School is starting back on Monday…and this mom’s one solution to long days and new routines is having dinner at the ready. As a serious control freak, I have no problem admitting that knowing what everyone will eat offers me significant comfort, especially when the rest of our routine is in transition. So what did I do today? Well, from 11:30 am to 4:00 pm I steamed, blanched, baked, pureed, and chopped my way into Type A heaven. On the menu for this week: a Southwestern acorn squash bake, spaghetti squash with pesto sauce (canned a few weeks ago), a Soba noodle bowl with greens, okra, chicken and peppers, and a crock-pot brunswick stew. There’s no way I’d do all that with the kids tugging at my heels, if I had to wash and chop veggies or cook meat on the stove. Enter the weekend prep session. Here’s a look at what came together, while the hubs kept the troop occupied:
- 4 pizza crusts (mostly for Celia’s dinners)
- 10 veggie taquitos- inspired by this recipe.
- 4 1-cup bags of shredded chicken
- 1 cup of homemade chicken broth
- 4 1.5 cup servings of baked sweet potatoes
- chopped and sliced veggies for this week’s recipes (onions, corn, tomatoes, okra, and sweet potato greens)
Whew! My one promise to myself…be done in time for date night. No excuses. And we did it! Yes, date night was early. Yes, I’m home before fun stuff even comes on TV. I’m owning it. In looking around at the people hanging out downtown, I’m probably better suited for a beer and Netflix marathon with the hubs anyway. But man- it felt great to stock my freezer and fridge with ready-to-use goodness for the rest of the week! And it was even better to be done in time to enjoy a night out (albeit a brief one) with my fella.
How did I do it? Pretty easy actually. It probably wouldn’t have taken me as long if I hadn’t made lunch and been running interference with the kiddos.
First off: my crock pot chicken. Seriously the best idea ever. Takes no time, and gives me all the meat this family will eat in a week. Here you go:
- 2 1.5 lb packages of chicken (more or less, depending on how much you need)
- White wine- enough to add 2 inches of liquid to crock pot
- 2 T garlic powder
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp salt
- Place chicken in your crock pot (don’t grease the crock pot)
- Pour in your white wine
- Add garlic, pepper, and salt
- Cook on low for 10 hours
- Shred and bag by 2 cup portions in quart size freezer bags
Isn’t that easy? You can freeze these for up to 2 months in a traditional freezer, or 6 months in your deep freezer, and take out to use in whatever recipe you need, seasoning as you go. This is literally my lifesaver when it comes to cooking with meat. It takes no time whatsoever, and you can easily cook straight from the freezer without thawing first. **PS- don’t waste the leftover liquid. You can bag it and freeze it, or use it this week in your recipes in the place of chicken broth or stock.
Next up: pizza crust. Picky-eater must-have. Organic frozen pizza is super over-priced, and on top of that, most of it still has plenty of inorganic ingredients and is still allowed to carry an organic label. Not cool. So here’s my response to that, which makes four ready-to-use pizza crusts:
- 1 2/3 c. warm water
- 1/3 c. white wine
- 4 tsp. dry active yeast
- 1 T. local, raw organic honey
- 2 T. olive oil
- 6 c. organic, unbleached flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- 2 tsp. italian seasoning
- handful of shredded parmesan cheese
- In a stand mixer (I loooove my KitchenAid), with the dough hook attached, combine the first 5 ingredients, and mix on stir speed for 30 seconds. Let rest for 7 minutes, or until the yeast mixture is puffy.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, garlic, italian seasoning, and parmesan.
- Add your flour mixture one cup at a time to yeast mixture, using the stir speed. As the dough gets thicker, be sure to the lock top of your mixer to save your motor. Do NOT mix at a higher speed- your motor will burn up!
- Remove the dough from mixer bowl and roll into 2 large balls. It should be a little sticky, but shouldn’t leave a stick residue on your hands. If it does, you need to add a few more tablespoons of flour. Likewise, if it’s too dry, add some more olive oil.
- Place each dough ball into a separate mixing bowl, and coat lightly with olive oil. They should just be a little slippery at this point.
- Cover bowls with a dish towel and allow them to rise in a warm place for an hour, or until they’re doubled in size. **Little trick, if your kitchen isn’t warm enough for the dough to rise, preheat your oven to 200, then turn it off. Place your covered bowl in the oven and allow it to rise there, checking every 15 minutes to be sure it’s not rising too much)
Once the dough is twice its original size, divide each ball into two separate balls. Roll out on a floured workspace into a large circle, and place on pizza pan. Brush each crust with olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
- Bake each crust at 425 for 8 minutes (the dough should be dry and slightly golden, but not brown). Once they’re cool, wrap them in plastic and freeze them!
- When you’re ready to make your pizza, just take it straight from the freezer, add your sauce and toppings, and bake at 425 for 8 minutes. Instant dinner that’s clean and easy!
While my pizza dough was rising, I got to work on the taquitos. I keep a whole mess of these in the freezer, and send two with my husband for lunch EVERY day. They are delicious, and even my six-year-old can’t get enough. Between these and my serious stash of freezer burritos, I’m pretty sure we have lunch on lock for the next 6 months. I’ll spare you all the details, and just send you to the site that inspired me- we just tweaked the ingredients to match what we like, and once they were baked, I wrapped them individually in plastic, and froze them. Like I said, send two in a lunchbox for the hubs every day, and he just wraps in a paper towel and microwaves for 90 seconds on each side. Done! Check them out here 🙂
And last but not least, the prep. So, when you get a veggie share from your CSA (again, community-supported-agriculture, or farm share), you get a lot of stuff that you may not have had before. And since you’re buying pesticide/herbicide-free, you may very well find little critters nibbling on your goodies. Ew. So there’s lots of washing involved. I learned the hard way that caterpillars can survive in the fridge for several days if they have an entire ear of corn to munch. So now I wash on the same day I get them. I wash EVERYTHING. It takes a long time. But I figure, if I’m washing, I might as well go ahead and prep those veggies for their later fate. And that’s what I did. Want to know how to prep or freeze your veggies? Check out the ULTIMATE guide, by veggie, here!
I blanched the corn (because I’m not cool with bugs munching all week- I go ahead and kill whatever may be dwelling in those husks), cut it off the cob, and then sliced up the tomatoes, okra, and peppers. Then I baked and pureed all the sweet potatoes for freezing and using in future recipes. The end result was some seriously delicious looking veggies that I’ll be excited to cook vs. dreading to prep. And of course, if I change my mind, there’s pizza crust and tons of taquitos in the freezer as a backup plan. I have no excuses this week- no matter what happens, we’ve got dinner on lock.
5 thoughts on “Make-ahead meals”
i love this, lauren. this is my sunday afternoon routine during the school year. and prepping clothes for the week. i will think of you tomorrow afternoon as i am chopping, cooking and packing in plastic bags for the fridge/freezer!
I should have known you’d be doing all this! And so glad for the reminder- clothes for the week are going to have to join the prep routines over here…
Inspiring Lauren! I love to cook and go through phases of feeling like, “I’ve got this” to “dang, what the heck am I going to make for dinner tonight? That is one hour away??”. Lately I’ve aired towards the latter…You are inspiring me to get back to my pre-planning dinner days:) It all looks delicious!
I’m right there with you Jenny. That panic from not knowing what to make is the worst! Stay encouraged my friend!