Thursday, September 23, 2010

Freezer Meals

When I was pregnant with "L" I decided I was going to make as many meals ahead as possible. When I got to looking up "freezer meals" online I was amazed at the variety and simplicity of it! In the last month or two of my pregnancy I was able to make and freeze about 18 meals in total. It was a God send after she was born! With many a sleepless night dealing with a very high needs baby by myself when Zach went back to working (he works nights), the premade meals made things so much easier! I still use freezer meals now on at least a once a week basis. They are quick, easy and save me from breaking down and ordering pizza!
So, a tutorial on what a freezer meal is, how to make them, ideas on what to make, how to freeze them, how to thaw them, and how to cook them. :o) This could be a long one!

A freezer meal is:
This is fairly simple to answer. A freezer meal is a meal in the freezer. Got it? :o) Ok, maybe a little more in depth. Freezer meals can be casseroles, enchiladas, lasagna, premade pizza dough, precooked meat, freezer marinades, meat loaves, soups, pot pies and even breads/rolls/biscuits.

How to make, freeze, thaw and cook the different types of freezer meals:

  • Casseroles: This week, make a casserole but double the recipe. Put the second batch in a disposable foil pan and place in the freezer. Uncooked! Now you have a freezer meal. This can be done with casseroles, lasagna, stuffed shells, mac and cheese, meat loaves, pot pies and enchiladas. You can buy foil pans for really cheap that have plastic covers that stack nicely in a freezer. Write on the lid of the container the bake temperature, time and any special instructions (Ie: add 1 cup shredded cheese to the top the last 5 minutes of bake time.) Also write on the lid what goes good with the casserole (Ie: for baked spaghetti: serve with green beans, salad, sliced peaches, and garlic bread.) To cook: allow the casserole to thaw for about 24 hours in the refrigerator. Bake at the time and temperature on the lid and serve!

  • Pizza dough: make a double batch of pizza dough (I love my bread machine!) Roll out your pizza crusts, poke holes in the bottom with a fork and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Place baked crusts on a flat surface to cool then place in a zip top baggie or wrap in plastic wrap and place in the freezer. I like to do these in personal sized pizzas so we can have a few different types of toppings (meat lovers, peppers and onions, tomato basil mozzarella.) When you are ready to make them, pull the crusts out, unwrap and allow to thaw on your baking sheet for 10-15 minutes while your oven is preheating. Place on your toppings of choice including cheese. Put in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes till the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown. These have been a lifesaver more than once for us! Times when we get home from being gone all day and there is nothing in the house to eat that is quick. Within a half an hour I can have hot pizza with a side salad and maybe some green beans ready to go.

  • Precooked meats are nice too. When I have a recipe that calls for diced cooked chicken, I always cook twice the amount. Pull out what you don't need for that recipe and throw it into zip top baggies in 1-2 cup amounts for later use. These are nice for salads! Also, breakfast sausage is a great cook ahead meat. Buy the bulk ground sausage (cheaper than the premade patties) and cook it all up in patties like you normally would for breakfast. Just cook double or however much you bought. Lay the cooked patties on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and place in the freezer for a few hours. Now you have precooked sausage patties for breakfast. In a hurry one morning, pop a couple in the microwave while your eggs are cooking. Or place on a biscuit/bagel with some cheese for an "egg McWhatever" to go. Also, when you buy a package of bacon, split it up into serving sizes to fit your family (3 slices per person in the family kinda deal) and freeze these uncooked like you do the cooked patties. Then when you need bacon you are only thawing out the amount needed!

  • Freezer marinades are a nice one. Buy a big bag of chicken breasts or a family sized package of beef cut however you like it when they are on sale. I have been told you can do this with tofu as well. (Hi Andi!) Divide the meat into zip top baggies in the portions you need for your family (4 people in your family, 4 chicken breasts in the baggie.) Pour in your favorite marinade. This can be store bought or homemade. Then place in the freezer. When you are ready to use them, put the baggie in a large bowl in the refrigerator for a few days to thaw. As the meat thaws it will marinade by itself. Cook as you normally would!

