Tuesday, August 16, 2011

29 Meals and Counting...

Yes, people, 29 meals...in two days!!!  
I recently started a side business called The Bee’s Knees (www.etsy.com/shop/TheBeesKneesWorkshop) on etsy.com
Being a hair stylist as well, I found myself really struggling with managing my time, and cooking is usually the first thing to go.  Its so easy for me to run through a drive through on the way home, rather than fixing our meal and cleaning up the kitchen when I get off work.
So this weekend, I decided to change that.
I stocked my freezer shelves with 29 meals that can be easily pulled out in the morning, defrosted in the fridge through out the day, and heated up in no time when you are ready for dinner.  Believe or not, I was hoping to do it in one day, but delirium had set in by the end of the first day, and thought I better quit while I was ahead.  
Before I move any further, I want to explain that I did NOT make 29 different recipes, I actually made 11 different recipes,  and I broke it down into 4 hours each of the two days, this is not counting the time it took to plan my recipes, make my grocery list, or shopping time. So why would I do this, you ask? Allow me to give you a little back story.
My friend Amber lives in St. Louis, which is about 2 hours from where  I live.  She goes to this divine little place called Time For Dinner, which is a food assembly business where you pick 6 meals ahead of time, and go in at your appointment time and there are stations with everything for your meals already prepped for you.  You assemble your meals, and they are prepped for freezing, all for a very reasonable price. Amber took my friend Randi and I to do Time For Dinner, and we had a blast!!  You can bring drinks and snacks, and everybody assembles their food!  And you can split your meals depending on how many people are in your family.  There’s just my husband and I, so we split ours in half, which is about 3 servings per half, and 12 meals.
I absolutely love going to Time for Dinner, and have probably been about 4 or 5 times now.  We save so much money, and eat so much healthier when we are able to pull something out for dinner in the morning, and not have to mess up the kitchen at night. And all of their meals have been delicious! As I said, I am a hair stylist and when I get home from work, I am pretty much worthless.  I’m physically and mentally exhausted, and trying to think of something for dinner is not always a great idea when I’m in that state of mind.    
Because we live so far away, we always take a cooler or two to keep everything cold.  We also usually stop some place good to eat, maybe visit the mall while we are there, and fill up the gas tank at least 1 1/2 to 2 times.  All of these things were beginning to add up, so when we weren’t able to find the time to get down there, I decided I would give it a try myself.
So that brings me back to my original question:  why would someone do this?  I love to cook, but don’t always make time to do it.  That, and we eat much healthier, with better portion control when we do it this way.  But something anyone could appreciate is the SAVINGS!  With the recipes I chose this time, I spent $185 on ingredients, which made 29 meals, essentially a month of food.  Each meal was 4 serving sizes, which for us means a meal for each for dinner, and a meal for each for lunch.  So, each individual meal cost $1.60 per meal!!  That is this ultimate motivation  to take one or two days out of one weekend to make food for your family.  Food that you know how you prepared it, and don’t  have to worry about whether or not someone washed their hands, or put too much salt, and countless other concerns. Plus, you mess up, and heat up, your kitchen for only one or two days!  So I thought I would share my journey, all of the things that worked, and things I would do differently next time.   I hope this helps in case you, too, want to try it at home!
First things first: 
This may be one of the most important steps to making this whole process go smoothly for you. I first sit down with my recipe books, magazines, loose recipes, and my online recipe box, and look for things that we love!  The best recipes for freezing are soups, casseroles, meats, and pastas. I’ve realized that creams, do not freeze well, and some pastas do better if you freeze the pasta and the sauce separately.  
These are the recipes I used:
1. Dad’s Award Winning Taco Soup
Serves 12
           1 lb. ground turkey or lean beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 (1 oz) package taco seasoning Mix
1 (16 oz.) can black beans
1 (16 oz) can chili beans (either hot or regular)
1 (16 oz) can whole kernel corn
1 (8 oz) can diced tomatoes (any flavor)
How to make it
Brown meat & onions and drain.
Mix Ranch & Taco seasonings into meat.
Add rest of ingredients, undrained to mixture.
Simmer 1 hour.
           2 Weight Watchers points per cup.
2.  Chicken and White Bean Soup with Herb Swirl

lYield: Makes 4 to 6 servings

8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large celery stalk, thinly sliced
1/2 cup tomato puree
4 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 bay leaf

Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil and next 4 ingredients in small skillet over medium heat until herbs are aromatic, about 11/2 minutes. Pour herb oil into bowl; cool.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large pot over medium heat. Sauté chicken 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken to bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil to pot. Add onion, carrots, and celery; sauté until beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Mix in last 5 ingredients. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes. Add chicken; simmer until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Ladle soup into bowls. Gently swirl 1 teaspoon herb oil into center of each.
1. Mom’s Breakfast Casserole
1 lb mild sausage
1 lb hot sausage
1 med. sweet onion
4 C. frozen hashbrowns
3 1/4 C. shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 C. small curd cottage cheese
 * optional * 1 green pepper chopped, & 1 T of Mrs. Dash original seasoning
6 eggs
Preheat oven to 350〫̊
Spray a 9x 13 in. baking dish with non stick cooking spray.  Combine all ingredients, beat eggs a little, and pour eggs evenly over the top. Bake for 1 hour, and let sit for 10 min. before serving.
2. Stuffed French Toast
serves l0
8 slices of cinnamon bread or any thick country bread
2  (8 oz ) packages of cream cheese
12 eggs
2 C. milk
1/3  C. of maple syrup ( I use a lot more)
1 C. brown sugar
I rip the bread into 1 inch cubes, as well as the cream cheese.  In a buttered 9x13 in baking dish, do a layer of bread, layer of cheese, then another layer of bread and cheese.  Pour the eggs, syrup, and milk together over the bread and cheese.  Let sit over night, or freeze.  Let sit out for 30 min in the morning before baking.
1. Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagne 
Yield: Makes 6 servings
Active Time: 1 1/2 hr
Total Time: 2 1/2 hr

For squash filling
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 cup hazelnuts (4 oz), toasted , loose skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel, and coarsely chopped
For sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups milk
1 bay leaf (not California)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
For assembling lasagne
1/2 lb fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated (2 cups)
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3 oz)
12 (7- by 3 1/2-inch) sheets no-boil lasagne (1/2 lb)

Make filling:
Cook onion in butter in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add squash, garlic, salt, and white pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, sage, and nuts. Cool filling.
Make sauce while squash cooks:
Cook garlic in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes. Whisk in salt and white pepper and remove from heat. Discard bay leaf. (Cover surface of sauce with wax paper if not using immediately.)
Assemble lasagne:
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Toss cheeses together. Spread 1/2 cup sauce in a buttered 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish (or other shallow 3-quart baking dish) and cover with 3 pasta sheets, leaving spaces between sheets. Spread with 2/3 cup sauce and one third of filling, then sprinkle with a heaping 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat layering 2 more times, beginning with pasta sheets and ending with cheese. Top with remaining 3 pasta sheets, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese.
Tightly cover baking dish with buttered foil and bake lasagne in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let lasagne stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
1. Pasta in Almond Garlic Sauce 
by Paul Grimes
You'll be shocked at how light yet satisfying this pasta is—it's finished in a fast garlicky almond sauce, studded with peas, and topped with chopped roasted almonds.
Yield: Makes 6 (main course) or 8 (side dish) servings
Active Time: 20 min
Total Time: 20 min

3/4 cup whole blanched almonds (4 ounces)
3 garlic cloves, smashed
3/4 cup water
1 pound cavatappi or other small tubular pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
1 (10-ounces) package frozen peas
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus additional for serving
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup basil leaves (torn if large), divided
1/3 cup mint leaves (torn if large), divided
1/3 cup chopped roasted almonds (2 ounces)

