Tips from The Kitchn

This Savvy Leftover Strategy Saved My Vacation

Image Credit: Esteban Cortez

"I wish we were as good at putting things in the bank as we are at putting things in the freezer," said my husband, Jim, one night after dinner. I was struggling to wedge a container of fresh-made lamb dumplings in between the ice cream and an odd-shaped container of chicken stock. His point was made: I'm a little obsessed with freezing things.

Raiding My Freezer (and Stocking It First)

But ultimately, it's the freezer that saves me when I'm busy. When I go out of town, my husband raids it for pre-made pasta sauces and breakfast breads. And when we're both going out of town, I find nothing more satisfying than packing for an entire vacation out of the freezer.

For the record, I don't go on vacation to clean out the freezer. (You weren't eating my rejects when we went camping together, okay?) Starting weeks before a trip, I make a point to cook one or two things each week that are easy to double — that meaty ragú, for example, or a batch of chili or pulled pork, or garlic bread. I'm not shopping for more items — just purchasing double so I can make double.

We eat what we want, and then I freeze the rest, making note of it in a file on my phone. I use the same file to remind myself what fresher items I want to stock up on in the days before we leave — vinaigrettes, for example, or a big potato or quinoa salad, or a homemade bean dip that keeps well.

My Freezer Filing System

Come vacation time, I can usually paw through the file to find out what vacation meals are simply finished and waiting for me, and what I'll still need to do. (The current file for my yearly birthday camping trip, JESS FEST, reads: FROZEN: Chicken liver pâté, Bolognese, Dutch oven cinnamon rolls, walnut pesto. MAKE: Ottolenghi hummus, apple cider vin, Alison Roman shortbread cookie dough.)

The result is win-win: It means I get both the satisfaction of eating foods I love (because no matter how much I'd like to pretend I'm a flexible person, I just don't love jarred tomato sauce or Hot Pockets) and the convenience of dump-and-heat cooking. That pâté? I can eat it with crackers and pickles in a canoe, or serve it on an actual plate at a vacation house when friends visit. The pesto? I can blend it with pasta for a quick dinner, or drizzle it over grilled steak as part of a fancier one.

And it all comes from just an itsy bit of planning, which feels like a lot less work than cooking from scratch while I'm on vacation.