Tag Archives: freezer

First Friday Freezer Fest – September Edition

The second go at the freezer meal preparation was a success, with one small mitigating factor – during the process, I forgot to take photos!

…with the exception of this lovely composition of white button mushrooms and mini Portobello mushrooms.  I like to mix mushrooms in my recipes.  It gives a subtle extra note of flavor to the dish, and just look how beautiful they are together!

mushrooms

I did, however, remember to take notes.  What worked well, what didn’t work well (or at all!), how to “fix” the procedures, and what I want to try next are the ideas I am sharing with you today.

This month, I did a few of the preparation needs differently than last time, lessons learned (see the August First Friday Freezer Fest here).  I wrote out not only the meals I wanted to prepare and a shopping list, I wrote out how each item needed to be prepared before beginning.  That helped tremendously!  As a matter of fact, as Friday came closer, I realized that I had two other obligations that day. On Thursday, I did the preparation steps a little at a time throughout the day and put it all in the fridge.  Friday morning, everything was ready for assembly, saving me a lot of time and stress.

Other helpful hints that I discovered, some the hard way:

  • Put aluminum foil or waxed paper between the stacked bags in the freezer. If possible, don’t stack until frozen.  Several times last month, I would pull a meal out of the freezer, only to find that I could not read all of the directions written on the front of the bag.  This happened because I stacked the bags directly on top of each other, and when the bags froze, the Sharpie® ink froze to the bag on top of it.  Removing/prying apart the bags removed part of the ink.  I had to look up the recipes again to find the missing information in order to have dinner!
  • Place a second label or write the recipe name at the top of the bag where the zipper is or across the bottom of the bag. This way, the recipe name can be seen without having to dig through the stack of meals to find the one you are looking for, or to simply see what you have at a glance.

freezer stack

  • When choosing a freezer meal to prepare, make sure you allow yourself enough time for the meal to thaw completely before cooking, especially if the meal is an oven-baked meal. With the crockpot meals, this step is not as vitally important.  Choose your meal the day before and let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator.  Otherwise, you could end up with some raw chicken in your otherwise delicious dish.
  • If this is your first time making a recipe, follow the instructions and ingredients exactly. My husband and I almost invariably feel that most of my recipes I try need tweaked a little, but I only tweak them after the first try.  For example, most of the recipes that call for a can of tomatoes we agree could use more tomatoes.  I will try that the second time around, but not the first.
  • In recipes that call for fresh potatoes, parboil them first for about 5 minutes, then drain and immediately rinse them in cold water. This will keep them from turning brown and/or mushy in the freezer.
  • When preparing vegetables, go ahead and chop/dice/slice some extra and freeze them, either by the cup or by the individual vegetable. This helps in two ways:
    • When preparing a non-freezer meal during the week, if you need a cup of chopped onions for a recipe, you have the onion chopped and ready to use.
    • You will have less waste from foods going bad before you have used them.

freezer veggies

Recipe List, Grocery List, Prep List

Recipes

Korean Beef

Cheesy Enchilada Quinoa (we like to add cooked and chopped chicken breast to this one)

Minestrone

Tuscan Chicken Stew

Beef Barley Soup

Balsamic Beef Roast

Orange Chicken

Greek Grilled Chicken

Zucchini Mushroom Pasta

Garlic Ranch Chicken

Bacon Ranch Potatoes

Chicken Marsala Meatballs (my husband wished for extra sauce)

Turkey Parmesan Meatballs (I substituted ground turkey for the chicken)

Pork and Lentil Soup

Zucchini Sausage Casserole

Greek Turkey Burgers  ( I accidentally put in cilantro instead of spinach – don’t do that!  Blech…)

Chili Tortellini

Veggie soup (personal recipe)

Hot hamburgers (personal recipe)

Stuffed peppers (personal recipe)

Smoked sausage and sauerkraut (personal recipe)

Shopping

MEAT

Beef chuck roast, 7 pounds           beef round stew meat, 1½ pounds

Ground beef patties, 8                   ground beef, 2 pounds

Ground turkey, 3½ pounds            chicken breast, 10 pieces

Chicken thighs, 16 pieces             ground chicken, 1 pound

Smoked sausage, 1 pound           pork chops, 1 pound

Pork sausage, 1 pound                 eggs, 3

VEGETABLES

Green onions, 2                            black beans, 1 can                         corn, frozen, 4 cups

RoTel tomatoes, 2 cans                onions, 10                                      bell peppers, 7

Diced tomatoes, 2 cans                carrots, 4 pounds                           celery, 1 bunch

Red kidney beans, 1 can              great northern beans, 1 can           zucchini, 4 pounds

Green beans, 2 cans                    spinach, fresh, 3 cups                    chili beans, 2 cans

Mild pepper rings, 1 jar                 tomato sauce, 1 large can              sauerkraut, 1 jar

Tomatoes, 2                                  baby white potatoes, 12                 red potatoes, 22

Mushrooms, 1½ pounds               peas, frozen, 2 cups                       lentils, ½ pound

Sun-dried tomatoes, 1 package    red onion, 1                                    cucumber, 1