Purée blanched almonds and garlic with water and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender until smooth.
Cook cavatappi in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (3 tablespoons salt for 6 quarts water) until almost al dente. Reserve 3 cups pasta-cooking water and drain pasta.
Meanwhile, heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet (preferably straight-sided) over medium heat until foam subsides. Add almond purée and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups reserved cooking water, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and simmer, whisking occasionally, until slightly thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons butter until melted. Add pasta and peas and cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is al dente (sauce will be thin), 2 to 3 minutes. Add cheese and lemon juice and stir until combined well. Remove from heat and stir in half of basil and mint and salt and pepper to taste. Serve pasta in bowls topped with chopped almonds, remaining herbs, and additional cheese.
2. Wild Mushroom Risotto 
Yield: Makes 4 side-dish servings

6 1/2 cups chicken stock , or 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth (40 fl oz) and 1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 lb fresh wild mushrooms such as porcini, chanterelles, or hedgehogs, trimmed and chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice* (10 oz)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon white truffle oil* (optional)
1 1/2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives

Bring stock to a simmer in a 4-quart pot and keep at a bare simmer, covered.
Heat oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a 4- to 5-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until browned and any liquid they give off is evaporated, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a bowl.
Cook shallots in 2 tablespoons butter in same saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Ladle in 1 cup simmering stock and cook at a strong simmer, stirring, until absorbed. Continue simmering and adding stock, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring very frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and creamy-looking, 16 to 18 minutes. (Save leftover stock for thinning.)
Remove from heat and stir in remaining tablespoon butter, sautéed mushrooms, truffle oil to taste (if using), cheese, chives, and salt and pepper to taste. If desired, thin risotto with some of leftover stock.
3. Grandma’s Goulash:  
1 lb. Ground Chuck
1 white onion chopped
2-3 C. of cooked elbow macaroni
1 can tomato paste
1 cans of Hunt’s  diced tomatoes
1 can of Hunt’s diced tomatoes with celery, pepper, and onion
Start boiling the macaroni.Brown the onion in a little butter until soft. Add the Ground Chuck with the onion, and cook until browned, and drain. Heat both cans of diced tomatoes and tomato paste, add in cooked ground chuck, and macaroni and simmer for about 15 min.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, and let sit to “rest” for about 10-15 min before serving.
1. Turkey Meatball Heroes
Serves/Makes: 6    |   Difficulty Level: 3    |   Ready In: 30-60 minutes
1 1/3 pound ground turkey
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
6 crusty hoagie rolls, about 4 oz. each and 6 inches long,
tops split and insides slightly scooped out
3/4 cup prepared marinara sauce
6 slices provolone cheese, about 1 oz. each
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 15x10-inch rimmed baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. 
In a large bowl, mix together the turkey, bread crumbs, eggs, Parmesan cheese, garlic salt and Italian seasoning until well combined. Form into 24 meatballs, about one well rounded Tbsp each. 
Place meatballs in the prepared baking pan. Bake, on middle rack in oven, at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes, turning halfway through baking time. 
Remove meatballs from oven; set oven to broil. Place 4 meatballs inside each roll and spoon 2 Tbsp. of sauce over the meatballs. Top each with a slice of cheese. Place sandwiches on a broiler pan and cook on the middle rack of the oven for 3 minutes or until lightly browned and cheese melts; be sure that rolls do not get crispy. Serve immediately. 
1. Slow-Cooker Spicy Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches
Prep Time25 minutes   Total Time 4 hours, 25 minutes
Yield Serves 8
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced small
1 can (14.5 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup hot-pepper sauce, such as Frank's
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses
8 hamburger buns
. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add chicken thighs, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring once, until meat is golden brown, 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a slow cooker, leaving as much oil behind as possible. Repeat with chicken breasts.
. To skillet, add onion, garlic, and bell pepper and cook over medium, stirring constantly, until onion is translucent, 6 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water and cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from skillet, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to slow cooker.
. To slow cooker, add crushed tomatoes, hot-pepper sauce, Worcestershire, mustard, and molasses; stir to combine. Cover and cook on high until chicken is very tender, 4 hours. Shred chicken and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on buns.
Cook's Note
Use a potato masher to shred the cooked chicken in the slow cooker. Or, transfer chicken to a large plate, pull apart with 2 forks, then return to sauce.
1. Addictive Sweet Potato Burritos

