Monday, February 4, 2008

When it snows... Cook!

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Over the weekend I had initially planned on hosting a chocolate tasting event where friends & I would "deep" taste varying chocolate of different cacao percentages. However Chicago was hit with a pretty bad snow storm a few days prior to the scheduled event so I canceled the chocolate tasting so folks could deal with the snow storm "aftermath."

So with a free weekend to myself, I decided to cook and stock my freezer with prepared meals. I think I went a bit overboard since I cooked quite a bit... perhaps way too much! I shouldn't complain because now my freezer is chock full of food and the best part is that dinner will be easy to get on the table for the next month or so. Here are some pics of what I prepared in advance today, however I'll be posting the recipe for the dishes on the days we actually enjoy them. Hopefully the meals I prepared will provide you an idea of what things can be frozen in advance and perhaps inspire you to prepare meals for your freezer during these cold months!

Chicken Pot Pie
Disposable loaf pans are perfect vessels for freezing food, especially when wrapped in a gallon sized freezer bag for extra protection. Here I made a chicken pot pie filling which I ladled into the loaf pans. I topped each pie with a prepared crust, trimmed to fit. Cover with foil and place in a freezer bag. To prepare, I just take it out of the oven and pop it in to bake!
Southwestern Chicken Chili
Chili is a great dish to freeze and is great during these cold winter months too. I made a southwestern chili and once it cooled, I ladled it into quart size freezer bags. The bags hold a perfect serving amount for 2 people and I like how I can freeze them flat like a book - maximizing the space in my freezer!
Loaded Baked Potato Soup
Rosemary Tomato Soup
Aside from chili, soup is a great freezer meal too. It allows me to use up various ingredients I have around and saves me money from buying canned soup that's loaded with a ton of sodium anyway. After cooking the soups in my dutch oven, I placed them in these plastic containers to cool. You can use freezer containers, but I don't like how much space they take up. Once cooled, I ladled them into freezer bags, just as I did for my chili.Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup
For this soup, I just threw whatever ingredients I had to use up including lo mein noodles, carrots, bok choy, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, etc. It's a hearty soup I'm looking to have on days where I want something filling and comforting!Teriyaki Salmon Croquettes
I had some leftover salmon that I previously marinated in teriyaki sauce. Being that it was already cooked, I combined it with panko breadcrumbs, scallions, egg, spices and a touch of orange juice. I formed some patties to brown on both sides before freezing. These make a simple light meal on a night when I don't have much time to cook.Chunky Vegetable Pasta Sauce
One of my favorite freezeable things is a homemade pasta sauce. Today I decided on a chunky vegetable sauce made with some zucchini, italian green beans, carrots, onion, garlic and bell peppers. After simmering in my crockpot for hours, it came out perfect! I let it cool before putting it into freezer bags. Some of it I used to make some lasagnas...Chicken & Spinach Lasagnas
Spinach Ricotta Mini Manicotti
Using the disposable loaf pans again, I made some lasagna with a fun pasta find. Ecco la Pasta is a company that makes dry pasta mixes that only requires you to add water to make pasta dough. I purchased a few boxes recently and this turned out to be a perfect time to use them. You can certainly use dry lasagna sheets which fit perfectly in the loaf pans too. After rolling out my pasta, I used some to make my chicken & spinach lasagna... and I also tried a variation by making spinach ricotta filled mini manicotti. I'm looking forward to having these for dinner!
Chicken & Spinach Lasagna/Manicotti
Leftover Spinach Ricotta Filling
Chunky Vegetable Pasta Sauce
Here are the finished lasagna/manicotti pans, pasta sauce
and leftover spinach ricotta filling for general use in the future.

Chicken & Cheese Ravioli
Spinach & Cheese Ravioli
Using the Ecco la Pasta dough again, I made some homemade raviolis. I packaged these in freezer bags for 2 serving portions. They didn't quite fill up a quart sized bag so I packed them into my freezer utility tray so they could fit nicely. I love how convenient the tray was!
Trio of Tilapia
For the following tilapia, I used individally frozen fillets
that I removed from its packaging.

Tomato Basil Tilapia
I ladled some rosemary tomato soup & topped with dried basil.
By doing this over pieces of foil, I'm able to wrap each fillet for individual servings.
The foil packet makes it easy to prepare too - just place in oven to bake.
Garlic & Herb Tilapia
I spread garlic & herb cheese over the frozen fillet and topped with sliced green onions.
To prepare, just bake and the cheese will melt, adding extra flavor and moisture.
Macadamia Nut Crusted Tilapia
I prepared seasoned flour and coated the frozen fillets.
Next, I dipped the floured fillets in an egg wash.
Lastly, I rolled the fillets in a mixture of panko breadcrumbs
and finely chopped macadamia nuts.
I didn't wrap these in foil packets since I plan
on pan frying or baking them exposed.

