Saturday, January 26, 2013

Crockpot Freezer Meals: Round 1

Remember way back when, when we all were wearing unfeminine, big ole chunky heeled shoes and we loved them!?  I totally jumped on that trend bandwagon.  I still have a fondness for them as I look back at old pictures.  I was well known in my family for my chunky shoe collection. 

Ah, I wonder where I can find me a good pair of chunky shoes now-a-days?  Hmmmm.......

15 years later and what bandwagon am I jumping on?  Freezer meals!

Seriously?  That's what excites me these days?

Yup!  I love freezer meals just as much as I love(d) those chunky shoes (I wonder if I could bring back the chunky shoe?  I could totally be a trend setter!).
I have been "pinning" freezer meals since the day I discovered pinterest.  I've been far to intimidated and unorganized to actually venture into the unknown that is freezer meal planning.  Things have been pretty tight around here since the hubs took a 12% pay cut, so in an attempt to spend less (We are ridiculous grocery shoppers!  Seriously, the worst!) I decided now was the time.  One big problem we have is many LITTLE trips to the store turning into us buying more than what we went in for which was hitting our piggy banks pretty hard.  We've been trying to spend $400 a month on food for our family of 5, but haven't been staying that low. 

I decided to start out slow; roughly 2 weeks of food. I headed out to Winco which is about 45 minutes away.  I was lucky enough to have a day when I could leave the kids home with Daddy.  It took me about 2 hours to shop.  I STRONGLY suggest you not go freezer meal shopping with your kids.  Unless you're a masochist that is. 

I wish I had kept my receipt, but at this point I'm not sure where it could be.  Probably somewhere in the mess I call a purse; I could cry just thinking about it.  I remember my total was about $179 (it was for sure in the $170's) and that was with me stocking up on some case lot and everyday items as well.  I would say I spent about $120 on the meals themselves.  Which is much better than what we've been spending, but still I'd like to see that number go down.  I think it's possible by shopping ads and really finding the best deals out there.

By the end of my shopping trip I was pretty drained.  I made it out to my Suburban, loaded it up, got in, turned my key and........nothing!  The darn think doesn't ding when you leave the lights on, so unfortunately I have been known to leave my lights on from time to time (Hubs would say I leave them on WAY more than from time to time, but this is my blog, not his!).  Luckily, just then, the driver and passenger of the car right in front of me showed up and were willing to (attempt to) jump start my car, to no avail.  We start thinking it was the starter, which we've recently replaced.  It wasn't looking good.  These gentleman were nice enough to offer me a ride home (all the way over the mountain) but I've learned enough from Lifetime NOT to get in a car with 2 strange men even when they seem nice enough.  Luckily, just then, my friend Anne showed up!  She's in my carpool for heaven sake!  The fact that we were both there is totally crazy!  I still see her sudden appearance as a miracle!  She was able to drive me home, and I could then tell Hubs what happened.  We pulled our son out of school early so we could head back out and figure out what the deal was.  Turns out it WAS just a dead battery.  Hurray for small miracles!!!

So my whole day was spent dealing with the car, which threw everything off.  I had hoped to shop and cook all in the same day, but no biggie.  I threw everything in the fridge and started the next morning.

STEP 1:  Brown meat.

Crockpot meat can be mushy.  I like to brown whenever I crock.  It helps give the meat some seared flavor, too, which is always a crowd pleaser.  For more efficiency I suggest browning all like meats together for less washing in between.  For example brown all beef first then wash the pan and do all chicken, then wash and do all pork.

 This was my stove top set up.  I put the browned meat on the plate to let it cool before placing in the bags, and had the meat I would brown next placed at the top of the stove.

Another tip I have is PAY ATTENTION!  

I started browning hamburger that was meant to be patties for Salisbury Steak.  Totally screwed up there!  I tried to fix my boo boo, but it didn't work.  Still was way delish (doesn't look like it from the picture, but totally was), it just totally crumbled while bagging.

Step 2:  I do this a bit differently.  Many will chop all veggies at this point.  Not me.  I felt it was just as easy to chop as I go which allowed me to keep ingredients in the fridge out of the way until needed.  This kept my counter clear and I feel made cleanup easier in the end.  Also, clean up as you go is REALLY helpful during your cooking process.  So step 2 with my method is basically just dive in!  Get going on your first recipe!  Do any additional cooking necessary (rice/noodles....whatever) then toss it all in the bag and add your meat.  It's seriously as easy as that! 

This was a totally cool pepper growing inside a pepper!  I had to take a picture of it! 

Flatten them out to the best of your ability and lay it flat until frozen.  You can stand them up the next day if that will make more room in your freezer.

And, voila! 

18 meals is what I had in the end!  I had planned for 2 weeks, but ended up with some extra meat that needed to be frozen anyway.  Might as well throw something quick together to make extra meals instead of just frozen meat (I honestly don't think I'll ever freeze meat on it's own again.  Can't promise that, though.).  Now, since my day was thrown off because of my car I ended up having to deal with my kids while preparing the meals.  I don't recommend that!  I think it took me twice as long.  All and all, though, I'd say this experience was well worth the time and effort!  We have had fantastic meals (OK, not all of them.....I've definitely had some complaints!) and it has given me more time with the kids during the day, and more time to bake bread/rolls to go a long with dinner which is another great money saver not to mention much more yummy than the store bought stuff!

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