• 1 tablespoon EVOO
• 1 onion, chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 3 (14.5 oz. or 15.25 oz.) cans canned black beans, drained and mashed
• 1.5 cups water
• 3 tablespoons chili powder
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 4 teaspoons prepared mustard
• 1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
• 3 tablespoons soy sauce
• 4 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes ( I boiled them for about 15 min)
• 12 (10 inch) flour tortillas, warmed (homemade is best, but often I just use the ones in the Mexican/Ethnic aisle)
• 8 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Heat oil in a medium skillet, and saute onion and garlic until soft. Stir in the mashed black beans. Gradually stir in water, and heat until warm. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, mustard, cayenne pepper and soy sauce, then remove from heat.
3. Divide bean mixture and mashed sweet potatoes evenly between the warm flour tortillas. Top with cheese. Fold up tortillas burrito style, and place on a baking sheet.
4. Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven, and serve.
Okay, so once you have figured out your recipes, its time to make your shopping list.  I found a really easy downloadable template that has all of the different areas in the supermarket.  

I just went down my list of ingredients and placed them in their proper section.  Believe me, when you are shopping in bulk like this, it saves you so much time from running back and forth across the store.  Next I go through the weekly ads to see if anything I need is on sale.  You can see most of the weekly ads online now which makes it very convenient.  You wouldn’t make a huge purchase like a TV or appliance without seeing who has the best deal, would you?  Same idea applies.  In my town, I usually get certain things from Kroger and certain things from Wal-Mart.  I found can goods to be cheaper at Wal-Mart, and certain meats were on sale at Kroger.  Then, I check my coupons to see if I have any for items that I need, especially for sale items, that’s when you’ll really see the savings add up.  
Here I go, armed, willing, and able!!!
So I made it through my huge shopping trip, with a little money, and sanity to spare, and the fun begins.  
Here is a shot of some of the things I use to store my meals in:  
Freezer bags, aluminum foil, aluminum pans that have cardboard lids ( found these at the dollar tree for $1 for 3).  They stack great in the freezer and can pop right into the oven with no mess!

Let the cookathon begin!  I like to have a glass of wine when I’m cooking every now and then, for some reason, it seems like my food tastes so much better when I do!!!!  I couldn’t think of any better occasion than this!
So I’ve got my wine, and my little kitchen angel on my side: a picture of my grandma who we just recently lost, making cupcakes.  
She was the best cook that ever lived, and now my mom, who has been in training with grandma for 50 years, has taken over the title.  I only hope I can someday be half as good of a cook as my grandma and my mom.  We don’t resemble each other at all. *he he*
Since this is my third time around doing the freezer meals on my own, I’ve learned a few tips for prepping everything.  I try to get the labor intensive, and time consuming tasks out of the way first.  So this is what I did:
cut up all of the chicken and cooked it, so everything could be sanitized before doing anything else
Got the Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken cooking
 then I started getting all of the pasta boiled and drained &  put into freezer bags until ready to use
 meanwhile, the chopping begins:  i cut up all of the onions, celery pepper, sweet potatoes, carrots, shallots, mushrooms and herbs.
**I usually buy butternut squash pre-cut, but couldn’t find it any where.  In this cooking quest, peeling and cutting butternut squash is my nemesis.
Once everything was cut, and the pasta was cooked, I began boiling the sweet potatoes, and then the squash, again storing in freezer bags until ready to use.
 As I continued boiling, I cooked veggies for the chicken white bean, and herb swirl soup, and got that started. I made the herb swirl too, which only takes about a minute.
Once the soup is done and cooled, I store it flat in freezer bags, it takes up way less space.  I use a plastic cup to help me fill the bags like so:
By this time, I was knee deep into this whole process, and slightly forgot that my husband and I needed to eat dinner!  Lucky for me he is a good helper, and started the meatballs for me!
I usually scoop out the insides of the rolls for the meatballs, and put a little marinara inside first before I place the meatballs in, and then top with more marinara and provolone.
I freeze the meatballs in a freezer bag, and the bread and marinara separately.  
Then I got the slow cooker buffalo chicken packaged up and ready to freeze:
After dinner around 9, I was winding down.  This is hard work!

