Saturday, January 28, 2012

Stocked Up {Freezer Spaghetti Sauce}

Planning 

Yes, it's been a while.  I'm not going to apologize or give excuses.  I've just been dealing with a lot lately, and as usual when that happens the blog takes a hit.  That's just...me!  :)

Earlier this month I cleaned out my pantry, which wound up being more of an undertaking than I had planned, but it definitely needed to be tackled.  I couldn't believe how chaotic the pantry had gotten!  This weekend, I decided to tackle the freezer, and restock it as well. 

I know I am lucky to have a stand alone freezer.  I've had it for years and it is such a wonderful asset!  Like the pantry, sometimes it gets disorganized and I have no clue what's even in there!  I try to do a deep clean (I also have to defrost it...unfortunately it's not self-defrosting, lol) at least twice a year, and take an inventory, which I then print out and stick on the front of the freezer.  I don't always keep the inventory updated as I use/add things, but at least it's a starting point.

Anyway, I thought I would use some of the meals posted over at Once a Month Mom to fill my freezer.  We have activities every weeknight, and I have become a reluctant meal planner.  I've always said I wasn't good at it, but I've learned that with our busy schedule if I don't have a plan, we eat horribly!!  I'm hopeful that having meals in the freezer ready to go will help on those hectic nights.

Because I can't leave well enough alone, I actually combined a couple of the menus from OAMM.  No offense to Tricia or any of the others that work so hard to put the menus together; I just have a pretty good idea of what my family is willing to eat and adjusted accordingly. 

Needs a bit more organization, but look at that stockpile!

Now, check this out.  I used quite a few ingredients that I already had on hand, shopped some sales, and spent $39.68 for additional ingredients on what would turn out to be 9 meals.  That's less than $5 average per meal!  That's pretty awesome.  Granted, I did have to pay for the ingredients I already had on hand, but it wasn't an additional cost just to make the meals.  Did that make sense?  It did in my head.  It also obviously doesn't count sides, but still!  Then, I decided to whip up a batch of my freezer spaghetti sauce that I've been making for years (recipe at end of post) using only ingredients I already had in my pantry.  Sweet, right?

So, here's the info on what I made:

From the 5 Day Mini Menu - January 2012:
  • Ranch Chicken Parmesan - I used 1.5 lbs chicken tenders; I did have to increase the breading amounts considerably to have enough.  After breading, I placed them in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and flash froze them.  Then I placed them in a foil baking pan, with foil between the layers, then covered with more foil, labeled & put back in the freezer.
  • Teriyaki Honey Chicken - used 1.5 lbs chicken tenders (hey, they were on sale for a great price!) and adjusted the recipe accordingly.  Also, I used grated ginger instead of ground ginger.
  • Easy Pleasing Meatloaf - I used 1.7 lbs ground beef and divided the mixture into two loaves.  Also, instead of buying stuffing mix, I crushed up some croutons I had that needed to be used.
  • Mexican Shepherd's Pie - I followed the recipe, except I used two boxes of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix instead of making my own cornbread (this time anyway).
From the 10 Day Mini Menu - January 2012:
  • Noodle Heaven - Only change was mixing the cream cheese mixture and the noodles together and layering that with the meat sauce. 
  • Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas - I'm partial to my own recipe (well, duh) but decided to give this one a whirl.  I made two pans with 5 enchiladas each.  I know it doesn't seem like much, but while I love them the kids aren't big fans, so I figured smaller portions would work better, and the kids can have bean burritos that night if they don't want enchiladas.  :)
  • Creamy Sausage and Tomato Pasta - this looks really good.  I used chicken Italian sausage. 
General Notes:
  • The mini menus are awesome, especially if you haven't done any freezer cooking before or don't have a ton of space or time.  So glad they are providing these!
  • Not counting the spaghetti sauce & the final clean up (which I'm currently avoiding by blogging) it took me 4 hours to prepare all this.  I did my shopping yesterday.  However, the kids were not home, or it would have easily taken twice as long.  ;)
  • Read, read, read the recipe ingredients and instructions!!!  Especially if you are preparing several items at once, it's easy to skip a step. 
  • Random, but I love to listen to music when I cook.  Alt Nation was my station of choice today.
  • Nitrile gloves are my friend.  They really help my super dry hands.  And thick gloves for washing dishes.  I still washed my hands a lot, but the gloves help a ton. 

Freezer Spaghetti Sauce
Katy, Alphabet Soup

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb bulk Italian sausage, optional
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste
3 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
2 cups water
1 heaping Tablespoon Italian herb mix
1 Tablespoon sugar
4 dried bay leaves
1 tsp kosher salt

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and sausage, if using, and saute 5-7 minutes (if using sausage, cook until meat is no longer pink).  Drain if needed.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, being careful not to burn garlic.  Transfer to a large crock pot.  Add the remaining ingredients and cook on low 5-7 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.  Remove bay leaves.  Taste and season with salt & pepper as desired.  Divide into desired portions, let cool, label and place in freezer.  To use, thaw and heat to a simmer. 

Makes about 12 cups sauce.

A few notes:
  • I use tomato puree for a smoother sauce; use the crushed tomatoes if you like more tomato chunks.  Personal preference.
  • I've also used the very large cans of crushed tomatoes from Sam's Club, mine was 6 lb 6 oz, and just omitted the tomato paste.  Still works well.
  • I usually omit the sausage unless I just happen to have some handy.
  • Ever notice how many recipes call for "one 28 oz jar of your favorite tomato sauce"?  That happens to be 3 1/2 cups.  I usually portion my sauce into 4 cup containers for freezing.  Handy, huh?
Why yes, I have quite a stash of girl scout cookies....your point???
Enjoy!  :)