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Monday, September 2, 2013

Freezer Cooking 101

I decided I was going to stop pinning all of the Freezer Meals links on Pinterest, and finally do something about it. I had several pins linking to many processes of putting together a freezer meal cooking session. I looked at some of my own recipes and added many that sounded like something my family would like when deciding what to make. As I was finishing the initial cooking and putting together I thought I might have been a little ambitious as my mid-back started to ache. Of course, it could have just been my age creeping in again. I think I will definitely do it again, but am putting a good food processor and one of those memory foam mats for the kitchen on my Christmas list. I did use my mandolin (the kitchen tool, not the instrument), which did make some things easier, but would love to chop quickly.  

I did my shopping Saturday morning. I purchased the majority of my groceries at Aldi, with the majority of the meat coming from Dillons (Kroger), as it was on sale. The stew meat was not on sale. I will try to plan ahead next time, purchase a roast, and have it cut. It was a bit pricey. (But what meat isn’t anymore!) I spent $187, which included foil, freezer bags (These I did spend a little more on. Aldi’s tend to have pinholes in them. I purchased the Kroger brand, so compromised with the mid-priced bag.), and 4 foil pans from the Dollar Tree. They did not have exactly what I wanted; they are much deeper than I would have chosen. We will see how they do. This was better than paying $4-5 a pan.  I had all of the spices on hand, but will have to re-stock a few. That comes to $5.94 a meal. I am told the new recipes, and feel the same will hold true for my own recipes, will feed 3-4 adults with leftovers. The only recipe I am not sure will have leftovers is the Sausage and Peppers. But I could be wrong.
Monday morning (Labor Day), I started bright and early at 8 chopping all of my vegetables. I cooked 11 pounds of hamburger while I chopped. Next time, I will have a compiled list of how much of each vegetable I need chopped and sliced. As I put the recipes together, I realized I had missed a couple of preps. With the mushrooms, peppers, and sliced onions, I kept them separated by each, one cut. The chopped were all put together and I measured them at 1 cup per onion (tip from another blog), but ended up with about 2 ½ cups more left over. The quantities seemed ok as I added. I just froze the left over for other recipes.  

At about 11:30, I realized I had miss-counted how many chicken breasts I needed. (Or miss-understood how many were in the package. I used pre-frozen because they were over $1 a pound cheaper. I got 8 per bag I believe.) I kept moving forward. I went ahead and put everything else in the bags. After I was done with everything else, I made a mad dash to the store for some more chicken.  

On to the important part – the recipes: I may not have the exact size of cans, as they weren’t listed on the original recipes. I have already taken out the trash and am guessing on the size. But I think you will get the idea. All garlic is minced. 

Teriyaki Chicken

Bag Carrots – chopped                                                                  4 garlic cloves
Red onion – large chunks                                                             4 chicken breasts
2 -14 oz cans pineapple, with juice                                           1 c. teriyaki sauce

Combine, split between 2 bags, seal, mix.

Directions for bag: Add additional ¼ c. sauce to pot. Cook low 6-7 hours. Serve over hot rice. I found the bottle of sauce contained 1 ½ c. It was the typical size you see on the shelves.

Savory Chicken

4-6 chicken breasts                                                                       2 -14 oz. stew tomatoes
4 T. broth                                                                                        1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves                                                                                 1 c. broth
Salt & Pepper
2 Bay Leaves                                                                                  4 c. broccoli (to be added during cooking)
Seal all but broccoli between 2 bags, mix.

Directions for bag: Cook low 6-7 hours. Add broccoli the last 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Update after cooking: We did not care for this dish. Not very flavorful. If you make, add seasoning, tomatoes and onion. I didn't think there were enough of them. We will make the second bag and try that before deciding whether to make again.

Chicken Cacciatore

4 chicken breasts                                                                             2 T. Italian Seasoning
1 large package mushrooms, sliced                                             4 cloves garlic
2 -6oz. cans tomato paste                                                              2 c. chicken broth

Split between 2 bags, mix. Open both ends of your paste, remove lid from one side. (tip: Push the paste out with the other lid.)  

Directions for bag: Add 1 c. broth. Cook low 6-7 hours. Serve over hot noodles with parmesan.

