Archive for January, 2010

Freezer Cooking – January Menu

Here is the menu that I decided upon for my first round of freezer cooking (January):

  • Cooked chicken fajita meat – 4 pound package (freeze in 3 freezer bags)
  • Cooked, cubed chicken – 4 cups (2 cups per freezer bag  = 2 freezer bags)
  • Chicken noodle soup – multiply recipe x 6 (freeze in 9 freezer bags, plus 2 lunch servings in fridge)
  • Meatloaf – multiply recipe x 3 (freeze in 3 freezer bags)
  • Hamburger Casserole (From The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever) – multiply recipe x 3 (freeze in 4 freezer bags, plus 4 lunch/dinner servings in fridge)

In all, I froze 21 meals.  I was able to shop for ingredients, prepare the food, and freeze it in portions that worked for my family, all in one day.

Throughout the week, I was able to pull things out of the freezer for dinners.  It was so comforting to be leaving work each afternoon, knowing that dinner was already prepared.

On the far left, we have 3 meatloaves.  The top, left basket has been taken over by tons of chicken noodle soup.  The bottom, left basket has hamburger casserole, cooked, cubed chicken, and also cooked chicken fajita meat.

Freezing everything flat, in freezer bags, really helps to fit more things in the freezer.

For those of you wondering, I found the baskets at The Container Store.  They weren’t in the kitchen section of the store, but I’ve found them to be very helpful in keeping my freezer organized.

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The hamburger casserole I baked was from The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever.  Officially, the recipe is called the Meal-In-One-Dish-Hamburger Casserole.  It’s super yummy.

Besides chopping onions for this dish, I had to slice several potatoes.

To begin, you mix lean ground beef, onions, spices, and diced tomatoes.  After mixing, you spread the mixture in casserole dishes.

As you can see, I made 3 casseroles.   The casserole dish on the stove is slightly larger than the 9 x 13 ones on the right.

After you have put the beef mixture in the dishes, you put a layer of sliced potatoes on top.

Next, you mix peas and corn with flour.  The recipe also calls for bell peppers, but due to taste preferences in the family, I left them out.

You cover and bake the casseroles for 45 minutes.  As you can see, these 3 dishes completely fill my oven.

After the 45 minutes, you uncover the casseroles, spread shredded cheddar on top, and them bake them 10 minutes longer, or until the potatoes are tender and the cheese is melted.  Make sure that the potatoes are tender!  Otherwise, you’ll be sticking the casserole back in the oven to finish cooking after you take it out of the freezer the day you plan to eat it.

I cut the large casserole in half and froze both halves.  For the two smaller casseroles, I split them into thirds.  I froze 2/ 3 of each casserole per bag, for 2 bags, and left the other 2/3 portion in the fridge for the following evening’s dinner.

Thus, I froze 4 bags and had another portion in the fridge.

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I cooked three meatloaves.  I would have made more, but I only had 3 loaf pans available at the time.

I froze each meatloaf in a vacuum-sealed bag.  They look a bit Halloweenish with the ketchup!

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I set out to make chicken noodle soup x 6.  First, I had to cook the chicken, then cut it in cubes.  I thought I would never get to cup number 12 of chicken!  I found that one cooked chicken breast half produced about 1 cup of cubed chicken.

Onion chopping was involved as well.  I chopped onions for the soup and the hamburger casserole at the same time.  I learned that half of a medium onion will produce 1 cup of chopped onion.  I had to leave the room a few times, because my eyes kept tearing up.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find my swimming goggles.

Below is a picture of the soup in progress.  I still hadn’t added all of the chicken broth and space was running out.

The ingredients include cooked chicken, onion cooked in butter, celery, carrots, linguine, chicken broth, and pepper.

I ended up moving some of the soup into a second pot.  These are the two largest cooking pots that I have.  Together, they were barely large enough to hold all of the soup.

I froze the soup in 9 freezer bags.  I also kept soup in the fridge for two days of lunches.

I used my vacuum sealer, because I was concerned that zip bags might leak.  I didn’t have room in my freezer to use plastic containers.

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Garden, January 24

I have square foot gardens.  One is 4 ft x 4 ft.  The other is 2.5 ft x 3 ft.  Both have wire cages that keep critters out.  This spring, I hope to build at least one more 4 x 4 box, without a cage.  I will use my current 4 x 4 cage whenever I start seeds and don’t want critters digging, as well as when I am close to harvest and don’t want critters getting at my veggies.

In the 4 x 4 box above, I transplanted some romaine lettuce that has finally started acting a little livelier.  I had a few squares with lettuce scattered about in them, because I had planted the seeds around potato plants, so I moved the seedlings to four corners of seven squares.  Some corners have 2 seedlings, but I can always move them when they get a bit heartier.

Here is a close-up of 2 seedlings in the same corner.  You can see how delicate they look.  I wonder how they survive being blasted about by cold front winds.

This is my 2 x 3 box.  The bottom square has strawberries.  I now have my oregano and rosemary in the same square.  The oregano is planted in a pot.  I transplanted the rosemary from a different square this morning.  These two herbs are the only ones that have survived our winter.

In the upper 3 squares, I have planted carrot seeds.  I have not had success with carrots in these boxes before, but I am optimistic that this will be a good gardening year.

