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Kitchen Maven

January 15, 2015

Thaw it out Thursday #1 – Mystery Chicken

Last week I wrote a post about freezer cooking, and how easy it can be when you take a “slow cooker” approach to it.  I was SO excited to cook my first bag and write a review about it.  I debated a while about which recipe to start off with, but with almost a dozen meals to choose from, I decided to Russian Roulette it.

I stuck my hand in the freezer and just pulled something out…and of course, I ended up picking the one bag that was a no recipe, hodgepodge, mystery meal.  I had some extra ingredients at the end of my prep session so I literally just threw a bunch of stuff in a bag.  And that’s the bag I picked.

Thankfully, it was yummy.  Not so thankfully, it was ugly as butt. (Good thing I’m into Ugly Cooking)  Starting off Thaw it out Thursday with a bang!

So here’s the recipe.  Maybe.

Ingredients (I froze all of this together):

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1.5 cups chopped carrots
  • 1.5 cups chopped celery
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup (I use Trader Joe’s brand, which comes in a box)
  • 2 tsp poultry seasoning

Ok, who am I kidding, I have no idea how much of each thing I really put in there…you can just dump in however much you want and it will turn out great. I promise. (Well, maybe be judicious about the poultry seasoning, unless you like exceeding the RDA for sodium.  Then by all means. )

Instructions:

1.) Defrost
2.) Dump out
3.) Cook on low in slow cooker, 6-8 hours or until chicken shreds easily
4.) Eat

Fancy stuff, right?

(Note:  I was concerned about how the vegetables would cook after being frozen, since veggies are high in water content, but they came out just fine!)

And there you have it.  I really should have added this to my Ugly Cooking series.  That said, it was yummy, hearty, and even the toddler liked it!  Next week, I promise I’ll have my act together more…I actually know what I put in the other meals!

January 6, 2015

Freezer Cooking Made EASY

When I was pregnant with Elle, my “nesting” urge manifested itself in the form of cooking and freezing meals.  I cooked and cooked and cooked and in the end had more than a month’s worth of freezer meals for after she was born!  It was aaaamazing not having to worry about cooking…so much so that I decided I need to make this a monthly gig.

But you know what wasn’t so amazing?  The cooking day itself.  Chopping, measuring, cooking, bagging and then washing the pots and pans so I could do it all over again for the next recipe.  It literally took almost 10 hours and I. was. wiped. While in the end it was worth it, I was dreading having to do it again

But then, thanks to Pinterest, I stumbled across SLOW COOKER freezer cooking!  As if slower cookers weren’t convenient enough, it gets even easier if you can prep and freeze the meals in advance!  I found plenty of recipes that just called for raw meat (rather than, for example, browning meat in advance).  This was exactly what I was looking for — no pre-cooking, no pot washing, just prepping and bagging.  Then, all I have to do every morning is dump out the bag and turn on my Crock Pot.  How easy is that?!

So I made a plan and got organized.  I’ll post reviews of each recipes as I cook them, but for now here’s how I made freezer cooking a seamless and EASY experience.

Easy Freezer Cooking

1.) Inventory.  Gather all of your recipes and make sure you have all of the ingredients.  This sounds like a no-brainer, but having everything you need is an essential step to a smooth prep day.

2) Prep anything you can in advance. For me, this included washing, chopping, peeling, etc. You can even measure out your marinades and spice mixes. The goal is to just be able to dump stuff in the bag and move on!

Easy freezer cooking

Easy freezer cooking

3) Clear off a big area, like a kitchen table for bagging.  I literally can’t think straight if my counter tops are cluttered, so moving my bagging area away from my prep area made a huge difference in my cooking process!

4) Layout and prep all of your bags at once. Label the bags (I prefer a numbering method…number your recipes and then label your bag correspondingly), so you know how to complete the recipe during prep and cooking time.  Roll down the edges and flatten the bottoms for easy mess-free pouring.

Easy freezer cooking

5) Take care of all of the meat at once.  I HATE HATE HATE working with raw meat.  So much so that I’ve even considered becoming a vegetarian just to avoid the stuff.  Separating the meat into the bags ahead of time got the most unpleasant part of the cooking experience out of the way, and prevented me from having to wash my hands a bajillion times.

