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.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Homemade Brownie Mix


As I've browsed freezer cooking recipes and articles over the past few years, I've always run into these make ahead mixes for cookies, pancakes, waffles, brownies and so much more. I'd yet to have tried one, but I like the idea behind it. Eliminate the convenience of simply opening up a boxed mix by pre-measuring the dry ingredients for your desired recipe. Because that's really why we think they are so much easier than baking from scratch, right? You still have to add in eggs, oil, butter and what not.

Normally when I make brownies for example, I have used recipes where you melt chopped chocolate into butter instead of using cocoa powder. So this morning I tinkered around with some recipes and finally came up with a good standard brownie that I could easily adapt to be made ahead. I was really happy with the results and even received thumbs up from the little taste testers.


They come together very quickly with few ingredients. In fact I spent probably about five minutes mixing together the dry ingredients for two batches. I can easily adapt the recipe to include different flavors. I was low on chocolate chips, so in the second batch I threw in butterscotch instead. Peanut butter or mint chocolate would also be fantastic choices. The finished brownies themselves are slightly chewy around the edges yet soft and decadent in the middle.

I will be storing my batches in the freezer just because the flour and other ingredients will stay fresh longer. I'm sure we'll have no problem putting these to use in no time though, in between hungry kids and bake sales for the school.



You can definitely adapt your favorite breakfast and dessert recipes to be made ahead, just mix together the dry ingredients and then add in the wet when ready to prepare. For those of you that might not be keen on freezer cooking, this could be an excellent way to still save you some time in the kitchen. Because in the end that what it's all about; giving you more time to focus on what's really important in life. Family.


Homemade Brownie Mix

Ingredients:
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup chocolate chips {or any other flavor chips you prefer}

additional ingredients needed to prepare brownies:
2 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Directions:
In a medium bowl, mix together all dry ingredients using a whisk. Label a quart size freezer bag with contents, date and additional ingredients needed to finish brownies. Pour dry ingredients into bag, squeeze excess air out and seal shut.

Store either in the pantry for up to six months or in the freezer for up to one year.

When ready to prepare brownies: dump dry ingredients into a bowl. Using a whisk, mix in eggs, melted butter and vanilla. Mix together just until smooth. Pour into a lightly greased 8x8-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Grilled Chicken Breasts


During the summer I find myself serving sandwiches, subs, wraps, etc a whole lot more than normal. Something about the warm weather and fresh veggies from the garden is inviting. Especially when we're cramped for time or don't particularly feel very hungry in the evenings.

Lunch meat from the deli counter can get old. Chicken breasts are always good and so versatile. I can season them up a bit or even let them soak in a favorite marinade all day. Tonight we enjoyed chicken and bacon subs topped with all of our favorite veggies. Simple and really good!


Grilled chicken breasts also freeze really well too. You can then use them for sandwiches, salads, wraps, served over pasta; anything your little heart desires. These come in handy when packing lunches too! Skip those drive-thrus and pack your own lunch. It's all about planning ahead.


When it comes to freezing the chicken, it's better to have only a small amount in each bag. I'd recommend no more than 4-6 breasts. That way if you don't happen to use up the whole bag for one meal, you're not opening and closing the bag a million times and ruining the quality of your meat.

You could even go one step further and prepare your subs or sandwiches to be frozen. You would want to place one chicken breast, maybe a couple slices of bacon as well if you wish onto your choice of bun/bread. Then wrap individually in foil. You can then place them into a large freezer bag. When come time to eat, just let thaw and reheat. Top with your favorite toppings and you've got a quick bite to eat.


Grilled Chicken Breasts

1. Prepare chicken breasts with choice of seasonings {for these I used Lawry's, garlic powder and pepper} or marinade.
2. Cook on grill until juices run clear, about six minutes on each side.
3. Remove to a plate or platter and let cool completely.
4. Once cooled, place a few breasts in a freezer bag. Make sure to label and date with contents.
5. Place chicken into freezer until ready to use.
6. When ready to enjoy, simply remove from freezer and let thaw in the fridge.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Freezer Waffles


Waffles used to be something we only made on the weekends when I had more time to devote to our early morning meal. In the past few years though, it's been convenient for me to prepare a triple batch on Saturday mornings and then freeze all the extras. That way we can pull out what we need throughout the week and simply reheat in the toaster.