  • Soups: Make a big pot of chili or veggie soup, pull out half and freeze in a large container or zip top baggie. Or freeze in individual portions for a quick meal. Simply thaw and reheat on the stove!

  • Breads/rolls/biscuits: Make up your bread/rolls as usual. Allow to rise for the final time. Then bake for about 3/4 of the time you usually do. You are looking to get them to the point of being baked completely but not browned. Allow to cool completely and then place in a freezer bag. When you want to use them, allow them to thaw and then bake for the last 1/4 amount of time. You now have "Brown and Serve" bread just like from the store! Biscuits can be done like for the bread or they can be mixed up, cut out and then frozen unbaked. Allow them to thaw most of the way and then bake as usual, though you may need to increase the time a bit.

  • Other ideas: 1:)Have a favorite crock pot recipe? Mix up a double batch of the ingredients next time you make it. Freeze one half of the uncooked ingredients for later use. Just like those expensive store bought ones. 2) Next time you have a meal that calls for diced onion, cut up a couple extra while you have the knife and cutting board out. Place in snack size freezer bags and use when you are in a hurry. 3) Buy bell peppers when they are on sale/in season. Wash, core and slice/dice them, place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and freeze over night. Next time you want a pepper omelet in the morning, pull out a hand full, toss in the microwave for 30 seconds or so and then add them in. Or if you have a recipe that calls for one pepper pull out a big handful (a large handful of sliced peppers for me is about equivalent to 1 whole pepper). 4) Short breads (muffins, banana nut bread, Amish friendship bread, ect.- those that do not use yeast but do use baking soda/powder) can be frozen after baking. These freeze wonderfully! Bake a big batch of your favorite muffins and then freeze the extra. In the morning, simply pull one out, warm it up in the oven or microwave, butter and enjoy! Bake a big batch of banana nut bread when "too old" bananas go on sale for $.20 a pound. Freeze the extra loaves. Thaw for a few hours and you have "fresh" bread that tastes as good as the day you made it. Honestly, freezer zucchini bread in the middle of winter has always tasted better to me than fresh baked.

I hope this gives you some helpful tips on how to make make ahead meals. Making meals from scratch can be a time consuming, tiring, and labor intensive process, but by doing a little thinking ahead, a little extra work here and there, and spending a few extra minutes at each meal, you can make it much easier and tastier!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

First canning of the season!

Today I spent the day by taking a trip to the farmers market and then canning what I bought. I purchased 15 cucumbers of various sizes and 4 pounds of apples. All for about $5.00! Add that to the cucumbers I had picked from our plants and this is what I came up with!
That comes out to 13 jars of dill pickles- 5 sliced, 5 spears and 3 whole. And then 4 jars of peach applesauce. Not pictured are 5 jars of blueberry syrup. Plus 3/4 of a jar in the fridge for pancakes tomorrow. The blueberries were just bought at the grocery store but now I won't have to mess with making syrup anytime we want pancakes, waffles or sweet rolls.
I am looking forward to enjoying these lovelies this winter! And to much more canning this summer when our tomatoes come on and this fall when apples come on big time. I do so love canning the bounty God graciously give us!

Tomato, basil, mozerrlla pasta

Another wonderful, simple, whole foods meal recipe!

Who ever first decided to mix these things together should win an award!


1 large tomato per person

1 cup dry pasta per person (what ever type you like)

diced block mozzarella cheese, to your liking (you can also use fresh cheese or shredded cheese)

dried or fresh basil, again to your liking (oregano is also good)

Put the pasta on to boil in a medium sized sauce pan. While this is cooking, dice your tomatoes and cheese and (if using fresh) mince up the herbs. When the pasta is al dente, pour into a colander. While the pasta is draining well, place the tomatoes and herbs in the pan. Cook on medium till heated through, falling apart, and fragrant. Add in the cheese and the pasta. Cook till the cheese is starting to melt. Dish into a bowl and enjoy! This also makes a nice cold salad.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Roasted chicken and veggies

Lunch today was baked/roasted chicken, potatoes, carrots and onions. It is a simple, easy, yummy meal so I figured I'd share! I would live to do more recipes like this where I walk you through step by step on how to make a simple meal. Just to show that you can make a good, healthy whole foods meal without too much effort. In total the prep time is probably 30 minutes! Then you can just sit back and relax while it is cooking, all in one pan!

