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!


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.


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