Like everyone else on the planet I have a job, and like a lot of other people on the planet, I work nights. It makes for odd schedules in so many ways, and meals, according to me and everyone I know who works 12 hour overnights, can be a nightmare...or at least challenging. I've spent hours on Pinterest searching for and planning a big cooking day where I stock lots of healthy meals in the freezer so that I don't dread cooking as much on my work and sleep days or make Gene do it. I know, it's a pretty pedestrian fantasy but trying to avoid the non-nutrition of fast food and the expense of restaurant food by cooking clean home-made meals consistently (the key is consistently) can be a challenge. It ain't for wusses, that's for sure!
I did a mini trial run this afternoon on the whole pack the freezer in one afternoon concept and I have to say it was much easier than I thought it would be and very emotionally rewarding. it's great to know that I already have dinner for my work day tomorrow prepped and in the firdge and a half dozen easy options in the freezer for my sleep day on Tuesday. This will be particularly good for when I work stretches of 12 hours on/12 hours off. 12 hours sounds like a lot of time until you try to do all those normal little things like sleep, bathe, spend time with the family, answer emails, watch a little of the boob tube, let alone trying to cook from scratch--and we don't even have kids! My admiration is off the charts for the moms and dads who work 12 hour overnights and manage to keep the family and their sanity together and dressed in clean clothes and with full bellies.
I chose four coordinating recipes this afternoon (recipes/links/photos follow) mainly to make it easy on myself and because both ground beef and round steak were on sale at my market this week.
The first thing I did was put 2 1/2 lbs of ground beef and sausage in the slow cooker on high to brown to start my Slow Cooker/Crockpot All Day Meat Sauce for Pasta. I don't have pictures of the crockpot process but the end result was 3 bags of spaghetti sauce that just needs to be warmed up to serve over any pasta shape I choose to throw in boiling water.
I will say that if you like the idea of the from scratch taste but don't have all of the ingredients or the time, you can Sandra Lee it and brown off the ground beef and sausage (remove any fat) and then add in a quart of your favorite spaghetti sauce. Go ahead and let this simmer in the slow cooker on low for 4-6 hours, along with a medium diced onion, a diced sweet bell pepper of any color, a couple of ribs of finely diced celery. You'll be glad you did. It freezes very well. Divide up in quantities appropriate for you family into plastic containers (at least a cup per person is good) or zippered baggies (be careful that it's closed well)!
While the spaghetti sauce simmered away, I made an easier/qucker version of my Mom's Swiss Steak recipe where I bagged:
24 oz of commercially prepared red pasta sauce
8 oz baby carrots
1 large onion, chunked
1 large green pepper, chunked
2 tsp Cavender's Greek Seasoning (or you could use Lawry's or Mrs. Dash or any of your favorite all purpose seasoning)
Seal it with as little air as possible and throw (well, maybe not literally) it in the freezer.
To cook: thaw, and place in slow cooker. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or low for 6-8 hours or until beef is tender. Serve over buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes.
Next time I might go completely from scratch but for this time it worked and will be delicious.
The third of our favorite recipes was Sweet and Sour Meatballs. It seemed a little strange to me when I first read the recipe and I've been making it for so long I can't, for the life of me, remember where I got the recipe from in the first place but it is one of our favorites, so different from the run of the mill meatball in a creamed sauce and always a huge hit when I take it to potlucks.
For the freezer version, I made a double batch which gave me about 40 meatballs and divided it in half. I also made a double batch of the sauce by whisking all the ingredients and placed in the bags without cooking. Freezing and re-heating the sauce would break down the corn starch anyway, so it wouldn't work to cook and then re-heat. To re-heat, meatballs can thawed and reheated on the stove over medium heat or in the crockpot on low for 3-4 hours. If the sauce doesn't thicken, make a slurry of 1 Tbsp of cornstarch and a few tablespoons of water and mix into the simmering sauce. Stir well. It should thicken up within moments.
One of the great things about this recipe is that it can be served over plain rice, fried rice, mashed potatoes, or even buttered egg noodles.
You can tell what a hit this recipe is at our house by how stained and faded the recipe card is!
The last recipe didn't make it to the freezer but only because it was a test run. Next week I'll buy more ground beef while it's still on sale and make a triple batch for the freezer. Sloppy Joes are one of Gene's favorite quick meals. We've often used the "Sloppy Joe" label sauce or "Manwich" label over the years but this time I decided to perform a test run on Pioneer Woman's from scratch version. We can now say that it was "Wife tested; Husband approved". Gene gave a definite thumbs up so I'll be skipping the commercially made sauce from now on and keeping the freezer stocked with this great, from scratch version. Now, I just need to work on getting those from-scratch sandwich buns in the freezer as well!