Grrr!! Today is the perfect example of why I haven't been blogging much! I got Anabelle down for a nap at a time that gave me about an hour of free time before Naomi's bus gets home. I was torn- catch up on blogging (which is what I wanted to do) or be a bit more productive and organize my calendar for the coming month including meal planning etc. Well, I opted for the blogging, and here I sit almost 45 minutes later. That's how long it's taken for iPhoto to upload (very few) pictures and Safari to actually agree to open the webpages I needed opened. My computer is on it's last leg and I'm so thankful to even have one, but it's so frustrating to have simple things take so long. So again, grrr!!!
This isn't really the post I planned to write, but now that my time is a bit more limited than I thought, I'll just go with it.
Over the past year since we bought our freezer, I've tried out several variations of freezer cooking and am gradually coming up with something that best suits our family. I thought I'd summarize here what is best working for me since reading a variety of other people's approaches is what has been most helpful to me. If you want, you can check out this post that I did last year as I had just began trying to figure out what was going to work for us.
I've discovered that I'm not that big of a fan of a lot of the freezer crock pot meals. The veggies get a bit too mushy for our taste OR they call for large amounts of meat that we really can't afford here. If you are interested in the freezer to crockpot meals, click here for my favorite website. The savory beef and vegetable soup is really good and I actually do it without the ground beef. The balsamic onion pot roast is AMAZING and is South Beach diet friendly. When we are able to find good cuts of beef, this is definitely our top choice. This month I tried a thai coconut chicken that's a freezer to crockpot recipe. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Otherwise, I've been trying to take one or two days a month (usually just a morning while the big girls are in school) to stock the freezer in a way that makes overall meal prep easier and also cuts down our grocery budget. Here's what's been working for me...
MEAT: I have pretty much stopped buying boneless/skinless chicken breasts. Instead I opt for whole chickens that I usually cook all at once either overnight in the crockpot or on the stove. I throw in celery stalks, carrots, onions and spices and freeze the resulting broth as well.
I either use the chicken right away in favorite casseroles that I freeze, or I'll freeze it by itself in 2 cup portions. Casseroles like chicken pot pie, chicken spaghetti, curry chicken and broccoli are some of our favorites. I also do A LOT of soups. Especially in the winter. Here is my cooking blog with some of our favorites like Hearty Italian Chicken Soup, Lemon Chicken Soup and Chicken Tortilla Soup.
I also buy frozen packages of chicken thighs. I have several crockpot recipes that call for putting chicken thighs on top of veggies and/or sauce and then you shred the meat just prior to serving.
On the rare occasion that I buy boneless/skinless breasts, I love using this marinade for chicken or beef (also South Beach friendly). I cut the chicken in strips and freeze it in the marinade and then it's easy to cook up as a topping for dinner portion salads (one of our favorites also that the girls have dubbed "make your own salads") or to saute along with fresh veggies as a meal.
I don't buy much beef anymore but if I do come across ground beef that I like the looks of, I'll usually cook it in advance on my cooking day to use in tacos or spaghetti or I'll go ahead and make up sloppy joes to have for a quick school night meal. And some of our favorite casseroles are pasta dishes like lasagna, and this freezes well. Our first few years overseas, I never made lasagna because my favorite recipe called for cottage cheese which is outlandishly expensive IF you can find it, which is a big if. I discovered a few years ago that I can substitute labneh (the local version of sour cream but better) for cottage cheese in my lasagna recipe and we all love it.
VEGGIES and BEANS
It's a lot cheaper here to buy dry beans and cook them in bulk and freeze them in 2 cup portions for use in soups and salads as opposed to buying cans of beans (which are readily available just expensive). I soak them overnight (if I remember) then cook them for several hours. I do this with black, red and white beans, chick peas and occasionally pinto beans.
Fresh produce is fairly readily available here and actually mostly inexpensive. I try to keep chopped red and green peppers in the freezer to throw in recipes. I also peel and slice carrots and cucumbers to keep in the fridge for school lunches and snacks. Fresh fruit is seasonal here so I try to stock up on whatever is in season and freeze it in portions for smoothies. This most recent round of cooking, I did mangoes and peaches in smoothie sized portions for the freezer.
BAKING/GRAINS I'm still figuring this one out. I've tried several recipes that are muffin cup portions of oatmeal but haven't settled on one that I love. I always try and keep several loaves of some type of breakfast bread in the freezer along with muffins. Some favorites include banana bread, pumpkin bread, bran muffins, apricot/orange muffins and applesauce muffins. I don't have many of these recipes readily available online (I'm still pretty old school when it comes to cooking and mostly use cookbooks or recipes written on index cards in my recipe box), but if you message me, I'd love to send you any of the recipes. I also try and keep several pie crusts on hand in the freezer. I have a great recipe that makes 3 at once. I use these for quiches, quick desserts and pot pies. (a lot of these recipes can be found here at my already mentioned cooking blog). Here is my favorite pancake recipe to keep in the freezer. These cinnamon oat pancakes freeze well and make a great quick breakfast. I don't have a bread machine but I have tried out several homemade bread recipes. I haven't done this much and don't have any favorites yet but am open to suggestions. If I have time I try and keep homemade tortillas in the freezer as well. Many of these things that I don't get to on one of the days that I set aside for cooking, I'll try and do along with fixing a meal on any given day and sometimes that's easier anyway.
MISCELLANEOUS Most of these things may only apply if you live overseas, but they have helped me cut down on time and money in our kitchen. The dinner hour (or 2 or 3) can be such a crazy time that anything I can do in advance to cut corners helps.
For example: chocolate chips... Ridiculously expensive here. I buy large bars of chocolate and cut them up into cup sized portions to keep in the freezer to quickly grab for an after school snack or dessert.
Spices here come in boxes in ziploc bags that are really annoying once opened. I keep them in baby food jars in my spice cabinet and it's so much more convenient.
I've found online recipes for things like taco seasoning mix, ranch dressing mix and instant chocolate pudding that are helpful to have made up and on hand.
I'm definitely still learning and would love to hear what works for you in your kitchen.