Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Make Ahead Freezer Crockpot Dinners - Revolutionary!

Most of you know this blog is usually about movies, particularly horror movies, sometimes books, sometimes faith, but since it's about the things that are important to me, I decided to make a post about food, since cooking is one of my passions, too.  Recently, I decided to try this idea of making dinners ahead of time, freezing them, then cooking them in the crock pot.  It doesn't overheat the house on a hot day, and it's less work in my day without having to worry about what to fix for dinner, and I don't even have kids to worry about!  I expect this would be even more of a time saver if I had a family to cook for.  I adapted some of my favorite recipes and got some ideas from www.mamainspired.com/2013/01/mass-crock-pot-dinners.html  Here are the recipes I used, a shopping list, and some tips I learned along the way.  I'm already excited to try some new recipes when I do this again, since I've loved every meal I've made so far.  This can be addicting and it's a great way to make sure my food budget stretches the whole month!

*I bought my jarred roasted red peppers and my box of obion soup mix at the Dollar Tree (I have to use red peppers in my spaghetti sauce since I can't have tomatoes).  I can't beat $1 for a great price on groceries.  Feel free to substitute canned tomatoes in the spaghetti sauce recipe.  It will still taste delicious, but red pepper is less acidic and is a nice change from tomato sauce.
*Most of my other foods I bought at Aldi's since I can't beat their great prices.  The fiesta nacho cheese soup and green salsa I had to buy at Walmart though, since Aldi's doesn't carry them.
*I can't really do dairy milk, so I use almond milk and it is still delicious.  I like the Meijer brand almond milk the best, but use whatever works for you.
* I can't have potatoes, so I do without, but adding them would be fine and make the dinner more filling.  Just chop them and add when desired.  You don't have to parboil them first, because they will cook fine in the 8 hours in the crockpot.  If your crockpot doesn't cook long enough to cook the potatoes thoroughly, parboil the chopped potatoes in a bowl of water in the microwave for 10 minutes, then drain and cool before adding to bag and freezing.  Next time, I'm thinking of trying sweet potatoes with these recipes since I can have those and people seem to like them.
*When I say "chicken broth" or "beef broth" it's about 1 cup but you can add more or less to taste.  Same with wine, unless I say just a splash, as more might be too overpowering, but use what works best for you.
*For seasonings I recommend salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, celery salt, and chili powder, but mix it up with what you like.  I use cayenne pepper and garlic salt with parsley flakes because Aldi's sells it and I love the flavor.  I add taco seasoning to my chili and the fajitas.
*Most of these cook on low for 8-10 hours.  Yes, the meat goes in the freezer bag raw (or frozen ) and yes, it will cook fine and taste fine once it is done, even if it is still raw/frozen when it goes into the crockpot.
*If you want, you can cook the ground beef and sausage and let it cool before freezing so you can drain off any grease, but I skip this step as I've found the meat I buy doesn't render too much grease so it's fine without the extra step, and if there is any extra grease on top of the cooked meal, I can easily scoop it off with a serving spoon and discard it before serving the meal.
*I would buy the more expensive Ziploc freezer bags for this, as I've found they stand up better than other bags when frozen.
*I just chop 14 or so onions and add a handful or 2 when needed.  Same with carrots.  For the garlic, I separate the cloves, peel them, and cram the 3 bulbs worth into my mini chopper and run it until the garlic is minced, then I divide it between the recipes, but I like a lot of garlic.  You can use less and just run the cloves through a garlic press if you want.  Bell peppers are diced unless otherwise specified.  Kitchen scissors are awesome for dicing bell peppers easily.
*you'll want to thaw these bagged meals under running water in the sink for 10 minutes before dumping the bag in the crockpot to cook.
*spray the inside of your crock pot with cooking spray before adding ingredients for easier clean up.
*these bagged meals feed about 4 people, or for me a day's worth of meals and leftovers the next day.

Pictures of the Process

First I walked to Walmart, Dollar Tree, and back to get these groceries.  It already looks like a lot and I'm not half done yet!

The haul from Aldi's...SO MUCH FOOD!
The food laid out on the counter...what have I gotten myself into?!!?!?
Millions of onions...
Millions of peppers...

 First meal packed and ready

 Finally the last meal is done!