Tomato paste, 8 Tbsp                   sun-dried tomato pesto, ¼ cup      lima beans, 1 cup

FRUIT

Orange, 1                  lemons, 2                   lime, 1

STAPLES AND SEASONINGS

Beef broth, 3 cups                         vegetable broth, 4 cups                 chicken broth, 15 ¼ cups

Brown sugar, 1¼ cups                  minced garlic, 1½ cups                  ginger, 2½ tsp

Onion powder, ½ tsp                     white pepper, 1 tsp                        cornstarch, 4½ Tbsp

Chili powder, 3½ Tbsp                   cumin, 7½ Tbsp                            cilantro, 1 cup

Oregano, 1 Tbsp                           rosemary, 1½ tsp                           bay leaf, 4

Red pepper flakes, 1¼ tsp            poultry seasoning, 1 tsp                 Greek seasoning, 1 tsp

Thyme, 2 tsp                                 ranch dressing mix, 1 pkg              parsley, 1 Tbsp

Bread crumbs, 1½ cups                flour, 1 Tbsp                                   nutmeg, 1/8 tsp

Basil, ½ tsp                                   stuffing mix, 1 box                           dill, ¼ tsp

OILS, VINEGARS, SAUCES

Soy sauce, ¾ cups                         sesame oil, 1 Tbsp              rice wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp

Sriracha, 1 tsp                                salsa, 2 cups                       enchilada sauce, 1 large can

Orange marmalade, ¾ cup            BBQ sauce, ¾ cup              hot sauce, 1 cup

Worcestershire sauce, 4 Tbsp       white wine, 2 Tbsp               balsamic vinegar, 5 Tbsp

Vegetable oil, 1 tsp                         olive oil, 2 cups                   Marsala, 1 cup

Pizza sauce, 1 can                         cream of chicken soup, 1 can

GRAINS AND PASTA

Sesame seeds, 1 tsp                       quinoa, 1½ cups                  ditalini, 1½ cups

Rice, 2 cups                                     barley, 1 cup                        spaghetti, 1 pound

Dry tortellini, 1 pound

DAIRY

Mexican cheese shreds, 4 cups               parmesan cheese wedge, 1¾ cups

Heavy cream, ¼ cup                                ricotta cheese, 1 cup

Mozzarella cheese, 1 cup                        butter, 2 Tbsp

Greek yogurt, 1 cup                                 feta cheese, ¼ cup

First Friday Freezer Fest!

Julia child

After seeing so many people talk about how terrific this once-a-month-cooking deal is, I decided to try it for myself, to see if the hype lived up to the reality.  The story you are about to read is real.  The names have been changed to protect the innocent… (cue the Dragnet music…)

First things first, I did my homework.  I researched at my favorite research site, Pinterest.  I found out what to do, what not to do, and many helpful suggestions.  The main difficulty I had was that most of these people were cooking for an army, it seemed.  I don’t need near as much food for just my husband and me, even with frequent guests.  With this in mind, I looked for a lot of crockpot meals that were mostly dump it in and go, and these seemed to make the most sense for me.  I planned for fifteen meals.  We eat out occasionally, and even with the pared down recipes, I was still able to sometimes make two bags from a single recipe.  So, fifteen prepared freezer meals, along with some prepared ingredient bags like the taco beef, was plenty for a first run of this system.

Let me tell you, life will happen while you are in this process, so don’t let it throw you too much of a curveball.  My intent was to do all of the shopping on Thursday so I could have the whole day Friday to complete this task.  That did not happen.  My week fell apart about Wednesday, and it was everything I could do just to drag myself through the days.  Friday morning rolled around and I was not ready.  I usually wake between 6:00 and 6:30, so I figured I would start the prep and cooking about 8:00 after I finished my normal morning routine.  I finally got out of bed about 8:15, so that was not happening, and I still hadn’t shopped!

Now, this is something you must understand about me.  I have this weird passion, no – an obsession – with alliteration.  That may not seem to have anything to do with this venture, but oh, it does.  I had already named it “First Friday Freezer Fest,” and I couldn’t change plans unless I was going to wait until the following month!  Like I said, I can be weird…

I hurried through my hygiene routine, because I knew the other parts of my normal schedule would not get done that day.  Thankfully, I had already made my shopping list or this project definitely would have waited another month!   By the time I finished shopping at my three stores (yes, three stores, because I was also taking advantage of sales and coupons for this endeavor), it was almost 12:30 p.m.  And I was already exhausted.

Cue another curveball:  two of my lovely daughters decided that it would be a perfect time to drop in for supper and a visit.  Not that I mind!  I love it when my children come over, and I wish it happened more frequently.  That said, this put a hold on my progress for about four hours.  At least I got some ice cream from Pinocchio’s, which may have made up for the whole ceasefire in my cooking plan.

So I soldiered on, went with the flow, all those other clichés, and went to bed, planning to finish up on Saturday.  This was okay because I had at least started on Friday, so I didn’t have to change the name.  After my Breakfast Club Bible Study group, I resumed the itinerary of cooking, packaging and freezing.  Freezer Fest was done by 2:00 p.m.

