Power Freezer Cooking Session: Meats, Veggies and So Much More!

I finally found time last week to get in another freezer cooking session. I did this one a little differently in that in the “down time” of waiting for some things to cook, I maximized my time by preparing snacks and cutting up veggies that we’ll all use during the week. This helps cuts down on even more time I spend in the kitchen the week after the freezer cooking session.

Now when it comes to freezer cooking, I always remind my readers that you don’t need to do large freezer cooking sessions. You’ll hear of some people taking an entire weekend to do a month’s worth of meals or a full-day, etc. But you can do one that lasts just a few hours or even something as simple as doubling a recipe or two throughout your normal week. Instead of making one casserole, make two and freeze one. Cooking up a pound of hamburger? – Cook two and freeze the other one for another day. Every little bit helps.

This last one I did lasted about 5-6 hours. Before I started, I made up a step-by-step plan of what I was going to do. Before I even started anything, I took out a bunch of pans, crockpots, bowls, measuring cups, etc that I was going to use so I wouldn’t need to dig for them later. If you have a smaller kitchen, you can always do this and put them in something like a Rubbermaid container until you are ready for them. It still saves time digging in all the cabinets. I also set up my non-refrigerated ingredients on one part of my dining room table so they are ready to go. All these things helps the freezer cooking session go a little more smooth. It can also help you see ingredients you might be missing like a spice or type of flour, etc.

Here’s a picture (above) of how my table was set-up before I started. All my ingredients at one end. This left the other side of the table free to bag up my things when they were done, etc.

The day before I did my freezer cooking session, I had taken my family out strawberry picking. I had cut off the tops of the strawberries of a bunch and put them on a cookie sheet in my freezer. I made sure to bag those up before I started and I’m now all set with strawberries for smoothies or frozen snacks.

The first thing you should always start with in your freezer cooking sessions are the things that take the longest. Since I do quite a few sessions, I now own two crockpots. Crockpots are a fairly inexpensive kitchen appliance and they come in handy when freezer cooking. Even during the week you can make your normal meal and have another going in a crockpot for time-saving meals. The first thing I made was a whole chicken in a crockpot. I had it cooking on high for around 4 hours, or until properly cooked. It will just basically fall off the bone when it’s done. I throw the bones back in and cook it for another 4-8 hrs, sometimes with some spices and cut-up veggies, and make my own broth.

The second thing I did was to peel some apples and make some Crockpot Applesauce. Since the recipe only makes around 4 servings, I tripled it. What I didn’t realize is….I forgot to plug my crockpot in. HUGE mistake. Thankfully it didn’t throw me off too far as I caught it about an hour into the session. Crockpot Applesauce smells delicious and I should have caught it sooner that it wasn’t cooking.

I then moved on to some stove cooking. I had a pan of hard-boiled eggs going on one side in the back and some pasta shells in the other. In the two front burners, I had two pounds of hamburger on one side and two pounds of pork on the other. You can read my posting on freezer cooking meat in bulk for more on this, and some pans/gadgets I recommend for making cooking/chopping all that meat a little easier. The meat is nice to have on hand for tacos, burritos, soups, chilis, casseroles, etc. It’s one less pan to deal with when you make these during the week and you can usually make a quick meal by just adding a few ingredients to them.


When these were done cooking, I placed them on my kitchen table that I had set-up with a heavy towel and lots of pot holders and trivets to keep the heat from burning my towel and/or table. I usually call this my “cooling station.” This is where I let everything cool down enough so I can put them into the freezer bags/containers. If you put them in when everything is still warm, you’ll have more of a chance of getting freezer burn on your foods. Also, you should never put warm items into plastic items as it can sometimes leach into your food.

It was about this time that I started cooking some bacon in the microwave on my microwave bacon cooker. In between bacon intervals, I made some baggies up of quick cooking rolled oats, following their sizes on the package. Next time though, I think I’ll make them half that size as it makes a lot of oatmeal. It was nice to have these ready to go in the morning as all I had to do was pour it pre-measured into a bowl and add some water and microwave it for a quick breakfast.  I also added some frozen strawberries and a little honey for more flavor. I like the Bob Red’s Mill brand of quick cooking rolled oats, if you are looking for one to try. I kept my snack bags after I used them so I can get another use out of them.