Rubbed Pork Chops - 4 ways
Sweet & Smoky BBQ, Peppercorn Garlic, Greek &
Bell Pepper & Herb Rubbed Pork Chops
Take your favorite spices & herbs and rub it on uncooked meats like chicken, pork chops, steaks, etc. Place in freezer bags, label & freeze. When you're ready to prepare it, defrost.
To prepare, coat it with a little olive oil and place on grill, grill pan, broil, bake or pan fry.
Bobby Flay's 16 Spice ChickenBBQ Rubbed Chicken LegsGreek Rubbed Chicken LegsSouthwestern Chicken Filling
Chicken Quesadilas
I owe these to already made rotisserie chicken. They are a staple ingredient I pick up at the store because of the various dishes that can be made out of them; not to mention the time saved! I deboned the rotisserie chicken and used some to make my southwest chicken filling below. I combined the chicken with fresh cilantro, chopped tomatoes, diced jalepenos, some black beans, sweet corn, red onion, minced garlic, spices and lime juice. With some corn tortillas, I placed some of this filling between 2 tortillas to make a few quesadillas. These went into a quart sized freezer bag, which will be pan fried or grilled once it's been defrosted. The remaining filling I froze to use & fill tacos, burritos, enchiladas, hearty chicken dip, salads, a southwestern pasta dish, combine with spanish rice, soup, pizza topping, etc... the possibilities are endless!
Arroz Con Gandules w/Pork
I seasoned and roasted a pork shoulder. Once cooled, I chopped it up and used some of it to make this popular Puerto Rican rice dish. It's a hearty & filling dish filled with spices, pork, rice, pigeon peas, green bell peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and chicken broth. Once cooled, I placed it into freezer bags. Being that dish is already cooked, it only needs to be reheated either on the stove tip or even the microwave.Tex Mex Lasagnas
Chicken Enchiladas
Once again the disposable loaf pans come to the rescue. I figured with italian inspired lasagna already in my freezer, why not have some tex-mex flavors too? Using corn tortillas, shredded rotisserie chicken, black beans, corn, cilantro, tomatoes, spices and a Mexican blend of cheese, I layered my lasagna then topped it with an enchilada sauce and more cheese. For the enchilada, I used the chicken filling above and made mini enchiladas cutting the tortillas smaller. These resulted in little chicken & cheese filled "cigars".
As you can see from my initial picture in this post, my freezer is stocked with the items I've mentioned here, along with some portioned out chicken breasts, shrimp, edamame (our favorite guiltless snack!), some frozen desserts, and other miscellany that's not exactly "blog-worthy." But I hope this helps inspire you to use your freezer to your advantage! Not only does it save me time from slaving over the stove and oven, but it certainly has saved us money in the past. We're not so quick to drive to a restaurant or call for delivery with all these meals waiting for us. This is a great way to also plan meals for families, including those who are pregnant, recovering from surgeries or medical procedures resulting in limited physical activity, students, etc.

12 comments:

~Amber~ said...

Wow, you were one busy woman in the kitchen. I *should* get on the ball and do some of thos to cook up the nights I have school late.

Kate said...

I've had those days where I really get going ain the kitchen and even I don't realize how much I've made until the hubs makes somce comments like -You just made 4 meals in 30 minutes.....

~Amber~ said...

Wow, you added even more great stuff. Woman you absolutely ROCK!!

ruthEbabes said...

Wow, you have been VERY busy! i love cooking extra and putting it away, if only i had the time (and space) to do all that!

Good on you!

Jenny said...

Wow, I wish I was organized enough to do this! Looks great.

Angela said...

Joelen you have totally inspired me!! I would've loved to come to your last freezer class but something came up last minute. You have some great ideas - you should turn this into a business!!! =)

MrsPresley said...

wow that's a lot of cooking!!

Proud Italian Cook said...

I am amazed and inspired by you!! WOW!!

Robyn said...

Wow - it all looks so good, you're making me hungry! I'm dying for the chicken pot pie recipe you used, so please post it soon!

mjtjohne said...

I am blown away that you did all of this in one weekend. Its very inspiring. I'd like to try this myself :) Everything looks really delicious too!

Laura said...

You are my hero.

Michelle Blackmon said...

You are absolutely brilliant! :) I can't wait to try this. We'll save a fortune by heating up meals instead of ordering takeout. Thanks so much!

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