Freezer Meal Update

For those who haven't popped into my Yahoo Group, "Catitude" recently, I recently posed about a new concept for me-- Homemade Freezer Meals. The concept came from The Dinner Diva, Leanne Ely, who has recipes especially for this concept. She's the one who also came up with and she's a genius!

Basically, the idea is to come home from the grocery store, but instead of putting away all the food, immediately pre-prepare your meals into Ziploc freezer bags. A roast might be seasoned before freezing. Ground beef may be made into an uncooked meatloaf and frozen. In the case of a soup or stew, the meat can be quickly browned and thrown into the bag with the other ingredients.Think how nom-nom good a steak would be if it marinated in its sauce for days. (Excuse me, my mouth is watering. ::Dab, dab::)

Label with recipe and page number in cookbook, date, and store in the freezer. It works! I tried it! I'm sold on this method. (More on this later.)

Of course, some ingredients must be added later, such as sour cream or noodles. This is understood. It's also understood that safe food handling is a must. I use and recommend color-coded cutting boards so there's little cross-contamination. I also kept all the meats in the refrigerator until I was ready to make that recipe.

Here's what I do:

1. A few days/nights before grocery day-- Sit down and choose recipes. I shop every two weeks, so I choose 12 recipes, and allow two nights for "Must Goes" (Leftover) Nights. For us, that's three of each: Beef, Pork, Poultry, and Meatless/Fish. Make your grocery list based on these recipes. Each ingredient that goes with a recipe gets a number or letter that corresponds with the recipes 1-12.

A simplified version of this is to join and have Leanne Ely choose your menus for you. She sends out a menu weekly, so I had to "save up" a week. Since she not only plans your recipes but gives you a matching grocery list, this can be a real time-saver. All you have to do is print it out, cross off what you already have, and go.

Optional: Use a calendar to plan when you'll serve the recipes. For instance, Dante and I go out with friends on Thursday nights. To avoid spending more money on food than we need, we eat a good meal before we go and simply have coffee and "nibbles." So, a hearty, filling meal is needed that night. I use the calendar. It's big enough for all my notes.

2. Shop at the grocery store and stick to your list. If there's a "bargain" you just have to have, think what meal gets scratched off the list. Don't forget you may not need the ingredients, either. If you're not going to use Recipe C, then all of C's ingredients aren't needed. I use a clipboard, but I've seen others use a ring binder with sheet protectors for each recipe. Do what you need to do to keep focused. Leave the kids and hubby at home if they're a bad influence or impulse shoppers. My DH was a junk food junkie who wanted cookies and pies, etc. Leave the carb hounds at home, okay?

3. Do not put away all the food when you get home. Put all perishables in the refrigerator, and all things not needed for the recipes may be put away. Leave everything else out. I put mine on the table, not where I cook, but I'm very limited on counter space. Working backwards from the calendar, I prepare all the meals and stow them in the freezer so the ones I'll need first are in front. This prevents me from my nose getting frostbite while I dig around for the recipe I planned for that upcoming meal.

4. Cook your meals, one by one.
Example: Chili Con Carne

A. Brown the ground beef. Drain. Cool slightly.
B. Label the Ziploc bag with recipe and page # from cookbook. Fold over the top and set in a bowl so ingredients can be added without having to hold the bag open.
C. While meat drains and cools, throw all other ingredients into the gallon Ziploc bag. Go easy on the hot spices. Remember, flavors have time to "marry" and develop. Unless you like Dragon's Breath Chili, back off on the chili powder, cayenne, etc. You can always adjust later during cooking.
D. Add meat and stir gently to combine.
E. Remove all air, zip closed. Flatten and store in freezer.

Did it take me awhile? Yes, but now I have 8 meals already in the freezer, plus the other four left to do today. I didn't get home from the grocery store and errands until noon, so I had a late start. So what if I didn't get it all done in one day? I can do the rest today. The meats left are not the kinds to leave bloody puddles in the refrigerator overnight.

5. The night before, after dishes are done, get out the frozen meal to thaw overnight. Walk away. (I put mine in the oven to avoid my pets being tempted. I lost a roasting chicken to a poultry-thieving kitty once.)

6. Morning--Pop in crock pot or set in the cooking vessel you will need.

For tonight's meal, I had planned on Asian-Inspired Chicken. I threw in:

5 pc chicken thighs
1 c soy sauce
1 c packed brown sugar
1/2 c ketchup
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c dry sherry
1/2 c hoisin sauce (find this in the Asian section)
1 T fresh lime juice
2 T sesame seeds, toasted (also in Asian section)
1/4 c green onions

You may brown the chicken ahead of time, if desired, or if you fear food poisoning. Throw in everything to the stars. Cook on Low in crock pot for 5-6 hours. Stir once halfway through cook time if desired to distribute sauce evenly.

Just before serving, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Combine with hoisin sauce and lime juice. Drizzle over chicken. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and onions. Serve.

This morning was the test. The recipe had sat all night, awaiting me. I put in my Slow Cooker Liner, dumped in the pre-prepared chicken and sauce, clamped on the lid, and walked away.

Yeah. It was that easy. I wandered around the kitchen, confused. You mean I had time for a second cup of coffee? I had time to pop open that tube of scones I wanted to try and bake them? Yep. We had scones for breakfast, as well as a great meal for tonight.

Oh, and while I assembled all those meals, I boiled up some eggs so I could have Egg Salad for my lunch today. Dante took the leftovers from last night's meal for his lunch today, and snagged another scone on the way out the door. He thinks I'm a genius because he awoke to hot coffee, scones, and dinner already cooking in the crock pot.

I know I'm not really a genius. Leanne Ely and FlyLady are. However, I think they'll let me take the credit. LOL!
Lena Austin


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