Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wrapping up 31 Days of Freezer Cooking


Whew, what a month! I've spent all month long filling up my freezer with all sorts of fantastic dishes. There were a couple items that didn't quite make it into the freezer or maybe are already gone. But that's okay, I'll be happy when school starts in a few weeks that I did this. We all know how crazy that first month is especially.

I really wanted to have variety when I set out to do this series. I hope I've armed you with new inspiration and recipes to do a little freezer cooking on your own time. Don't be overwhelmed to do it all at once, pick a couple recipes to start with when you have an extra hour or so on your hands. Or simply double your dinners for a week, you'll have an easy five main dishes right there. A freezer swap is another great alternative. Gather a small group of friends and spend the afternoon cooking away, each person goes home with a nice variety of meals.


Whichever route you decide to go, I know you'll appreciate the little bit of work you spent prepping nutritious meals ahead of time for your family. You'll find your evenings might not be so frantic and maybe even allow for just one more story at bedtime.  You might even notice a decrease in how often you're tempted to eat out. In the end that's both good for your health and your pocketbook!

I'll leave you with links to each and every recipe this month. That way it's in one easy location for you to browse through. You'll find all ingredients needed along with directions in each post. Good luck and happy freezer cooking!


Breakfast:
French toast sticks
Biscuit breakfast sandwiches
Banana chocolate chip pancake bites
Cinnamon rolls
Mini baked oatmeal cups
Freezer waffles

Main dishes:
Ground pork pesto meatballs
DIY frozen pizzas
Cilantro lime chicken
Meatloaf burgers
Burritos
Crock pot chicken tacos
Grilled chicken breasts
Two freezer-friendly casseroles
Pizza pockets

Side dishes/Appetizers:
Fruit slush cups
Layered nacho bake
Buffalo chicken potato skins
Twice baked potatoes
Garlic bread
How to freeze sweet corn

Desserts/Snacks:
Pretzel bites
Peanut butter bread
Cookie dough for the freezer
Freezer-friendly cheesecake
Freezer smoothie packets
Homemade brownie mix
Pie crust

Extras:
Garlic scape pesto
DIY cream soup


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pie Crust for the Freezer


I make pie fairly often throughout the year, surely a lot more than I used to. When I first starting baking I always thought it would be hard to make pie dough from scratch. So of course I would purchase the pre-made stuff in the store but never cared for the taste. Now I can't imagine not making it myself, it tastes so much better and is really quite easy.

I even like to make up a few batches at one time and keep the extras in the freezer. They thaw easily and you'll never know it was frozen ahead of time. This especially comes in handy close to Thanksgiving time, when pie is a must on the dessert menu.


Everyone has their own favorite recipe, this one is mine. I love the combination of both Crisco and real butter in the crust; you want that rich butter taste but the Crisco gives the crust that flaky texture we all like. I mix it all up by hand, with the help of my pastry blender. I used to use my food processor, but it's really just as easy to do it by hand. One batch will take me less than ten minutes to whip up.

You can use these for your favorite pies, both sweet and savory. We love treating ourselves to a classic chicken pot pie in the winter. If a simple crostata is more your style, one pie crust is all you'll need. You can even make the kids homemade pop-tarts for a fun treat. Whichever you choose, save yourself some time come the holiday season and have at least one batch of pie dough in the freezer. You'll be glad you did!

Pie Crust for the Freezer

Ingredients:
1 stick cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup Crisco, chilled
2-1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
1 cup ice water

Directions:
Combine flour and salt together in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter and Crisco until mixture is crumbly. Slowly add in ice water and combine until dough forms. Add in a bit more flour if needed.

Divide dough in half. Form each ball of dough into a round disc. Cover in saran wrap. Place into a freezer bag, make sure to date and label. Add to the freezer until ready to use.

When ready to use; thaw and use as directed in recipe.


Just a few of my favorite pie recipes:

Strawberry crumble pie
Pumpcan pie {a fun combo of pumpkin and pecan}
Freezer-friendly apple pie
Eggnog pumpkin pie
Turkey/Chicken pot pie
Peach pie
Chocolate silk pie


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mini Baked Oatmeal Cups


Even though I absolutely love summer, the scorching hot days spent relaxing by the water and soaking up the sunshine are my favorite. I am sort of looking forward to those cool, crisp mornings when school starts. Those mornings when we reach for a bowl of hot oatmeal to warm us up as we leave the house. This particular oatmeal.

It's my favorite, sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon; I love tossing in a handful of raisins and maybe even some pecans. Or some days I'll reach for whatever fruit we have in the fridge or freezer. It warms me up and keeps me feeling full all morning long.


