Recently, I decided I’m tired of spending all my after school time getting dinner ready. I try to make things earlier in the day, but sometimes I forget or flat out don’t feel like it. In my pre-kid life, I was a personal chef, which means I would go to people’s homes and make 12 dinners to go in their freezers while they were at work. I planned meals, shopped for groceries, and took all my own supplies (pans, cooking utensils, etc) and just used their kitchen for the day. I loved it…it encompassed my loves of organizing, list-making, and cooking. And, most importantly, I was helping out other working women and making people happy. Then along came our kids, a couple of military moves, and the recession. So my chef life fell by the wayside. I still enjoy cooking a freezer full of meals for my family, though, so it was high time to stock up.
There are a plethora of books on cooking for your freezer. I have 3 favorites: Prevention’s Freezer cookbook, Dream Dinners, and Don’t Panic It’s in the Freezer. I also have years of recipes that I’ve tweaked to be good freezer meals. I highly encourage you to buy any or all of these books if you’re interested. They all have great basic info on what freezes well, in addition to tons of tested recipes.
Because I inadvertently (meaning through my own poor planning) scheduled my cooking day for a day my kids were all home, I opted to do the easy choice and just stick with Dream Dinners this month. I did add a couple of my own recipes, which I’ll share. I don’t think I can legally share the Dream Dinners ones, but the book really is worth the price. I’ve read a lot of negative reviews of the book, and it does have more corrections than it should on the Dream Dinners website. However, I’ve made almost everything in it and my family has liked virtually everything, as have people whom I’ve given meals. I have not taken the time to correct my book, and everything has been fine. But on with my cooking day.
White Chicken Chili (gallon ziplocs)
With Cornbread and Salad
Mu Shu Chicken Wraps (9x13 pan) (made 2)
With Fried Rice and Miso Soup
BBQ Brisket Sandwiches (plastic containers) (made 2)
With Potato Salad and Raw Veggies
BBQ Brisket Loaded Baked Potatoes (plastic containers)
With Green Salad
Sloppy Joe Pie (pie pan)
With Waldorf Salad
Colorado Style Beef Enchiladas (9x13 pan)
With Black Bean and Corn Saute
Pork Tenderloin with Pears(gallon ziplocs) (made 2)
With Vegetable Confetti Couscous
Pepper Steak (gallon ziploc) (made 2)
With Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans
Kielbasa Bean Soup (gallon ziplocs)
With Fruit Salad and Pretzel Rolls
Heuvos Rancheros (2-8x8 pans)
With Fruit Salad
Cider Braised Pork Loin Chops (gallon ziplocs) (made 2)
Chicken with Red Potatoes (9x13 pan)
With Parmesan Green Beans
Chicken Pot Pie (Pie Pan)
With Waldorf Salad
Onion-y Pot Roast (Gallon Ziplocs)
I only made the main dishes...the sides will be prepared fresh. The BBQ Brisket made enough to divide into 4 containers, so we’ll have 2 meals of sandwiches and 2 meals of stuffed baked potatoes. I also made 2 recipes of the Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Cider Braised Pork Loin Chops, which I took to the boys’ teachers at our conferences that night. It was not a bribe. Really. My children are such a delight to teach, I don’t have to bribe. Yeah, that’s my story.
This is the timeline I followed:
Cooked chicken: Bring water to a boil with 1 tsp garlic powder and 1 tsp lemon pepper; add chicken; bring back to a boil, then cook about 10 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Let cool and chop. I allow 1 ½ breasts for each 2 cups I need when cooked and chopped.
Brown breakfast sausage for Huevos
Make white chili
Put brisket in oven
Make Mu Shu filling
Finish Mu Shu wraps
Make Huevos Rancheros
Cook pasta for Big Greek Pasta
Assemble Kielbasa Bean Soup
Assemble Pepper Steak
Assemble Big Greek Pasta
Brown beef for Sloppy Joes
Make BBQ sauce for brisket
Assemble Pork Tenderloin with Pears (2)
Blanch potatoes for Chicken and Red Potatoes and Cider Braised Pork
Assemble Chicken Pot Pie
Assemble Chicken with Red Potatoes
Assemble Cider Braised Pork Chops(2)
Assemble pot roast
Brisket out of oven to cool
It's afternoon; have a cocktail to celebrate your hard work!
Double bag gallon ziplocs to prevent leakage. I use a Sharpie to write the name, date, and directions directly on the bag.
Pans: Cover with foil, then wrap completely in plastic wrap. I often find 9x13 Pyrex pans with lids on sale for less than $10. I like them because the lid provides a stackable surface. I still wrap these in plastic, to provide a surface the label will stick to. I use white address labels and just write name, date, and directions on them with a Sharpie.
My kitchen here is pretty small, so I did dishes a couple of times throughout, to clear up counter space. You may have more room to just stack up the dirties until the end.
For the brisket, I substituted tri-tip, which was what they had at Costco when I was shopping.
I added kalamata olives to the Big Fat Greek Dream Pasta. It rocks.
I made 19 meals for us, plus 2 more for teachers. I also made a small extra dish of enchiladas with the leftover stuff for my husband to have that night, and some Cottage Cheese Pancake Batter for breakfast or breakfast for dinner. Not bad for a morning’s work. I was done cleaning up by 1300, except for waiting for the brisket and BBQ sauce to cool for freezing.
When you’re cooking for the freezer, try to make anything that actually involves cooking that day first. That way, it has time to cool while you’re making the dishes that just involve assembling. Everything needs to be completely cool before you freeze it, or it’s unsafe in your freezer. One hot item can raise the temp of the entire freezer for unsafe levels.Not that I’m a fanatic about it or anything. Seriously, you don’t want to make anyone sick, just happy.
I spent a little over $150 on groceries, which comes out to a little over $7 per entree, not including the pancake batter and extra serving of enchiladas. These are all meals involving meat, so that ups the cost considerably. I used organics when available, including the chicken. In case any of you health conscious people are appalled at my lack of vegetarian meals, we do eat them at least twice a week. I just didn’t freeze any of them this time. I promise I’ll be making them fresh!
A couple of recipes I can share:
Onion-y Pot Roast:
Place 2-3 lb roast (I used tri-tip), onion soup mix packet, and a can of soda in double Ziplocs. Freeze. Thaw before cooking. Cook in crockpot on low for 6-7 hours. Roast some veggies in the oven to go with it: carrots, bell peppers, new potatoes.
Again, I used 2 tritips (2 lbs each).
Rub tri-tip with Liquid Smoke and place in roasting pan, fatter side up. Rub with 2 Tbsp Lowry’s Seasoning Salt and 2 tsp garlic powder. Cover tightly and roast at 300 degrees for 4 hours. Let cool completely, then slice against the grain.
BBQ Sauce2 cups ketchup
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp liquid smoke
4 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce
1 Tbsp dry mustard
2 tsp celery seed
3 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup water
Bring all ingredients to a boil stirring occasionally, and simmer 10 minutes. Let cool and pour over sliced tri-tip before freezing. When ready to serve, thaw overnight in refrigerator and heat in saucepan over low heat.
And there you have it...my cooking day in a nutshell. It's not rocket science...you can do it! I mean, I'm sure you could do rocket science as well, but this is so much easier. My kids were such huge helps...they actually played together, got along, and didn't wreck the rest of the house while I was cooking. I really love those hooligans sometimes!
As the Penzey Spice slogan goes, "Love people; feed them tasty food!"