I washed the potatoes and peeled the carrots and then cut them into a little bigger than bite sized pieces. I did the same with the onion. Place all those in a 9X13 inch pan, drizzle with olive oil. I then sprinkled on dried oregano and rosemary and powdered garlic. But please feel free to use what ever tastes good to you! Put that in the oven to bake while you get the chicken ready.

Skin a whole chicken. You can leave the skin in if you like, I just don't like. :o) Then cut it up into 8 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings, 2 breasts). By the time this is done, the veggies will have begun to cook nicely. (You could skip the step and use a pre-cut up chicken or your favorite chicken parts- chicken breasts, legs and thighs, etc.)

Pull the pan out of the oven and stir the veggies. Place the chicken on top of the veggies and sprinkle with the herbs and seasonings. Place back in the oven to cook till done. Should take between 30-45 minutes. Till the chicken temps between 165-180.

Mean while, place the chicken carcass in a large pot and cover with water. Put a lid on it and place on the stove. Add seasonings if you wish but it is not necessary. Allow to simmer on the stove for 2-how ever many hours! :o) When done, pull the chicken from the water and allow to cool on a plate for a bit then using your hands, pick off any bits of meat you can find. Add to the chicken broth and place in quart sized zip top baggies (I usually do about 2 cups per bag). Lay them down on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer over night to get solid.

Now you have a nice meal and chicken broth for later use!

Monday, July 26, 2010

This is me!

I am a house wife. A stay-at-home mom. A home maker. I stay at home because we (Zach and I) made that decision a long time ago. It was not a decision we made lightly. We thought long and hard about it. There were many nights spent talking about it into the wee hours of the morning. There still are. We knew that by making this choice we would never own a brand new car or house. We knew we wouldn't be able to buy things just because we wanted them. But we don't want that either. We have to think about making our purchases. We have to save up. We have to pinch pennies. But we find those things fun, challenging, exciting even.

I do not feel I need to justify my not having a job. I do things here and there to bring in a little extra money on occasion but not because I feel I should but because I want to. Not because I have to but because I choose to. My husband is able to support us. Would a second income be helpful, sure! But it is not necessary. We don't need it, nor do we want it. We would much rather I be here. Taking care of our home, our children, and ourselves. And I do work. I work hard. I do not sit on the couch watching soap operas all day eating bon bons while filing my nails. I cook, plan meals, grocery shop, clean, do dishes, do laundry, play with my girl, garden (veggies), and make as much as I can from scratch (pie dough, pizza, bread, yogurt, casseroles, granola, baking mix, cream of chicken soup, gravy, chicken broth, pasta, desserts, pie filling, laundry soap). Could I buy most of those things from a store, sure! But I save us a lot of money by making them from scratch and they are much healthier. Could I do those things and still have a job, sure but maybe not as well or with as much attention to detail.

Have we chosen the hard life? In some peoples eyes, sure. But not in ours. We live a simple existence. We don't go out to eat for our birthdays and anniversary. Instead I make a favortie meal and dessert. We don't go out to the movies. Instead we head the the library and borrow a movie for free. We don't buy new clothes. Instead we shop at Goodwill, consignment shops, thrift stores, and yard sales. We don't go to high dollar salons. Instead I cut my husbands hair and I get mine cut at a beauty college for about $5. We don't buy pricey diapers. Instead we cloth diaper and use store brand disposables. We don't go on big vacations. Instead we go camping or to local parks and historical sites and maybe once every 5 years or so take a bigger trip. Still costing us no more than $500 or so.We live a reusable life instead of a disposable one. We use rags instead of Swifer dusters, sponges, paper towels. We use cloth napkins, cloth diapers, and towels. I am looking into using handkerchiefs this winter instead of tissues. Heck, I even use cloth "female products." Sorry guys!