At this time I also made up some non-refrigerated snacks for our week. When the kids were little, I used Gerber Bowls for their baby food. I kept them and use them for our snacks now, as they have lids and are a good size.  This time, snacks included Triscuits, Pretzels, Organic Cookies and Goldfish Crackers. When our snack time rolled around, I just pulled out the bowls and added some fruit or cheese to them. Saved some time mid-day during the week.

OK, I now have bacon cooked and ready for the week. All I have to do is give them a quick re-heat in the microwave later. If after a few days we have a lot left, I will freeze them. (We never seem to have any left!) The bacon can be used for breakfast, for BLTs, as salad toppers, in pasta dishes, in soup that I’ll freeze, etc.

I now took time to wash up some sweet potatoes. I pierced them with a fork and then wrapped them in foil and baked them at 350 for around 40-60 minutes. Just until they were soft enough for the fork to go through it easily.

While the sweet potatoes were cooking in the oven, I chopped up some veggies. Some of these I’ll use for snacks throughout the week. Others will be “blanched” and frozen for veggie side dishes. And others I kept aside in a bowl for the soup that I planned on making the next day.  You only chop once and then have multiple uses! I often cut up an entire stalk of celery and keep it in a container with water in the fridge. We use these as quick snacks and as part of veggie side dish for lunches. Same with carrots. Some of them I chopped into sticks. If you choose Organic carrots, they are often skinnier and work perfect for snack sticks. Some of the carrots I chopped into slices for blanching and for the soup.

In this session, I chopped carrots, celery, onions, green peppers, green beans and the tops off snow pea pods. The onions and peppers were cut in slices for a fajita mix. You can also see the bowl of a mix of these that I made for soup.

Once the veggies were cut, I started cutting up some various meats. I cut up a few pounds of boneless/skinless Organic chicken into pieces for chicken nuggets. I also cut up some type of steak-cut for fajita meat. And lastly, I cut up some ground sausage into slices for patties and small pieces for pizza toppings.

Around this time, I bagged up some of my food I had already cooked and I also mashed up the sweet potatoes. I’ll use these as a veggie side dish. You can top them with a little cinnamon–or if you want to go an unhealthier route, you can add some butter and a few marshmallows. I keep ours pretty simple, though.

Moving on, I cooked up the fajita meat and sausage. Since the chicken nuggets take a little more focus, I did those afterwards. For whatever reason, I didn’t take pics of “blanching” the veggies, which I did next. You can find instructions for most veggies at Pick-Your-Own. The basic concept, like these green beans, is to cook them for a few minutes and then drain them and put them in cold water right away to stop the cooking process. I haven’t had any issues just taking these out of the freezer, defrosting them and then microwaving for a quick side dish later.  The sausage patties worked nicely reheated later for a quick breakfast paired with a hard boiled egg and some fruit, etc.

Here’s a picture of the “cooling station” again. You can see I have the mashed sweet potatoes, chicken nuggets, fajita meat, sausage and shredded chicken cooling. Right before I took this, I realized my chicken was done and I pulled it out of the crockpot and pulled off the meat. I threw the bones back into the crockpot, with some spices/veggies, and set it to make some broth.

I wanted to mention that when your foods are cooked, instead of putting everything into a freezer bag or into the fridge, you can take a little time to make up some lunches for the week, too. I found these divided containers and I really love them. They are a bit more expensive than the plastic ones you’ll find at the store but they are a thicker, BPA-Free plastic and I think there’s a chance that they might last longer. The lids are also colored and I gave each of us our own color to use. While things were cooler earlier, I made up some pasta ones that I could use for lunch during the week. You can see the second photo of a quick lunch later in the week. I love using Eden Organic Pasta/Pizza Sauce to make it a quick meal that I can just microwave. These containers work great for picnics or for making your own healthier version of a “Lunchable.”

I had also set some sliced strawberries on a cookie sheet to “flash freeze” and put those in freezer bags when they were done. These make for great toppings for pancakes, waffles, yogurt, cereal, etc. Great way to save money when they are out-of-season, too!

I also took time later on to cut up some various fruits so I could make these…….

flavored waters. I thought they turned out pretty good. Now if you are used to sugary drinks, you’ll probably want to add some sugar to them when you use them. I found myself drinking more water that next week due to having these ready to go.


