A Month (or Two) of Slow Cooker (or Sun Oven) Freezer Meals! ;)

Sunday, June 14, 2015
Without going into too much personal (and boring) detail, things tend to get a little crazy around my house every couple of months.  (Ok, well, truth be told, things are ALWAYS crazy around my house, but then get EVEN CRAZIER than normal every couple of months.)  With multiple jobs and multiple doctor appointments and dentist appointments and piano lessons and all kinds of other activities needing our time and attention, it is not always easy for me to spend an hour or so in the kitchen getting dinner ready every night.  And I'm really not a good menu planner type of person.  Most days I'm lucky if I can remember my own name - and worrying about planning what is for dinner that night often doesn't cross my mind until about, oh, 6:30pm, when everyone is complaining about being hungry.  We've gotten into a really bad habit of turning to fast food when that happens, and it has been happening A LOT lately.  It's killing our budget, and it's killing my waistline...

So, in a desperate attempt to be able to proactively combat the "what's-for-dinner-tonight" problem, especially on those crazy nights, I've started trying to make sure that we've got meals stocked away in the freezer, meals that can be tossed into a crockpot (or sun oven) to cook all day and then be ready, with little or no additional work, when dinnertime rolls around.  I need meals I can put together in a very short amount of time, with not much prep, and that are not terribly complicated.  I love using my crock pot to cook meals in, because I can put something in in the morning, and then let it cook all day and then - voila - it's ready by dinnertime!  So I've been focusing on so-called "slow cooker freezer meals" - meals you can prep and freeze, to then later be cooked in your slow cooker (crock pot).  In my case, these also work brilliantly for cooking in my sun oven, too!

We just used the last of our freezer stockpile last week, so it was time to restock.  With the help of my amazing husband who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty in the kitchen, we were able to put together 28 freezer meals in about 4 hours.  (This is one of the largest "sessions" we've done recently - often I only have time to do 10-15 meals at a time.)



Yesterday's meals are a mixture of tried-and-true favorites, and some new recipes we'll be trying out for the first time.  Here's what was on our menu, along with my notes and a link to the recipe(s):

[Note: I chose 14 recipes and made 2 of each, for a total of 28 meals.]

Orange Chicken - Recipe HERE
This is a new one for us, but since it comes from Six Sisters, I have no doubt it will be good.  I have yet to make anything from their site/books that isn't great.

CafĂ© Rio Chicken - Recipe HERE (it's recipe #5 on the page)
We've tried this one several times before and loved it each time.  The main recipe is all over the internet, but this time I tried a slight variation of seasonings as recommend by Our Best Bites.

Darn Good Chili - Recipe HERE
This one was a new one, but we tried it tonight and it was quite good.  A few notes - the recipe instructions are a little misleading for making it into a freezer meal, but basically, just dump all ingredients into a Ziploc freezer bad and then freeze.  You can brown the hamburger before adding and freezing, if you want, but it's not necessary.  I didn't, and it turned out just fine.  This makes a HUGE batch (it won't fit all in one gallon Ziploc bag, and it barely fit in my 6qt crock pot) so I would suggest cutting the recipe in half.  Also, it was a little more liquid-y than my family likes, so next time I will cut back on some of the liquid (probably drain and rinse the beans, rather than add the bean liquid like it says in the recipe).  It was also a tad bit spicy, so I'll probably leave out the green chilies next time for my kiddo's sakes.

French Chicken - Recipe HERE (it's recipe #1 on the page)
This is one of my all-time favorites!  I've made it a ton, both in the crock pot and in the conventional oven.  You can actually use any of three different types of dressings, and they are all great - French, Catalina or Russian.  We usually do Catalina or Russian, because French tends to have dairy in it.  So I call my version "Cranberry Catalina Chicken". 

Teriyaki Chicken - Recipe HERE (it's recipe #2 on the page)
Again, this is one that we've had often.  Nothing terribly fancy, but it works! 

Honey Dijon Pork - Recipe HERE (scroll down past a few of the pictures for the link to the recipes and grocery list)
This is a new one for us.  I made it exactly as specified in the recipe, but it didn't seem to have much liquid with it, so I think I may end up doubling the "sauce" ingredients.

Turkey Black Bean Chili - Recipe HERE
This is one we had in the last batch and it turned out fairly well, so we're trying it again.

Beef Fajitas - Recipe HERE
We had these before, and then turned out good, but I realized I used a different recipe last time.  So this particular recipe is similar, but new to us.  I'll have to let you know how it turns out.  HERE is the one I used last time for the fajitas...

Cranberry Apple Glazed Pork Tenderloin - Recipe HERE
This one is new to us this time.  The recipe says to add 2 cored and diced apples, but we have pretty big apples, and one seemed like it was plenty.