My freezer, all neatly packed with meals

Spaghetti sauce, first meal ready to thaw and cook

        Always spray first with cooking spray

 8 hours later, delicious spaghetti!  So much less work!

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Chili
2LB ground beef, can black beans, can pinto beans, jar salsa, green bell pepper, onion, garlic, can fiesta nacho cheese soup, seasonings.  Puree onion, garlic, and pepper before adding to bag.  This made enough for 2 dinners so I split the ingredients evenly into 2 bags.  Add 1 cup water or 1 can beer to crock pot before cooking.

Green Chili Beef Stew
2-3 LBS beef stew meat, onion, garlic, jar green salsa, seasonings.  Shred beef after cooking.

Shredded Beef Tacos
1-3 LB Steak, onion, garlic, red and green bell pepper, jar salsa.  Shred beef after cooking.  Serve in flour tortillas.

French Style Roast Beef Stew
2-3 LBS beef stew meat, seasonings, onion, garlic, beef broth.  Shred beef after cooking.  Serve on flatbread.

Philly Style Beef Stew
Steak, bell peppers (red and green), beef broth, seasonings, onion, garlic.  Shred steak after cooking.  Add 1 cup shredded cheese in last hour cooking.  Serve on flatbread
.
Hearty Beef Stew
2-3 LBS beef stew meat, carrots, onion, garlic,  seasonings, wine, beef broth.  

Spaghetti Sauce
3 jars roasted red pepper, onion, garlic,  seasoning, pureed until smooth.  1LB ground beef, 1LB Italian sausage.  Serve over spaghetti when cooked.  Ass 1 cup wine to crockpot before cooking.

Smothered Meat Loaf
2LB ground beef, box (2 packets) onion soup mix, onion, 1/2 carton mushrooms, can cream mushroom soup, can cream celery soup.  Mix beef with soup mix and 1/2 can mushroom soup, fashion into loaf.  Dump other ingredients in bag, set loaf on top, seal bag, freeze.  Add 1 cup water to crockpot before cooking.

Creamy Pork Chops
Pork chops, onion, carrots, 1/2 bag mixed vegetables, seasonings, can cream mushroom soup, can cream chicken soup, wine.  Add 1 cup water before cooking in crockpot.

Pork and Mexican Rice
Pork chops, onion, garlic, jar salsa, splash wine, seasonings.  Add 2 cups water before cooking, add 1\2 cup rice in last hour of cooking.

Shredded Chicken Tacos
4-6 breasts, onion, red pepper, green pepper, garlic, Mexican seasonings, chicken broth.  Shred chicken after cooking.  Serve with flour tortillas.

Chicken and Dumplings
2-4 breasts, 1 can cream mushroom soup, 1 can cream chicken soup, onion, carrots,  chicken broth, splash wine, seasonings.  Last hour cooking, add 1 cup milk and 1 can cut up biscuits (or homemade biscuit dough torn into chunks).  Add 1 cup water to crock Pot before cooking.

Chicken and Rice Soup
2-4 breasts diced, onion, carrots, 1/2 bag mixed vegetables, chicken broth, splash wine, seasonings.  Add 2 cups water before cooking, add 1/2 cup rice in last hour cooking.

Hawaiian BBQ Chicken
4-6 breasts, 1 can pineapple, 1 jar BBQ sauce, onion, garlic.  Add 1 cup water before cooking in crock pot.

Cheesy Chicken
4-6 breasts, 1/2 carton mushrooms,  chicken broth, onion, garlic, seasonings, splash wine.  Last hour cooking, add bag frozen broccoli, 1/4 cup milk, 1 cup shredded cheese.

