(Follow me! facebook)
If you know me, you know I love to cook. Fresh, from scratch is a priority. So it made sense that I would write my FIRST post (Welcome!) about cooking and more specifically Freezer Meals. This style of stocking the freezer is possibly the one thing that saved me when I was at the edge of sanity after having my second baby. It makes it possible for me to continue cooking for my family because dinner comes together very quickly the night it will be eaten and there is much less cleaning, prepping and organizing!
This technique is MUCH different than reheating a precooked, mushy meal from the freezer. The idea of totally cooking a meal, then freezing it is way too time consuming and the results taste, well, like a meal that had been reheated. This is freezing a nearly complete meal with mostly raw ingredients (I precook ground meat) and cooking it for the first time the night of dinner. Typically, I have to prepare a simple vegetable and, if I feel fancy, a starch to go with it. It’s a much less labour intensive way to prepare a batch of meals at once and much, MUCH tastier!
Please, try making a batch of freezer meals soon. I hope it brings you some peace at a normally chaotic time of the day.
Here is what I do for one of my basic evenings of preparation. Before you start, read my tips …
What you will need:
- Nap-time, or someone to watch your kids for an hour
- 6-7 Large freezer bags
- 6 lbs of ground beef (to be divided)
- 2 onions (to be divided)
- Jar of tomato sauce
- Jar of diced tomatoes
- Jar of spaghetti sauce
- Garlic powder
- Italian seasoning
- Worcestershire sauce
- 4c of beef broth
- 1/2 package of taco mix (more if you like it spicy)
- 20 Chicken thighs, or enough for three meals
- 1/4 Olive oil
- 1/4 Plain yogurt
- Hot sauce
- tsp. Honey
- Dried Thyme
- Dried rosemary
- 3 Cloves of Garlic
(It seems a little overwhelming from looking at the list, but you will get a rhythm in no time!)
Are you Ready?
First, I turn on three frying pans of ground beef (about 5-6lbs of beef divided into three pans) and brown the meat. Each pan will have different ingredients added to it. One is the base for a spaghetti or lasagna dinner, one is the base for a taco dinner, and the last is the base for a slow cooker beef stroganoff dinner.
Pan one: Spaghetti dinner
Dice both the onions, this will be divided into the three pans.
After beef is browned and fat is drained, add:
- Third of the diced onion
- Can of tomato sauce
- Can of diced tomato
- Jar of pasta sauce
- 1-2 tsp garlic powder (resist taking the time to grate fresh and get one with your cooking!)
- 2-3 tsp of Italian seasoning
Simmer meat while you add ingredients to the second pan of browned and drained ground beef.
Pan two: Taco dinner
- Half a package of taco seasoning mix (look for one with no MSG or preservatives. If you can’t find one that isn’t loaded with questionable ingredients just add a tsp of each cumin, and chili powder. You’re not going to win any blue ribbons with that recipe but you’re keeping it simple!)
- Jar of tomato sauce
- 1-2 tsp of garlic powder
- 2 tsp of paprika
- Third of the diced onion
Pan three: Slow cooker Beef Stroganoff Dinner (original recipe from www.fivelittlepeaches.blogspot.ca)
- 1tbs Worcestershire sauce
- Last third of the diced onion
- 1-2 tbs ketchup
- 4c beef broth
- Salt and pepper
(Other ingredients and instructions will be added later)
Keep them simmering while you dump some chicken meals together!
Bag one and two: Honey Garlic Thighs (Original recipe from http://www.livinglou.com)
Label 2 large Ziploc bags “Honey Garlic Thighs. Bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees”
Put all ingredients into a Ziploc bag RAW. Trust me and use thighs. I don’t know where all the hype about chicken breasts came from but if you want to have a dinner failure, then use breasts. If you want a moist and succulent dinner you can basically never overcook, use thighs. Yum.
