We’ve been busy these last few weeks. Like… REALLY busy. It is harvest season and we’ve been busy preparing veggies and other goodies to last us through the winter. Even though we lost nearly our entire garden due to an ill-timed vacation during a drought and severe heat wave, we’ve been fortunate to have a great farmer’s market and family gardeners to obtain delicious, organic produce from.
In addition to harvest season, next Tuesday is the first day back to school for many of our friends and family in the area. And, more importantly to our family, I’m starting a new job on Tuesday! This new job is a big change because I’ve been self-employed for the last few years. Going forward, I’ll continue to run my photography business as well as work four days a week for a non-profit located 30 minutes from my home.
Why is that relevant to this blog, you may ask? Good question. The biggest reason I share all that is because we tend to be lazy cooks several days a week. Even though I’m lucky my husband has learned to cook a variety of meals in the last few years (a big improvement from when we first got married and I cooked EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT.), I know there will be days when he won’t want to make dinner and I’ll get home too late to prepare a tasty meal from scratch. And since one of our major goals this year was to rely less on convenience foods and restaurants, we needed to think this through.
Solution? Freezer meals. Some of these meals have been prepared from scratch specifically for the freezer. Some of them have been a double recipe of what we had for dinner, with the second half of the meal being frozen for later. I’ve been working on these freezer meals for an hour or two every couple of days for the last week. Here’s a list of what we have so far.
- Chili. We made a huge batch for dinner one night and froze 2/3 of the batch. We froze this in gallon ziploc freezer bags and froze each bag flat so it will store easily in the freezer. They are also easy to thaw in the fridge this way.
- Mini-meatloafs. These were thrown together with several pounds of grass-fed beef we bought from a local farmer earlier this year. It is SO GOOD. We use oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs, add fresh local onions, garlic, and herbs, and shape into mini loaves. After wrapping in cling wrap, we throw two of these loaves into a gallon-sized freezer bag.
- Baked pasta. This is a mix between a baked ziti and lasagna. We took cooked pasta, ricotta cheese, homemade marinara sauce, mozzarella, and some of our homemade pesto, mixed it all together, and placed it in a disposable aluminum pan with a lid. In the future I plan on finding some non-disposable pans for this purpose but I’d had these disposable ones laying around for a year. Good reason to use them, yes? Then we placed the whole container in a gallon ziploc freezer bag.
- Shredded cooked chicken. On Sunday I cooked two chickens by boiling them in stockpots. Once they were done, I picked the meat off the bones. We made chicken noodle soup that night and a casserole the next day with the meat and chicken broth. The rest of the meat was saved in quart-sized ziploc freezer bags in meal-sized portions of soup or chicken enchiladas. I also saved some of the homemade chicken stock and froze it in two gallon ziploc bags, just the right size for a large pot of soup.
- Next up on my list is frozen beef and bean burritos. I’ve seen some recipes floating around online and I love that you freeze each one individually. Since my hubby will be scrounging for his lunch every day and I’ll be packing a lunch for work, this seems like a great idea.
We’ve also been on a mission to preserve vegetables too. While I am not ambitious enough to preserve everything we eat at this point, I have realized we go through a gazillion bags of frozen corn, canned and frozen green beans, and at least a jar of tomato sauce each week during the winter. So we’re hoping to preserve the majority of that ourselves. We have already frozen 20 bags of freezer corn and 5 jars of marinara sauce. The first few jars of marinara were an experiment since I’d never made it before. I’d also never used a food mill… but I’ll save further info on the food mill for another post.
As I type this, we have two stockpots simmering several gallons more of marinara sauce and two crates of tomatoes waiting to be turned into delicious sauce and salsa. Finally, we had a large grocery bag full of green beans to do something with. We both love French style green beans and bought this little green bean French style cutter on Amazon a few weeks ago. Last night I popped in a movie and sliced beans for two hours. I don’t watch much tv but it was kind of nice to be entertained while still being productive!
While this isn’t enough freezer meals to get us through the entire winter, it is enough for us to pull out a quick, easy, homemade meal (or the already prepped ingredients for a homemade meal) once a week for a couple months. WIN.
Do you have a great freezer meal recipe? Suggestions on recipes, ways to streamline the process, or tips are so very welcome! Hubby and I are new to this whole sustainability/self-reliance thing so we’re learning as we go.