Freezer Cooking (February 2014)

This was my second attempt at freezer cooking.  You can see the first time by clicking here: January 2014.

This time there were three of us and we did 24 different meals.  One friend doubled the recipes for her family of 6 and two of us just did a single recipe of each meal.  So in all we made 96 meals.

This was definitely a marathon cooking day.  I started the day at 7:30 am by baking some bread for us to freeze, and didn’t wrap up the day until 9:30 pm (and yes, I missed the super bowl to finish up the cooking).  It took WAY longer than anticipated…but it’s cool.

My two friends were there for most of that time, so the effort was definitely shared by us all.

goods(This is about half of what we bought – it doesn’t include the 200 pounds of meat and
any of the refrigerated dairy or produce)

For anyone wanting to try freezer cooking – there are hundreds of blogs/websites dedicated to it….but here are my recommendations:

  1. Start small.  Like really small (5-6, maybe 10 recipes if you are feeling super ambitious).
  2. Do it with a friend or two, but not more than 3 – unless you have a gigantic kitchen with two sinks and lots of counter space.
  3. Be very organized.  If you aren’t organized – forget about it.  Seriously.
  4. Don’t get all of your recipes from one freezer cooking blog or website.  Look around and pick out ones you and your family will like.  I’ve found lots of blogs have really cheap meals (“4 hours, 46 meals, $95”)….that’s just not realistic for the average person.  You just can’t find a $13 roast on sale for $4 like she did.  Or lean ground beef for $1 a pound.  Plus lots of her meals just don’t sound appetizing.  Why make cheap meals that your family won’t like?
  5. Do your bulk shopping at Sams or Costco and finish up at Walmart for everything else.
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  6. Shopping for the right quantity of food can be very difficult (especially when making nearly 100 meals).  So triple check quantities and have a friend help you with this.  I may or may not have bought 12 cups of olive oil when we only needed 12 tbs.
  7. Plan for a LOT more time than you think you will need.
  8. Buy disposable pans and lots of freezer bags.
  9. If you are super on top of your sales flyers and want to plan your meals around that – then go for it, but that requires way too much effort and I planned our menu weeks before we shopped – so there was no way to know what would be on sale and what wouldn’t.  And for this full time working mama I had to keep my sanity and only shop at 2 stores (Sams and Walmart) and not shop around for the best meat prices to save a few bucks.
  10. Only buy fresh meat, do not buy frozen since you can’t thaw it and re-freeze anything.
  11. Make a list of what you have and attach it to your freezer.   Mark out each meal as you remove it – so you’ll always know what meals you have left.
  12. As silly as this sounds – doing all of this is not only physically exhausting but mentally exhausting (at least for me), so be sure you do this on a small scale at first.
  13. Have Advil on hand.  Your feet and back will thank you.   Or Crown Royal.  It works, too.  

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(This is just 1/4 of the final product – what I am keeping for my family).

Here are the steps I took to prepare for the day:

  1. Pick freezer friendly recipes (either casseroles that are already cooked and just need to be reheated, or crock pot meals that are thrown into a freezer bag uncooked and need to be cooked the day you plan to serve it) – I’ve shared the recipes we did this time (click —-> Freezer Meals for blog), but there really are a hundred websites/blogs you can go to for ideas.
  2. Don’t plan to cook any foods that aren’t freezer friendly.  Here’s a good link (but I have frozen recipes with sour cream and cream cheese and they were fine): http://www.menus4moms.com/foods-that-dont-freeze-well/#sthash.HSb1OFxD.dpbs
  3. List out each recipe/ingredient/amount in a spreadsheet so it can be organized and easier to shop with and easy to sort – you can see my workbook (click —–> Ingredient List)
  4. Type out the recipe name with cooking and serving instructions on labels for the bags (I did not do it this time and it was definitely a time killer on cooking/prepping day)
  5. Print out the list of recipes so everyone has their own copy and can work straight from it on whatever they are working on.

And to answer a few questions people asked about on facebook:

  1. This took a total of 14 hours.  Half the time there were three of us working.  The other half it was either myself or one friend.
  2. Yes, it’s extremely exhausting.
  3. This saves tons of time – I won’t have to prepare a single dish from start to finish for my family for at least 6 weeks.  The only prep involved will be cooking rice and a veggie side dish or preparing salad.  All main meals are done.  I included some breads as well to be eaten as dessert or even breakfast/snacks.
  4. This saves tons of money.  For 96 prepped meals (and everything required to make them/store them) the cost was $1,070.  I budgeted $1,200, but we came in under budget by $130.  That boils down to $9.90 meal (including dessert and breakfast breads).  If our experience from January holds true about 90% of these recipes allow for leftovers for a full dinner or lunch the following day.  So it’s almost like we are getting twice the meals.  In addition, we have a lot of ingredients left over (like 10 cups of olive oil) to be used in the future that we won’t incur the cost of next time.
  5. Other benefit: We are eating much healthier than before.  With our busy schedule we have something every night of the week….and found ourselves running through a drive thru way too much.  In January I think we ate out a total of about 4 times, which is a huge change for my family.  So while it’s not only saving us money, we are eating better…and also trying out new recipes.