Chicken Enchiladas                                                                   Sauce

 3 c. cooked, chopped chicken (see roast chicken    2 T. Butter                           ½ onion, chopped
directions)                                                                        2 T. flour                              ½ c. broth
2 -4oz cans green chilies                                               1/4 c. milk                           Salt & Pepper
1 can black beans, rinsed                                              8 oz green chilies              ½ c. sour cream
1 pkg. cream cheese, cubed                                            (or tomatillo salsa)
Fajita size tortillas

Mix enchiladas ingredients, set aside. Sauté onion in butter. Take off of fire, and mix flour in. Add milk and broth, return to fire, stirring until thick and smooth. Add salt & pepper, chilies, and sour cream. (I like the sauce, and will double the sauce recipe next time.) Spray 9X9 (mine was actually more like 6X10ish) pan (which I forgot to do, whoops), layer sauce on bottom (which actually helps keep it from sticking). Fill tortilla with a large serving spoon full of filling, roll, and place in pan. Top with remaining sauce and shredded cheese. I made 12 enchilada’s, splitting between 2 pans. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Update after preparing: Yummy!

 Herb & Citrus Roast Chicken

 ¼ c. olive oil                                                                        1 t. onion powder
4 cloves garlic                                                                     ¼ t. crushed red pepper
2 T. sugar                                                                             Salt & Pepper
2 lemons, 1 juiced, 1 sliced                                               1 t. thyme
2 oranges, 1 juiced, 1 sliced                                              1 t. rosemary (I use about ½ this)
1 T. Italian season                                                               1 medium onion, sliced
1 t. paprika                                                                           10-12 pieces thigh and/or leg

Split between two bags. Combine all ingredients except the sliced fruit onion, and chicken. Place meat, and slices in freezer bag, pouring marinade over the top.

Directions for bag: Bake at 400 degrees for 45-min to 1 hour, until juices run clear. You could also crock pot it on low 6-8 hours, but it won’t brown nicely.

 Balsamic Chicken

4-6 chicken breasts                                                         ½ c. balsamic vinegar
2 can diced tomatoes                                                     1 T. olive oil
1 med. Onion, sliced                                                       1 t. ea. Oregano, basil
4 garlic cloves                                                                  ½ t. rosemary, thyme (I use less rosemary)
Salt & Pepper

Combine all ingredients in 2 bags.

Directions for bag: Cook on low in crock pot for 6-8 hours.

Update after preparing: 6-8 hours is too long for modern crock pots. I cooked with chicken frozen, for four hours on the lowest setting. Because of updated cooking standards, manufacturers had to increase how hot their cookers cook. It may be that mine just cooks extra hot, as at the lowest setting, liquids boil around the edges.

Cilantro Lime Chicken

6 breasts                                                                              4 garlic cloves
3 T. olive oil                                                                         1 red onion, chopped fine
2 limes, juiced                                                                     2 -14 oz. cans black beans, rinsed
2 c. cilantro                                                                          2 t. cumin
1 16 oz. bag frozen corn                                                    Salt & Pepper

Split between 2 bags.

Directions for bag: Cook low 8 hours in crock pot. (This seems like a long time compared to other recipes. I am going to go 6 and hope for the best.) Serve with tortillas. Dress with sour cream, guacamole, and cheese.

Honey Garlic Chicken

6-8 Leg & Thigh pieces                                                                   ½ c. honey bbq sauce
5 garlic cloves                                                                                 1/3 c. honey
1 t. oregano                                                                                      ¾ c. soy sauce
¼ c. ketchup                                                                                     Salt & Pepper

Combine, split between 2 bags.

Directions for bag: Cook low 6 hours.

Shredded Chicken for Enchiladas, and to freeze for two throw together meal, maybe Quesadilla’s and Chicken Salad.

2 whole hens                                                                                     4 celery
2 large onions                                                                                    Salt  & Pepper
4 large carrots

Cut vegetables in large chunks. Put vegetables on bottom of crock pot. Cook low for 8 hours. Debone after cooked and chop for other recipes. Drain broth from vegetables. Pour in ice cube trays, freeze, and pop into freezer bag for later use. It made 2 ¼ trays.

