Thursday, October 4, 2012

An unorganized and health conscious person's foray into freezer meals

As many people already know, I hate menu planning. I mean, I go onto Pinterest for a great recipe and get stuck there for the next hour and totally forget what I went on there for.

 I've been putting my favorite recipes on my Cozi recipe box so they're all in one place. This has been a HUGE help! I highly recommend using Cozi or one of the other great sites for storing your recipes. I'd love to hear where you decide to store yours. Cozi has some drawbacks. The iphone app doesn't allow you to look at your recipes which I think is stupid. Also, it doesn't have any great way to organize your recipes except by tagging them. So I can put "Freezer" for a tag and then do a search for the recipes with that tag. It's not a bad way to do it but I think more options are needed. Still, for the ADD person, it does get your recipes in one place so you're not completely distracted by other things when you want to find recipes.

Now, I've always been a fan of making extra lasagna and putting one in the freezer but I've never been able to figure out what else works. I also never thought about deliberately planning a day to make a bunch of freezer meals so you can just pull them out later. I went through a bunch of freezer meal sites looking for ideas and recipes. This was an awesome idea!! It really worked out well! I know we saved a bunch of money on groceries by doing this. The initial bill was slightly higher but we skipped a whole trip to the store! I drive an hour to get to Whole Foods so this is a huge deal.

The first thing I did was decide which recipes I wanted to try and wrote them down along with the ingredients needed to do so. I could have used the computer and an app for this but any easily distracted person knows it's best to just go old fashioned on this part. :-) (I crossed them off as I made them so I didn't miss anything.)

After I made my list, I organized the ingredients into a shopping list. I know, more work doing it this way but this is what worked for me. It takes less time in the store when the list is organized.
 This is what I ended up with! Not bad for a first timer! We've used most of it up and most of it has been really good! All of it has at least been edible so nothing was wasted here.

I didn't write down where I got all of the recipes since I added them to my Cozi when I found them. I did put "untested recipe" on the description until we tried it so I knew to either delete it or add my thoughts about the recipe. Remember, my Cozi is only for my favorite recipes.

Freezer recipes we love!
Baked Chicken Nuggets
16 oz (2 large) skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into even bit sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp olive oil
6 tbsp whole wheat Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tbsp panko
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
olive oil spray

Preheat oven to 425°. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray.
Put the olive oil in one bowl and the breadcrumbs, panko and parmesan cheese in another.
Season chicken with salt and pepper, then put in the bowl with the olive oil and mix well so the olive oil evenly coats all of the chicken.
Put a few chunks of chicken at a time into the breadcrumb mixture to coat, then on the baking sheet. Lightly spray the top with olive oil spray then bake 8 - 10 minutes. Turn over then cook another 4 - 5 minutes or until cooked though.
To freeze - Follow the directions given to completion, baking the chicken nuggets. Allow them to cool and then transfer them to a cookie sheet or large surface covered in wax paper and flash freeze. Once they are mostly frozen (30 minutes to 1 hour), place them gently in a freezer bag and freeze. To serve: Place chicken nuggets on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until warmed through. OR microwave for 1-2 minutes until heated through.

*Cheat by cutting up chicken, putting in a bowl, pouring olive oil over, mix. Take chicken a little bit at a time and mix with breadcrumb mixture then layer on a pan. I don't see any difference when coated with oil especially when it's getting frozen.
Cookie Dough
Make your favorite chocolate chip cookies or other similar cookies. Put them on the cookie sheet like you're going to bake them but put them in the freezer. After they're hard, put them in a baggie (labeled of course) then thaw and cook what you need. This has helped us from eating too many cookies at one time and is great to pull out for unexpected guests.

(I use the Betty Crocker recipe except I use Cottage Cheese instead of Ricotta and I always double the cheese. No, I don't count calories. :-))
*When frozen, just throw it in the oven and assume it's going to take around 2 hours to cook. I usually leave the foil on top for the first hour and put it back on later if I think the top is going to burn.

Frozen Grapes
The kids love these! A great healthy snack that's super easy! Just wash them and freeze them! We haven't had a problem with them sticking together; at least, the kids haven't complained yet.