Many of the recipes are repeats from last time, there was only 1 recipe we didn’t like from last time (which we didn’t repeat).  I’ll be sure to update my blog on this post to let y’all know what I think about these recipes after we finish up with these meals. 

Happy cooking!

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A thought on crock pot cooking and snow storms:
If you happen to turn your crock pot on the morning of your state’s worst forecasted snow nightmare in 30 years and can’t get home for two days because the roads are a mess and the city shut down and thousands of kids are stranded and sleeping at schools and thousands are stranded at work and have to sleep in their offices and many are stranded on the roads and sleeping in their cars….then the lovely firemen of your community can go into your house (they have a universal remote – who knew?) and cut off your crock pot and let your dog out.  And if you are nice enough and tell them they can take the roast with them since you won’t be home for two days due to the weather – they actually will.  This happened to a friend of mine last week.  Firemen rock.

Freezer Cooking – 12 (or really 36) meals in 6 hours

UPDATED ON 2/1/2014:
We are doing another freezer cooking day tomorrow!  I would say this January cooking was a huge success.  However, there was one meal that was horrendous – the pepper steak.  So if you follow any of the recipes on these attachments – do NOT make this one.  All others were delicious!  

A friend and I got together this weekend to do some freezer cooking.  I’ve seen blog, Pinterest and Facebook posts for years about it and have always wanted to try it myself.

So when my friend, Michele, shared a blog post on facebook about it – I thought maybe she’d really want to do it with me (she’s married, is an assistant principle, is a basketball coach along with her husband and has four kids who each have a busy schedule)…she jumped at it!

We met at Sam’s Club last week to buy everything.  We decided to split the cost of it 1/3 – me, and 2/3 – her, since she will need to double the recipes to feed her crew.  It worked out wonderfully.  We were able to pick up 75% of our stuff at Sam’s Club and I grabbed the remaining items at Walmart.

The unfortunate part of all these freezer cooking blog posts is that everyone makes it sound so easy.  One lady said she made 40 meals in 4 hours – from prep to clean up.  She lied.  There is no way.  Michele and I worked for 6 hours and made 12 meals (well, really 36 meals when you triple it).  But still, we had TWO people working the entire time.  But (we think) we’d still do it again….just imagine the time we will save cooking over the next month….and it’s so much healthier then running through the drive thru after practice because I’m so exhausted I can’t imagine cooking dinner.  The good part about us working together is we were able to split the cost up, save the left over items for next freezer cooking day (like the freezer bags, seasonings, etc), and best of all – we really had fun doing it.  :)

After I posted a picture of our goods on facebook last night a few friends asked for the recipes we used and one friend (Kandice!) asked for the recipes, shopping list and menu….so I’m gonna post them all here.  This will not only be good to share with whoever wants it, but to also good for us to refer back to next time.

Our thought is that we’d repeat the recipes that were big hits, trash the ones we didn’t care for and add some new ones to the mix.

Here’s our menu (with a picture below of just what I took home, which is 1/3 of what we did).  Each recipe is listed in this link:  Freezer Meals

1. Savory pepper steak-not pictured
2. Honey bourbon crockpot chicken
3. Pineapple chicken burritos
4. Cilantro lime chicken
5. Crockpot Mongolian beef
6. Crockpot Honey Garlic chicken
7. Chicken spaghetti-my crew ate this tonight
8. Baked ziti
9. Chicken enchiladas
10. Honey lime chicken
11. Taco soup
12. Chili
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I made labels for each freezer bag or tin pan.  I’m sharing this with you, but please disregard the formatting – it’s terrible and I’m about to break out in hives because of this but I don’t have time to fix this – let’s all pretend everything is lined up and pretty:  Freezer labels
And the last thing is the shopping list I created with everything we needed to buy.  There were some things that I already had on hand I didn’t need to buy, so be sure you look at each recipe first before assuming what’s on this list is all you will need:  Ingredient List
So, there you have it.  If you make any of these recipes let me know.  Or if you’ve tried others that you love let me know that, too.  I’d like to add some other ideas to the mix.

My Holiday Bucket List

In an attempt to get the most possible joy out of the holiday season this year I’m going to do a bucket list (inspired by a fun blog I read).  And I say “holiday” because I want it to include Thanksgiving and Christmas – not because I’m politically correct or anything.

Here’s my list, in no particular order:

  • make our annual Griswold Family Christmas Tree trip (this is already scheduled)
  • watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (this year it’ll be from a hotel room in Cleveland, Ohio)
  • make some homemade gifts
  • watch our favorite movies over and over (Elf, Christmas Vacation, the Santa Clause movies, Home Alone)
  • drive around looking for the best Christmas lights
  • bake cookies with David to give to our neighbors

  • have Pa, mom and Clint up for Christmas
  • drink hot cocoa while watching the above mentioned Christmas movies
  • listen to the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” Pandora station (I’ve just recently found this station and it’s the best one yet)
  • go see dad sometime in December or January
  • slow down and enjoy the season
  • have our annual Christmas Eve get together and make ornaments or cookies with the kids
  • watch too many Hallmark Channel Christmas movies
  • go for a walk every day

That’s it for now.  I may add a thing or two as I think of something new.

