Sunday, January 13, 2013

16 meals in 2 hours flat!

The past few months I have gotten reacquainted with my slow cooker.  It seems like I go in spurts with different cooking methods and for some reason my slow cooker hadn't ventured out of the cabinet much.  Then when my son asked for his own slow cooker to use at school, interest in mine was piqued.  And because this son of mine showed interest in cooking healthy meals for himself I decided to encourage his efforts by putting together some freezer crock pot meals that could be put into the cooker in the morning when he left for class and be ready to eat when he came home.  I started to search the world wide web for ideas and recipes, finding some promising ones.  Most of them would serve an average family and since he is living the bachelor life and my hubby and I are living the empty nest life, I decided that each recipe could be divided and provide enough for two meals, one for him and one for us.  

The thing I discovered about freezing crock pot meals is that the prep is so easy and can be done in an hour or two.  There is very little precooking involved.  Mostly, it is a lot of chopping and measuring and filling freezer bags.  Pretty simple stuff. 

This past Friday night I assembled 16 meals in about 2 hours.  Factoring in leftover meals, dining out occasionally and other meals I will prepare at home, that is the equivalent of cooking 2 months worth of meals for the three of us. 

The process starts with collecting recipes.  I found most of mine at Six Sister's Stuff, Who Needs A Cape, Ring Around the Rosies. 

There are plenty of other gals who are sharing their secrets and recipes, too.  Just do a web search.  

These are the recipes I prepared this go around:
Vegetable Beef Soup
Teriyaki Chicken
Balsamic/Onion Pot Roast
Healthy BBQ Chicken
Stephanie's Goulash
Sausage and Peppers
Slow-Cooked Steak Fajitas

I really appreciated the sites that listed a shopping list so here is mine:

2 red onions
3 lb. bag yellow onions
1 zucchini
1 large bag carrots (Baby carrots can be used if you want to eliminate some chopping)
2 Garlic Bulbs
6 Green Bell Peppers
3 Red Bell Peppers
Celery-1 Bunch (I only used part of a bunch though)
3 lb. bag red potatoes (I bought the 5 lb. bag because it was cheaper!)
1 bag frozen green beans
10 skinless chicken breasts (I used 5 per recipe. Adjust according to your needs)
3 lb. beef stew meat
1 bag frozen meatballs (or make your own if you so wish)
6 Italian sausages (pork, beef or chicken)
2 lb. ground beef
3-4 lb. beef chuck roast
2 lb. round steak (I used sirloin steak that was in my freezer already)

2 lg. cans pineapple chunks
16 oz. jar grape jelly
20 oz. BBQ sauce
2-14.5 oz. cans Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2-15oz. cans tomato sauce
2-6oz. cans tomato paste
2 cans Rotel tomatoes
V-8 juice (1 six pack individual cans)
1-32 oz. carton beef broth
Worcestershire sauce
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive oil or vegetable oil
Teriyake sauce
Italian seasoning
Steak seasoning (I use Weber Canadian Steak seasoning)
Quick cooking tapioca
Prepared yellow mustard
Dried Parsley Flakes
Dried Basil
Dried Thyme
Cilantro (dried or fresh)
Chili powder
Brown sugar
Gallon Size Freezer Bags (I prefer the zip lock closure just because they are easier to seal up when hands are wet from prep work)

I suggest reading through the recipes and making any adjustments to your shopping list based on what your family likes (i.e. lots of carrots vs. no carrots in the stew) and on what you have on hand.  I substituted sirloin steak for the round steak in the fajita recipe because it was already in my freezer.  

My favorite way of approaching the process is to shop shortly before I am going to assemble the meals so I don't have to put ALL those groceries away.  They can just wait on my counter until I use them.  (OK.  If that makes you nervous, put the meat in the frig.)

Once your are ready to get this show on the road, begin by labeling all your freezer bags with the name of the recipe, cooking instructions, any additional ingredients that will be needed and serving suggestions. 

Trust me! You don't want to do this after you fill the bags.

Now you are ready to clean and chop and open cans and fill bags.  I have no photos of the assembly because it was not a pretty site.  I am one messy cook!

But about 2 hours later I had this:

And once it was all tucked away in the freezer all I had left was this:

An additional perk to slow cooker freezer meals is the relatively small pile of dirty dishes that results.  Most of it went into the dishwasher.  In fact, I only hand washed the large skillet that I browned the roast in.  Not bad for 2 hours of work.  