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Shopping List
*3 big 48 ounce bags frozen chicken breasts.  If you use the highest amount of 4 or 6 breasts per recipe to make more servings, you might wind up needing 4 bags.  You can run them under warm water to thaw them just enough to chop them if you need to, but they will shred easily after cooking if you want to skip the step of dicing them.  I think dicing works best for the chicken and rice soup, though.  Kitchen shears are awesome for dicing chicken easily.
*5 LB ground beef
*1 LB Italian sausage
*2 packages pork chops
*3 packages beef stew meat
*2 packages steak
*3 jars roasted red peppers
*can Campbell's fiesta nacho cheese soup
*5 jars salsa (you only use 4 in the recipes themselves, but I need an extra to garnish the tacos before eating)
*bag shredded cheese (your preference but I think Italian 5 cheese blend goes best with the recipes that use the cheese, or sharp cheddar tastes great with the cheesy chicken recipe as well).
*bottle of wine
*Ziploc freezer bags
*32 ounce chicken broth, more if desired
*32 ounce beef broth, more if desired
*2 bags onions
*bag garlic (3 bulbs)
*bag baby carrots
*bag rice
*box spaghetti
*carton milk
*can pineapple
*1 carton fresh sliced mushrooms
*2 cans cream mushroom soup
*2 cans cream chicken soup
*1 can cream celery soup
*can black beans
*can pinto beans
*can biscuits
*bag frozen broccoli
*bag frozen mixed vegetables
*3 green bell peppers
*3 red bell peppers
*2 package flatbread
*2 package flour tortillas (I buy the soft taco size with 20 tortillas per bag)
*box onion soup mix

Friday, November 1, 2013

Horror Challenge #106: "Mama"

So watching this movie last night, my friends and I concluded that Guillermo Del Toro must have had a terrible childhood, because terrible things happen to kids in all his movies that we could think of.  Just kidding really, but seriously, the poor kids in his movies never stand a chance.  In a way I like it, because a lot of movies don't seem to have the guts to show horrible things happening to children, or children doing terrible things, and since these are HORROR movies, and their goal is to HORRIFY, I think they should be more willing to show such things even if those things are horrible (that's their JOB after all).

The things that happen to these poor girls in this movie are indeed horrible.  Their parents are dispatched early in the movie, and they wind up cold and alone in a creepy abandoned cabin in the woods with only the spirit of a long dead woman to raise them.  They regress to an almost animal like state, and they live that way for five years because the police in this town are the most incompetent police ever to wander into a horror movie.  Once the girls are finally rescued, they go to live with their uncle who never gave up on the hope of finding them, and then creepy things start happening because it seems that the ghost that kept the girls safe all those years in the woods doesn't want them to leave her...ever.

The thing about horror movies is that often, even the dumbest B horror movies follow the age old pattern of fairy tales: there's a natural order to the world, and something comes along to disrupt that natural order, and something must happen to restore that natural order so that good can triumph over evil.  For example, parents are supposed to love and care for their children and protect their children, but when parents do terrible things to their children, something must happen to stop that evil from touching the children, so that the children can go back to being loved and cared for and protected again, so that the world can be restored to the way it should be.  Even campy slasher movies have hints of this pattern (people are happy, bad guy starts killing them, someone defeats bad guy so people can go back to living and being happy)..

In "Mama," the natural order of the world is subverted in a bunch of ways in just the first ten minutes of the movie.  Spouses are supposed to love and protect their partners, not do terrible things to them, parents are supposed to love and protect and raise their children, not kill them, and that's shot all to hell right from the start in this movie, but someone comes along to set things right.  I really like how at first, the mother figure who will be caring for the girls, their aunt, the wife of the uncle who never gave up on them, is a reluctant hero in that she doesn't really want her role as protector of the children, but she slowly comes to love them and is thus willing to fight for them.  That really got to me. 

I also like how the movie subverts your expectations, because like I said, the expectation is that something comes along to threaten the order of things (the children are put in danger) and something else must battle that evil to restore order (stop the evil, protect the children) and then in this movie, that "protector," the ghost who initially saved and cared for the children, turns sinister and evil when it seems that she will lose the children, because they will come to love their new caregivers and thus won't need her anymore.  Most movies wouldn't have the guts to do what this movie does, which is basically rip my heart out and make me really sad and angry, like every other Guillmero Del Toro movie does, making me sad even when his movies have a happy ending.  The movie isn't perfect, it does some things wrong, like it probably relies too much on CGI, and the cops are dumber than a bag of rocks, so that irks me, but overall it's a dark and nasty little glimpse into the world that I really respected for what it does right.

Horror challenge #105: "The Prophecy II"

So I really enjoyed the first movie in this series, because I like the idea of evil angels battling good angels for the fate of humanity, and Christopher Walken is awesome and he plays an evil bad guy like no one else I know.  I heard that this series deteriorated quickly after the first movie, but I would say that the second movie is as good as the first in my estimation.

