Of all of the things that I did during my final weeks of pregnancy, the one that I think was the best use of my time and somewhat limited energy was to stock my freezer with pre-made food. And when I say stock, I mean really stock. I had to give up on making a good portion of things that I wanted to make because I had filled every inch of available space (although that has as much to do with the size of my freezer as the amount of food that I made). Why was this the best thing that I did? When my son arrived and we had almost no sleep and even less of an idea of what we were doing, we didn’t have to even think about cooking. And when I only had what seemed like minutes in between feedings, feedings and more feedings, I could grab something to eat that would be ready in seconds. Between our freezer and my wonderful friends at church bringing us meals, we didn’t cook dinner from scratch for at least a month, and didn’t end up living on take out with the nutritional value of the box that it comes in.
Anyone who knows me knows my obsessive need to plan and organize. Never has this been a more useful thing for me than with my pre-baby freezer stocking. I started with a spreadsheet of meal categories (breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinners etc) and filled it with lists of items and links to online recipes where I didn’t have my own. There were gallon bags filled with meat and vegetables to go into the slow cooker, stuffed breakfast biscuits, meatballs, fruit portioned into bags for smoothies… The list goes on and on! It worked so well for us, that I now spend a few hours restocking once a month or so, to limit the amount of cooking that we have to do during the week. Having moved to the US from England, I love to make traditional English food for my husband, so one of the things that we currently have sitting in our freezer is a pre-made toad in the hole. My husband still has no idea what this actually is – I think he’s worried that I’m planning to feed him actual toads for dinner! For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, it’s basically sausages baked in a batter, typically served with mashed potatoes and some kind of vegetable. My version of it contains onions and some extra seasoning, and I also like to serve it with onion gravy. If it’s part of my freezer stocking plan, I bake it in a disposable foil loaf tin so it doesn’t take up too much space and is just big enough for the 2 of us, but in terms of scaling it up to a bigger size, the sky’s the limit (or rather, your oven’s the limit!). Here’s what you need to make it for 2:
2-4 sausages (depending on size and appetite); if I was in England I’d be using either Lincolnshire or Cumberland sausages, but seeing as those aren’t so readily available here, I use decent sized bratwurst which are easy to find in my local grocery store.
3 heaped tbsp plain flour
1 large egg
3 oz milk
2 oz water
Salt and pepper
Optional: 1/2 onion,diced, 1/2 tsp mustard powder and 1/2 tsp dried thyme
How to make it:
Heat the oven to 400 F. Part cook the sausages by baking in a little oil for about 10 minutes, just to get them starting to brown on the outside. If you’re adding onion, saute it until it’s starting to caramelize, and add to the pan with the sausages. To make the batter, whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl to break up any clumps. Make a well in the center. Lightly beat the egg and add it to the other wet ingredients, then pour into the well and whisk everything together. Pour the batter over the sausages in the hot pan, and put it back in the oven for about 40 minutes, until risen and golden brown. If you’re freezing it, let it cool, then cover and put in the freezer. Really easy, and not a single amphibian to be found!
As I mentioned, this is delicious when served with onion gravy. Here’s what you’ll need for that:
1 tsp olive (or other) oil
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 tbsp plain flour
3/4 cup chicken, vegetable or beef stock
Salt and pepper
Optional: 1/2 tsp dried thyme, Worcestershire sauce
Heat the oil and saute the onion over a low heat until caramelized (at least 10 minutes). Add the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually add the stock, stirring to make sure you don’t get any lumps (other than the onions). Add the Worcestershire sauce and seasonings, and simmer for around 10 minutes to thicken. The longer you simmer it for, the richer the flavor gets. If it gets too thick, add more stock to thin it out. If it’s too thin, either simmer it for a while longer until it has reduced, or mix a small amount of flour with some stock and add that to the pan (I really do mean small – if you add too much, it’ll turn into a brick).
My apologies for the lack of photos – I’ll make sure I take some the next time I make it! In the meantime, if you give this a try, I’d love to hear how it turns out.