A couple of suggestions:
     Have a large cutting board for chopping all the veggies.
     Line up the freezer bags and fill with meat first.  Gets
        all of that out of the way and cuts back on a lot of
        hand washing between steps.
    A good chef or santuko knife is invaluable.
    Sort out all the ingredients into like categories before
         you start (i.e. canned goods, fresh veggies, meats,
         condiments).  Makes finding the next ingredient in the
         recipe a breeze.
   Squeeze extra air out of bag as you close it up.  Then
         lay flat in freezer.  The  bags will take up less space if
         that is an issue.
  Any of these recipes can be divided into 2 bags like I did.  

Here are the recipes:
16 Meals in 2 Hours Flat Recipes

I'll update this post with our reviews of the recipes.  Feel free to add your suggestions and ideas in the comments.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I resolve to...

It's January.  

The month of planning; of making new goals; developing new game plans.  


Words like "planning" and "scheduling" and "routine" are the equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard to me.  I have friends whose eyes light up with excitement and anticipation when such words are uttered but not me.  I cringe and get knots in my stomach and begin to feel like I'm being enclosed in a vacuum with no air to breathe!  Everything inside of me screams, 

Let Me OUT!  


But experience and life has taught me that I can't go through my days willy-nilly (as much as I would like to!) without some idea of where I am heading or what I need to attend to.  

Proverbs 21:5a  The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage.....

And experience has also taught me that I need a little bit of wiggle room or else I do suffocate (or at least feel like I am). 

Proverbs 21:5b ....but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.  

So I DO make some goals at the beginning of each year to guide me throughout the next 12 months.  I use John 2:52 as my guide, something our wise mentors taught us some 30 years ago.  

And Jesus increased 
in wisdom and stature 
and in favor with God 
and with men.

The idea is that if Jesus, the Son of God, grew in these areas of His life they warrant some attention in my life, too.

Wisdom--Mental Growth
       Something to keep me mentally alert or sharp.
       Something to expand my knowledge base.

For example, in the past I have made goals of taking a quilting class or reading a certain number of books.

       Something to improve or maintain my physical body.

For know the better, exercise more, take my vitamins, etc, etc, etc.

Favor with men (people)--Social
       Something that improves my relationships with 

For example, I have made goals to invite friends for dinner or prepare freezer meals to have something ready to share with a family in need of some encouragement.

Favor with God--Spiritual
       Something to deepen my relationship with God

For example, I have made goals to develop a better Scripture memory verse plan or have my devotional time before I allow myself to turn on the computer. 

Okay, so like I said, planning and goal making and me don't always see eye to eye.  This has not always been a joyous experience for me.  I have approached goal setting with the mind set that I just need to buckle down and try harder and force myself to trudge through it.  

Total Fail!  

I have decided at times that this just isn't my bent and chucked the whole exercise.  

Total Fail!  

So through much trial and fail I have come to the point that I set down goals but keep them brief.  No more do I write down 52 things I intend to accomplish the next year even though each one might be admirable and beneficial to helping me increase in the four areas I mentioned.  I have honed my list down to ONE in each category.  Maybe I am an under achiever but I prefer to call myself a realist.  It's not like I'm not doing anything else in my life to become wiser or get in better shape or improve my relationships with people and with God.  My goals just become my bench marks to determine if anything has happened in the past year.  

Do I have complete success?  NO!  In fact I scored less than 50% success rate last year.  But even the misses were beneficial.  My lack of accomplishment in some areas made me evaluate what went "wrong", made me understand better why God puts so much emphasis on perseverance, pressing on.  It showed me how incapable I am in doing anything apart from God.  I was made aware again of how much of a role accountability with another plays in reaching the goal.  I was humbled (always a good thing!).  And the best thing I learned from my "failures" last year is that progress isn't necessarily measured by crossing the finish line.  Imperfect progress, as author Lysa TerKeurst calls it, is still progress.  I'm still moving forward, maybe by baby steps rather than giant leaps, but it's forward.
I am convinced that God is not a God of disappointment but of hope.  I have determined not to allow this process to disappoint me but to find hope in the truth that God is completing in me the process He started. (Philippians 1:6) Even though I didn't fulfill all my goals last year I know they moved me down the road at least a little.  I made some imperfect progress.  

And that is better than no progress at all. 

So be encouraged all you fellow willy-nilly-ers.