Saturday, February 11, 2012

Weekend Rewind: A Couple Hours Of Freezer Cooking (17 meals)

Since our recipe hop topic this month is going to be freezer cooking, I am continuing to focus my weekend rewinds around freezer cooking.

This is a combination of two posts first posted on June 5, 2010.  Incidentally that happens to be my wedding anniversary, so I have absolutely no idea why I was in the kitchen making 17 freezer meals on my wedding anniversary, but apparently that is what happened.  This post was originally in two parts, and I'm going to put them together in this rewind post (so it's a little bit long), but this is a typical freezer cooking session around here. Nothing too overwhelming  (in fact I pretty much did this exact same thing a couple weeks ago!)

Here are the original posts:  (I will leave current notes in italics).

Part 1--

Today I did a bit of impromptu freezer cooking.  I often multiply a single recipe if I'm cooking a nightly meal. That way my effort on that one day will not only feed us that night, but it will also put a few more meals into the freezer as well.

Today we were having a dinner guest, and I was making a large (crock)pot of red beans and rice for dinner--easiest, yummiest thing to make-- with some sausage I had gotten on sale at El Rancho (I still stock up on sausage when I find those sales...typically $3.99 for a 3lb package!).  Actually, in this photo the sausage has not even been added.  You can see it thawing on the side.  The beans swole up so much that I had to split it up and put some of it into my smaller crockpot in order to get the sausage to fit  (Now I put only 2 lbs of sausage and 2lbs of beans in that crock-pot...makes about 4 meals for us).  I do not yet know how many meals this 3lbs of beans and 3lbs of sausage is going to make because I have not bagged it up for the freezer yet.

I also had the 12 lbs of ground beef that I had bought last Monday still sitting in my fridge, so today I decided that I either had to freeze it all raw and deal with it later, or fix up something.  I decided upon the latter.  To me, ground beef is probably the easiest thing to cook in bulk because the prep work and inital seasoning can be the same for so many recipes.  Today, I split my beef into two equal 6lb portions.  One part went into a pot on the stove and was turned into a spaghetti sauce.  That part is sitting in the fridge for the night (along with the rest of the red beans) and tomorrow I am going to use some to make lasagnas and freeze some just as sauce for spaghetti.  Then, all I will need to do is heat it up and make fresh pasta and a side.

The remainder of the meat went into a large bowl and was seasoned up like you would for hamburger patties.  I personally use onion soup mix to season (I used 4 packets for the 6 lbs of meat) and 6 eggs and some bread crumbs. 

Once this was all mixed up, I shaped it into three meals worth of burgers: 2 sets of 5 for just us, and one with 8 for when we have company, 2 meals worth of meatballs  (I now have the cutest little helper for this task--I use a mini muffin pan to hold these while they freeze and it works perfectly, and a small meat loaf--for this I line a small loaf pan with foil and then put the meat in.  Once it is frozen I pop it out of the loaf pan and put it in a freezer bag.  I freeze these raw on the pans laid out flat and then when they are frozen I place them into freezer bags.  I cook them later, on the day we plan to eat them, but the messy portion of it is all done at the same time (and that's the part I hate).

Hey, we just replaced that dishwasher! ^^^

Once I get everything bagged up and into the freezer I will post an update on just how many meals my little bit of effort today created.  I had let my freezer get pretty bare, so I'm going to be doing a lot of cooking in the near future. 

I started cooking this way before my baby was born so I would have food ready and it would save me time, but I have found that it also saves a lot of money, too.  I am able to shop with coupons and buy things on sale for very low prices and then find recipes that use whatever I have been able to purchase for cheap.  I also keep watch for awesome sales on meat, and purchase large quantities at the discounted price.  I have picked out several favorite recipes as well as several new recipies that I plan to cook this month using the meat that was already in my freezer, and there were very few things that I did not already have on hand to make them with.

Probably the largest extra expense to make this weekends meal was a large bag of shredded cheese that I had to purchase today.  Yes, I know I just bought 8 bags of shredded cheese at Kroger.  Sadly, I was not very organized that week, and I did not have the foresight to buy more than one bag of mozzarella.  So before our guest arrived today, I made a quick trip to the stores.  I noticed that Tom Thumb had 32oz bags of shredded cheese on sale for $4.99 as part of their Mix and Match Sale (more on that later), so I stopped by there armed with a few coupons, and they were stocked up on all flavors of cheese EXCEPT mozzarella.  I needed to get one more item in order to get the discounted prices, so I called my husband to ask about other flavor possibilities.  He told me he usually mixed monterrey jack in when he made lasagna.  So, tomorrow I am going to perform a little kitchen experiment...using only Monterrey Jack cheese in lasagna.  Could be good!  Or not.  We shall see.

Part 2--The follow-up:

As promised, here is an update on my freezer cooking.  I bagged up the remaining food today to put it in the freezer.  I also assembled the lasagnas.  To do that, I used the sauce that I prepared yesterday, and layered it with cheese and OVEN READY lasagna noodles.

These are great because you do not have to cook them ahead of time.  My husband actually discovered them.  They soak up the liquids from the food while it cooks and soften up in the oven.  Simply lay them out on the pan.  *NOTE:  One box actually made all four of these.  I bought two, and didn't even need to open the second one.*  Here is a shot of the lasagnas I made in different stages of prepared-ness.

I make them in square aluminum pans (they call them cake pans and come in packs of 3 for around $1.50 if you find the ones without the lids), and then wrap with foil, place the whole thing into a gallon sized freezer bag, and pop them in the freezer.  Try to lay them out individualy until they freeze, but once frozen they stack nicely.  These types of dishes are great to grab and take to a friend in need of a meal too!

We had one of those for dinner tonight and they came out REALLY good with the monterrey jack cheese.  Actually, when I went to put what was left away in the fridge I noticed the top layer of cheese was missing from the remaining piece.  I questioned my husband about it, and he said he had no idea what I was talking about...his usual response when he's been caught. ;)

Getting back to the food.  In all, I put away 4 more bags of red beans, 4 lasagnas (3 went into the freezer), and two bags of spaghetti sauce.

Add that to the 3 sets of burgers, 2 sets of meatballs, and 1 meatloaf I froze last night, as well as the meal of red beans we ate, and that makes 17 meals that were prepared yesterday.  My husband helped out some, but I would say it took the two of us maybe 2-2 1/2 hours total to do all that.  That is including the time spent bagging them up today.  Not too bad for a few hours in the kitchen.  I know some people map out a whole day for cooking and get a whole month's worth of meals knocked out.  It wouldn't be hard to do at all, but I prefer to go at a bit more of a relaxed pace and work with one type of meat at a time.  This time I did two, but one I just tossed into the crockpot so I don't think that really counts.

I will be cooking up some chicken soon, so I'm on the look out for some tasty sounding recipes.  I'm also kind of in a lunch food rut.  I want to make some freezer lunches, especially since school is out and my husband will be home during the day now.  I just don't know what kind of lunch items freeze well.  I just know I'm sick of hot dogs and chicken nuggets...So if anyone has done lunches, or has any ideas or recipes, I would welcome them.  Thanks!


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