Sunday, September 13, 2015

Back-To-School Week 1 Dinner and Freezer Recap

I am often asked to explain how I cook ahead/how often I cook, etc. I have a lot of friends who really want to figure this whole dinner gig out, but feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start. So, I thought sharing my (honest) method to the madness might be helpful. This will be the first post in a monthlong series so my friends can see the way I create a stash of homemade meals in the freezer, so I can feed my family well--even on the busiest of days.

Some weeks are smoother than others. This past week ended up looking nothing as I envisioned it would. I had these pipe dreams of the kids heading back to school, and me getting this big jump start on stocking the freezer, spending all of this time working out, catching up with friends, yadda yadda yadda. Well, that didn't happen. My children didn't even start school til Wednesday, and then the bulk of my free time ended up being spent in surprise medical appointments for myself, and playing catch-up with office piles, meetings, etc. Better luck next week. In the meantime:

I started the week with three tubs of Bolognese in the freezer. 

Monday (Labor Day): That afternoon I took a few minutes-- like 15-- to make a big batch of Kale-Almond Pesto, not to eat that night, just to have on hand in the freezer. Dinner was grilled sausages/veggie burger and a bunch of prepared salads picked up from Mrs. Green's (Moroccan carrot slaw, a quinoa salad, potato salad, green beans with shallots, and smashed lima beans from Kibberia, which they carry in their prepared food case).

Tuesday (by kids' request): Cheese tortellini topped with kale-almond pesto (for our vegetarian child + me) and Bolognese (for our 'meatatarian' child + my husband). I didn't actually do any cooking beyond boiling water, and cutting up a few pieces of fruit to have on the side, because I was able to dip into our freezer stash, still ending up with 2 more tubs of Bolognese and a bunch of pesto on hand in the freezer.

Wednesday: Tween book club at our local library means my older child gets pizza and treats at the library and three of us go out simultaneously to the local sushi place. (Monthly tradition that we all enjoy.)

Thursday: All I could think was, "holy moly I am *not* in my back-to-school groove yet...and who knew that I'd be spending all this time this week at MD appts for me. Ugh, annoying." So, I got by with a little help from my friend, Trader Joe's. We had an Indian feast from their frozen section: chicken tikka masala + vegetable biryani + lamb kofta + saag paneer + naan (heat everything in the oven while the kids are bathing) + I cooked up a bag of frozen peas + chopped an apple + sat and relaxed.

Friday: I found/made *just a few minutes* to prep family dinner before we went swimming at a friend's:
  • Picked up a marinated kale salad from Green and Tonic earlier in the day (when I was treating myself to a smoothie)
  • Picked up lamb chops and a white bean-pasta salad at Whole Foods (grilled the lamb chops when we got home from swimming; white bean-pasta for our vegetarian child's entree)
  • Peeled, chopped and roasted a butternut squash (tossed in olive oil + cumin + cinnamon + chili powder + turmeric + salt and pepper at 425 until fork tender before we went swimming, then turned the oven off to keep it warm/room temp til we got home)
  • Chopped up cucumbers and tomatoes (a nice neighbor with a green thumb had given us) and dressed them in olive oil + lemon juice + salt and pepper
Saturday: kids and a sitter had a vegetarian baked pasta dish and salad I picked up at Whole Foods (when I ran in for the lamb on Friday)

Sunday: I found myself with time to cook, so decided to make something I could freeze:
  • Popped a 4.5lb pork shoulder into the crockpot with 2 cups of white wine + 1/4 cup cider vinegar+ 10 cloves of garlic + 4T ground sage + 2 T ground mustard seed + salt & pepper for 8 hours on low. We had 1/3 of the shredded pork for dinner tonight, slathered in BBQ sauce, and I froze two tubs of pork for future dinners. I purposefully let the braising liquid be rather neutral so I can season the pork, depending upon the future meal (BBQ, Mexican, Asian….)
  • Made some quick pickled onions (1 red onion, thinly sliced + 1/2 cup red wine vinegar + salt and pepper in a saucepan over low heat until liquid evaporates)
  • Roasted new potatoes
  • Tossed arugula in lemon juice and olive oil

Going into next week, here's what I have on hand in the freezer:
  • 2 tubs of Shredded Pork (that can become tacos, sliders, stir-fry, quesadillas, salad, hash, soup, etc.)
  • 7 tubs of Kale-Almond Pesto (that can go over pasta, get stirred into soup or risotto, become a pizza/flatbread topping, can make a gooey, protein-packed grilled cheese, etc.)
  • 2 tubs of Bolognese (that I use as a pasta topping or lasagna layer)
  • I'm also long on Trader Joe's Macaroni and Cheese and Indian entrees, and a variety of frozen raviolis, which I can pull out in a pinch until our homemade stash builds up. 
Going forward, my hope is to whip up 1-2 freezer-friendly recipes/ week. Most of them will come from my Stock Your Freezer in a Snap ebooks, because those are tried and true favorites. If you want to join me, you're welcome to download your own set of done-for-you shopping lists, recipes, and packaging recommendations. You can either follow along with recipes I mention, or choose your own freezer-friendly recipes to tackle:
Hopefully this post helps you see how I keep ahead of the dinner curve (most nights!). Here's to bonus hours, and family dinners, even on the busiest of days!!

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