Friday, September 24, 2010

Freezer Meals: ground hamburger/turkey, split chicken breasts

Uh, yeah, that's not actually what my freezer looks like. But I can dream.

Something happens to me this time of year. I start nesting. No, I'm not pregnant, but it does feel similar. Now that at least the nights are cooler, I am compelled to cook mass quantities of comfort food and stockpile them in the freezer. Not that we're in danger of being snowed in any time soon. Case in point: we had a high of mid-nineties today. Still, nature is telling me it's time to prepare for winter... that and I'm just tired of cooking dinner every night.

So this week I bought $30 worth of meat: a three-pound package of 80/20 ground beef, four pounds of ground turkey and 15 pounds of split chicken breasts ($.86/lb at Food Lion). I started cooking and here's what I came up with:
  • 1 small dish of Taco Bake Pasta
  • 1 large pan of Taco Bake Pasta
  • 2 dozen Italian beef/turkey meatballs
  • 2 small Italian meatloafs
  • 1 quart-sized bag of taco meat w/ black beans for tacos
  • 2 small beef and bean taco braids (along with two ham, cheese and asparagus braids)
  • 1 gallon bag of poached chicken breasts, chopped (to add to future meals and for the boys to eat on nights that they don't like what I make)
  • 1 dozen or so marinated (lemon garlic) and grilled chicken breasts (to eat as-is and to add to salads etc.)
  • 2 dozen breaded and baked chicken fingers
And now we're eating out for the rest of the week. Just kidding. In case you think I spent two days cooking, let me reassure you that it's easy to to cook this amount of meals in the same time it takes to make dinner each night. Well, maybe not easy, but it is doable. I started by browning three pounds of ground beef/turkey mix and adding taco seasoning Monday night. Then I used the taco mix to make the taco bake, which we ate for dinner. Tuesday, we had taco salad for dinner and I made the yeast dough for the beef braids and put it in the fridge for the next day. Wednesday, I used the rest of the taco beef for the beef braids and froze a quart of the leftovers for tacos another week. I also mixed the remaining ground beef/turkey in a bowl with an egg, some parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and Italian seasonings and shaped it into meatballs and meatloaf. Thursday, I tackled the chicken. I used a knife to cut one large breast and one chicken "fingerling" away from the bone. I poached a third of the chicken breasts and put the rest in marinade. We ate two of the marinated chicken breasts for dinner and some of the poached chicken for the kids. Tonight, I'll bread and bake the chicken fingers, and we'll eat some and freeze the rest.

A few tips on freezing food. I try to cook and cool everything first. That way, you can just take it out of the freezer the night before and cook it up or serve it room temperature (like the grilled chicken breasts). Just don't overcook or grill your meat so it's not too dry after being frozen and reheated. Individual items like meatballs are great frozen on a tray and then placed in a freezer bag so they don't stick together. I also try to cook small amounts of a lot of different kinds of food. Even family favorites like lasagna get dull when you have them every week. For something like a beef braid, wrap in foil first, label, then seal in a freezer bag. Defrost your meals in the fridge over a day or two or bake them frozen.

Recipes for the beef and ham and cheddar asparagus braid will follow. Other freezer items I typically tackle this time of year are big batches of my MIL's awesome marinara recipe, lasagna, gnocchi and pumpkin muffins. Stay tuned!

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