Sunday, March 30, 2014

Feeding the Freezer

Not too long ago we had an unexpected major expense.  Not like "oh we need a new car", but more "oh we're now camping for vacation this summer".  Fortunately we've managed to sock away a decent emergency fund, but in looking more closely at our overall financial picture, I realized how much we've nickeled and dimed away our savings lately.  We knew something had to change.  So, I've started once again tracking every penny we spend (which sounds arduous but really only takes about three minutes a day if I actually keep up with it).  By far our biggest expense that we can actually do something about is food. 

I actually have a very generous grocery budget for three people.  Not USDA Thrifty Plan generous, but close.  Very close.  And that doesn't include eating out.  Also a very generous amount.  I tend to buy natural and organic meat and dairy, locally when I can. About 2/3 of our produce is organic.  So it adds up fast.  And when I come home in the evening and don't feel like cooking, I'm not shy about running right back out to pick up fast food.

I love the idea of freezer cooking, where you spend a day whipping up a bunch of fabulous, ready to pop in the oven meals, and then you don't have to think about cooking again for a few weeks.  But realistically, that doesn't work for me.  We just don't eat like that.  But if I'm going to get out of the habit of running out for burgers just because I had an exhausting day, the best thing for me to do is to keep my freezer well fed.  So over the last couple of weekends I've been doing some prep work that won't give me ready to serve meals, but will make my meals much, much quicker to throw together.

Yesterday I poached a whole chicken.  I took the meat off the bones and shredded it, giving me enough for three future casseroles.  When I cooked it, I added carrots, celery, garlic, onion and herb to the water.  Once I took the chicken out, I strained the broth and put it in the fridge.  Tonight I'll pull most of the fat off and then freeze it in one or two cup portions, to be used in future meals.

Today I pulled four pounds of ground beef out of the freezer (I bought 20 pounds on March 7 and I'm very interested to see how long it lasts us).  Two pounds were browned with onions and garlic, which gives me four meals' worth of pre-cooked meat for tacos, chili, casseroles, etc.  I made Italian meatballs with the other two pounds.  I use my cookie scoop and got 50 meatballs, so I froze them in packages of 10.  If we're having spaghetti, I'll pull out one package.  If we're having meatball subs, I'll pull out two.  Quick and easy.

I also made a batch of pizza dough.  This is my favorite recipe.  I don't have pizza on the menu this week, so I put both balls in the freezer so they'll be ready in case the mood hits.

I'm planning to make broccoli cheese soup this week (I finally got my family to agree to try homemade - it was a bit of a disaster last time but I know where I went wrong).  My daughter asked for bread bowls.  I've been wanting to try this Italian Roll recipe, so I mixed up the dough.  It's in the fridge now and tomorrow night I'll bake it into four bread bowls for soup on Tuesday.

Hubby asked for no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies, so I made a batch of those, too.  I was going to try this recipe for Blueberry Banana Oat Bread but ran out of steam.  So I pulled a loaf of banana bread out of the freezer for this week's breakfasts and I'll freeze the bananas that need to be turned into baked goods (we have some every week lately, which probably means I need to buy less!).

After all that I didn't really feel like cooking dinner, so we had a simple meal of broiled pepper steak (got some on the clearance meat rack yesterday), baked potatoes and roasted asparagus.  Tasty.

What's cooking in your kitchen this week?

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