Most of the time I'll bake up a small 8x8-inch pan and then enjoy the leftovers throughout the week. This morning I tried something a little different though. Instead of baking in one pan, I divided the mixture between the wells of a muffin pan. Brilliant, right? Then I can take one or two from the freezer as I wish and not feel like I have to eat oatmeal for an entire week. Not that it really ever lasts that long.


I think I like this version much better and will continue to bake it this way. Everyone can add their own favorite toppings and be satisfied.


Mini Baked Oatmeal Cups

Ingredients:
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick butter, melted

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients together. Add in milk, eggs, vanilla and melted butter. Stir together. Using an ice cream scoop, drop batter into wells of a muffin pan. Filling until 3/4 full. * I did not use liners but if you would rather, you can certainly use those. Foil or silicone might be your best options.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely before trying to remove from pan.

For freezing: Once completely cooled, run a knife along the edges of each well and carefully remove oatmeal cup. Set onto a baking sheet and freeze for one hour. Then transfer to a freezer bag that has been dated and labeled with contents. Be sure to remove all air and seal shut. Place into freezer until ready to use.

When ready to enjoy, thaw overnight in the fridge and then reheat in the microwave for one minute or until warm. You could also reheat in the oven or toaster oven. Serve with desired toppings and a little extra milk.

Makes 12 oatmeal cups

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pizza Pockets


I've shared these homemade pizza pockets {or calzones if you prefer} before. I made them for a freezer swap a couple years ago. They were a big hit then and still are. They're a nice change up from pizza and come in handy for lunches, especially if you're on the go. I love how freezer friendly these are too.

You can stuff just about anything into a pizza pocket. We usually stick with a combination of sausage, pepperoni and smoked ham. Ham and cheese, seasoned taco meat, veggies or maybe even a scrambled egg/bacon/cheese mixture would make great filling options. Filling choices are pretty limitless.



These will definitely come in handy when we start packing lunches again. I can warm them up before I send the girls off to school and they should stay fairly warm by lunch time. The hubby and I can bring them along to work and reheat in the microwave. I also like to have these on hand for weekend lunches, we'll be starting bowling league again soon and will need to have something quick for afterwards.

Pizza Pockets

Ingredients:
1 batch pizza dough
Choice of fillings such as: crumbled, cooked sausage, pepperoni, ham
Mozzarella cheese
Pizza sauce, for serving

Directions:
Once dough has been prepared and has risen, divide dough into twelve balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out using a rolling pin. Add desired toppings to the bottom portion of each rolled out piece of dough. Top with mozzarella cheese and fold over the other side of the dough. Pinch edges together to seal shut.

Place onto a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Pockets will be turning lightly brown and dough will be done. Remove from oven and let cool. If enjoying immediately, serve with pizza sauce.

For freezing: let pockets cool completely. Wrap each one in saran wrap. Place into a large freezer bag that has been dated and labeled with contents. Store in freezer until ready to use. When ready to enjoy, remove from freezer and let thaw. Reheat in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until warmed through.

Makes 12 pizza pockets.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

How to Freeze Sweet Corn


A few days ago I shared a picture on my Facebook page of a big pile of sweet corn. Every summer we purchase at least one bushel of corn to put away in the freezer for the year. Everyone gets involved, the kids love to help shuck, Josh helps me with the cooking process and then I do most of the hard work. But everyone takes part and that's what counts.

It usually takes me a couple hours from start to finish and yesterday we had spent all afternoon at the pool so I was really tired by the time I finished last night. But it's so worth it. I've currently got twelve quart sized bags filled with locally grown, non GMO sweet corn to nourish my family with during the winter months. Last year we did 18 bags and it was plenty, I'll see about adding a little bit more in the coming weeks.


Everyone has their own method, today I'm sharing what has worked for us. I'm certainly not saying it's the only way, you might have found one that works best for you. And that's totally okay. I will say, to be sure you have yourself a good, sharp knife on hand. Or if you have one of these handy gadgets, put that baby to use.



How to Freeze Sweet Corn

1. Remove all husks and silk hairs from corn. Rinse all ears in cold water, removing any remaining silk hairs or dirt.
2. Fill your largest pots with cold water, place the ears in water and let come to a boil. Boil for 6-7 minutes, then immediately remove corn and set onto a large platter to cool.
3. Using a cutting board and sharp knife, cut off kernels from each cob.
4. Dump all kernels into a large bowl, I usually add just a couple tablespoons of butter and let that melt in while I'm preparing all the ears.
5. Using a ladle, scoop corn into quart sized freezer bags. I don't exactly measure, but I assume there are at least 2 cups per bag for my family of five.
6. Remove as much air as possible from the bag before sealing shut. Make sure to label and date with contents.
7. Once the corn is completely cooled {I just let the bags sit out until I'm all finished} you may add them to your freezer. Lay them flat on top of one another for easy storage.
8. When ready to enjoy, remove from freezer and let thaw, then add to a saucepan with just a little bit of water and butter and let cook on stove top until warm. *If you're like me and always forget to thaw your corn out before dinner, just run the bag over hot water and it will become thawed.




