Over Martin Luther King weekend, I invited my mom and my twin sister over for a cooking fest. We made a bunch of main dishes to put in our freezers for those days when we know we won’t have time to cook. I have done this once before, and we have decided to get together for this purpose three times a year, taking turns hosting. This is a big project to take on, so it’s important to stay organized. Here is how I did it:
FIRST: Make a list of the dishes you would like to make. We did macaroni and cheese, lasagna, Reuben style shepherd’s pie filling, beef stew minus the potatoes, grilled chicken breast, whole roasted chicken, ground beef seasoned with onions, salt and pepper,and breakfast burritos. Keep reading for the recipes.
SECOND: Make a grocery list. You’ll want to decide how many of each thing you want to make. For example, we made a triple recipe of beef stew so each of us could take one. On my grocery list, I wrote “stew meat- 3 pkg” so that I would know to buy for three recipes. It gets trickier if you have an ingredient that you’ll be using in more than one recipe. I knew that we would be using ground beef in our lasagna, the shepherd’s pie filling and I wanted some just by itself. I had to make sure to add all of the amounts together and write that down. I think I ended up buying 15 pounds of ground beef!
Also be sure to include storage containers on your list. Think about each dish you are making and how it should be stored. Most things on my list above were stored in zipper-top freezer bags, but some will go directly to the oven, so I put them in aluminum foil loaf pans and covered them with heavy duty foil. There are also plastic freezer containers you can buy if you would rather use those.
You also might want to pick up some snacks, drinks, or convenience items to have while you are cooking. You’ll get hungry and thirsty but every pot, pan, and dish you own will be in use or dirty! Plus after all that cooking and freezing, you won’t feel like cooking dinner that night!
THIRD: Shopping. You’ll probably be buying a lot of stuff. Take someone to help you and be sure to take insulated grocery bags and/or an ice chest to keep all of your perishables cold on the drive home. Stay focused in the store, so that you don’t overspend on items you don’t really need.
FOURTH: Set aside at least one whole day, maybe a day and a half, to do nothing but cook and clean. I think we had 4 rounds of using and washing my three big 6 quart pots, both of my 9×13 in cake pans and all my good knives. Not to mention spoons, cutting boards and mixing bowls.
Give your food ample time (about an hour) to cool down before putting it in the freezer. You don’t want to raise the temperature in the freezer so much that everything else thaws!
FIFTH: Make a list of all the wonderful meals you have on hand and place that on your freezer door. I used a magnetic dry-erase sheet and a wet-erase pen. I had a dry erase marker for a while, but they dry out so fast. I figured my wet-erase would work for now. I can cross off items as they are used and when everything is gone, I’ll clean it with a wet paper towel.
Now for the recipes!
I marinated and grilled 2 large packages of chicken breast. Once cooled, I cut it into strips (like for fajitas) and packaged them 2 breasts to a quart size bag. I added in some sauteed peppers and onions and froze. When I’m ready to eat them, I will just thaw over night in the fridge and heat in the microwave.
I let 2 whole chickens cook away in my slow-cooker for 6 hours on low. Once cooked, my dear sister de-boned and shredded them. We divided the chicken up into 9 quart size baggies, each taking three. This can be thawed in the fridge and used for soups, casseroles, or tacos.
We also browned some ground beef with diced onion, salt and pepper. We packaged up several one-pound portions in quart size bags and froze those for to use for pasta sauce, tacos, casseroles, or anything else you might need ground beef for!
24 taco size flour tortillas
1 to 2 lbs breakfast sausage
2 onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
12 eggs, beaten
1/2 lb cheese of your choice, grated
Brown the sausage in a large skillet and drain excess fat. Add in onions and bell peppers, cooking until tender. Add in eggs and scramble. Toss cheese in and let it melt. You may want a little more or a little less cheese. Just whatever you prefer.
Place one serving spoon full of egg/sausage mixture down the middle of a tortilla, tuck one end up and roll. Then roll in plastic wrap and place in a freezer bag.
When you are ready eat, take it out of the plastic, wrap in a paper towel and microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
Cindy Clampet’s Homemade Mac ‘n Cheese
2 C dry macaroni noodles
4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp yellow mustard
salt and pepper to taste
2 C milk
1 lb cheddar cheese, grated
2 slices bread, torn into small pieces
4 Tbsp melted butter
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
Cook macaroni in boiling water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add in onions and saute until soft. Whisk in flour, salt and pepper. Whisk 3-4 minutes to make sure you wont taste raw flour. Whisk in mustard until combined. Whisk in milk and stir until sauce gets thick and bubbly. Add in cheese and stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Add in macaroni noodles and stir to combine.
At this point dish your macaroni into desired containers. I use disposable mini loaf pans. This size is perfect for my little family of 3 “solid food eaters.” You could use a pan big enough for the entire recipe, or break it up like I do.
Place bread in a mixing bowl with Parmesan cheese and pour butter over the top. Mix with your hands to make sure the bread has soaked up the butter and is coated with cheese. Top the macaroni pans with this bread. Cover with foil and freeze.
When you are ready, let the macaroni thaw in the refrigerator for a couple days, then bake at 350 until it is hot and bubbly, and the bread topping is nice and toasted.
Beef Stew Minus Potatoes
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1-1.5 lb stew meat
1 onion, chopped
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
1 small can tomato paste
1 box beef broth
salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil and butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper your meat, then sear it in hot oil. You want a nice brown color on the outside, but meat does not need to be cooked through at this point. It’s best if it is not. Remove meat from pan.
Throw onions and carrots into the pan and cook until they are starting to soften. Stir to get all of the meat bits off the bottom of the pan and get a little color on the vegetables. Add in tomato paste and stir. Pour in beef broth, add meat back in. Put a lid on your pan and let it simmer for 2-3 hours.
Cool the stew down, then place in gallon size zip-top freezer bag. Lay flat in the freezer.
When you want it, let it thaw and reheat on the stovetop. Serve over mashed potatoes.
** I do it with the potatoes mashed for two reasons. The first is my husband likes it that way. The second is that potatoes do not freeze well. If you had larger chunks of potato in your stew when you froze it, the texture would be very unpleasant upon reheating.
World’s Best Lasagna
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, slices
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.
Let thaw 2 days in the fridge. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Reuben-Style Shepherd’s Pie Filling-
This is modified from Rachael Ray’s recipe. She uses a “smashed potato” topper, while I like traditional mashed potatoes.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound thick-cut good-quality corned beef, chopped
1 pound ground beef sirloin
3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 to 3 small stalks celery with leafy tops, finely chopped
1 large fresh bay leaf
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons butter
2 rounded tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup lager beer, room temperature
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
One 10-ounce can beef consomme or 1 1/2 cups beef stock
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the corned beef and cook until browned, and then remove to a plate. Add the ground beef and cook until browned. Add the garlic, celery, bay leaf, carrots and onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Return the corned beef to the skillet.
Heat the butter in a small skillet or sauce pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking, until light golden. Whisk in the beer, Worcestershire, mustard and consomme; season with pepper. Remove the bay leaf.
Pour the gravy over the corned beef mixture and stir to combine. Once cooled, transfer to a freezer container of your choice and freeze.
To serve, thaw and pour into a casserole dish. Top with sauerkraut, grated Swiss and cheddar cheeses, and mashed potatoes. Bake in a 400 degree oven until heated through- about 30 minutes.