:58 PM »

Starting from frozen ingredients will throw off the cooking balance quite a bit - the outer parts will start cooking before the inner parts are thawed, which could lead to an unevenly cooked dish.

I've seen food safety warnings for this, because food can stay in the danger zone for a much longer time, but I take North American food safety warnings with a grain of salt in general, due to the deeply held conviction that anything left unrefrigerated for more than half an hour will kill you horribly, and should be thrown out immediately.

For vegetables - some veggies don't freeze well raw, particularly ones with a lot of moisture, and you could get texture issues (think thawed frozen strawberries vs fresh).

One speed trick I use is to prep the crockpot the night before - brown onions and meat, assemble everything - and stick it in the fridge overnight. Then in the morning all I have to do is drop it into the unit and turn it on.

For pre-frozen dishes, you could take them out of the freezer when you get home the night before, and let them thaw in the fridge overnight.

blarg314

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2014, 07:47:07 PM »
  I don't freeze any liquids that go into the recipe, though I don't know that it would make a huge difference. 

This will actually make a significant difference - the thawing will go much faster if you start with liquid in the pot (convective heat transfer vs. conductive, if you want to get technical  ;D ). It's the same principle behind cold-water quick thawing a whole turkey.

And cut up meat rather than whole roasts will thaw much faster and cook more evenly, because you have a lot more surface area of the meat available to the hot liquid.


Acadianna

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2014, 01:27:29 AM »
There are lots of recipes online that are specifically written for this purpose (freezing the ingredients for a slow-cooker dish).  Just google "freezer to slow cooker."

Here's one site:  http://www.sidetrackedsarah.com/freezer-to-slow-cooker/

And here's another:  http://www.mommysfabulousfinds.com/2013/06/8-easy-crock-pot-freezer-meals-make-dinnertime-easy.html

And another:  http://wp.sixsistersstuff.com/?s=freezer+to+slow+cooker



cicero

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2014, 03:06:56 AM »
i've done something called "dump chicken" - (here is one such list; there are obviously many more on the web) - you basically take your chicken or meat or whatever, put into a ziploc, add the marinade/seasonings and freeze. then when you want to cook, defrost in the fridge overnight (in the bag) then bake/cook/slow cook.

I don't usually use frozen vegetables, so I can't coment on that - when i cook ahead, i use the fresh vegetables and prepare the full dish, then either refrigerate or freeze. now that i think about it - i *usually* make whatever meat/chicken/turkey thing with *just* the meat (and seasonings), and then freeze, and then when i want to add i'll add fresh veg and carbs. so let's say i'll make a big batch of turkey patties and freeze them, or whole chickens that i'll roast, break apart and freeze the "meat", or pot roast etc, and then when i want to eat i'll add some fresh vegetables/salad and/or rice, pasta etc.

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Iris

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2014, 03:18:04 AM »
Thanks for the links, guys. I now have a 'slow cooker' folder in my bookmarks. The consensus on the sites seems to be to take it out and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight, so I'll go with that. I didn't think of ziplocs for storage and I think they'll definitely save space so I'll use that tip as well.

I don't use frozen vegetables either as a general rule, although people keep telling me they're almost as good as fresh. Hopefully freezing everything from fresh doesn't kill nutrients.
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mandycorn

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #8 on: January 22, 2014, 01:26:08 PM »
My cooking knowledge (aka Alton Brown) indicates that frozen veggies can be better quality than fresh, because the frozen ones are picked ripe and frozen almost immediately, whereas the fresh ones are picked under-ripe so they ripen during transport.
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camlan

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #9 on: January 22, 2014, 01:33:16 PM »
My cooking knowledge (aka Alton Brown) indicates that frozen veggies can be better quality than fresh, because the frozen ones are picked ripe and frozen almost immediately, whereas the fresh ones are picked under-ripe so they ripen during transport.

Also, fresh vegetables lose nutrients the longer they sit before they are cooked. A frozen vegetable that was frozen very soon after picking may retain more nutrients than the same vegetable that is "fresh" but has been sitting around for a week or two.

Freshly picked vegetables may taste better, but it's not as if frozen vegetables will cause a nutritional deficit.
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Harriet Jones

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #10 on: January 22, 2014, 04:06:59 PM »
Thanks for the links, guys. I now have a 'slow cooker' folder in my bookmarks. The consensus on the sites seems to be to take it out and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight, so I'll go with that. I didn't think of ziplocs for storage and I think they'll definitely save space so I'll use that tip as well.

I don't use frozen vegetables either as a general rule, although people keep telling me they're almost as good as fresh. Hopefully freezing everything from fresh doesn't kill nutrients.

I don't always have the best of luck in the thawing part -- occasionally the ziploc bag will burst a seam when frozen.  I'd advise putting a plate or something underneath when you put it in the refrigerator to thaw.

Mikayla

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #11 on: January 22, 2014, 08:40:22 PM »
So, other ehellions might chime in and say "No don't do that" but is there any reason you couldn't brown certain stuff beforehand? like get a nice brown crust on stew meat and then let it cool down a bit and then pop it into the freezer? So you can just take it out, pop it into the slow cooker and add the other ingredients before you leave for the day?

Actually, a lot of recipes I've seen call for the pre-browning, but the reason some people don't like it is it takes away from the simplicity of the crockpot, which is about tossing everything in and walking away.

OP, I don't know how helpful this is, because it's not a recipe, but I cook frozen whole chickens all the time in mine.  I play around with settings and try to have the first 3 hours be on high, but if that doesn't work, I just set it on low and it comes out great.

On the veggies, I usually stick carrots and celery in there, and sometimes cubed potatoes.  They come out fine (assuming you want a stew type consistency).

The only thing I do besides plop all this in there is rub the chicken with canola oil, salt and pepper. 

blarg314

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #12 on: January 22, 2014, 09:54:12 PM »

For ziplocks, I've found that it's definitely worth going with Ziplock brand freezer bags (not the sandwich ones). They're much sturdier, and seal better. And be careful not to overfill. I usually leave a plate under a thawing one, but to collect the condensation as it thaws, not for leaks (I live in a very humid climate).

Re browning - browning things like meat and onions does make a difference in taste. If I were freezing stuff for later cooking, I'd probably go to the effort of browning the meat and onions, cooling it, and then freezing it in that state, particularly if I were doing a big batch at once.

Browned/carmelized onions actually freeze very well. You can slowly and gently brown a big batch of onions, divide it into portions, wrap and freeze.

One trick I use for freezing stuff for use in cooking is to take things like tomato paste, or pesto, or roasted red peppers and freeze them flat in freezer bags, fairly thinly filled (1-2 cm in thickness). Then, when I want a tablespoon of pesto for a soup, I just have to break off a bit from the slab.

Frog24

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Re: Freezing in preparation for slow (crock pot) cooking
« Reply #13 on: January 23, 2014, 04:31:31 PM »
I heartily recommend browning ground beef before putting it into the slow cooker.  I once made a HUGE batch of meaty tomato sauce for a trip with raw ground beef.  The taste was excellent, but the texture of the meat was slightly unpalatable.  It had this odd, squishy, gooey texture that we all had to choke down.  Good thing I made such a huge batch, huh?   :-\