Sunday, November 21, 2010

Freeze Your Butt Off (And Thank Me Later)

With basketball season fast approaching (it has since started!) I took some tips from one of my best good friends Carlei, and decided to attempt to freeze meals for the entire season.  Crazy I know!  You see, Timothy can cook, he just chooses not to.  Why would you if you had a wife that loved being in the kitchen??  He does grill a mean steak, I have to say.  I can't even compete with that (except with my filet mignon :) so I just make the side dishes.  We have a great relationship when it comes to grilling.  He can also make a really good fried egg, which I attribute to his father and his hundred-year-old cast iron pan.  Mine is still just a baby...

My basketball season runs from the beginning of November to the beginning of March.  There will be nights that I will be home at a decent time if we have practice right after school, but some nights I won't get home until 8:00 or beyond.  It is nice to know that I am feeding him well, and even better, that I will have a hot meal ready for when I get home!  I know he would be completely content with frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets, and french fries for a whole season, but according to Carlei, that only worked the first year, ha!  So I decided that I would hit up Sam's club and Hy-vee and stock up on all the things I would need to make a bunch of food.  I took tips from Carlei, and did a ton of research.  Turns out, there's a whole "making meals a month at a time" movement out there! Two full days of cooking later, our freezer is now stocked with:

Two chicken spaghetti casseroles
Two chicken enchilada casseroles
Two chicken burrito pans
Two chicken pot pies
4 containers of spaghetti meat sauce
1 beef ravioli casserole
3 meatloafs
3 pans of beef enchiladas
4 lasagnas

I ended up getting chafing dishes from Sam's club that worked great, and had nice little flat aluminum tops that would crimp on that I could write the directions on.  The only complaint that I had with the whole process was the the pans are about 8x11, which is pretty big for us.  Each pan is lasting about 3 meals.  I really wanted deep square pans that would supply one dinner and possibly lunch the next day.  If I had found those pans, all of my frozen meals would have been doubled.  Oh well.  So for now we're eating something for about 2-3 days in a row, which can get old.  But if we had a bigger family it would be perfect, so I'll keep that in mind for about 20 years down the road ;)  I will try to get all of these recipes on the blog at some point along with freezer friendly directions!  Here is a little collage of the whole process followed by a few of my tips (I'm a first timer, so I'm no expert, but these are just a few things I learned.)

Tip #1 - Do all of your shopping prior to your cooking days.  If you try to shop in the morning and cook in the afternoon you will get exhausted with the whole thing and give up.  I made my menu/shopping list and checked the sales flyers for things 1-2 weeks prior to cooking.  I also recommend buying in bulk.  I got big bags of cheese, a container of sour cream, and large cans of tomatoes/sauce (overall the best bang for your buck!), etc.  This really helped me to save time, money, and pantry/refrigerator space.

Tip #2 - I got this one from Carlei.  Never be afraid to freeze something once.  The general rule of thumb is you don't want to freeze anything with raw eggs or sour cream, etc because it won't come out as good as it would've baked fresh.  You can google all the other things you "shouldn't freeze" if you really want to freak yourself out.  I don't recommend it :)  I definitely didn't find any of those things to be a problem anyway.  Like we had no problems with the egg wash on the pot pie, and I have sour cream in the enchilada casserole.  Only time will tell, but I'll update and let you know!

Tip #3 - Write all of the baking directions on the top of the pan or tape a post-it note to the top, etc.  I just write directly on the aluminum foil, worked great for me.

Tip #4 - Do one meal at a time! Don't attempt to have 4 pots on the stove at once. It will get crazy and tomato sauce will probably go everywhere!

Tip #5 - Clean out your freezer before you start trying to stack things in there.  It is also a good idea to completely freeze somethings before you start stacking.  My casseroles got to be pretty heavy so I was worried about them squishing each other.  However, since I followed tip #4, the previous meal was pretty much frozen when I was ready to put another in the freezer.

Tip #6 - If you are making a bunch of chicken based dishes, poach whole cut-up fryer chickens in a huge pot of water.  Remove the chicken after it is finished cooking, cool, and shred up.  It's almost a game to me to see how much chicken I can get off of the bone.  Don't forget to save the broth!!!  It's practically free!!  I did this and had a nice mix of light and dark meat. 

Tip #7 - Stock up when you see things on sale.  Every once in awhile Walmart has the big bags of frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts on sale and I'll grab a few bags.  I threw all these in the crockpot and threw just about 1-2 cups of chicken broth (water would work just fine) in and cooked on high for 4-6 hours.  This, combined with tip #6 gave me enough chicken and broth for all my casseroles and even extra chicken and broth to freeze future things like soup and chicken quesadillas!

Tip #8 - I have Timothy pick out a casserole on his way out the door for work in the morning and put it in either the fridge or the oven to defrost.  We found the oven works best for the big casseroles.  Refrigerator works best for things like the pot pies and meatloaf.  If you are lucky like some people I know, you have an oven you can program to start at a certain time.  Someday.....

Tip #9 - Line up an assembly line of all your casserole dishes and work that way.  Makes things a lot easier!

Tip #10 - Enjoy the process.  I like working in the kitchen by myself, but this would be a really great thing to involve your kids in.  There were so many times in each dish that it would have been fun to have kiddos around to layer things with me.

Overall I would say freezing the meals has been a great experience.  I am honestly thinking about doubling and freezing meals even in the off-season.  Everyone out there can relate to those nights when you get home and just don't feel like cooking.  This can also be a big help when someone you know has a baby or a death in the family.  You can just pop out a casserole, directions included, and take it to their house.  Best part is they can even throw the container away!! 

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  1. Would love your freezer recipe for spahgetti sauce did you cook the spaghetti ahead of time like for the chicken spaghetti? THANKS

  2. What is your recipe for chicken enchiladas?

  3. I will be posting the recipe for creamy chicken enchiladas very soon!! As far as the spaghetti sauce, I'll probably post that recipe once basketball season rolls around and I make some more. Thanks so much checking out my site! I will be making a very detailed freezer recipes post coming soon and hopefully a freezer recipes section to the blog!



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