Welcome back to Meredith’s Adventure in Freezer Meals, Part 2. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
It’s the 15th of the month, so let’s see how this last week has worked out. We ended up having to rearrange the menu quite a bit. My husband was originally going to be in school on Monday & Tuesday nights this semester. He rearranged his schedule and will now only be gone on Tuesday nights! That’s great news for our family, but bad news for our adventurous dinner plans on Monday nights. I’d prefer that he be home and eat dinner with us, so I’m moving things around!
7 – Slow Cooker Chili – We skipped this one. We had so much other leftover food that we just decided to keep this in the freezer for another day.
8 – Spaghetti, garlic bread & salad – This was one of our basic low-budget dinners. We just used a box of Barilla Linguine (I don’t like spaghetti noodles. They’re too slimy.), a jar of Hunt’s sauce (with extra spices added), some Great Value Texas Toast (We use half a box and limit ourselves to one slice each, or we’d be in big trouble. We love that stuff!), and a kale/spinach/brussel’s sprouts salad mix from Costco. We decided that the Hunt’s sauce is a little too acidic for our taste. We’ll go back to our Western Family original spaghetti sauce next time. The Hunt’s sauce is a savings of $0.50/jar but the flavor is worth the price difference when the sauce is the focus of the meal.
9 – We skipped cooking tonight. Thomas picked up In & Out. I wasn’t feeling great and really just needed a night off from everything.
10 – Chicken Pot Pie Cupcakes This was originally scheduled for the 9th, but I wasn’t feeling well, so I moved it to the 10th. Because of my food allergies, I couldn’t make this recipe as it was written, but I took the concept and applied it to something I could eat. Basically, I cooked chicken breast and instead of cream of chicken soup, I made a white sauce using almond milk and chicken broth. I learned that white sauces made using chicken broth & almond milk don’t defrost well. They kind of separate back out. The flavor was REALLY good, but the mixture was so wet that it made the little crusts soggy. Next time, I would par-bake the crusts, then add the filling. I may even heat the mixture and add some flour to thicken it up before I put it in the oven. They were really good! I will definitely make them again.
11 – Potato Soup – I originally had this on the menu, but the kids didn’t feel like eating soup. So I left this in the freezer and pulled out the Ham & Scalloped Potatoes that I originally had scheduled for the 10th. Thomas and the kids loved them! This ended up being a great day for this meal. I had church meetings all day and wasn’t planning to eat with the family, so I just defrosted this in the microwave and threw it in a casserole dish in the oven. I kept the lid on until the potatoes were cooked almost through and then took the lid off and let it cook until there was a crust on top. It smelled so good. This is one of those simple menu items that I don’t use a recipe for. I just peeled and sliced potatoes, added 2 cans cream of chicken soup, 1 can of milk, some seasonings and a bag of cheddar cheese. I added in some ham I had frozen from the previous Sunday’s dinner. This made a TON of food. There was enough for Thomas and the kids to have good-sized dinners and three large lunch portions for this week.
12 – Slow Cooker Beef with Broccoli & Rice – Since it was the college football championships tonight, and Thomas doesn’t like the smell of soy sauce, we skipped this recipe tonight. We had calzones from our favorite local pizza place. These things are huge and they have a vegan option with Daiya cheese. It was so good.
13 – Hawaiian Chicken, brown rice – My older daughter had a stomach virus this day, and since Hawaiian chicken is her favorite, we skipped this and cooked the Slow Cooker Beef with Broccoli & Rice that was scheduled the night before. I prepared this one a bit differently than the recipe called for, and I love how it turned out. I don’t like soggy broccoli so I knew I didn’t want to cook it all day with the meat. When I was preparing the freezer bags, I placed the broccoli in the gallon freezer bag. Then, in a quart-sized freezer bag I put the meat & marinade. I zipped the quart-sized bag and placed it in the gallon-sized bag of broccoli and froze it just like that. The meat & sauce cooked on low for five hours, then I steamed the broccoli and served it with white rice per my other daughter’s request. It was really good! I did alter the recipe for this one quite a bit as well. Instead of using beef stew chunks, I cut cheap cuts of steak into really thin strips of beef like normal stir-fry strips. For the sauce, I used 2 cups of Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki sauce & 2 cloves of garlic. I had a giant bottle of that sauce from Costco. I know we love the flavor, and it needed to be used. I highly recommend it. Next time I might add a little water to the sauce to cut the salt level and then thicken it just a bit with a cornstarch/water mixture. This would also be great with some other stir-fried veggies.
