Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Four Fantastic Freezer Meals (Freezer Meals part 1)

****UPDATE: Check out my second post on Freezer Meals HERE with even more great meals! ****

Ok, so the discovery of the ziploc bag freezer meals has been a revelation for me.

Sure, I've read up on OAMC (Once A Month Cooking -- see, I know the lingo!). I've read through the
immense grocery lists and all-day task list in order to prepare 42 meals at one shot.

None of this really appealed to me.  It all seemed like, well, too much work.  And isn't that the point of this?  To save yourself some extra work and time?  I'm sure it works great for some people.  I just could never get it in gear enough to do all that.

But then I stumbled on a post on a blog over at When the Dinner Bell Rings entitled "dump chicken".  Doesn't sound all that delicious, but the concept was intriguing.  Fill a ziploc with 4-8 pieces of chicken, add some other ingredients, toss it in the freezer, and you are all set for dinner, just thaw, cook any way you like, and throw some sides on there.  Easy, and manageable.  A totally doable way to get dinner on the table.

I soon started trying other recipes.  Crockpot recipes. Tried and true old recipes that I thought "hey, this could work in the freezer".  New recipes that could be modified to work with this method.  I now have a small arsenal of freezer recipes that go beyond just chicken, and that make my life SO much easier.

Do we eat these meals every night?  No.  Some nights I cook something different.   But it's nice to have these ready to fill in the gaps.  Crazy day?  Pull out some Citrus-Ginger pork chops to thaw.  Call from husband saying we'll have guests for dinner tonight?  Throw some beef-broccoli in the crockpot and spend the rest of the day making the house presentable. (ha!)

The four recipes I've chosen today are all really flavorful and easy.  We've got Crock-Pot Beef Broccoli, Citrus-Ginger Pork Chops, Herb-Wine Chicken, and Lime-Coconut Chicken.
Reading comments on a lot of different "Freezer Meal" recipes across the web, I have seen a lot of confusion about how exactly to do it.  So let's break it down....

The Step-By-Step

Pick your recipes, shop

How this works for me:  I pick usually 4 or 5 recipes for freezer meals.  (I promise to post more of these recipes later).  We buy chicken and pork chops in bulk and then add in any extras like beef.  I usually have most ingredients on hand, but may have to put a couple items on the shopping list.  

Many of these recipes can be used with any kind of chicken - breasts, thighs, legs, whatever, or also it could be used with pork chops.  Some recipes I've even used cubed chicken or pork to serve over rice or pasta.

A great thing about a lot of these recipes is that the amount of meat you use is really flexible.  So I can have a couple of bags with just two or three pork chops, which I would use on a regular night for just me and the husband.  And then I might have a couple of bags of 4 or 6 pieces of chicken or pork that I would pull out when we have others over for dinner. I just write the number of pieces right on the bag so I don't have to try and count how many chicken breasts are in there when it's one frozen block.

Fill the bags and freeze

When we get home with the groceries, I pull out the ziploc bags, a sharpie, and a small-ish drink pitcher.  

First I label the bag, plus add any notes about extra additions or extra steps in the recipe right onto the bag.   

Then I put the bag in the drink pitcher with the top of the bag folded over.   So the pitcher holds the bag for me while I'm dumping stuff in.  Maybe you are more coordinated than me and can hold a plastic bag full of raw meat and then add ingredients to it without spilling all over the counter.  Me?  Not so much.  

So then I add the meat, then the rest of the ingredients.  Close the bag, push the air out, stack laying flat in the freezer, and I'm done.

Thaw and Cook

This is the thawed Herb-Wine Chicken before cooking.

The night before, or the morning of, I take a bag out of the freezer and let it thaw.  Once it's thawed, I put it in the fridge until I'm ready to cook.    Most of the crockpot meals can go right into the crockpot frozen.  You just have to thaw it enough to get it out of the bag.  

Then all that's left is to cook it.   Some recipes, like the beef-broccoli, is specifically for the crock-pot.  But the Herb-Wine and the Citrus-Ginger could be cooked however you'd like.  I usually like to cook them in a hot oven or in a frying pan on the stove top.  Grilling is a great option too.  I'm sure you could make them in the crock-pot, but you would lose the nice browning you get with the other methods.

Here is the cooked Herb-Wine Chicken.  I baked these in a hot oven (maybe like 375F) because I like that browning action you see here.

Of course, with all of these recipes, you also have the option to cook them immediately, without freezing at all.  I sometimes make a recipe double, cook one immediately and freeze the other.

 The Recipes


Recipe from When the Dinner Bell Rings

4-8 Pieces of Chicken or pork (The above photo is pork chop)
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
I also like to add slices of any citrus I've got on hand -- lime, lemon, or orange

Put all ingredients in a Ziploc bag.  Remove any air in the bag and seal.  Freeze.

Thaw the night before or the morning before your dinner.  Discard marinade and cook either in the oven, in a frying pan, or on the grill to desired done-ness.



Recipe adapted from www.justapinch.com

1 pound (= 1/2 kilo = 500 grams) beef, sliced thin *
1 cup beef broth (or 1 cup water + 1 Tablespoon beef bullion)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
+ about one head broccoli cut into florets, give or take

Put all ingredients except the broccoli in the freezer bag.  Add a note to the outside of the bag to add steamed/cooked broccoli at the end.  Cook in crockpot 6-8 hours on LOW.  

Take a screwtop jar, and add 1/3 cup cold water and 3 Tablespoons cornstarch (4 if you are using potato starch, Ukraine friends).  Shake it up so it's thoroughly mixed.  Pour into the crockpot and switch to HIGH.  Cook 30 more minutes or til the sauce has thickened somewhat.

Steam the broccoli and stir in at the end. 

*In America = chuck roast.
*In Ukraine, I used the stuff already sliced up and labeled "for beef stroganoff"



Recipe adapted from Chaos in the Kitchen

4-6 Chicken breasts, pounded flat
zest of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup coconut milk
pinch of cayenne pepper

Put all ingredients into a Ziploc bag.  Remove air from bag and freeze.

The night before or the morning of your meal, thaw the chicken.  Cook in a small amount of oil in a frying pan, browning both sides.  Cook to desired done-ness.



4-6 pieces of chicken (or pork)
1 cup white wine
2/3 cup oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 lemon, sliced thinly
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley
1 teaspoon each dried thyme and basil*
salt and pepper

Put all ingredients in a freezer Ziploc.  Remove air and freeze.

Thaw the night before or morning of the meal.  Discard marinade.  Cook the meat on grill, in oven or in frying pan to desired done-ness.

*This recipe is fine with dried herbs, but I seriously LOVE this recipe when I can get fresh thyme and basil.  In which case, you would use more like one or two Tablespoons of each.