Over the next several weeks, I hope to plant potatoes, onions, and other veggies.  I have a few potatoes with sprouts, so I hope to plant an entire 4 x 4 box (16 squares) with them.

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When I compared grocery prices on boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, I found that there was a better deal on frozen chicken than raw chicken.

I purchased a few bags of frozen chicken and cooked it in 3 casserole dishes.  I sprayed each piece of chicken with cooking spray and sprinkled each one with Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb Seasoning.  I cooked the chicken until my meat thermometer read 165ºF.

After the chicken cooled, I chopped it into cubes.  I needed 12 cups of chicken for the soup I was also making that day, but I froze the rest in freezer bags in 2 cup portions.  Within each bag, I separated the chicken into two parts of the bag, so that after the chicken froze, I could remove one cup of chicken if I wanted to do so.

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To prepare a large amount of chicken fajitas for the freezer, I took the easy way out.  I purchased pre-marinated chicken from my local grocery store.  I came home, put it in a casserole dish, and baked it until my meat thermometer read 165ºF.

I needed to use the casserole dish for another meal, so I moved the fajita meat to a plate until it cooled.

After the meat cooled, I sliced it and put the chicken in freezer bags, squeezing out as much air as possible.  One batch of cooking chicken fajita meat provided 3 meals in the freezer.  To serve, I just put the meat in the microwave, or allow to thaw in the fridge overnight beforehand.

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Freezer Cooking, Part 3

Some people that do 30 days of cooking decide to prepare mixes, combine ingredients for recipes, add marinades to meat, etc. and then freeze the foods uncooked.  Later on, they defrost in the fridge, transfer to a cooking dish, and cook the food.

Freezing pre-cooked items will not work for me.  One of the things keeping me from cooking when I get home from work is the fact that I have to wait for something to cook.  For me, I like to have dinner completely cooked when I get home.  I’m fine reheating things in the microwave or preparing dishes that cook in about 15 minutes of less.  Cooking chicken and then cooking a casserole with that chicken takes way too long on a work night.

Therefore, I completely cooked fajita meat, chicken, chicken noodle soup, meatloaf, and a casserole before freezing them.

The beauty of having cooked, cubed chicken in the freezer is that it can be added to a casserole for a quick dish.  Cooked fajita meat is great for fajitas, pizzas, quesadillas, and salads.

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Freezer Cooking, Part 2

After deciding that I would do freezer cooking, I looked on the Internet for books and websites with information that would help me out.  I came across 30 Day Gourmet Freezer Cooking.  The idea is that you spend about 1-2 days a month planning, shopping, preparing, and freezing about 30 days of meals.  Then, throughout the month, you pull meals out of the freezer and eat them.  This is great for people who are very busy and want home-cooked foods, but have more time to cook on a weekend than every evening.

To be more specific about the process, you choose about 6 recipes that your family really likes.  Then, you plan to make about 3 or more of each recipe.

You write down the ingredients you need for each recipe in a table, and then multiply the amounts of each ingredient across the table, such as 1 cup, 2 cups, 3 cups, 4 cups, etc.  This way, you can look down the table under “3 x the recipe” that normally requires 1 cup of cheese and see that you need 3 cups of cheese for a tripled recipe.  If you decide to make 6 times the recipe, your table would tell you to have 6 cups of cheese ready.

Use the charts to prepare a shopping list, taking into account the items that you already have on hand.  When I first did this, I basically cleaned out quite a bit of my home food storage.  It did make less of a grocery bill, which was nice.

After shopping for the ingredients that you need, you spend a day cooking and freezing everything.  If your family only requires half a casserole, then you can freeze each casserole in two freezer bags.  If you require single portions for lunches, then you can freeze them in smaller freezer bags.  When you stack everything flat in your freezer, you’ll be surprised how much fits in there.

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Freezer Cooking, Part 1

I started up teaching again last week after winter break.  Over the winter break, I made a menu and shopped for the ingredients I would need to cook the first week’s meals.  Once school started up, I would go to work looking forward to cooking dinner that evening.  By the time I got home each day, I was exhausted and too hungry to think.  All I wanted to do was eat right away.  I didn’t want to deal with cooking chicken breast and then waiting for a casserole to cook.

I ended up going back to the grocery store for cooked rotisserie chicken.  On a different evening, we got burgers, fries, and shakes from a local burger place.  A different evening, we ate frozen pizzas.  On the Thursday, I ate an entire box of Mac & Cheese for dinner.  I must say that these were not nutritious choices.

I’ve found that I don’t get all of my exercise in during the morning, before work, if I get any at all.  When I get home, if I have energy and am not so hungry that all I can think about is cooking, I have to focus everything on getting dinner ready.  After I eat, I don’t want to exercise, because I’m full.

Thus, I have a kitchen full of ingredients and a menu on my desk, but no motivation or energy to cook once I get home.

I wondered how I would manage to handle things once I went back to grad school near the end of January.

I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel on the Friday morning.  I quickly worked to get a meal into the slow cooker before I went to work.  All day, I felt so happy that I would have dinner ready when I got home.  When I arrived home after work, I was able to serve up a lovely bowl of soup.  It was so nice to have food ready and not have to worry about cooking!

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