14 – Tortellini Lasagna with garlic bread – We actually made this on the 14th, on it’s regularly scheduled day! I spent the evening at puppy training classes with our naughty little cocker spaniel/ golden retriever mix, Charlie. So, I defrosted dinner, threw it in a casserole dish in the oven and headed out to rehabilitate our rescue dog. My husband took the pan out of the oven and fed the kids. They said it was really good. My husband did say that it was dry, but that could possibly be due to it getting left in the oven too long… This is another one of my no-recipe throw-together meals that my family loves. I buy a bag of mini-cheese ravioli or tortellini. My husband prefers ravioli. I grew up eating this with tortellini. You can use whatever you want. If you are cooking this in your crockpot, use a freezer bag to prepare this recipe. If you are baking this in the oven, I suggest a disposable pan. That’s what I’ll use next time. Pour the uncooked ravioli in the bottom of the pan. In a bowl, mix together a jar of spaghetti sauce (we used a large can of Hunt’s sauce), a 16oz container of cottage or ricotta cheese (we use cottage cheese), a 2-cup bag of mozzarella or Italian cheese and a cup of water. Pour the liquidish mixture on top of the ravioli and freeze. When you are ready to prepare it, just cook it like a lasagna. I sprinkle a little extra cheese on top. Cover it for the first 40 minutes of cooking, then uncover and let it all firm up. You want a cheesy soft lasagna consistency with a slightly crunchy top. If you want to make this a more hearty meal, you could always add cooked ground beef or sausage. The sauce didn’t seem too acidic in this recipe.
15 – Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans – I actually made this tonight and it was delicious! I don’t really have a recipe for my meatloaf either. But I did learn something of vital importance tonight. Do NOT oversalt your freezer meals. In fact, maybe don’t add much salt at all to your freezer meals before you freeze them. The salt intensifies to the point that you might not be interested in leftovers. We all ate the meatloaf tonight but no one was interested in keeping it until tomorrow. And that is unheard of in our family. Basically, I put 1 lb of ground beef in a freezer bag, added 1 cup of oatmeal (it holds up better to freezing and defrosting than bread or cracker crumbs), 2 cloves garlic, onion powder (not salt), 2 teaspoons-ish season salt, 1 Tablespoon McCormick brown gravy mix, 1 teaspoon-ish of Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup ketchup, and 1 egg. Then I squished it all together until it was mixed through, squeezed the air out of the bag, laid it out flat and froze it like that. I defrosted it overnight. This afternoon, I scooped the meatloaf mixture into a loaf pan, covered it with foil and baked it at 400 degrees for about an hour. Then I pulled the foil off, coated the top in ketchup and put it back in the oven for 15-20 minutes. I like the edges crispy all the way around. Next time, I will leave out the season salt and Worcestershire and add it after it defrosts, before I put it in the oven.
We are all really enjoying having meals ready to eat each evening. For the most part, they’re great meals and take so much less work than fully preparing meals start to finish each night. Tonight, I had the kids peel potatoes while I washed and cut them and put them in the pan. I cleaned up some other things while the potatoes cooked, then I spent 10 minutes mashing the potatoes, making gravy and steaming green beans. It really didn’t take a whole lot of effort and we were able to have a great family dinner. And I love that I can still involve the kids in the daily cooking process. I am actually finding that it’s easier to involve the kids in the cooking process. If I were trying to mix up the meatloaf I wouldn’t have the counter space to have the kids peeling potatoes at the same time. I’m finding that by having the main part of the meal prepared ahead of time, I’m much less stressed about the whole process.
Lessons learned this week… my family really doesn’t like soup so I’ll do fewer of these next month, USE LESS SALT, and don’t be afraid to personalize recipes to your taste. If you don’t like soggy broccoli, don’t put it in the crockpot.
You can check out all of my Freezer Meals posts here.