Sweet BBQ Chicken - Recipe HERE (it's recipe #3 on the page)
Had this one before, and it's pretty hard to mess up slow cooker BBQ chicken - it's always good!  ;)

World's Best Chicken - Recipe HERE
This one is new to us this time, but all the others from this same source have been great, so I hope this one will be as well.

Beef Garden Veggie Soup - Recipe HERE
We had this one previously and liked it.  SOMETIMES the carrots are an issue - I'm not sure why.  (They have a really funny texture after being frozen and then put in the slow cooker.)  I think it was because when we had this one before, we cooked it straight from frozen (without letting it thaw the night before), so we're trying it again to test my theory.  I'll let you know what I find out.

Sweet & Sour Meatballs - Recipe HERE
Alright, at first I thought this sounded a little strange, with the meatballs and all, but it's actually REALLY good!  We've probably had this about twice a month for the last three months. [The Meatball Veggie Soup at this same link is also pretty good, too!]

Slow Cooker Chicken Curry - Recipe HERE
A new one for us - hoping it turns out okay.  I know it won't be "gourmet" curry like we get at our local (and absolutely amazing) Indian/Nepalese restaurant, but that's okay.  [If you'd like an "actual" curry - which shouldn't actually have any curry powder in it - try out THIS ONE - it's not a freezer meal or a slow cooker meal, but it is absolutely divine!]

There you have it - fourteen recipes for slow cooker freezer meals!  Now, if someone could just invent laundry that does itself...  ;)







Meals in a Jar: Real Life Update (Chicken Noodle Skillet Meal)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Chicken Noodle Skillet Meal in a Jar

We pulled this meal out for dinner this week.  Just wanted to update everyone on what we thought!  The original called for freeze-dried turkey, but I substituted chicken tvp instead (because that's what I had on hand).

Turns out I should have sprung for the turkey - I'm currently HIGHLY allergic to soy, and that is what tvp is made out of, so I wasn't able to eat any of this meal.  I did take a taste, but that was it.  It was okay - nothing super.  Definitely edible, and better than some of the Mountain House meals I've tasted, for sure.

Jar was still fully sealed and nothing smelled or tasted stale at all. 

The two younger kids ate it without complaint, but the oldest wasn't very thrilled.  Hubs ate it fine and said it wasn't bad.  My only complaint was that it BARELY made enough for 1 adult and 3 kids.  And they weren't large servings.  So if you have a larger family, or older kids, you may want to plan on TWO of these jars per meal.  My biggest surprise was that the kid didn't complain once about the vegetables!  They are notorious for turning their noses up at anything that even resembles a vegetable.  And this contained freeze-dried veggies no less!

It seemed to be a little overly sweet to me, and I'm thinking that was from the cheese sauce.  I suspect that is due to the brand of powdered cheese sauce I used.  I've read reviews that it isn't the favorite choice for powdered cheese sauce.  So once I'm done with the current can, I'll try a different brand and see if that makes a difference when I go to remake the meals we've used.  I did add a little extra salt and pepper, to tone down the sweetness, and that helped a little. 

Overall, a decent meal that only took 10 minutes to put on the table, from start to finish!

How to Tell When Canned Jam May Have Gone Bad

Monday, May 5, 2014
How to tell when canned jam may have gone bad...
 

One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just isn't the same...

Same batch, canned the same day. Not sure what might have happened, but the dramatic color change is a fairly big indicator that something didn't go right. It is still sealed, with no bulging. I think there might be mold. I hate to lose the jar, but at this point, it isn't worth risking opening it and possibly contaminating my sink or counters, or other food, by releasing spores or bacteria (mold, botulinum toxin, etc.) into the air.

This batch isn't even a year old. And we just finished off some that was two years old without any issues. So, just remember to use your common sense and intuition when dealing with canned foods - look for clues. If it looks wrong, then it probably is, and it's safer to just get rid of it than risk getting someone sick.
 
Now, apparently I need to get working on some new strawberry jam for this year!  Good thing it's strawberry season!!! 

Going into the slow cooker for dinner tonight...Three Packet Pot Roast!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It's a fairly gray and overcast day today, so I'm feeling in the mood for something substantial and "homey" for dinner tonight.  Bring on the pot roast and mashed potatoes!

This one is really easy, and uses basic stuff from your food storage.

Three Packet Pot Roast
1 envelope Italian dressing mix
1 envelope ranch dressing mix (you can see I've used my homemade mix here - 1 Tbsp.)
1 can beef broth (or you can use 1 envelope brown gravy mix + 1 cup water)
3lb pot roast (or thereabouts)

Stick it all in the slow cooker and let it go until tender!

I'm working with a frozen pot roast this morning, so my slow cooker is on high, but I will turn it down to low after about an hour or so, when the roast has thawed. 

What I'm Buying - Walmart Price-Matching 11/18

Monday, November 18, 2013
This week and next week will have some GREAT sales at the grocery stores in preparation for Thanksgiving! 

