This past summer was one of the busiest in many of our lives. There has been a lot going on from travel to concerts to beach vacations. That is precisely why fall is a great time to get together with friends and family you haven’t seen in a while.
However, if you are planning a get-together, it is inevitable to feel a little overwhelmed thinking about feeding a big crowd. This is where your freezer will be your bestie for make-ahead and free-ahead meals fit to feed a crowd.
Check out these ideas for a stress-free get-together.
Which Foods Freeze Well? And Which Ones Don’t?
But before we jump into some delicious meal ideas for that crowd you plan on feeding, let’s discuss what kind of foods you can freeze well and which ones you absolutely cannot. This section will eliminate the guesswork behind the fundamentals of freezing.
Freezer meals are meals you prepare ahead of time and then safely freeze in your freezer to reheat and eat later.
This can be done by batch-cooking meals and portioning them, or by doubling or tripling the volume you cook and freezing the leftovers.
Some types of foods that can be frozen:
- Breakfast sandwiches
Some of the types of foods that cannot be frozen:
- Eggs – whole eggs, cooked or uncooked
- Sour cream
- Fresh tomatoes
- Cooked pasta (unless in lasagnas or casseroles or partially cooked or al-dente)
- Cheese and cheese derivatives
- Cream-based soups
- Mayonnaise-based products
How to Safely Consume Frozen Foods
Now that we know what can be frozen, let’s take a quick look at how to safely consume frozen foods. The first thing you need to keep in mind is how long frozen foods will last.
In most cases, frozen foods last up to 90 days in the freezer. However, our advice is to consume frozen foods within 60 days. Beyond that, you risk getting freezer burns and deterioration of taste.
In terms of reheating, we recommend you first thaw the frozen meals completely and safely before reheating. To thaw or defrost the meal, we recommend you bring out the food about 24-48 hours before the time you plan on eating it. Place the frozen meals in the fridge for the time it requires to thaw.
If you forget about taking the meal out, you can also use the defrost feature in your microwave to thaw it.
Once thawed, reheat the meal in the microwave until it is heated through. This typically takes 8-10 minutes in an oven at 350 Fahrenheit.
Frozen Meal Idea #1: Freeze-Ahead Shrimp Stir-fry
Let’s start with something from the Asian cuisine side of things. Stir-fry is a great crowd-pleaser, but it is hard to get everything organized for a dinner get-together from fresh ingredients without making a huge mess and spending quite a bit of prep time chopping and prepping ingredients.
This freeze-ahead shrimp stir-fry is a perfect remedy to that. The best part of it is that you don’t even have to thaw the cooked shrimp in the fridge to serve it.
This dish asks for fresh shrimp, but you can substitute it with frozen shrimp.
The idea is simple and has three easy steps:
- Chop the veggies ahead of time.
- Place shrimp and veggies together in the same freezer bag.
- Cook straight from frozen in minutes.
In terms of ingredients, here are some of our favorite veggies you can use:
For a serving of four, use a cup of each of:
- Carrots (julienned)
- Broccoli florets
- Onion slices
- Zucchini (julienned)
- Baby corn
- Sugar snap peas
For the shrimp portion, use 1.25 lbs of shrimp for four people and scale up as you see fit.
You can buy fresh shrimp from your local fishmonger if you like them in a certain size. You can also just use frozen shrimp.
Once you have prepped your veggies, add them to the freezer bag with the shrimp. You don’t even have to season any of it right now, but we recommend you do create the marinade.
For the marinade, you will need:
- 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon of grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon of grated garlic
- 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of fish sauce (or oyster sauce)
- 1 teaspoon (or more) of sriracha sauce
- 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon of sesame seed
- 1 tablespoon of regular olive oil
Mix the ingredients in the bowl along with the veggies and shrimp, place the mixture in freezer bags, and freeze them.
Just about 15-20 minutes before the dinner party, you can heat up a large wok with some vegetable oil. This can also be your moment to show everyone your cooking skills by tossing the wok like a professional.
Once you have heated the wok and oil, bring out the shrimp and veggie freezer bag and stir fry in high heat until the shrimp is fully cooked and the veggies are crunchy but done. This should take about 8-10 minutes.
In the meantime, you can cook some Asian variety of rice in the rice cooker and have it ready.
Once the food is done, you can bring the wok right to the table and serve it in warm steamy rice bowls. You can garnish with fresh cilantro and green onions.
Meal Idea #2 Beef Tips in Gravy (Made With a Smart Pressure Cooker)
The smart pressure cooker has been all the rage lately in the food industry—and for good reason. Smart instant pressure cooker recipes call for half the time it requires to cook a regular recipe in the oven/stovetop.
This is a dish you can make in the pressure cooker that will cut your prep time—not to mention the time you save by preparing it ahead.
Fall is the season for hearty meals that warm the soul and the body on those chilly nights.
If you are planning a get-together and want to serve beef, you know how expensive it gets to serve a crowd of hungry guests.
This is where this dish will save you a lot of money as it can be made with cheaper cuts of beef like stew beef or tougher cuts like flank steak strips.
To make this recipe for eight servings, you will need:
- 1.5 kg (3 lbs) of stew beef or beef tips cut into cubes
- 1 large onion (diced)
- 1 cup of mushrooms diced
- 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons of ketchup
- ½ cup of red wine
- 1 tablespoon of Italian herbs mix
- 2 tablespoons of water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder
For the freeze-ahead version, add all the ingredients in a freezer-safe bag that will fit your pressure cooker pot and freeze for up to 90 days.
On the day of the dinner party, turn on the instant pot (or your smart pressure cooker) to high and place the frozen ingredients inside.
Set it to high pressure, the vent to sealing, and the timer to 90 minutes (or 30 minutes per pound of beef), and let the smart pressure cooker do its magic.
Once the timer is done, use the natural pressure release system to let the steam escape. If possible, leave the pressure cooker on warm for a few hours.
You can clean the house, get the party supplies organized, set the table, and even go take Fido for a long, relaxing walk while all this is happening in the background.
Once you are ready to eat, uncover the pressure cooker (which was on the warm setting) and pour the stew over your favorite carb—like mashed potatoes.
This amazing dish is a definite crowd-pleaser while keeping the dollars per serving at a sizable single-digit level—even with rising inflation. You can also use the leftovers to make beef noodles and other easy recipes.
Variations of this dish include using lamb shanks or beef ribs as well. You can also saute the meat to create a seared crust and add extra flavor. Make sure to saute the meat when it is fresh before freezing it.
The world of freeze-ahead meals is limitless. You can research and turn any recipe into a freeze-ahead meal. Whether it is for a crowd, an intimate dinner party for two, or just gathering the family around the table for a hearty meal, a little bit of preparation and planning ahead of time will allow you to serve delectable meals every time
Best of all, you can also shop for the ingredients when they are on sale and freeze ahead the prepped meals for when the day comes for the marvelous dinner. Bon Appetit!