Lazy Day Stew

4 # Stew Meat                                                                                   1 -14 oz. cans tomato sauce
4 c. red potatoes, cubed (I used yellow)                                      2 T. brown sugar
4 t. corn starch                                                                                  4 c. baby carrots (I used large carrots)
Salt & Pepper                                                                                    2 onions, chopped
2 c. celery, chopped

Split between 2 bags.

Directions for bag: Add 1 c. water. Cook low 4-6 hours.

Sausage & Peppers

6 Italian sausage, chopped                                                           4 cloves garlic
2 green peppers, sliced                                                                 2 can Italian Diced Tomatoes (I used
                                                                                                 regular & added seasoning)
1 red pepper, sliced                                                                        2 T. Italian Seasoning
1 red onion, sliced

Split between 2 bags.

Directions for bag: Add drizzle of oil to crock. Cook low 6 hours. Serve over hot noodles or French bread Mozzarella cheese.

Spaghetti Sauce/Lasagna Sauce
4 # ground beef, brown                                                                2 c. onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, multi color, chopped                                         4 jars spaghetti sauce
2 cloves garlic
¼ recipe in two bags for spaghetti sauce. Add noodle of choice.

For Lasagna

Ricotta or 1 large fat free cottage cheese, with 2 beaten eggs, 2 T. parsley, and ½ c.
parmesan combined.

3 c. mozzarella, shredded

In 9X9 baking pan (mine was more 10 X 7 ish), layer sauce, lasagna noodles, cheese mix, sprinkle of
mozzarella, spaghetti sauce, layer two more times and end with layer of noodle, sauce, mozzarella.

Bake at 375, 25-30 minutes or according to your noodle directions. I use no boil noodles.

Pepper Steak

2 # round steak, sliced                                                                   1 large onion, sliced
30 oz can crushed tomatoes                                                        2 cloves garlic
2 green peppers, sliced                                                                 1 t. ginger
½ c soy sauce                                                                                   2 t. sugar
Salt & Pepper

Split between 2 bags. Freeze steak part way for easier slicing.

Directions for bag: cook low for 5-6 hours. Serve with rice.

Taco Soup

2 # hamburger, browned                                             2 -14 oz. cans kidney beans, rinsed
30 oz. can crushed tomatoes                                      2 -4 oz. cans green chilies
1 large onion, chopped                                                16 oz frozen corn
Cumin, chili powder, garlic, S&P                       2 -14 oz. cans black beans, rinsed

Split between 2 bags. There were no amounts of spices. I guessed at 2 t. each. May have to adjust as
it cooks.

Directions for bags: Add 1 c. water. Cook low 4-6 hours. Serve with chips, sour cream, cheese.

Update after preparing: 1 c. water is not enough to make a nice soup. I added 1 1/2 and it was still
more of a chili consistency after the first bowl. I will add 2 - 2 1/2 cups next time, and add more

Taco Meat

2 # hamburger, browned                                                             taco seasoning of choice

Cook, cool, split between 2 bags.

A couple of other tips:

I was not relishing chopping 30 garlic cloves. I bought a jar of already chopped garlic; we’ll see how the flavor is.

I used cereal containers (plastic containers to store your cereal in) and drink pitchers to hold the bags in place so I could fill them. The cereal containers worked the best. (This was not an original idea, but one I saw on a blog.)

After chopping everything, write with sharpie on your freezer bags the name of the recipe and any directions. This would be opposed to doing it ahead of time. This gives you a little break. If you are doing as large of a preparation as I did, I would split the bags up, taking another break after putting ½ together. Of course, if I had put on some good shoes like I thought I should, my back might not have ached as much as it did!

Ask the butcher to slice any meats that won’t be put together whole. Most will do it for free.

I find that the newer crock pots cook a lot hotter. If I put the chicken in frozen, it turns out much better. I am not sure how this will work with everything combined and frozen together. 

Know your crock pot! Depending on the age of your crock pot, it may cook a lot hotter than others. Cooking lengths may need to be adjusted. You may want to consider cooking at a hotter temperature with frozen chicken, and adjust the temperature down after the first hour.

One blogger stated she also baked in the oven sometimes at 350-375, 35-40 minutes.

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