Add to EACH bag:
- 8-9 Thighs (or more, depending on how much meat your family needs)
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 1/4c. plain yogurt
- Juice of half a lemon
- Few dashes of hot sauce
- 1tsp honey (aim to get local honey)
- 2-3 Peeled garlic cloves roughly chopped
- ¼ tsp dried thyme
- ¼ tsp dried rosemary
Seal bag and smoosh around to mix ingredients. Get as much air out of the bag as possible. Trust me with adding yogurt. It will be fine in the freezer, I’ve done it a million times.
Bag Three: Plain Chicken thighs
This is me cheating. If I feel particularly ambitious, I make three different chicken thigh dump recipes (more to come in future posts)
Label Ziploc bag “Plain chicken thighs, bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees”
Add to bag:
- 8-9 thighs
- Salt and pepper
- 2-3 tbs olive oil
- ½ tsp rosemary
This is my absolute basic evening of preparing the main portion of meals for the freezers. In the past (and will be in future posts I am sure) I have put all ingredients needed for complete slow cooker meals. I also typically have the bread maker on mixing me up for pizza dough while I work and clean. All recipes will come in time.
~~Putting The Meals Together ~~
~~After it has cooled, the spaghetti meat is ready to be added to LABELED Ziploc bags and frozen. This can be used for lasagna or spaghetti. I have recently seen muffin-tin appetizers using this filling, which would be interesting. One/two nights before you plan to use it, take the bag of frozen meat out of the freezer and place it into the fridge. Place it in a container in case it leaks. Heat it, boil noodles and dinner is served!
~~The taco meat can be used for tacos, taco salad, or quesadillas. I have also put taco salad on half of a baked potato. I love that dinner! These take a little more preparation and clean up on the night you will be eating. Rub potato with oil, put in oven proof dish, poke several holes in them with a knife and bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes. Dice vegetables (tomato, lettuce, and cilantro) but really do your best to stick to keeping it simple. Add salsa, sour cream and grated cheese.
~~The stroganoff meat is meant for the slow cooker, but can easily be finished on the stove-top. It’s one of those annoying meals that you cannot put on in the cooker if you are out of the house ALL DAY. It is best for a Sunday night when you can put the slow cooker on in the afternoon. Add Meat mixture to labelled Ziploc bag. Write instructions from below in your own shorthand so you know what to do with it when you thaw it. You will need sour cream and mushrooms the night you cook it. As well as fresh parsley if you have it on hand.
Instructions for cooking:
Add meat mixture as well as 4-5 cups of diced mushrooms to slow cooker (or pan). Cook on low for 4 hours, (or simmer in pan for 20 minutes until mushrooms soften). 10 minutes before serving, whisk together 1/3 cup flour with 1/2cup water. Add mixture. Just before eating, mix with ½ cup of sour cream or Greek yogurt and fresh parsley. Serve over broad noodles
~~ The night you plan to eat the Honey Garlic Chicken Thighs, place them on a greased baking sheet. I use tongs to pull them out of the bag and discard the extra sauce. Put them on half the baking sheet and put vegetables of choice of the other half of the sheet. In a pinch I toss some baby carrots in olive oil and salt and pepper. You could bake any vegetables like this. Our favourites are cauliflower or broccoli. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Turn chicken and vegetables after 15 minutes of baking. Broil for 2 minutes if you would like a little crispness. The vegetables usually take the same amount of time as the chicken to cook. Use a thermometer to test chicken for doneness (165 Fahrenheit). If the kids are not hanging off your legs, take a few minutes to boil some rice when you put the chicken in the oven. Enjoy!
So there you have it. Six/seven dinners put together in less than an hour, then frozen. (There are seven dinners in the picture. I often am able to split the spaghetti dinner into two!) Making dinner night preparations take less than TEN MINUTES for fresh, home cooking.
It’s a game changer.
I look forward to sharing more make-ahead meals with you in the future. Please let me know about your adventures in stocking your freezer and making home cooked meals possible in your crazy life!
Now go relax,
(Follow me on facebook!)