Terriaki Chicken
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
1/2 cup white sugar (or mix with brown sugar)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 skinless chicken thighs

*Double Sauce
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the cornstarch, cold water, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger and ground black pepper. Let simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens and bubbles.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
Place chicken pieces in a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Brush chicken with the sauce. Turn pieces over, and brush again.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Turn pieces over, and bake for another 30 minutes, until no longer pink and juices run clear. Brush with sauce every 10 minutes during cooking.

*Since I doubled the sauce, I used 1/2 c. brown sugar and 1/4 c. white sugar. I lined my pan with heavy duty foil then poured most of the thickened sauce over bone-in thighs (skin removed) and some boneless breasts but reserved a little. Cooked, covered with foil for 30 minutes, removed foil, poured remainder of sauce over and bake another 20-30 minutes. Wow
Freezer Meals We Like.
Chicken Broccoli Bake  (Even my broccoli hater husband liked this one!)
16 ounces frozen broccoli florets (or about 3 cups fresh broccoli florets)
3 cups cooked cubed chicken
2 cans cream of chicken soup* (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 cup chicken broth
paprika, optional
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups rice (uncooked measurement), cooked according to package instructions (should make 4 1/5 cups of cooked rice)

1. In covered saucepan, cook broccoli in water just until tender, about 5 minutes.
2. In greased 9 x 13 baking dish, spread broccoli across bottom and sprinkle chicken evenly on top. Generously sprinkle black pepper over chicken.
3. In mixing bowl, combine cream soups, mayonnaise, curry powder, and chicken broth, whisking until smooth. Pour over chicken. Sprinkle paprika on top if desired.
4. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Spread cheese on top and bake 5-10 minutes longer, until melted and slightly browned.
5. While casserole is baking, cook rice. Serve the chicken and broccoli mixture over hot rice
*For Freezer: Put rice on bottom of dish and top with chicken/broccoli mixture then freeze. No freezer directions so just add more time for baking.
Cooked Hamburger
ground beef
green pepper
shredded carrots

cook beef with finely chopped/shredded veggies.
Freeze in freezer bags after cooled. Use for spaghetti, chili, sloppy joes, nachos, etc..
Things that worked well but need recipe tweaking
Southwest Chicken
*The salsa for this is great! The sauce on the chicken looks yucky after it's cooked and is just bland. I recommend changing the sauce and I added cheddar cheese on top for personal preference. I think it's a neat idea and I love the way she stores the salsa with the chicken. Just put the salsa in a bag and put it in the bigger bag that holds the chicken.

I have a throw it together style so sometimes it's great and other times it's too much. Here are the things I like to add:
Spike Seasoning (not too much, this is where I usually mess up)
and some other seasoning depending on my mood
*I tried squash in here once and it made it really moist. I had major objections to messing up their meatloaf with squash so if you're going to try to hide it, leave out the seeds. I forgot. :-)

Cooked Chicken and Chicken Broth
This is a great idea and I hope to be able to use it in the freezer. I tried 2X and both times it all got used up before I could get it in the freezer. 
We love to use cooked chicken for chicken salad.I put mine on lettuce and tomato for a great salad. This would be great for many recipes that use cooked chicken.
The broth left from cooking a whole chicken can be frozen. When you're buying MSG free chicken broth (that actually tastes good) this is a huge money saver. I flavor the water with Bragg's Seasoning and salt. It comes out SO good!
Onion and Green Pepper
Chop it and freeze it! This is a great time saver for recipes!

Things I learned!
*Label the bags with a sharpie including date, what it is, and cooking instructions. This allows anyone to pull out the bag and prepare the meal!
*I learned that I still have trouble figuring out what's for supper even when I have a freezer full of meals. That's just sad.
*It takes some of us longer than others to prepare these so ignore others that tell you it's only 4 hours to make them. I did take my time but it took me all day.
*Invest in something that chops veggies. 
*If you hold your breath while cutting onions, your eyes don't water. Breathe through your mouth. You'll know if you forget.
*If you like a meat sauce with stuffed shells or lasagna rolls, go ahead and put it all together instead of just stuffing with cheese and freezing. I used the frozen cooked meat and a jar of sauce and I had to wait for the meat to thaw enough to mix with the sauce before I could pour it over the shells. I also had to shred mozzarella so that was just another step before I could get it into the oven. Since it was frozen, it was going to take a long time to cook anyway so this just added to the time. It would have been a better idea to just make it up ahead of time.