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December 2012 Archives

Freezer Meals

December 30, 2012

Over the last six months, Steve has stepped in and taken over the majority of the household meal planning and preparation. And in doing so he has realized what every home cook ever has realized: making a healthy and cost effective meal every single evening is kind of a drag.

It takes a lot of work and planning and sometimes you just don't want to and everyone eats frozen burritos (unhealthy) or we order pizza (unhealthy AND costly) (but oh so cheesy).

I've always done meal planning on a weekly basis, and he picked up that process really quickly: Sunday morning over pancakes and coffee we make a list of what meals we'd like to eat for the week, and then we fill out a shopping list of needed ingredients we don't already have on hand. We shop at Costco and usually have all of the staples required for any of our normal meals.

In October we decided to try making up a bunch of meals in advance, and tossing all ingredients into a gallon freezer Ziplock bag so that it's ready to pull out and throw in the crock pot any morning neither of us wants to cook.

It worked really, really well. The initial setup cost was pretty big, but subsequent weeks shopping trips were either super cheap or non-existent. Some of the meals were bland and some we just didn't like, but there are always more meals to try.

Today we restocked our freezer with bag meals, here is how we did it.

The Recipes

Basically any crock pot recipe will work, because basically anything can be frozen. Soups and stews and large hunks of meat work best, as does chopped chicken in sauce.

Last time we wrote out the recipes by hand and tallied up how many of each ingredient we would need. But this time Steve harnessed the power of the spreadsheet and made a giant sexy list of each individual recipe and their required ingredients, and automatically tallied how much of each ingredient we needed to buy and then I fell in love with him all over again because spreadsheets are sexy.

For instance, this most recent freezer-bag-making extravaganza we made 28 bags, which required 20 pounds of chicken breasts, 4 pounds of stew beef, 3 pounds of dried beans, and "lots" of potatoes, which all gets divvied up into different bags of meals.

We had the majority of the ingredients on hand, because I love having a well-stocked pantry. I wouldn't want to know what would happen if the urge for chili bacon mac and cheese or home made Belgian waffles would strike and I was out of flour, or cheese.

Who runs out of cheese? Heathens, that's who.

Then we took our list to Costco and bought everything that is possible to put into one Costco shopping cart. We had 20 pounds of chicken breasts. We had 4.5 pounds of spinach. We had canned tomatoes and canned beans and canned cream of mushroom soup. But at least we weren't the guy with a flat full of only 10 pound sugar bags and 5 gallon buckets of vegetable oil.

Chopping of All The Things

All of the shopping only took two hours because we have a LIST and I stick to a list like a shopping TYRANT. Deviations from the list are countered with lashings and public shaming. We hauled everything home and unloaded it on the counter.

Then we got to chopping: 6 cups cubed potatoes, and 6 cups of sliced potatoes. 13 cups of chopped onions, 3 cups of chopped mushrooms, and 4 cups of chopped spinach. 6 cups of zucchini, 12 green onions, 7 bell peppers, and 14 cups each of broccoli and carrots, all chopped.

Then there's the meat: ground beef to brown, stew beef to cube, chicken breasts to chop and/or be quartered, ham to cube.

We put everything into bowls until we ran out of bowls. Then we put things in pots. And candy dishes. And anything we could get our hands on that would hold 14 cups of vegetables.

Plus all of the canned or packaged ingredients: herbs, spices, half & half, tomato sauce, vinegar, wine, rice, beans, mustard, grape jelly, olive oil, cream of chicken soup, home made chicken and vegetable stock.

Every ingredient we needed was pulled out and placed on the counter for easy access, which was basically the entire refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.

The chopping was really the bulk of the work. We didn't really consider the amount of work it would be to chop 20 pounds of chicken and 14 cups of carrots. But two hours later we were done and ready for the assembly.

Assembly

Steve made these great ingredient lists for each meal we made, and we did each one twice. Two beef stews, two chicken cacciatore, two meatballs, two jambalaya. We each grabbed an ingredient list and two Ziplock bags, then started assembling our meals until the amount of chopped items dwindled and then vanished.

The three of us assembling two bag meals each in my kitchen was tight, but very doable as a family. There were a few instances of tripping over each other, and one bottleneck where we all needed to use the can opener to open 15 cans of canned things at the same time, so we all stood there and impatiently watched Donovan struggle with the can opener. Because COME ON WE ARE WAITING.