Every year at PinchingYourPennies, we do a comparison list of some of the common Thanksgiving meal ingredients and how all the sale prices match up across stores, so you can easily see at a glance what the best price is (and where) for each item.  As I was working on updating the list last night for the new sales ads starting today, I ran across several deals that I didn't want to miss.  But with three kids at home (we're on year-round school and are currently "off-track") there was NO WAY I was going to cart all of them to multiple stores without having a nervous breakdown.  So I opted to make one quick stop at Walmart and price-match!

Here's what I picked up:


(1) #10 can butter powder, 18.63 (good price, considering the same can online is 29.95)
(1) ground mustard powder, 3.83 (for food storage - running low on current one)
(1) ground turmeric, 4.98 (also for food storage - we use a lot of this in our favorite curry recipe)
(4) Libby's canned veggies, price matched to .50 (Macey's) and .25 after a 1.00/4 coupon
(6) GV frozen veggies, price matched to .79 (Macey's)
(14) GV whole berry cranberry sauce, price matched to .50 (Macey's - killer deal!)
(4) Silk Pure Almond milk, price matched to 2.49 (Smith's) and 2.15 after coupons
(6) GV powdered confectioner's sugar 2lb, price matched to .88 (Macey's)
(2) mini peeled carrots 2lb, price matched to 1.98 (Macey's)
(8) GV granulated sugar 4lb, price matched to 1.25 (Macey's)
(4) Challenge butter 1lb, price matched to 1.99 (Smith's) and 1.24 after coupons
(2) loaves GV wheat bread, 1.38 (hate having to pay for bread, but no time to make it myself this week)

Total:  $78.03

Minus the butter powder and the two spices, you're looking at only about $50 for all the rest of the groceries - not bad at all! 

This is the ONE time of the year when canned cranberry sauce goes on sale.  No, I do not use 14 cans worth on Thanksgiving (I actually make sauce from fresh cranberries for Thanksgiving), but I do use the canned stuff in a really great and really easy chicken recipe and in a salad or  side-dish occasionally, so I stock up each fall for my year's supply.  Now is also a great time to stock up on baking items, canned/boxed broth, stuffing mix and canned yams and pumpkin.  Still waiting for the best deal on canned pumpkin - that's the last thing left to get on my stock up list from the Thanksgiving sales!

Food Storage Meal - Ham Fried Rice

Tonight's meal comes courtesy of our food storage and some leftovers in the refrigerator!  :)  About once a month I will cook extra rice with a meal (we have a 10-cup Zojirushi rice cooker and LOVE it to death!!!!) so we have some ready specifically to make this meal.  It's comes together very quickly - even quicker when I just pull out some diced ham from the freezer.  We seem to be having a bit of a stomach bug going around today, so I didn't fix anything else to go with it.  But I don't know that you necessarily need anything else with it - it's got a meat, dairy, grain and vegetables all in one easy dish!  Tonight I also mixed up a box of brownie mix, and since I am running low on eggs, I used my powdered eggs instead of fresh.  ;)


Ham Fried Rice

1 c. diced cooked ham (I buy extra hams at Thanksgiving/Christmas and Easter, and then dice them up and store in Foodsaver bags in the freezer)
1/4 c. butter (can use oil instead if no fresh butter)
1 medium onion, finely chopped (I use 2 Tbsp. minced onions)
4 c. cooked rice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 Tbsp soy sauce (yes, I keep this stuff in my food storage)
3 eggs (can use powdered eggs or powdered scrambled egg mix)
1-2 c. frozen peas & carrots mix

Melt butter in skillet; add meat and onion and cook 3 minutes.  Add rice, salt, pepper and soy sauce.  Mix thoroughly.  Stir in beaten eggs and frozen vegetables, and cook 5-10 minutes until rice is no longer "wet" and vegetables are heated through (or you can cook veggies in a separate pot or in microwave and then add at the end).

Food Storage Entree - Pesto Ranch Chicken

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I bring you...Pesto Ranch Chicken!

You'll need:
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 6 oz jar of pesto
  • 1 pkg ranch dressing mix
  • 1/2 c. chicken broth
That's it!  That's all there is!  Place the chicken thighs in the bottom of your crock pot.  Pour the pesto over the top and then sprinkle on the dressing mix.  Carefully add in the broth (so you don't wash all the pesto off the chicken).  Cook on low for 6-8 hrs or on high for about 4 hrs.

Tonight I served it with garlic smashed potatoes, green salad and Parker House rolls (I totally forgot to add them in to the picture). 

For the ranch dressing mix in the chicken, I used my homemade Hidden Valley-ish dry ranch mix.  And the ranch dressing on the green salad is from the BYU Creamery ranch dressing mix.  You can find the recipes for both of these mixes HERE.