Easy freezer cooking

6) Finish it off.  Go through the rest of the recipes and dump in the remaining ingredients.  Hopefully, if you did your prep work in advance, this part should go really quickly.

7) Seal and put away…and enjoy knowing that you don’t have to worry about any major cooking for a good while!

Easy freezer cooking

For real though, think about it…a few hours of prep-work and all of those meals! We’ll probably get at least two meals out of each bag…and all I will have to do is grab my (defrosted) bag, dump it in the slow cooker, and relish the smells all day long.  Now who wouldn’t want to cook like that?

Do you have any tips for freezer cooking?  I’d love to hear them!


November 30, 2014

Ugly Cooking

In this day and age, it seems like everyone has become an expert chef.  I rarely get through my Facebook newsfeed without seeing a picture someone posted of the meal they cooked.  Usually, there’s special lighting, fancy quadrilateral plates (my math nerd husband will be impressed that I even know that word), a “bed” of something (probably quinoa, amiright?), and that fresh sprig of parsley precariously positioned to complete the perfect look…Food Network, here we come!

I am not that type of cook.  Don’t get me wrong, the pictures are lovely and often appetite inducing, but when it comes to our food?  I’ve never cared much about the aesthetics.  Our plates are round.  The only corners you’ll find are on the ones with chips in them.  And as far as fancy plating of the food…do the pots count?  Because we usually just dish it straight out of there (why get another dish dirty).  And forget about garnish.  Any food I set out is meant to be eaten, not looked at.

I just don’t care about how pretty my food is. I’m all about the taste (bout the taste, bout the taste, no…ok I’ll stop).  So to rebel against all those pretty food pictures, I’m starting a series called Ugly Cooking in which I post pictures of my ugly food… because so long as it’s yummy, we’re happy to embrace the ugliness.

 

And what better first post than my Thanksgiving food!  I have to say, I really wasn’t TRYING to make ugly food, but I guess this is what happens when you attempt to cook a bunch of dishes when you’re home alone with a toddler and “newborn” (ahem, she’s 5 weeks now…how long can I use the newborn excuse?)

So here’s the picture that inspired the series…the ugliest pie crust ever (and let’s just get this out of the way too…yes, we have hideous counter tops…we just bought a 40 year old house last spring and the counters didn’t make the cut for the first round of renovations).

Anyway, the pie crust…

 

And the final product wasn’t much of an improvement.  I’m still trying to figure out the temperature of my new oven so the edges, shall we say, “caramelized” (ahem, burned) before the center cooked.  It was still SO yummy though!

Then there are the mashed potatoes.  I’d love to say that as ugly as these are, they were delicious…but I’d be lying.  These were gross (can I pull the newborn card on this one?)  I think it’s because I forgot to warm up the milk before adding it, or maybe the potatoes were too old, but they had the consistency of paste.  Like if I were into crafting (I’m so not), I’d have enough glue to last me a long time.

 

And here’s a picture of my turkey:

Ruocaled / Foter / CC BY

 

Just kidding! That turkey is gorgeous. Mine well…made the cut for this blog. And remember what I said about garnishes? This is what my turkey actually looked like.

 

Yep, it’s ugly, but guess what? It was soooo yummy.  Seriously good.  And no, it’s not undercooked… I placed it upside down in the pan to allow the breast to cook in its own juices.  I generally don’t like white meat from turkey (in Romanian we call it “cotton meat”), but this technique makes it delicious!  Ugly, but delicious!

And if you’re really turned off by the “raw” look (as some people tend to be), cooking it uncovered for a little while will brown it up nicely).  I only did this so people don’t think I’m about to give my family food poisoning, not because I think it makes the meat any yummier.

 

It’s still not a pretty turkey, but at least it doesn’t scream “Ecoli!”

Ok, lest y’all decide to never accept a dinner invitation to my house because my food is so unappetizing looking (but it’s yummy! unless I tell you I’m making mashed potatoes, then you really should decline), let me present you with these beauties:

Parmesan herb dinner rolls…I get a little redemption from those right?  (But for the record, we just ate them straight out of the pan…so maybe not)