Later that night when the broth was done, I let it cool and put it in the fridge. The following day, I took the bowl of veggies I had pre-chopped, some pasta, some hamburger I had kept aside in a dish, bacon, a handful of mushrooms and some broth and made some homemade soup. I took what was left and froze them in individual servings for future lunches. Good soup without all the extra sodium and preservatives that most canned soups have.

Here’s most of the end result of the cooking session. I ended up with oatmeal packets, pre-made snack bowls, veggies cut-up for snacks/side-dishes, blanched veggies for side dishes, bacon for all the uses I mentioned earlier, mashed sweet potatoes, 2 lbs of cooked hamburger, 2 lbs of cooked pork, sausage patties, sausage for pizza, homemade chicken nuggets, several fajita mixes, strawberries for smoothies/toppings, chicken for all sorts of uses, homemade broth, homemade soup, hard boiled eggs for many uses, pasta for lunch/soup/mac n cheese etc, flavored waters and very delicious homemade applesauce! Note: Not everything is pictured here.

I’ve been trying to remember to take pics of the meals I make with these for a later segment so you can see what I used them all for. I’m hoping that this might encourage you to set aside a day and do a freezer cooking session of your own! Just make sure that you have a plan in place before you start. The best way to get the most of a session is to use your downtime for things such as chopping veggies or making up some snacks, etc.

You can also read my past postings on freezer cooking, including one on how to get started. Make sure you plan a longer freezer cooking session for a day when you have enough free time to finish. The one I showed you above took me maybe 6 hours for most of it and I had a plan in place.

Hope you have fun freezer cooking and enjoy finding a new way of saving time on homemade meals throughout the week! One of my favorite things about freezer cooking is that I tend to have fewer dishes to wash in the weeks that follow! :)

Freezer Cooking: Cooking Meat in Bulk

One of the big reasons we fall trap to unhealthier convenience foods is lack of time. I totally understand how it’s so much easier to just cook up something quick because our days can become so incredibly busy that we run out of steam by the time fixing dinner comes around.

This is one reason that I’ve tried to push myself back into “freezer cooking.” On the days when I have a little more energy and time, I can make up a few extra meals and all I have to do is defrost them later. A great thing to help get ahead for the week is to cook meat in bulk and freeze some for later when time is limited. I started doing this several years ago and it’s become a fairly big time-saver throughout the week.

On the nights when I have dinner already in a crockpot or when I already have to cook up a pound of hamburger, I take a little extra time and cook up several pounds of meat! If you have a pan that will hold a few pounds, it actually doesn’t take up much extra time. If you are looking for a new pan, I highly recommend the Cuisinart Everyday Pan with Dome Cover. I’ve owned one for 5 years now and it still looks like new. I can easily cook up two pounds of meat in one. I just recently picked up a second one so I could double the amount of meat I could cook in one session–and I use it for practically everything else, too.

Here’s one of my last freezer cooking quick sessions:

The day before, I made sure to thaw out 4 lbs of meat. I decided to mix it up and do two each of pork and beef. I divided 2 lbs into each of my pans and took a picture of the clock:

When the meat was cooked, I chopped it up with a Mix N Chop from Pampered Chef. This tool has come in handy for chopping up meat quickly! When everything was cooked (and after dealing with the “Mommy Factor” of having to stop and help the kids with something) I took a picture of the clock again:

It took me under 15 minutes to cook and chop up 4 lbs of meat and I ended up with this:

Now before I had started my freezer cooking session, I had added all the ingredients (minus the meat) to a crockpot for the Taco Chili Recipe. So when the meat was cooked and cooled a bit, I added in one pound each of beef and pork. It wasn’t too much longer and our chili was ready.

In the meantime, I took the 2 lbs of cooled meat that was leftover and put them in freezer-safe containers in one pound portions:

I’m going to save these for a later date. All I have to do is put them in the fridge the day before to thaw and I can quickly heat them up to use for:

Tacos
Chili
Casseroles
Goulash
Vegetable Beef Soup

Or any other recipe that requires pre-cooked beef/pork. Just add a few other ingredients for dinner to be done! We also had plenty of chili leftover from dinner. I put them in three freezer-safe containers. My hubby ended up taking one to work the next day and the other two I put in the freezer for later:

One of the containers I used was a Ziploc divided container. When my hubby needs another quick lunch for work, he can defrost it the night before in the fridge and then throw in some cheese and crackers in the side containers and he’s all set. I also have another larger container for another lunch or to use for chili dogs or topping for a potato bar night, etc.

