My steadfast embrace of the freezer has long been a tactic that helps me execute family dinner on the regular. I freeze tons of food and use the freezer as an extension of the fridge — keeping things like cooked grains, soup, stock, stew, fritters, turnovers, meatballs, casseroles, and more — in regular rotation.
This week, for example, I’m making a coconut-chicken stew — I’ll make a double batch, then freeze half and earmark it for dinner within two weeks (so I’m not digging unlabeled, unidentifiable containers from the freezer months later).
The freezer also comes in handy if I’m buying things on sale/in bulk — that beef or fish or chicken just heads right to the freezer until I have a plan for it. The main challenge with freezing is remembering to thaw things before you want to cook them! I use reminders on my phone for that. Here’s what went down this week:
Sunday: On Saturday I thawed 3 pounds of chicken breast from my ButcherBox. I’d been inspired by images of a coconut-turmeric stew online — maybe I could use chicken in place of the chickpeas in that recipe, add potatoes to thicken it and amp up the spices. The end result was warmly spicy and satisfying without being too heavy (recipe below); I made a double batch since stews like this freeze so easily. While I was in the kitchen, I buzzed up a romesco sauce to go with the steak I knew I’d be cooking later in the week.
Monday: Fried rice with lots of ginger, shallots, and charred broccoli was the veggie entry for this week. I pulled two strip steaks from the freezer to thaw overnight.
Tuesday: I patted both sirloins dry and salted them about 30 minutes before pan-searing in a hot skillet. Sweet potatoes and smoked paprika-dusted cauliflower roasted in a 425°F oven while I seared and rested the steaks; when it was time to eat I sliced the beef thinly, reserved half for dinner later in the week, and served the steak with a dollop of romesco. With roasted veggies and a simple romaine salad, this may have been my favorite meal of the week.
Wednesday: Takeout pizza. Sometimes a cook has to do what a cook has to do.
Thursday: The reserved sirloin was repurposed for fajita night! We love a reason to wrap things in tortillas so this was a good use of leftovers.
Friday: I worked late since it was my husband’s night to cook dinner. He made okonomiyaki, savory Japanese pancakes filled with cabbage and pork that get drizzled with Kewpie mayo and sprinkled with scallions before serving. Happy weekend!
This stew comes together quickly and delivers a great punch of flavor. It gets better overnight as the spices bloom, making for great lunch leftovers the next day. I had a 3-pound package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, I doubled the recipe and put half in the freezer for a super-quick dinner down the road.
1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 teaspoons salt, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 3-inch piece fresh ginger, shredded with the large holes of a box grater
2 teaspoons tablespoons turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ cup crushed tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans coconut milk
1 large potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 bunch mature spinach, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
Cilantro, for garnish
Toasted coconut flakes, for garnish
1. Pat the chicken dry, cut it into ½-inch pieces, and toss with 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. Set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until softened. Stir in the turmeric, cumin, and coriander and cook for another 2-3 minutes to lightly toast the spices. Add the tomatoes and coconut milk and stir to combine.
3. Add the potatoes and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the potatoes have started to soften, 10-12 minutes. Remove half of the soft potatoes from the pot with a ladle and set aside. Use an immersion blender to puree the rest of the potatoes with the coconut milk mixture until smooth. Return the reserved potatoes to the pot.
4. Add the chicken and simmer for another 12-14 minutes until the meat is cooked through.
5. Add the spinach and submerge in the liquid to wilt the greens. Stir in the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and the lime juice, then taste the liquid and adjust the seasoning as needed.
6. Serve over basmati rice with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, toasted coconut flakes, and extra lime wedges.
Leigh Belanger is a cookbook author, teacher, and writer/editor. Her most recent cookbook, called My Kitchen Chalkboard, about streamlining dinner for busy families without sacrificing interesting food and cooking, was released in May 2018.