We go through this process each and every year and have had good luck with our corn. It's really such a treat in the dead of winter to taste that little bit of summer. I hope you'll be inspired to pick up some fresh, local corn and stash a few bags in your freezer to enjoy throughout the year. You'll be glad you did!

I've also had some questions about freezing other veggies. Again, I'm not an expert, but I can share what has worked well for me.

Green Beans- Last year we had quite a few of these in our CSA, so I simply cut up my beans and added them to quart sized freezer bags. No blanching. Rinse and dry them thoroughly to prevent any ice crystals. Make sure to remove as much air as possible from the bag. I've shared this before, but I like to put a straw in the bag and suck the last bit of air out to create a vacuum seal effect.

Carrots- With carrots I slice them and then blanch in boiling water for a few minutes. Drain and let cool, then add them to freezer bags.

Zucchini- I like to grate fresh zucchini and add to freezer bags so I can bake bread and muffins in the winter.  I haven't ever tried freezing it or summer squash in any other way though.

Tomatoes- I always like to make freezer spaghetti sauce with any excess tomatoes I have on hand. It freezes really well and tastes wonderful.

Bell Peppers- Chop up green peppers and flash freeze to use in chili, sauces, etc. They do lose their crisp texture when you thaw so they're great for cooked dishes, but not so much for fresh toppings like tacos.

These are just a few vegetables I've frozen before, I know there are a lot out there but I'm still learning myself and clearly do not have all the answers. If you have any other tips or ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments below. I'm sure we'd all love to hear them!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Two Freezer-friendly Casseroles


I've yet to touch base about casseroles throughout this series. Everyone has their own opinion when it comes to freezing pasta. Most of my experiences have been good but we've also had some mushy dishes in there as well. I think it's very important that you're preparing the pasta correctly, just to al dente and not overcooking it. Pasta does soften in the freezer so it's even better to under cook if anything.


But I do have two very good casseroles that I've frozen before and they've always turned out wonderful. As much as I don't want to think about it, fall is really just right around the corner and these will come in handy for the cooler weather.


My friend Denise made this Pesto-Chicken Pasta for a freezer swap and it was one dish that everyone really loved. The recipe makes enough for two 8x8 pans, which is even plenty for my family of five. By the time you add in salad and other veggies or fruit, you've got a really well balanced meal.


Another favorite is one dish I tried last summer, Taco Pasta Bake. Taco meets pasta, I mean what's not to love? I remember sending a pan with my daughter who was babysitting for a friend and even her family loved it. It's kid-friendly and easy to throw together. It also makes enough for two small pans, bonus!

If you've been anxious for some good casseroles to add to your freezer stash, these here are two of my very best. I know you'll love them! I'll list the recipe links below again, there you'll find all of the ingredients needed as well as instructions for preparing and freezing. Again, just make sure to not overcook the pasta, let cook just until al dente and you'll be fine.  Enjoy!


Freezer-friendly Casseroles:

Taco Pasta Bake

Pesto-Chicken Pasta

Friday, July 25, 2014

Garlic Bread


We love having a good piece of crusty garlic bread with our spaghetti dinners, or really anything Italian for that matter. Did you know how easy is it to make your own? I suppose a little more time consuming than grabbing a loaf from the frozen food section in the grocery store, but not much more, I promise.

Our local Hy-Vee currently has loaves of their soft french bread on sale for $0.99. It's perfect for these so I grabbed a pack of two loaves and make up a couple bags for the freezer this morning. I like to have the slices already cut and prepared, that way we can remove how many ever we'll be needing for our meal and won't have to worry about wasting.


You can definitely jazz these up a bit by adding grated cheese over the tops but I kept them simple today. Lots of butter and garlic flavor going on in, perfect for dunking into marinara sauce!


After they were all done baking in the oven, I piled them into a couple different freezer bags and tossed them into the freezer. Easy peasy! I'll be glad they're in there come dinner time.


Garlic Bread

Ingredients:
2 loaves french bread
1 stick butter, softened
2 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of salt and pepper

Directions:
Slice each loaf of bread into half or one inch slices, depending on how thick you like it. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together butter, garlic, salt and pepper. Spread a small amount onto each slice of bread. Layer the slices on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 mins. Just until starting to brown and crispy.

Remove from oven and let cool. Once completely cooled, toss slices into a labeled freezer bag. Seal shut and store in freezer until ready to use.

When ready to enjoy, remove from freezer and reheat in the oven for about 5-10 mins. Just until warmed through.
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