Are we happy? For the most part, yes. Do we want more? Sure! Who doesn't? We want a home of our own. Land. A place to raise our children. In the country. A place for goats, chickens, maybe even a couple sheep. A place to grow, run, learn, live, breath! But we are willing to wait for that to happen. To slowly build up our savings. Are we planning to buy a quarter of a million dollar home? NO! Not by any means. An old farm house with a couple out buildings and a couple few acres would be fine with us.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not knocking those that do work! Both those that choose to and have to. I am not saying that it makes you a lesser wife, mother, father, husband, person! Not by any means. I am just stating our decision and why and how we make this decision possible. I can not count the number of times I have been looked down on because I choose to stay home. How many people have told my husband that I should get off my lazy good for nothing butt and get a job. And it hurts me. That people cannot accept the decision we have made.

We both sacrifice to make this choice possible for us. Zach works hard! He works a hard, physical job and comes home tired every morning. He works third shift so he can earn an extra dollar an hour. And this means that he is on a different sleep schedule as "L" and I. He gets home from work at 7am and goes to bed. We get up at 8am. He then gets up at 1 or 1:30 pm (after only 6 or so hours of sleep) to spend time with us. He then leaves for work at 5pm. We don't even eat a meal together the days that he works.

And how do I sacrifice? I miss my husband! I see him a matter of 3-4 hours a day on the days he works. And those hours he is tired and half out of it. I don't always get to buy the things that I want or "need". I am tired. Mentally, physically and often times emotionally.

But we are happy. So why can't people just be happy for us? Because we don't want the same things you do? Because we don't want the same things you want? I am sorry if our life style offends you. But maybe yours offends me. But it is not my place to tell you how to live it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Weekly Meal Plan

Sorry I am so late getting this posted! We have had a busy week. Sunday we laid around the house and accomplished nothing. :o) We have to have one of these days every once in a great while. We spent the day listening to Morgan Spurlocks "Don't Eat This Book" on audio CDs. It has been great so far, we still have two disks to go. Monday we got up really early to beat the heat and took a long walk! We walked to the grocery store to pick up alum for the pickles and then two dollar stores to pick up invitations and paper plates/napkins/balloons/cups/forks/etc. for "L" up coming 1st birthday. Oh my, where did a year go? Then Monday evening we went to the library and listened to a group of steel drum players from Bloomington, Indiana play some wonderful music! "L" had a blast and was dancing to the music. Today (Tuesday) we have been out to eat at a small diner for breakfast (a rare treat!), been to the cell phone store to look at a new phone for me (yeah for upgrades!), and worked in the yard a bit. Zach got the mowing and weed eating done and I got the tomatoes re staked as the rain and muggy weather had made them a little droopy. The rest of the day, I don't know. I need to the the peppers re staked, wash dishes, do a load of laundry and then maybe I might get to sit down and enjoy a little quite time before starting dinner. Phew! I need a nap! :o)

CSA bag contents this week:
  • 3 medium cucumbers (added to the first ones from our garden, in the process of making them into sweet pickles, yum!)
  • 5 small hot peppers
  • 3 green bell peppers
  • 1 purple bell pepper
  • 1 bunch of greens
  • 7 small onions
  • 1 large zucchini

Saturday dinner: grill out: chicken breasts, grilled onions and peppers, and potato salad

Sunday Lunch: Salads

Sunday dinner: Chicken noodle, mashed potatoes, cooked carrots

Monday Lunch: left over grilled chicken, potato salad, and Kenyan style greens and tomatoes

Monday Dinner: Spaghetti- no meat but LOTS of veggies!, salad, cheesy bread

Tuesday lunch: salads

Tuesday dinner: whole chicken in the crock pot, pan cooked squash,zucchini, tomato, thyme mix and sauteed green beans

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thankful Thrusday: Week #23

~ Fireworks
~ Wheat crackers
~ Library summer reading program
~ My baby's first steps
~ Create TV
~ Coconut oil
~ Favorite authors