As you can see, taking a little time on the days when you have just a little bit of extra time can help you out on the days when you are extra busy. You can also put your cooled meat in freezer Ziploc bags. Just lay them flat and you’ll be able to easily stack them in the freezer. You now have some “convenience food” ready to go without all the extra unhealthy things added to it.

Hope this helps save you a little time if you try it! I’ve found that cooking meat in bulk can be a huge time-saver for us!

How to Make Pizza Loaf

About 12 years ago, I found a recipe in a Taste of Home magazine that has become quite a favorite of mine over the years. It’s one for making a Pizza Loaf. I remember making one and bringing it in to work to share and everyone needed a photo copy of the recipe before the day was over.

I’m happy to see that they’ve posted the Pizza Loaf Recipe on their site. You can go there to get all the ingredients and tips for it. I made one recently and I took some pictures so you could have a step-by-step visual for it. You can make your own dough, but the nice part of this recipe is that you can just buy frozen dough at your store and let it thaw to save you some time. It goes fairly quickly after the dough is ready.


Spray your cookie sheet and roll out your dough.


Mix up the ingredients from the recipe and spread it across the dough.


Add on any toppings that you want. We used pepperoni, fresh mushrooms, olives, green peppers and yellow pepper rings for this one. The pepperoni is straight from the butcher and so good!


Next, top it with cheese. I used mozzarella in this one.


Here comes the tricky part. You need to start at one end and begin to carefully roll it up into a loaf, tucking in the sides as you go. But be careful not to stretch the top too thin and create a hole or your toppings will ooze out. You are going to lay it seam side down in the middle of the cookie sheet when you are done rolling it. And then brush with egg whites.


This is the finished cooked product. It didn’t brown up quite as much as some have in the past. But still delicious!


Next you cut it into slices and then dip them into some pizza sauce.


I made a second one that was just veggies and shredded taco cheese. This was an extra for freezing for later. It didn’t take up much extra time to make a second.


I cut it up and put the slices in a stacking Lock n Lock Freezer Container. (There are actually two containers here, one stacked on top of the other.) I should be able to take one out when I need one for a spare lunch. I haven’t tried this before so we’ll see if it works! I’ve never had issues with freezing bread products so it should be fine. I’ll probably thaw in the fridge first, as that seems to work best with other bread products.

You can go to Taste of Home for the complete printable Pizza Loaf Recipe. I really do love the Taste of Home Magazine and have found several great recipes, such as this one, in there. I hope you end up liking it if you try it.

How to Freeze Fruit

A great way to save money is to buy items when they are in season and freezing them for a later date. I am a huge fan of fruit but it can really make the grocery bill add up fast. But there are times when fruit is on a really great sale and that’s when I stock up and freeze some.

While frozen fruit is no where near the same as fresh fruit, it can still make some delicious things, such as smoothies. My kids love them and I like that they are getting another portion of fruit for the day. I also love to add frozen fruit to oatmeal as it adds a little extra goodness to it.

I’ve found that fruit tends to freeze best when you “flash freeze” it first. While it will never hold quite the same form as fresh fruit, it’s usually your best bet to preserve the taste and help keep them from clumping together. When I flash freeze them, I can usually just pull out a few that I need later.

Flash freezing simply means taking the fruit and putting it on something, such as a clean cookie sheet, and letting it chill for awhile. Once it’s frozen solid, that’s when I add it to a Ziploc bag. Here are a few that I’ve tried it with:


We picked these blueberries this last summer. Had a fun outing and blueberries to enjoy most of the winter! Enjoyed them on pancakes/waffles, oatmeal, cereal, etc.


Pineapple – A whole pineapple always seems like too much for us to eat. So I cut up some of them into chunks, flash freeze them and use them in smoothies.


