By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON — Who doesn’t know the drill? After working all day, you arrive home to face the job of preparing dinner, often for the whole, hungry family. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just pull something out of the freezer, and voila, dinner's just about on the table? David Gillaspy is out to help with that.
For about seven years, Gillaspy has been serving up educational Brown Bag Lunch sessions at the Anderson Public Library loaded with tips and tricks related to food. He’s touched on everything from tailgating to spices and gourmet food. Last week, after pretty much covering everything under the sun, Gillaspy gave what's likely to be his last presentation in the long-running series. About 15 people enjoyed learning about making and freezing meals.
“It’s tough to work full-time, especially with children. It’s hard to come home and fix a good meal," said Gillaspy. "You run out of time and you’re tired."
Gillaspy came prepared with everything he needed to put together several main chicken dishes for the freezer and ground beef for another three meals. Gillaspy said that using make-ahead techniques, he could make meals for two for an average of $5.25. Figure in the leftovers for lunch the next day, and Gillaspy says the cost averages out to $1.25 per meal per person. “That’s pretty cheap eating," he noted.
“Our purpose is two-fold: trying to save you money and trying to save you time,” said Gillaspy. He also said that by doing your own prep, you can can eat healthier and better enjoy the fellowship of family and friends.
Gillapsy touched on all the basics, including supplies like freezer bags and foil pans, and food safety tips. He emphasized that every freezer meal needs to be dated and labeled, even including cooking directions if desired.
Gillaspy proposed starting simple. Imagine you make dinner and you’ve got leftovers. “You can make your own TV dinner. That way, nothing goes to waste,” suggested Gillaspy.
Or if you’re making something like lasagna that takes a little effort and time, he said, “Make two instead of one.”
Another trick is taking advantage of sales. When ground beef or chicken goes on sale, Gillaspy advises, stock up.
He recruited volunteer Andrea Marlette to separate fresh ground beef into three separate meal-sized portioned freezer bags. The air was then squeezed out and the bag was sealed. Then, the bag was laid on a cookie sheet and pressed flat for freezing so it will take less space in the freezer.
Gillaspy also suggested browning, draining and seasoning bulk meats like ground beef or chicken before dividing and freezing them.
“If you’re dirtying a skillet to brown two pounds of ground beef, why do not four?” asked Gillaspy.
With help from his library assistant, Liz Osisek, Gillaspy shared a YouTube video on freezer cooking, carefully pointing out how the cook had everything laid out in advance, including chopped vegetables.
Gillaspy then assembled several meals, with Marlette's assistance. He used a clear pitcher to keep his freezer bag in place and open while putting ingredients inside. Crock Pot Honey Sesame Chicken was first up, followed by Mexican Chicken and Curry Chicken. When all the ingredients were placed in the bag for each recipe, the air was pushed out, and the bag was kneaded a little to mix it up. Then it was flattened on the cookie sheet.
Gillaspy, obviously a library aficionado, suggested lots of resources for researching how to get the most out of your freezer. He recommended several books, including “Don’t Panic — Dinner’s in the Freezer,” by Susie Martinez, Vanda Howell and Bonnie Garcia, and “Fix, Freeze, Feast,” by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik. He suggested looking at Internet sites including YouTube, by simply searching on the term "freezer cooking."
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Crock Pot Honey Sesame Chicken Gillaspy culled this recipe from www.thecomfortofcooking.com. Yield: Serves 4-5 Ingredients: 6-8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or 4 chicken breasts Salt and pepper 1/2 cup diced onion 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 cup honey 1/4 cup ketchup 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes 4 teaspoons cornstarch 1/3 cup water 2 packets minute rice, optional 1/2 tablespoon (or more) sesame seeds 3 scallions, chopped Directions: Place chicken in Crock Pot and lightly season both sides with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, combine onion, garlic, honey, ketchup, soy sauce, oil and red pepper flakes. Pour over chicken. Cook on low for 3-4 hours, or high for 2 hours. Remove chicken to a cutting board, leaving sauce. Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces; set aside. Prepare rice according to package instructions. In a small bowl, dissolve 4 teaspoons cornstarch in 1/3 cup water; add to crock pot. Stir to combine with sauce. Cover and cook sauce on high for ten more minutes, or until slightly thickened. Add cooked rice to 4 plates, top with chicken and spoon sauce over top. Sprinkle evenly with sesame seeds and chopped scallions.