In all, this actually took only about six or seven hours, not including the planning and shopping.  I hit a few snags along the way about which no site warned me.  Will I do it again?  Yes!  Will I plan a little better, including time for snags and incorporating back-up plans?  Yes!  Am I happy with the resulting meals?  We shall see.  I already used one freezer meal that never made it to the freezer because it became supper for our daughters’ visit.  It was good, too!

*****************

Here is the list of meals I prepared, along with some helpful (I hope!) hints to make your freezer fest run a little more smoothly.

White wine chicken with artichokes http://newleafwellness.biz/2015/05/18/crockpot-white-wine-chicken-with-artichokes/

Spaghetti squash with bacon and spinach http://www.buzzfeed.com/christinebyrne/spaghetti-squash-with-bacon-spinach-and-goat-cheese#.ftLPNVLDm

Ham and beans http://www.food.com/recipe/crock-pot-ham-and-beans-96347

Chicken broccoli stir fry http://passthesushi.com/chicken-and-broccoli-stir-fry/

Chili-lime pork with corn http://www.marthastewart.com/973879/chili-lime-pork-corn-salad?xsc=soc_pin_Chili-LimePorkwithCornSalsa&crlt.pid=camp.ZoiIoY7Q2Jxt

Sweet chili sesame chicken http://www.carlsbadcravings.com/asian-sweet-chili-sesame-chicken/

Hot hamburgers (family recipe)

Chicken chili relleno casserole http://www.ladybehindthecurtain.com/chicken-chili-relleno/

Pesto shrimp http://www.closetcooking.com/2013/06/pesto-grilled-shrimp.html

Smoked sausage and cabbage (two variations – family recipes)

Asian salmon http://damndelicious.net/2014/12/19/asian-salmon-foil/

Balsamic beef roast http://thechicsite.com/2013/07/16/slow-cooker-balsamic-pot-roast/

Corn chowder http://crockingirls.com/recipes/nicoles-corn-chowder/

Potato, broccoli, cheese and egg casserole http://www.cozycountryliving.com/easter-brunch-potato-broccoli-pepper-jack-egg-casserole/

Stacked chicken enchiladas http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/chicken-enchilada-casserole-recipe/#_a5y_p=1587442

***Helpful Hints***

  • Start with a clean kitchen.
  • Eat breakfast or lunch, depending on what time you start. Preparing this much food is difficult when you are hungry.  You may want to plan for a snack break also.  (Just because I am sharing this event doesn’t mean I am against eating out.  My two favorite restaurants?  McDonald’s and Cooper’s Hawk.)

McDs

(Here’s McDs…)

  • Put a bottle of frou-frou wine or refreshing lemonade in the refrigerator to chill.
  • Clear the counters as much as you possibly can, especially if your kitchen is sadly lacking in counter space like mine.

Coopers Hawk countertop

(…and here’s Cooper’s Hawk!  https://www.coopershawkwinery.com/)

  • Make sure all of your dishes are clean, your dishwasher empty, and a new liner in your wastebasket.
  • If you have a cabinet with pull-out bins for trash and recycling, you may want to remove them from the cabinet and place them in the floor near where you are working. It will be tedious constantly trying to open the cabinet with messy and/or very full hands.
  • I filled my sink with hot, soapy water so I could wash multiple use items as I proceeded. This included pieces like my food processor container and blade, my cutting boards (I only have two!), and my colander.
  • If you have those handy dandy bag holders that I have seen on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/317855686171018469/), use them. If not, you may have a container that will hold a bag open quite nicely.  Just fold the top over the rim of the container so that the bag is held in place and food doesn’t end up on the outside of the bag.  I have one that is perfect!

container

  • Assemble your ingredients and recipes.

iPad recipes

  • Spices and herbs can remain in the cabinet to save counter space if they are easily accessible.

spice cabinet

  • If you know all of the onions (or whatever else you are using) should be chopped, go ahead and do that. Then you are only chopping them once and can measure out the amount needed.  One onion chopped will usually equal about one cup.
  • Have a black Sharpie handy. Write the name of each meal and any necessary cooking instructions on the front of the bag before filling it with the ingredients.

sharpie

  • Most of my chosen meals did not require pre-cooking of any ingredient. I would like to say I planned it that way…  If you have meats that must be cooked, get that started first.  Ground beef can brown while you are assembling other meals, and chicken breast can simmer on the back of your stove.  You could also put the chicken into a crockpot, depending on how much you need to cook, and shred or chop it as needed.

shredding chicken

Bacon is wonderfully simple to prepare in your oven, with very little mess and no splatter burns!

making bacon

  • Placing the bags on their sides in the freezer will allow for maximum storage space and ease in finding just the freezer meal you want. On the left is my upright freezer in my garage.  It is not always this neat or this empty.  In two weeks, it will be filled with a side of beef from the county fair, so organization is very necessary at this time!  My kitchen refrigerator on the right needs a makeover desperately…

fridges

When it is all done, sit back, relax with a glass of chilly refreshment, and revel in the fact that you will not have to put much thought into several meals for a while.