Despite that one bottleneck (Donovan) stopping production for a full five minutes, it was a really fun and efficient process. We ended up with extra cheese and extra cans of cream of mushroom soup, and we tended to over-measure one pound of chopped chicken, so we had to grab two more breasts from the freezer for the last few bags.

Results are the reason

The whole process took 2 hours of shopping, 3 hours of prep and 1 hour of assembly. But we ended up with 28 meals in our freezer, ready to be grabbed and thrown into the crock pot in the morning for a yummy and healthy evening meal.

My freezer is happy.

The Giving of a Gift to Another

December 23, 2012

Steve and I enjoy making Christmas gifts for our friends and family, like the year we made vanilla, and the year after that we made vanilla moose nugget soap (the process of which I apparently have no photos, but involved molding real gross moose nuggets and then filling the molds with brown vanilla-scented melted soap and let me just say that some family members didn't appreciate it).

UPDATE: I have no photos of the moose poop soaps because Steve took them.

One year we made mustard and ketchup from scratch (also no photos? what?), which was damn good. This year we kept with the same spirit and made fireweed jelly and scone mix.

We spent an afternoon at Arctic Valley picking fireweed blooms while the entire rest of the Anchorage population was there picking blueberries. We had decided that we needed 8 cups of packed flowers to make enough juice for the jelly, but eyeballing that in a plastic bag isn't as easy as we had expected and so we ended up with all of the flowers in the entire valley.

Along with all of the extra cups of flowers, we also brought home four live bees. They were very friendly and happy and high on all of the pollen, swimming around in the flowers like Scrooge McDuck. This doesn't count the two or three bees I noticed at the time I picked them and proceeded to freak right out because OMG bees.

After we sorted all of the sticks and leaves and bees from the petals, we gave everything a really good rinse and then brought them to a boil in water on the stovetop. The fireweed juice was done when it turned a fantastic purple color and the petals turned grey. Then we threw the juice into the freezer to wait until we were ready to make the jelly.

Once our jars arrived, Steve and Donovan teamed up on making and canning the jelly while I took on role of photographer and shouty-director. MOVE YOUR ARM. MOVE YOUR HEAD. I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU BLEW THAT SHOT. Because the photos were more important than not getting burned.

All of the extra flowers made a ton of extra juice which made for gobs of extra jelly, about three times as much as we needed for gifts. So much that Steve ran to the store in the middle of the canning to buy more jars.

Despite all of the extra work, the heat from the canning definitely went to everyone's heads and productivity waned.

Except for the dogs who never had any productivity to begin with. Mitzi plopped her giant anchor-like self into the middle of the kitchen floor to be near her pack, because being tripped over with hot jelly jars is the same as love.

Olive took the opportunity of the entire pack congregating in the kitchen to hog the entire love seat for herself. The humans didn't know what they were missing.

After the jelly was all canned and set aside, Donovan and I made scone mix bags. We bagged twenty two scone mixes, in fact.

Do you know how much butter that is? It's a lot. Good thing I always have a lot of butter in the refrigerator. Also sugar.

Meanwhile, Steve got to designing labels. The jelly jars got round labels and the scone mixes got labels with instructions. We included variations so each scone can be tailored to personal preference. Before printing I noticed that he added one un-approved variation, and he laughed at my eye to detail. We both laughed when my niece pointed out our Use By date was the wrong year.

With all of the pieces ready, we assembly-lined the packing: folded and stapled scone instructions on the bags, labels and fireweed print fabric on the jelly jars, hand-written notes on the Christmas cards, packed into boxes with brown kraft paper and bubble wrap, taped and labeled for mailing.

It was a pretty impressive amount of boxes we had ready to mail out, everywhere from as close as Homer to as far away as New Zealand. I love having loved ones all over the world.

I am really happy with how everything turned out. The jam is yummy and the scone mix is easy to make, with or without crickets. And the branding Steve did is fun and festive.

Wishing you and yours the merriest of everything this year! Now if you will excuse me, I haven't watched Muppet Christmas Carol yet today. That needs fixing.

Snow Play at Connor's Bog

December 16, 2012

Less Than Zero

December 6, 2012

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Hi, I'm Valette

I'm a photographer based out of Anchorage, Alaska. I've recently become a wife, a stepmother, and a homeowner. Life is pretty awesome. You can email me anytime. Learn more...

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