Freezer cooking session

Kayte and I (Mary) got together this past week for our first freezer cooking session.  Kayte is cooking for a family of four (one of them a toddler) and I am cooking for one.  Her family does not like leftovers, so everything needs to be (or appear to be) freshly made.  Kayte is also staying low-carb, so the meals also need to reflect that. 
We decided to select five recipes and make 3 meals for each of us of each recipe.  The dishes we made are spaghetti sauce, meatballs (made and packaged separately, not in the sauce), rio chicken, cashew chicken, meat loaf and carnitas.  (Yes, we really can count, but decided the meatballs kinda sorta went with the spaghetti sauce, although they can also be used for other recipes.) The special equipment we used was a 6-quart slow cooker, a food processor and an electric pressure cooker. 
A messy kitchen

We divided the shopping, with Mary checking the sale adds, then going to Costco and Publix, and Kayte hitting Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter.  We spent a total of about 30 minutes on Friday prepping and cooking the rio chicken in the pressure cooker, and the spaghetti sauce in the slow cooker.  We got down to business on Saturday, and spent about 3 hours completing everything.  Kayte’s husband was very helpful, taking the kids out of the house (it’s really hard to be efficient with a toddler hanging on your leg, being very helpful with the raw meat, etc.). 

We ended up spending a total of $122.57, but when subtracting out the unused portions (honey, onions, cashews, parmesan cheese), the meals cost $94.07. We didn’t count the staples that we already had on hand, and this also does not include any side dishes or add-ons that will be needed for serving (such as tortillas, rice, bread, veggies, etc.) .  The meals were divided up with 2/3 for Kayte and 1/3 for Mary.  We each ended up with 15 entrees at an average cost of $4.18 for Kayte and $2.09 for Mary.  A side benefit was five links of cooked Italian sausage (makes a great sandwich especially if you add provolone cheese) and several portions of broth from the rio chicken and the also from the carnitas.  (The broth makes a wonderful base for rice, beans or soup.)  Most of these meals will also have leftovers that we will use for lunches the next day.

Some lessons learned: do as much prep before hand  as possible, such as chopping onions, mixing spice blends, etc.  These tasks can be divided up between everyone cooking and brought with them.  Figure out a game plan for cooking day – what order will recipes be prepared, who will do what.  I ended up doing most of the meat handling such as shredding the rio chicken and carnitas, chopping the raw chicken for cashew chicken, and mixing the raw hamburger for meat loaf and meatballs, since that grosses Kayte out.  Kayte mixed other ingredients, spice blends and sauces, cooked the recipes that needed to be cooked, and packaged (and photographed) the finished food.  The meatloaf and cashew chicken will need to be cooked on the day of serving, and everything else will just need to be briefly heated. Here is a run down of what we prepared:

Rio chicken in pressure cooker
Packaged up, broth in jars

 Rio chicken, fully cooked –  great as a filling for tacos or taquitos, or would be delicious on a bun.  A great side dish, especially with the tacos or taquitos, is rice cooked in the broth – no other seasoning needed.  This is a slow cooker recipe that we made in the pressure cooker.

Free form meatloaves ready for the oven

Meatloaf, frozen raw  – a wonderful Alton Brown recipe that you really should try even if you don’t like meatloaf.  His recipe says to smoke it, but it is good cooked in the oven instead.  In the interest of keeping the carbs low, we substituted BBQ pork rinds for the potato chips.  We also used ground beef only instead of the mixed meats to keep the cost down.  A double recipe was made and divided into 3 large loaves for Kayte and 3 small ones for Mary.  The glaze for the tops (to be added before cooking) was packaged in small ziplock bags and packaged with each loaf.

Chicken & sauce in baggies, cashews packaged separately

Cashew chicken, frozen raw in sauce – needs brief cooking before serving, cashews packaged separately and included with each bag of the chicken and sauce, to be added right before serving.  We both add some veggies, usually broccoli or a stir fry mix, quickly sautéed, but we always have something on hand that we can quickly grab and add when we prepare for serving. 
Spaghetti sauce & Italian sausage
Spaghetti sauce, fully cooked – I don’t really have a recipe for this.  I combine any combination of tomato sauce, canned tomatoes (break up if using whole), fresh tomatoes (whatever I have on hand or is cheapest), diced onion, minced garlic, Italian seasoning, and Italian sausage (optional).  Everything goes into the slow cooker and cooks as long as possible.  It can also be done on the stovetop, once again cooking as long as possible and stirring often.  The Italian sausage can be eaten with the spaghetti or makes a great sandwich, especially if you add some good provolone cheese.
Meatballs

Meatballs, fully cooked – once again, I don’t really have a recipe.  Let me know if you need one by commenting, and I will try to write down how I make them.  Usually I use bread crumbs, but in the interest of going low carb, we substituted almond meal.  We used 3 pounds of ground beef for the meatballs, and baked them in the oven without browning in a skillet first.  The meatballs ended up being pretty big (I was getting tired and just wanted to get them finished!).  If they had been more normal size, we would have had more packages.  We will put them in our spaghetti sauce, but they could also be used for Swedish meatballs or other recipes.

Carnitas, ready for the freezer
Carnitas, fully cooked – this is the best tasting and easiest recipe I have ever found for pulled pork or tacos.  The linked recipe calls for making your own tomatillo salsa, but I use Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde.  It can also be used as enchilada or taquito filling.
Freezer meals all together

In the freezer

Here is the end result of our cooking session. We are starting to plan our next one, gathering recipes and watching sale ads.  Give us your feedback and any tips you may have to make it more efficient.
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