Strawberries – The cut-up pieces are what I took off some strawberries that were starting to get mushy. These work perfect in oatmeal, cereal, pancakes/waffles etc. The others, I just cored and will use those in smoothies. I just set the cookie sheet on top of the other stuff in my deep freezer and threw them in a Ziploc bag when they were solid.


Bananas – These are the over-ripe ones that I shared earlier. They stayed true to color and form for a few weeks. They did turn a smidge discolored after that.  Had I been thinking, I would have mashed them first, as I knew I was going to use them in banana bread. You could also cut them into chunks and flash freeze them for smoothies.

It’s very easy to freeze excess fruit or fruit you find on a great sale. You might even talk to the produce manager at your store to see when they discount slightly bruised fruit for extra savings.

What fruit have you tried to freeze? What ways have you found to use the fruit later?

Cooking a Whole Chicken in a Crockpot and Its Many Uses

whole-chicken-pic

I’ve come to learn that you can pretty much cook anything in a crockpot. One of my favorite simple recipes is cooking a whole chicken in one. Who would have thought that you could wash a chicken, throw it in a crockpot with some spices and be good to go. But it really is that simple.

And then when the chicken is all done, it literally falls off the bone to the point that you can barely scoop it out of the crockpot. As if that wasn’t enough, you can throw the bones back in, add a little water (and some spices/veggies if you want) and make your own homemade chicken broth.

When it comes to cooking the chicken, I keep mine very basic with just adding a little salt and pepper and maybe some garlic and here’s why. I often cook up a whole chicken, save some for a few meals that week and then freeze up pieces for later use. I don’t want the chicken to take on any one particular flavor since I like to use it in several dishes. Here are some of the ways that I use the chicken that I’ve cooked in the crockpot:


You should end up with a container of super moist chicken like this one which you can pull apart for…


Chicken Salad Toppers


Throw it in with pasta for extra protein


Homemade BBQ Chicken Pizza – (I recommend the pizza crusts and Organicville BBQ Sauce they have on Vitacost. They still have the $10 credit if you haven’t signed-up yet. They also have a Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Pizza Mix. All great ways to make quick pizza at home.)


And of course, you can make the chicken broth afterwards.

Other uses:
~Chicken Tacos
~Chicken Burritos/Wraps
~Chicken Sandwiches with Cheese Melted on Top
~Added to Stir-Fry Recipes

Here are the basic instructions:
1) Wash the chicken and remove any giblets inside.
2) Put chicken in crockpot. Spice it like you would one you cook in the oven. I simple sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Maybe adding some garlic.
3) Turn the crockpot on High for 4 hours. (Probably 8 hours on low, but I’ve never tried it.)
4) Either way, make sure it meets the proper temperature for chicken before you remove it.
5) When it’s done, you are going to have to be super careful getting it out of there. The thing will crumble fast! I use Oxo Good Grips Tongs and a fork to get it out and take off the meat. (after it’s cooled some!)
6) As I’m taking off the meat, I’m throwing any bones back into the crockpot, including the carcass.
7) Add water (and any spices/veggies–typically things like onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf, etc.) like you would making any broth. Mine takes about 5 cups of water Yours may vary.
8 ) Heat overnight on low or for several hours on high until you get a consistency you want.
9) Cool and freeze/refrigerate broth appropriately after it’s cooled.
10) Freeze any chicken meat you might not use that week.

If you want a recipe with more spices/details, just Google “Whole Chicken Crockpot” and you’ll get several recipes, enough reading for days, probably!

Hoping that you’ll be able to use this as a way to avoid convenience foods and get some quick meals on the table (and broth stored for homemade soup!) Just be sure that you use proper cooking and handling procedures when making this!

How do you make your chicken in a crockpot? What kinds of spices do you add? In what ways have you found to use in it meals? I’d love to hear all your tips!

Recipes: How to Make Tuna Lettuce Wraps

I was blog-hopping one day and somehow I stumbled onto this Tuna Salad Lettuce Wraps Recipe that has added a new, quick lunch to my weekly menu plans.

While, I’m not a big fan of mayo or mustard, I did take the idea of making a mix with Tuna and putting them down the middle of Romaine Lettuce Leaves. The mix is easy and the kids often help me make it. All you’ll need is salsa and a good quality tuna (My favorite is Wild Planet Tuna. It’s a bit pricier but oh so good!) I typically buy the salsa in the deli area. It seems to be fresher and has less additives.