The movie is about a woman who encounters a man while driving to work one day (he literally falls out of the sky seemingly and hits her windshield, the literal interpretation of the song "It's Raining Men" I suppose) and she rushes him to the hospital and visits him as he gets better, and they seem to take a liking to each other, so they go back to her apartment one night and have sex.  Sluts.  So this wouldn't really be a bad thing, except that she finds out he is an angel and he had sex with her in order to fulfill a prophecy and impregnate her with a half human half angel child who is supposed to be important in the battle between good and evil.  she's understandably pissed that he used her, and now the evil angel Gabriel (Christopher Walken) has her on his radar and wants to find her and kill her before she can bring this kid into the world.  What a buzzkill.

Having read the bible, I know that angels aren't always the good, benevolent messengers of God that people seem to think they are, and they can be kind of creepy and evil when they want to be, and I like watching any movie where that idea is explored, so I dug this movie.  Plus I love Jennifer Beals and Christopher Walken, so this movie is a win-win on all fronts.

Horror Challenge #104: Supernatural: Season 8: "Bitten" (Wildcard)

This is another standalone episode, and it's one that I will want to point to whenever people say that this show should have been canceled many seasons ago, because this is genuinely a GREAT episode, and I really loved it.  It's about a small town where a killing has taken place, a guy who was ripped apart by what looks like a wild animal, but the biggest animal around is a raccoon, so something bad is going on here.  It's also unique in that Sam and Dean take a backseat in the episode, because the bulk of the episode is found footage shot by some amateur filmmakers who are attending a local university.  I love found footage type movies because I think when they're done well, they can draw me in better than any other type of movie, because they look like something that could actually happen, and this is no exception.  I like the two main characters, best friends who meet a girl who causes a rift because they both like her but she only has eyes for one of them, and the story that plays out as they encounter the big bad evil thing in the episode is sad because I actually cared about the characters.  Like I said, a great episode.

Horror Challenge #103: Supernatural: Season 8: "Heartache" (Wildcard)

This is the first episode of this season that functions mostly as a standalone episode, apart from the story arc of the entire season.  There's some mention of the main story arc of course, with Sam and Dean revealing a little bit more of what happened to them during their months apart, but they spend most of the episode looking for a bad thing that's killing people that has nothing to do with their own personal drama.  I enjoy episodes like this because we get to see them doing what they do best, what drew me to this series in the first place, solving a mystery that has supernatural elements to it.  Here people are getting their hearts ripped out, and no one is really sure why, and Sam and Dean have to figure out what evil bad guy is doing all this and put a stop to it.  Funtimes!

Horror Challenge #102: Supernatural: Season 8: "What's Up, Tiger Mommy?" (Wildcard)

So this is the second episode in season 8, still a little shaky on our feet, not really entirely sure what's gone on with our characters Sam and Dean, and they're not really talking to each other about it either (because they spend half of each season pissy with each other over whatever happened at the end of the previous season...it's what they do).  We get to know Kevin's mother better in this episode, and for a mother who just found out her son is a prophet of the Lord, she's taking it pretty well.  I like this episode because we see that even though she's strict and all, she genuinely loves her son and is willing to sacrifice everything to keep him safe.  Generally I think that's what parents should be like (but they're not, not even close, especially in the world we live in) so even with all the evil surrounding her son, all the demons trying to destroy him, he has someone fighting on his side, and that's what family should be.

Horror Challenge #101: Supernatural: Season 8: "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (Wildcard)

So some people think that the show Supernatural should have ended awhile ago.  Most people disagree on a point, but the general consensus is that it should have stopped at least after season five.  I of course disagree (because I don't do anything the way anyone else does) because I actually think it got BETTER after season 4, more complex and darker and more gray line between good and evil, and I love that stuff.  Season 8 is on rocky ground with this episode, and some things have happened that we don't understand yet and I know they won't be explained until later in the season, but I like that they didn't just abandon characters like Kevin, the prophet of the lord, who was kind of annoying (teenage angst and all) but was still a character I liked and didn't want to see used as a plot device and then tossed aside.  This episode is heavy on backstory, but it still introduced some intriguing ideas, so I am along for the ride.