Or, “The Pinterest Menace”.
(The idea for the Star Wars take on the subtitle is courtesy of my best friend. We were eating dinner on the way up to a concert last night, she asked me how this part of my pre-baby prep was going, and I told her I was starting with the actual food today. So she suggested that I do a little miniseries of this on here, the conversation turned into figuring out how to alter the various Star Wars titles to fit, and things got really geeky from there. It happens. So this one’s for you, C. :) )
Now that I’m at the point where my phone app is telling me I have 10 weeks to go, give or take a few days, I figured I’d best get on this. I’m doing dinners first, just because I feel like those are the most crucial. There was a sale on chicken at my local grocery store last week, so I decided to start with a couple of those recipes.
1. This is really the first time I’ve done freezer cooking like this–the prep to actually cook later part. I did do cooking to keep stuff on hand for fast dinners when I was single, but that was always cooking the actual meal and then freezing it in single size portions so I could just microwave it. So total newbie perspective here.
2. Since I’m really only cooking for 2 adults, I’m assuming that most of these dinners will feed us for at least 2 nights, given that most recipes are for 4 or more servings.
3. Neither of the ones I did today were recipes that originally had freezer prep instructions, so I’ll have to wait until the summer to see how well my ideas for how to adapt them actually worked. Therefore, this post is mostly for my own reference later, and I guess I’ll have to do a follow-up post at some point.
First up: Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta. I decided to prep a double batch of this one so I could throw some in the crockpot for tonight’s dinner. And, well, I made a lot of mistakes on prepping this one in a time-efficient manner. It took me almost 2 hours to get this one done! But maybe someone can learn from my little comedy of errors.
Mistake the First: Thinking that it would be a good idea to prep a snack with an untested recipe that I found on Pinterest at the same time. Not only did I completely fail at making crispy baked sweet potato chips, I also failed at not slicing my hand in the process. It was a shallow cut, but I still had to stop to bandage it, and lost a bunch of time in prepping and cooking them. At least they tasted good. Note to self: My mandolin hates sweet potatoes.
Mistake the Second: Using another untested idea that I saw on Pinterest to try to prep the bacon. I was using turkey bacon instead of regular bacon, since Mr. Meat Lover is surprisingly not so big on bacon. I think it’s the fat, because I used turkey bacon the last time I made this recipe, and he didn’t have any complaints. Anyway, I tried to bake it, and it just wasn’t crisping up, so then I had to resort to smaller batches in the microwave, and parts kept almost burning. So it took me probably a solid 40 minutes just to cook a pack of bacon.
May-or-may-not-have-been-a Mistake the Third: Complicating things by making some of the ingredients from scratch. I’ll admit this was kind of a sorry-not-sorry thing, which I’ll explain in a moment.
My process: First step was to make the cream of chicken soup base. This took me maybe about 8 minutes to make, once I’d gotten all of the ingredients together. So I really didn’t lose a lot of time, though I’m not sure what the cost would be compared to just buying the canned stuff. I already had all of this stuff around, though, and since I’ll be nursing when I’m eating this, I liked the idea of avoiding the MSG/mystery flavor ingredients in the canned stuff. (The recipe I used came from this cookbook, which I got as part of an ebook bundle awhile back. I’ve used it as a substitute for both cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soup in a few recipes, and so far, so good. The ranch seasoning in the bowl in the next picture is from the same source.)
Once the soup base was prepped and had cooled down to about room temperature, I added most of the other ingredients for the sauce–sour cream, a little more pepper, ranch seasoning, and garlic. I left out the water and bacon at first. My reasoning was that I wasn’t sure how well watering down a creamy sauce would make it hold up, given that frozen water is just straight up ice, and the bacon would probably just get soggy if it was sitting in there for a couple of months. (Also, yes, I used jarred minced garlic. Every time I buy heads of garlic, it’s already sprouted by the time I go to use it, and mincing it is a pain anyway. This is me picking my battles.)
And here’s the finished packet. I put the sauce in one bag and the bacon in another, and both of them in the larger bag for the chicken. All of that extra writing on the bag is the rest of the instructions. I figured my future sleep-deprived zombie self would need the help. So here’s what I’ll have left to do, once it’s thawed out and ready to cook:
1. Throw the chicken in the crockpot.
2. Mix the sauce with the bacon and some water and dump it on top.
3. Turn on the crockpot. Fork-shred the chicken when it’s done cooking. (I didn’t actually write this, so hopefully Future Sleep-Deprived Zombie Me will have enough brains left to remember that.)
4. Cook spaghetti to mix this with at the end. I didn’t think that would freeze too well either, and once I get the pot on the stove, I figure spaghetti is one of those things I can cook with one hand if needed!
And for the record, that’s only half of the sauce and half of the bacon. Once I bagged this up, I finished the recipe for immediate crock pot cooking as called for.
Second item on today’s menu: Bourbon Chicken. This wasn’t on my original plan, but it’s become a favorite around here recently, it seemed like one that might adapt to freezer cooking well, and I still had everything I needed to make it except for the chicken. Including way too much apple juice that I’m afraid won’t keep. (Note to self: next time, just buy a juice box!) I’m not linking to the recipe, because one of my cousins gave it to me after she made it for a family gathering, and I don’t know where she got it.
Thankfully, this one wasn’t nearly as time-consuming to assemble. I’d already started to make the sauce before I remembered to take a picture. And I forgot that the olive oil is for actually cooking the chicken, and therefore not an ingredient that I needed to have out. But here’s what I’ve got here: apple juice, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, ginger, ketchup, brown sugar, water and chicken. Since the sauce ingredients were more water-based to begin with for this one, I did go ahead and do the water this time!
I’d already decided to do a double batch of this one as well. So all I had to do was mix the sauce ingredients, divide it between two smaller freezer bags, and then cut up the chicken into bite-sized pieces to throw in the larger bag that would hold everything.
Sadly, this “family sized” pack of chicken seemed to be a little skimpy on the meat, once I’d opened it and trimmed off the nasty bits. It’s pretty filling once you put it over some rice, but I still think each of these bags will only feed us for one night.
What I’ll still need to do on this one:
1. Throw some rice into the rice cooker. (It’s one of those appliances that I wouldn’t have bought myself, but the Mister already had it, and it gets used a lot more than I expected! Plus I don’t have to watch to make sure it boils over, which makes it awesome for Future Zombie Mom Me.)
2. Cook the chicken in a skillet.
3. Dump the sauce into the skillet. Add some cornstarch to thicken it up near the end.
4. Dump the chicken over the rice.
As far as chicken goes, I still need to do two dinner recipes, and two lunch ones. One of the dinner ones involves chicken thighs instead of breasts, and the chicken nuggets are a lot more time-intensive to prep, so I decided ahead of time to save those for another session. Given how much longer it took me to do the first recipe than I thought, and my pregnancy-induced lack of standing endurance, I’m really glad I at least didn’t make that mistake. Though silly me thought that I’d have the energy to cut out my next maternity/nursing sewing project after this. I think I’ll be putting my feet up and finishing my book instead…