A few months ago, I discovered Pinterest. Basically, Pinterest is an online bulletin board where you can “pin” up all kinds of pictures, recipes and other inspirations onto “boards.” Your friends can then look at them and be equally inspired. I like it because it saves me from having 200 links under a generic “craft” bookmark, plus I follow a number of people who basically pick through the best of the Internet and give me all kinds of great ideas quickly.
One of the “pins” I loved was from this blog where she talked about making crockpot freezer meals. Baby #3 is due to launch in about two weeks and this is about the time where you start putting away freezer meals for the bleary postpartum life with a newborn. I wasn’t feeling very inspired since I haven’t found too many freezer meals that don’t come out just a little gross. Plus, I always forget they need like eighteen days to defrost (pregnancy drama strikes again), which usually adds up to another dinner of cardboard box pizza.
So this idea was, let’s be real, revolutionary.
I chose five crockpot recipes that were either tried and true, or sounded nutritious and delicious enough to take a chance on. They are as follows:
Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes – via Real Simple
Red Beans and Rice – via MyRecipes
Vegetable Soup – via about.com
Healthy Mama Barbecue Chicken – via the original Mama and Baby Love post (not a Tilley family favorite)
Mrs. Sorge’s Sweet and Spicy Chili
In total, I was making nine crockpot meals (I doubled all recipes except the Barbecue Chicken recipe since it serves something like 12 people). To assemble, I wrote post-in notes grouping ingredients by category: Vegetables, Canned Goods, Spices, Meats. I pre-labeled two gallon freezer bags with name of the meal, and before placing in the freezer wrote out additional direction such as how much water to add and how long they needed to cook.
Then I started chopping vegetables. I had a measuring cup sitting by the cutting board and would cut up all the onions, adding them to individual bags as I went, then all the green peppers, and so forth. It was faster than filling up one whole bag at a time. In total, it took about four hours to chop everything. (I listened to a lot of podcasts). I had to take breaks at various points to pick up various children at school, etc. But all I had to do was zip up the bags and toss them in the refrigerator.
Side note: It was pointed out to me later that evening when I was almost comatose from fatigue that perhaps other women who are 37.5 weeks pregnant should break the assembly process into a two-day venture. At the time, I’m pretty sure I said something very rude before collapsing into bed at 8:30pm but after 12 hours of sleep this rang of good sense.
After the vegetables, I added any non-bean canned goods the recipe called for – like diced tomatoes. I thought about adding the beans as well, but my Google search didn’t turn up anything definitive about how canned beans would survive in the freezer. They would probably be fine, but I ultimately decided not to include them.
Then I added the spices and whatever meat the recipe called for. I purposefully didn’t choose any recipes that required searing or cooking the meat in any way first. Mostly because the only dishes I wanted to do were the cutting board, measuring utensils and a knife.
At this point, I sealed the bags and added any notes about how to assemble them. Add so much water and so many cans of beans. Cook on what temperature for how long. Then I put them in the freezer and called it good.
The only other thing I did was set aside a special place in my pantry for the ingredients that would be added later (the cans of beans, chicken broth, etc) so I wouldn’t accidentally use them in other dishes.
The Mama and Baby Love blog mentioned that she would let her bag defrost for about 30 minutes on the counter before adding to the crockpot. I’m guessing this is because the whole thing freezes into a solid mass and it needs a little time to soften before maneuvering it into the crockpot.
Edited to add: I found I could defrost the freezer bags in the microwave more quickly and effectively than leaving them lying out on the counter. I would soften them just enough to break up the contents into four big chunks that would fit into my crockpot. The bags should be used within 2-3 months of making them. The additional frost growth on the vegetables waters down the contents too much.
If you try this, comment and let me know how it works for you!