My sioux chef said it was time to call it a night.
After a good night’s sleep, and feeling re-energized...I start day 2 off with a new weapon:
So with coffee in hand, I begin typing out my labels.  I am sure to include the date they were made, how to defrost, and how to cook the meal. I probably would have done the labels ahead of time, because I was getting overwhelmed as everything started finishing up and I needed to start storing everything.  Plus, I learned its best to stick the labels on the container first before putting the food in.  The temperature keeps them from sticking as well.
Next up, I started by cooking the sausage and ground chuck and got them drained.
It took no time to assemble the goulash, and get that finished up.  
These are the diced tomatoes that this recipe calls for:
While that was cooking, I was able to assemble the burritos:
Perfect little bundles that I bagged up into 3 bags of 4 burritos.
After the burritos, I made the sauce for the lasagna and toasted the hazelnuts.
If only you could smell this!!!
This one of my top three FAVORITE cheeses!  Its great in the lasagna and the almond garlic pasta, and the risotto!!
 Next up is the risotto:  easy and delicious!  And SUPER hearty.
Look at that steam!  I’m convinced that’s why my grandma had such beautiful skin!  Instant facial every day!!
Two more of my favorite ingredients: truffle oil and truffle salt...scrumdidliumptious!
Moving right along, I made the sauce for the almond garlic pasta.  I froze the cavatappi in with the peas in one freezer bag, flat. And then froze the sauce flat as well.
This recipe calls for fresh herbs, which I recommend using.  They add great flavor, so I would just pick some up that week at the store, or grow your own like we do, we love it!
At this point, I went ahead and assembled the taco soup, which is pretty much just putting the ingredients into the pot, and letting it simmer for an hour. 
So while that was finishing up, I assembled the breakfast casserole into two lasagna pans and then doubled the stuffed french toast and made 4 lasagna pans full.
So 24 eggs later...
We have our stuffed french toast.
So finally... after 4 hours for each of two days... my freezer is full, and my wallet is happy.
And my other sioux chef, who I worked to the bone, passed out on our table....
My biggest challenges were trying to keep the dishes up, and exhaustion from doing all of the prep work myself.  I think next time, I will either invest in another stockpot, or work with another partner or two.
I think this could be done much quicker, and maybe even cheaper if I had worked with one or two other people.  The prep work could be done so quickly, dishes would get washed quicker,( or your friends could bring extras), and you may be able to buy in bulk for cheaper.  Its all about making a plan, and not getting overwhelmed. 
Here’s the finished product:
So finally its time to enjoy the fruits of my labor and have a bowl of Jared and I’s favorite pasta, the almond garlic pasta:
Was it worth all the hard work?  1 out of 1 husbands’ agree!!


  1. LOVE this, Lindsay!! Great Job! I was just complaining how time consuming making baby food was...you inspired me;)

  2. Hey that is a great idea! You could make quite a bit all at once and it would freeze really well! You could stock up!!

  3. This is terrific ! I enjoyed reading it also. I want to be your partner next time. Hope I can keep up w/ you !!! AWESOME

  4. Oh my good gosh... girlfriend, can I come live with you, Jared, Lola, Penelope, and the kitty cats???? What a lovely life you all live! I love your sioux chefs! They look like such hard workers.


You might also like:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...