 

Knit

My Great Aunt Sylvia gave us about 8 dishrags that she knitted for us as a wedding present 15 years ago.

I’ve used them ever since and they really are awesome. They are
Perfectly soft and scrubby all at the same time. The sad part is that they are all gone now.

I recently saw a tutorial on one of my favorite blogs (www.lifeingrace.com) of the exact same dishcloth pattern and have made my first one.

I am a crochet girl at heart but am trying to learn to knit. I finished my first one tonight (I think it took me about 3 hours to make over the last few days – I am definitely slow) and while it’s not perfect I’m so excited to have it now. This picture is when I was about half way done.

I hope to make many more. :)

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From my phone?

I am testing out a new app on my phone. If this is successful then this will post on my website. Let’s try it out.

And if this works, I may actually post more often. I am what someone would call the world’s biggest slacker. Ever.

Even better I’m talking to Siri and she’s posting for me.

New Years Eve

So it’s been a few month since New Years Eve, but I wanted to go ahead and post a few pictures from that fun night.  Some great friends invited us to their country club to do the ball drop again this year with the kids.  The nice thing is that it’s from 6:00pm to 9:00pm so we got home and were off the roads before the crazies got out.

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This was the same night that I stayed up and watched the first 6 episodes of 24.  I’ve never seen the show before, but I was hooked.  I couldn’t stop watching and think I was up until about 3:00 am watching (as Brad snored next to me).

THEN, the next night I had the worst nightmare of my life….like the WORST.  I screamed, woke Brad up, jumped out of bed and started running for the bedroom door.  Brad had to yell at me to get out of it….then I sat on the edge of the bed and sobbed for 10 minutes.  It was awful.  Apparently, this girl is a chicken.  No more 24 for me.  :(

 

Thanksgiving, Washington DC and the Christmas Tree Farm

 

Our trip to Washington DC over Thanksgiving break was wonderful.  We spent a lot of time walking, exploring, riding, eating and enjoying our way through the city.  We arrived Wednesday around noon and started out by walking to the White House.  Our hotel was only a few blocks away.

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Next, we saw the Washington Monument and walked to the WWII Memorial.  See the pillars on the left side of the photo?  On each of those it lists a state or country that was involved in the War.  There is a large pond in the center that David is standing in front of with fountains.  Opposite the Washington Monument is the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial.

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David and me in front of the Memorial.
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This pillar is part of the Lincoln Memorial and overlooks the pool and the Washington Monument.  IMG_1118

Me and my boy.  This photo was taken as we were waiting for the President entourage to ride by.  On our way back to the hotel on Wednesday we started hearing helicopters, then we noticed that police men were blocking this one street and not letting any cars by.  The security got tighter and tighter as we kept walking, so at a corner we stopped and waited.  About 30 minutes later about 40-50 cars rode by including motorcycle cops, police cars, trucks with armed men sitting in the back, several blacked out limos and suburbans (we assume the President was in one of these), more police cars and a few rescue vehicles.  It was neat to experience.

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My favorite part of our trip was watching the Changing of the Guard and visiting Arlington National Cemetery.  We did a lot of things and saw a lot of things including all the Smithsonian Museums, and most of the monuments, but this visit really stands out.

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We also walked to the Capital.  We had tickets to get a tour of the Capital but I thought our time slot was 10:45.  Instead it was 8:20.  We missed it.  : (  Instead we went to the Library of Congress (where this photo was taken – facing the Capital).

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On our last day in DC we rode the Metro to the Pentagon and Pentagon Memorial.  This was a very somber memorial and quite emotional to visit.  See those bench looking things?  Each one represents a victim of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.  They are laid out (depending on which direction they are pointing) to represent if the victim was in the building or in the plane.  They were also laid out in rows based on the year of birth of the victim.  The youngest victim was 3 and was born in 1998.  Wow.  Beneath each bench was a stream of water that was constantly running.  This was a beautiful memorial – especially as you read more about it to learn how it was created to honor the victims.

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When we left Washington DC we headed to a Christmas Tree Farm in Hillsville, VA.  We drove near the Shenandoah Parkway and decided to hop on rather than ride the interstate.  I was disappointed that it cost $15 to ride (when the Blue Ridge Parkway is totally free).  The Shenandoah Parkway was definitely beautiful though.  Once the Parkway ended it turned into the Blue Ridge Parkway….so we took that to Roanoke, VA and then hopped on a small two lane highway to drive about 60 more miles to Hillsville.  We went to this PRECIOUS Christmas Tree Farm to pick out our tree.

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Child labor at its best!

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