When I first became a mom we would purchase a big box of waffles from our local Sam's Club, it really was a reasonable price for all of those waffles we would get. But then I discovered just how simple it is to make your own. And how much better they taste too. And better for you.


We have quite a few breakfast items I like to have stocked in the freezer and waffles are definitely top of the list. I always like trying new variations, but you can't beat a basic waffle with maple syrup. We've got school starting in less than one month so I surely will have as many of these stashed away as possible for those rushed mornings.

Here are just a few variations that we have loved:

Easy Homemade Waffles
Blueberry Muffin Waffles
Overnight Oatmeal Waffles

Freezer directions: Once you have prepared your choice of waffles and they have cooled, place them in a single layer onto a baking sheet. Put into the freezer for about one hour, or until frozen. Then you can transfer to a large freezer bag. This way they will not stick together. Store in freezer until ready to use.

When ready to enjoy, remove desired number of waffles and reheat in the toaster.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Freezer Smoothie Packs


The hot summer heat is finally upon us in Iowa and I personally love it. The girls and I just got back from spending our afternoon at the pool. We've had lots of rain in June and then some lower than average temps lately so it's nice to have some good ol' hot sun to relax in.

When it gets hot like this though, our appetites tend to fall to the wayside. This is just one reason why I love smoothies. They can be packed with so many nutrients that our body needs and feel like a treat all at the same time.


I try to have these on hand at all times, not only for the warmer months but throughout the year. When we're running low on time and need something quick and nutritious; a smoothie can be the perfect meal replacement. Or even for snack time, my kids have always loved these.

I don't always make the same kinds, we like to change up the fruit to what's available in our fridge or freezer. Usually there's always banana for extra creaminess. Spinach or kale for that extra nutrition. If you've got chia seeds, add those in. Oats work really well too. I never feel the urge to add any sort of sugar or sweetener, if you're using seasonal fruit, that seems to be sweet enough. The kids never complain, but maybe it's also because they don't know otherwise.

You can certainly mix your smoothie up and divide into cups or containers and freeze that way. But these smoothie packs are wonderful. Simply grab one out of the freezer, a small container of plain or vanilla yogurt, a little bit of milk and you're all set. Within in minutes you'll have yourself a healthy and satisfying drink!

Freezer Smoothie Packs

Ingredients:
1 banana, sliced
2 cups assorted fruit {can use fresh or frozen}
1 cup kale or spinach
1/4 cup oats

Directions:
Layer all ingredients into a quart sized freezer bag. Push excess air out of bag and seal tightly. Label with contents and date. Place into freezer until ready to use.

When ready to use, remove bag from freezer. Place into a blender along with a 6 oz. container of plain or vanilla yogurt. You'll want to add in some milk for thinning. Blend all together until smooth and mixture has reached your desired consistency. Pour into glasses and serve.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Twice Baked Potatoes


I've shared these before with you, they are probably my favorite side to have stocked in my freezer. Just because they can be labor intensive especially for a weeknight meal, I'd rather make up a whole bunch at one time and be done with it. So that's what I do a few times throughout the year.

I'll bake up either a five or ten pound bag of potatoes and make them all into twice baked potatoes. I can't say they're the healthiest for you, but they sure are delicious!



We love to add these to our meals all year round, but I think they're awesome during the summer months. When we're grilling, I like to heat up a few to round out our dinner. These are usually on my list when I host my freezer swaps, I'm pretty sure everyone enjoys them as much as our family does.

Twice Baked Potatoes

Ingredients:
5 lbs. potatoes
1 stick butter
16 oz. sour cream
1/2 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled
Lawry's and black pepper, to taste
chopped green onions
4 oz. grated cheddar cheese

Directions:
Wash and scrub potatoes, place onto a large baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for at least one hour or until tender. Remove from oven, cut potatoes in half and scoop out the insides using a spoon. Place potatoes into a large bowl and leave the skins on the baking sheet.

Add in butter, sour cream, crumbled bacon, seasonings, green onion and cheese. Mix together well with a potato masher or electric mixer. Using a spoon, scoop potato mixture back into the skins. Place onto the baking sheet. If desired top with additional cheese.

Stick baking sheet into the freezer for one-two hours or until potatoes are frozen. Remove from freezer and wrap each one individually in saran wrap. Then place into large freezer bags that have been labeled. Return to freezer until ready to use.

When ready to enjoy, remove from freezer to thaw. Heat in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until warmed through.

Makes about 22 twice baked potatoes
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