Monday, April 2, 2012
For years I've contemplated freezer cooking and mass production of meals in the freezer. Heck I think it was three years ago I even purchased a freezer meal book, but I never did anything with it - still haven't in fact. However, Pinterest provided me with some pinspiration and I decided to give it a go using two different websites.
First I went to The Test Kitchen of Melissa Fallis and Ring Around the Rosies and between the two created my menu and my grocery list. The amount of time that I spent creating my grocery list I think took as much time as food prep did. Eventually I settled on a few different meals between the two sites.
Savory Chicken - Ring Around the Rosies
Sausage and Peppers - Ring Around the Rosies
Healthy Mama’s BBQ chicken, using sweet potatoes - Mama and Baby Love
Stephanie’s Goulash - The Test Kitchen
Vegetable Beef Soup - The Test Kitchen
I recommend copying down the recipes (a simple copy/paste into a Word doc will do) so that in case these websites ever disappear your favorite recipe won't. Plus printing it out - it makes a nice check list as you go along to ensure all ingredients are added. I did not provide the recipes here, because well that's not very nice if you only visit my page when it was someone else's work. Since I did no adaptations, no recipes will be found here this time. :)
With a full page, two column grocery list in hand I headed off to the grocery store with both kids. 90 minutes in the store and a FULL grocery cart (I don't think I've ever had one so full!) we checked out. Combine that with our regular grocery items it was a pricey bill - but considering I purchased: 8 chicken breasts, 6lbs of ground beef, 3lbs of stew meat and a whole host of fresh organic vegetables and organic canned products I really can't complain at the $302.23 bill.
We got home and I started to label the gallon freezer bags. Which thank goodness I had enough - as I forgot to purchase more at the store (it was on the list and I still skipped it!) So don't forget to buy your gallon freezer bags! I wrote on the bags if there were ingredients that need to be added later, how long to cook and at what temperature so there was no need to track down the recipe when I was ready to use it later. Next up, I broke out some large paper and the crayons for the kids to entertain themselves while I got to work. They had a lot of fun and I stopped occasionally to trace them or help with something.
Next, I laid out my recipe lists and got to chopping. I looked at all the recipes and went through and did all the onions. So if a recipe called for 2 onions (split between two bags) I would chop one onion and put it in that bag, then the next and put it in the other. Then move to the next recipe that required onions and do the same thing. So there was no massive pile of nine onions chopped and then dispursed between bags, although it does create an amusing picture in my head. Next carrots, potatoes, and the rest of the veggies accordingly. The vegetable chopping honestly took the most time, but overall between stops and starts it took a little over an hour of actual work time for the veggies.
The next task was to chop 18 cloves of garlic for the various dishes - thankfully I have my Garlic Zoom to use and so while slightly tedious to peel all the cloves and then put them in/out of the Garlic Zoom it wasn't too bad. After that I moved onto all the can goods, broths, liquid and wine (which I certainly sampled to make sure it was a yummy one first!) It was also around this time that I broke out cold pizza for my kids to eat for dinner. Oh the irony. All this organic, healthy food and they're eating cold pizza. :) Next step were all the various spices to be added and then finally I broke out the meat. I started with the stew meat dishes and got those together. I left some air in the bag and shook everything up and then went and squeezed all the air out and laid them flat. Cut the chicken breasts in half and placed them in the bags that were appropriate and I was done for the night!
The two bags for the Vegetable Beef Soup went into the fridge for the night, because I needed to brown ground beef before those could be frozen and it was past the kids' bedtime at this point. The next morning, I woke up, browned the beef with the garlic and onions and split it between the one bag (after the meat cooled!) and the crock pot. Yes one bag went straight into the crock pot for dinner that night! Let me say this dish cooking on low for 8 hours - there was very little 'soup' for a soup dish - but it was a delicious meal regardless of soup volume. If you want soup you might think to add even more beef broth than called for.
I now had nine more meals awaiting consumption and ready to be consumed! I waited to write this blog until after I had executed a freezer to crock pot meal and I have to say I was very pleased. For our next meal on Saturday night (I originally did all the prep work on Tuesday) all I did take out the bag the night before and put it in the fridge. The next morning around 10am I took that bag and dumped it into the crock pot. The mess? Throwing away a ziplock bag! That's it. No fuss, hassle, or issue at all.
Now if you are a 'lightly steamed' veggie/potato person I will say that carrots and the sweet potatoes on the BBQ Chicken were a bit more mushy than you would prefer. If you're really concerned about that I suppose that you could do multiple bags separating your veggies from the rest of the recipe and dump the veggies in when you have about an hour or so remaining. For me that isn't that big of a deal and so I'll continue with the one bag per meal method for these dishes. I cooked both of these recipes on low for eight hours and everything was cooked well. If you choose to cook on high for four hours you might run into the issue of the meat being too dry.
I have to say that the two meals I have eaten they've been huge hits with the family. Even my husband who is not a sweet potato fan enjoyed the "BBQ" chicken (it really didn't taste too much like BBQ, but still yummy!) For our family with busy schedules the prep work and mess at one time was well worth it. I plan to do this about once a month to help provide my family with healthy choices with very little day to day prep and mess work. :) Now really how much prep time did it take? Well I think if I had someone watch the kids I could prep everything (including browning the meat) in under two hours. However, with the kids, interruptions, bedtimes, meat browning the next day, etc.. the amount of prep time (including clean up) took 3.5 hours this time. Honestly, for ten meals ready to toss in the crock pot that still isn't too bad! Happy cooking!