I have always loved the idea of freezer cooking. However, I'm not really a casserole girl. I've always loved to saute veggies, and grill meat - that kind of thing. HOWEVER - with our growing brood of hungry boys, casseroles really do fit the bill, and with my ever-growing list of things to do each day with homeschooling them... freezer meals just make sense.
Here's what I did this time:
Two days before the big day, I soaked some brown rice (see previous posts)
The night before, I put the rice in the crock pot on low, added the water, and woke up to cooked rice in the morning. (a huge crock pot full) ($3.00)
I removed the rice into bowls, and put a 5 lb bag of washed potatoes in the crock pot with water, and went to go buy my groceries for the rest of the meals! ($3.50) When I got back, I mashed the potatoes right in the crock pot using some butter and my hubby's strong mashin' arms. :)
I picked up our beef from our farmer, and knowing ahead of time I was going to do freezer meals, I ordered with that in mind. (we order meat from a farmer so that we can eat organic grass fed beef- what cows are supposed to eat! For the cuts we get, it is really not that much more expensive than the grocery store) So, I ordered 14 lbs of ground beef, 2 roasts, and 3 chickens. ($103 including tax)
I'll stop right here and say that my choice of meals this time was based on our low, low budget for food this month. So, I'm using mostly ground beef, and stretching it by putting it in casseroles. My idea situation? No, of course not, but you gotta do what you gotta do, and I'm so thankful for what we have!!! The Lord is continuing to provide so that we can have mostly organic, real food. He is so good :)
Next, I went to Trader Joes and bought 4 containers of organic mushrooms ($8), 3 containers of organic sour cream ($4.50), 3 containers of cream cheese ($6), 4 bell peppers ($3), 6 lbs of raw cheese ($24), 4 bags of organic brown rice noodles ($8), 4 jars of organic pasta sauce ($8), 1 bag of organic onions ($3), 1 bag of frozen organic peas, and 1 of corn ($3.50), sun dried tomatoes ($2) = Total: $70.00
So with this $170 spent on freezer meals, I'm estimating that our entire grocery bill this month will be lower than usual. Most likely around $370 for 450 servings (5 people x3 meals per day x 30 days per month).
Ok - now to cook!
I got home and put the ground beef on the stove to brown in two huge pots. (later, drain the beef using a colander set on a bowl to reserve that HEALTHY tallow to cook with later!)
On one of the two remaining burners, I made a cheese sauce using the raw cheese melted on low into some raw milk I already had. I added one of the cream cheeses to this also. On the other burner, I melted the remaining two cream cheeses in some raw milk, and stirred in two containers of organic sour cream.
While that was all going, I chopped up the bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions - and put them in separate bowls.
Once the beef was finished, I had two burners available, and I cooked the mushrooms and bell peppers. When those were finished, I cooked the onions. When THOSE were finished, I boiled my water for my two different kinds of pasta. (in hind sight, I would have sauteed those veggies earlier in the day - it would be fine to saute them on a previous cooking night too - but remember the point is to only have to clean the kitchen ONCE! :) )
Now, I'm almost ready. I got out my "non-made-from-scratch" ingredients and lined them up: salt, pepper, rosemary, dill, oregano, basil, cumin, red pepper (all dried), pre-minced garlic, parmesan cheese, sun dried tomatoes and spaghetti sauce.
Here's what I ended up with for my assembly line:
1. Penne noodles
2. Spiral noodles
4. Mashed potatoes
5. sauteed peppers
6. sauteed onions
7. sauteed mushrooms
8. cheese sauce
9. sour cream sauce
10. ground beef
11. non- scratch items
Let the assembly begin! (I just mixed these individually in a large bowl, then put in casserole dishes or ball canning jars)
Beef Stroganoff - beef, sour cream sauce, penne noodles, mushrooms, onions, garlic, spices (casserole dishes x2)
Lasagna - beef, spiral noodles, spaghetti sauce, garlic, spices, then cheese sauce, then parm. cheese on top (casserole dishes x2)
Macaroni and Cheese - combination of penne and spiral noodles, cheese sauce, sun dried tomatoes, onions, garlic, mushrooms, spices (canning jars x4)
Spanish Rice - beef, rice, onions, garlic, peppers, spaghetti sauce, spices (make sure to add lots of cumin and red pepper) (canning jars x8)
Cheesy Rice - rice, cheese sauce, sour cream sauce, garlic, spices (canning jars x4)
Shepherds Pie - beef, mushrooms, onions, garlic, spaghetti sauce, garlic, spices. smush this flat on the bottom of a casserole dish. Top with frozen peas and carrots, then top with mashed potatoes (casserole dish x2)
Now that's a TON of food - ready to go! :) It took my 4 1/2 hours cooking time, but I think it is going to save me HOURS and HOURS of kitchen time in the long run!
Today is Sunday so chose to nap instead of cook, but tomorrow I'll finish up by cooking my two roasts in the crock pot, and then slicing them for BBQ or Stews. I'll store those in ball canning jars as well.
As for my chickens, I'll roast them individually during the next month and serve along side one of my great sides like Macaroni and Cheese or Cheesy Rice! :)
I think this is going to be the beginning of a great thing for our family. Now I can easily steam a few DIFFERENT frozen veggies AND make a quick salad around meal time, and not have to worry about the main dish AT. ALL. I think this is really going to help us get more veggies in our diet because I'll have more time. Seems like up until now, I make the main dish, and then am TIRED and just end up serving one vegetable. Boring. And by the way - the more veggies I serve each time, the further that casserole will stretch - right?
And on nights when I'm REALLY lazy, I can bring out the spanish rice, and serve it with chips and queso from the Mexican restaurant down the street. ($3 - by the way! - and it really is enough for even this hungry crew. But, I'm sure the chips are made with GMO corn, so I try not to do that TOO much! :) )
Now this post is long enough, but I am really excited about all of this REAL FOOD that I have in my freezer. No MSG, no GMO, no chemicals, no BPA lined cans, no rancid oils...no icky stuff. It's quick, and it only took 4 1/2 hours of my time. I think it's going to be worth the time investment :)