Saturday, September 26, 2015

Filling the Freezer... My Food Prep for Baby Experience

I don't consider myself to be much of the homemaker type, but I found this experience to be quite pleasant and I was so excited about the end result, I can definitely see myself doing it again and even incorporating something similar into a more regular schedule. I have had a few friends asking me HOW I did it...

About two weeks ago, I started thinking about how I will prepare our meals once little Dally arrives. I'll admit... the whole idea of cooking with a new-born baby terrifies me. Not to mention, we live pretty far from family and I have no idea how much time we will have to fend for ourselves before family can stop in and help out. I also have a firm belief in self-reliance, but I realize that there are times in life when we must humble ourselves and ask for help. To put my pride at bay, I thought it'd be a great idea to make up a few meals now that I could throw in the freezer for quick and easy meals later.

It's actually kind-of funny how this whole project started... Andrew and I were shopping a few weeks ago and we walked down an aisle that I am totally unfamiliar with... the freezer section. Andrew mentioned how strange it was that we never buy anything from that aisle, but he knows people who live off of those types of foods. We joked about it for a few minutes, and then I thought it actually wouldn't be such a bad idea to have that option if we were in a jam. 

So... that's how it started and here's what I did about.

First, I went home and thought about the foods that we love. I started making a list of foods that would freeze well and that we love eating. You know... those 'healthier' comfort foods that I think we'll enjoy in the winter and with a new little one in the home.

The list looked like this:
Stir Fry
Roast w/veggies
Taco Soup
White Chili
BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
New Orleans Gumbo
Clam Chowder

It was that simple... I realized that these meals use a lot of the same basic ingredients... example... ground meat, shredded chicken, chopped veggies, etc.

I started making my list of ingredients by taking a look in my pantry. After I knew what I already had on hand, I wrote down everything I'd need from the store. I took about 3 hours to shop. I first went to Costco and got bulk of the items that could be used for multiple dishes, then I ran to Super One (our local super-market) for the remaining ingredients that I didn't want to bulk up on (like 1/2&1/2 for soup base etc.) I spent about $200, but I also purchased some items that weren't used for the freezer meals and would be used for our regular menu. 

When I got home, I put everything in the refrigerator and just left it there for two days. I didn't want to overwhelm myself by trying to do everything at once.

To start the process, I made sure my kitchen was clean. No dishes in the sink and all of my counter spaces clean and free so I could have the space I needed. This was probably one of the best decisions because I felt in-control and I could see only what I was working on.

I started by grabbing a stock pot and filling it with seasoned water. I brought it to a boil and added a whole Costco-sized bag of chicken tenders and a chopped onion. I popped a lid on and let it boil and cook on the stove-top while I turned my attention to the ground-meat.

I had purchased a huge portion of ground-meat and from one package, I made 2 meatloaves, 2 lasagnas, and 2 batches of taco soup (from about 5.5 lbs of meat). To do this, I shredded 1-2 large carrots/pound of meat mixture to bulk it up a bit. The carrots are great because you get a serving of veggies unexpectedly, and they lower your cost by bulking up your meat. You can't tell they are there once they are cooked. I just used the fine-grate on my cheese grater, but a food processor would cut your time down significantly if you're wanting to do this.

First, I formed the meatloaves, then stuck them in the freezer. Next, I grabbed a skillet and made my taco meat. I threw that into a bowl to cool a bit, rinsed my pan and made the meat mixture for my lasagna. I left that in the pan to cool, turned around and grabbed my taco meat and threw it into some labeled baggies then put those in the freezer. All I have to do for soup is add beans, corn and tomatoes in the crockpot!

Once that was done, I turned around, took the chicken out of the stock that I had created and put it into the rinsed bowl that I had used earlier for the taco meat. Threw that in the fridge to cool down and turned my attention back to the lasagna mixture. 

I bought two throw-away lasagna pans, so I just started layering the meat, noodles and cheese like I normally make the pasta. The recipe that I use does not require you to pre-cook the noodles, so this was super quick and efficient. I covered them with foil, labeled them and placed them in the freezer.

Next, I grabbed my chicken (I had set the stock aside and would use that later in two of my recipes! Yay for no waste... the only thing I had thrown out so far were onion tips). In the bowl that I was cooling the chicken in, I grabbed my hand mixer, put the dough hooks on, and started mixing my chicken at the lowest setting. A few moments later, I had plenty of shredded chicken!

I used that chicken for a few things. I split some up into quart-sized baggies with some watered down BBQ sauce that we'll use to make sandwiches later. I got about 3 baggies worth. I also used it for our chili and the gumbo. Those and the clam chowder were probably the most time-consuming.

I put beans aside to soak for the chili and started on the gumbo. (If you've ever made it, you know how long the rue can take). I stirred the rue and used some of the stock that I had created from my shredded chicken.

This is when I started chopping veggies... Clam chowder, gumbo, stir-fry, roast and fajitas have the same basic veggies. So, while the gumbo was cooking, I chopped onions, green peppers, carrots, potatoes and celery and split them into their respective recipes. I added the veggies to the gumbo and started the clam-chowder veggie stock base then let those simmer while I turned my attention to a roast that had been waiting in the fridge.

I grabbed 4 gallon sized bags and cut the roast four ways (if you've ever bought a roast at Costco, you'll understand why I got 4 portions). I put potatoes, carrots, meat and some of the chicken stock that I still had. Labeled the bags and threw them into the freezer.

By this time, the gumbo was done and set aside to cool. I made the rue for the clam chowder and let it cook a bit longer while I split the gumbo into baggies and froze them (I'll have to cook rice when we eat the gumbo, but that's simple enough). 

I took my soaking beans and put them into a stock-pot to boil with all of the herbs,veggies and seasonings we use for our chili, plus the remaining portion of my chicken stock.

I pushed the clam chowder aside to cool and turned back to my veggies. I had a few steaks that I put into baggies with marinade for stir-fry and fajitas. I then divided up the veggies into some baggies and put those in a larger bag with the meat, labeled and stuck in the freezer. When we're ready for those, we'll defrost them in the fridge overnight (double whammy because they'll marinate as they defrost), then just sear the veggies and meat and slice it up to serve.

I came back to my clam chowder, divided it into labeled baggies... and... I think you know the drill!

Lastly, I added the chicken to my chili and set it aside to cool while I cleaned up the dishes (which were few because I had rinsed and reused throughout the entire process). When I was done with that, I split up the chili into baggies and... you guessed it!

Then I just had a few odds and ends to clean up. 

If you're still reading this, you're awesome and I would love to answer any questions that you may have gathered, but it's pretty self-explanatory. The whole process was WAY more simple than I thought it would be and it took me about 4.5 hours from start to finish (not including shopping time).

I will definitely be doing this more in the future!