All you do is put your tuna in a bowl and add a spoonful or two of salsa and mix together. You can also add a scoop of pickle relish, but it can tend to make it taste saltier. After it’s mixed, just add some of the mix down the middle of a Romaine lettuce leaf. You just fold in the sides and eat like any other lettuce wrap. It might be a little juicy so you might want to let it drip a second before you take a bite. The kids love these but they prefer theirs unwrapped and they call them “tuna boats.” (to which I say, whatever gets them to eat them, right?!) You could top with some cut-up olives for more color.

They are super quick to make and if you buy the right salsa, they can be fairly healthy. We usually just add a side of fruit and we are good to go for lunch.

You can take any leftover Romaine lettuce leaves and chop them up and store them in a Produce Saver so you’ll have salad ready to go for another meal.

I’m hoping that you end up liking them if you try them!  You can also check out my older posting on How to Make Asian Lettuce Wraps.

What types of foods have you made with Romaine Lettuce? Do you have a good homemade salsa recipe that you like to make?

UPDATE: My reader friend, Kim, shared that she has tried this with mashed up avocado and slivered almonds with the tuna and salsa and it was good. Can’t wait to try it! :)

Cooking With….Hard Boiled Eggs

Finding ways to use foods in various dishes throughout the week is another way to help you save money. So off and on, I’ll be highlighting in a “Cooking With…” posting on some foods I buy and how I use them and find time to squeeze them into my weekly routine.

I’ve found that for their cost, eggs can be a great way to stretch your budget a little farther. A dozen eggs can range in price from $1.50 – $4, depending on the brand and type you choose, with Organic eggs costing on the high-end. Ever since the first time I bought a dozen eggs at a farmer’s market, I’ve been completely hooked. While getting eggs directly from a farmer may increase the cost, to me, the taste is well worth the extra fee. I’m actually getting anxious for our farmer’s markets to open here in the next month or so for that very reason.

You can find all sorts of information on nutrition and recipes on the “Incredible Edible Egg” site. A great thing about eggs is that they are high in protein. One of my favorite ways to use them is as hard-boiled eggs. Here are a few ways I squeeze them in throughout the week:

Egg Smiley Snacks – Once I started making these, the kids ask for them all the time now. You simply cut a peeled hard-boiled egg in half for the eyes and then pick other items for the nose and mouth. In this example, I used a strawberry and blueberries. My daughter will actually choose this over chips several times. It’s OK to make food look cute if it gets them to eat it! :)

Salad Toppers – Sliced up hard-boiled eggs are a great addition to a blah salad.

Egg Salad Sandwiches – I was so happy when I found this Healthier Egg Salad Sandwich Recipe as a big reason I wouldn’t make this before was due to all the mayo. That recipe uses Greek yogurt instead, with just a touch of mayo for flavoring. I skip the food processor step and just use an OXO Good Grips Masher. My kids love helping to make the sandwiches. We now refer to the dill as “pickle powder” and somehow, that makes the sandwiches more edible. (kids!)

Here’s a great way to sneak these into your week as far as cooking time:

Before you go to wash your dishes, put a pot of eggs on to boil. (If you aren’t sure how to make them, I love this Hard-Boiled Egg Recipe. Works perfect for me.) By the time you are done with your regular dishes, the eggs should be done. You can then drain the pan, cool them and then store the eggs in a container in the fridge and then wash up the pan once it’s cooled. You are now set with some hard-boiled eggs for the week. I usually boil 6-7 at a time and then break it up like this: 2-3 eggs for smiley snacks, 1 egg for salad toppers and 3 eggs for sandwiches.

I’ve found this to be a great way to sneak in some snacks and a lunch and it really doesn’t take up any extra time. I often have dishes that don’t fit in our dishwasher and I just boil the eggs during the time that I’m washing those.

There are other ways to use hard-boiled eggs, such as deviled eggs, etc. With Easter coming up, I thought it would be a great time for everyone to share some ideas on how they use their hard-boiled eggs! Remember that you can keep your egg shells for gardening, too.

3/30/12 – Don’t forget that there’s that $.55 Off 2 dozen Eggs Coupon still available!