Category Archives: Cooking

Freezer cooking 2: Planning your meals

I’ve been trying to plan our meals for the last two weeks, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I really suck at it.  We operate more on the “what’s in the freezer/fridge this week?” meal planning.  Every Friday, I look at the list of what’s in the freezer (handily on the upstairs fridge), and fill in our meal plan for the week.  Then on whichever weekend morning I’m getting up with Daughter Person, we head to the grocery to get anything we need for the week – mostly fresh stuff.

So, that leaves me without a multi-month plan.  Which I’m OK with.  If you’re more of the need to plan better type – you’ll need to write down what you want to eat on every day you’ll need food.  We just plan dinner for the most part, although I’m starting to get into planning lunches as well, so that we have more interesting lunches.  At this point, for me, the lunches are just left overs, but this go-round, we’re making more interesting lunches for Dad.

Once you’ve gotten your plan ready – whether you’re going with my wing-it method or the more traditional write it all down method, we’re ready to move onto the next part – planning your cooking session(s) and shopping.

Making my own pasta mixes – attempt 1

I have to confess, I *love* Knorr/Lipton Pasta Sides (or whatever they’re calling them these days).  My favorites are the creamy garlic shells and the butter and herb ones.  Our Wal-Mart sells them for about $1 each, with the occasional sale of $0.98, so they’re pretty cheap, and really easy to make – you just boil water, butter and sometimes milk, and add the bag of stuff – in 10-ish minutes, you have a side (or a meal).

I’ve been wanting to try to recreate them myself for a while – I like the concept of quick and easy, but would like to get away from the processed food.  Well – tonight, Dad and I tried.  We started with the butter and herb blend.  We opened it up, took a sniff to see if we could figure out which “spices and herbs” were in there, and set about making our own attempt.


There’s about 4oz of pasta, so we weighed out 4oz of macaroni (the closest pasta we had on hand, the Knorr version uses fettuccine).  From there, we looked at the ingredient list and started to put things together.  Don’t make this at home yet – this is our first pass at the recipe, and it’s not perfect.  It needs some modifications described below, that we haven’t tested yet.

Butter and Herb Pasta mix

  • 4 oz pasta
  • 1/4 c non-fat milk powder
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp oregano dried
  • 1/2 tsp parsley dried
  • 1/2 tsp basil dried

Boil 2 cups of water and 2 tbsp of butter, and add everything when boiling.  Keep boiling until the pasta is tender (11-12 minutes for us).

So, how did it turn out?  OK.  It’s edible, but not quite what we’d like.  The taste of the milk powder was overwhelming, and not entirely pleasant.  The pasta was a little harder than al dente. The sauce thickened more than we would like, and the herbs were a little off from our preferences.


Next time, we’re going to skip the milk powder, and instead boil 1 cup of milk with 1 1/2 cups of water (to ensure the pasta gets cooked all the way) and 2 tbsp of butter.  We’re going to reduce the corn starch to 1 1/2 tbsp, half the basil and oregano and double the garlic powder.  I think it needs more salt, dad doesn’t think so, so we’re going to leave that alone for now.

Freezer cooking 1: Picking your recipes

The first time I did a really massive cooking spree – I picked too many recipes. While hubby and I enjoyed the variety and the fact that we haven’t bought meat in 4 months, we both think we picked too many. We picked 24 recipes. They were heavy on the vegetarian and fish side since I was not going to be eating for most of a month, and Dad and Daughter Person like fish – I won’t touch it. Some of the recipes we didn’t like and won’t be making again – Like Thai Red Curry – I didn’t like making it anyway, needed too many strange ingredients. However, some we absolutely loved and will be making multiple batches of this time (Ginger Beef). I also acquired a new cookbook in a similar style – Dream Dinners – and I will try a few new recipes from there. The plan is to limit ourselves to several recipes and make multiple batches of the ones we know we like. We’re also picking a variety of recipes for dinner, breakfast, and lunch, so they can be mixed and matched. Dad wants mostly vegetarian meals for lunches, so a lot of these recipes are for his lunch.

On the recipe list:
Ginger Beef (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Rice Pilaf (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Wild Rice and Nut Bake (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Black Bean and Vegetable Chili (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Basic Red Sauce (Fix, Freeze, Feast) – for the vegetable chili
Chicken Curry (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Port Barbequed Chicken (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Beef Barley Soup (Fix, Freeze, Feast)
Three Cheese Spinach Soup (Dream Dinners)
Corn Bread Muffins (Dream Dinners)
Penne with Rosemary Chicken (Dream Dinners)
Baked Ziti (Dream Dinners)
Provencal Flank Steak (Dream Dinners)
Pork Tenderloin with Pears (Dream Dinners)
Swiss Chicken (Dream Dinners)
Vegetable Chili (Dream Dinners)

I know this list is a bit longer than we initially planned, but there’s mostly new stuff in there. We want to try some new recipes (and Dad really loves new things), and so, I’m leaning towards trying new things (and less of them) than repeating older things. Most of the Dream Dinners recipes are only 3 meals rather than the full Costco size tray (although we’re still going shopping at Costco for the meat).

Once you’ve got the recipes picked out, the next step is to plan them out on a menu – this is where I generally fall short….

2nd cooking session and howto

We’re starting to run out of food in the freezer, and it’s time to start thinking about our next massive cooking session. This time, I’m not going to tackle as many recipes at once, and I’m not going to take off work to do the cooking, so it’ll all be Dad and I in the evenings after work. I’m going to start planning now, but I won’t go to the grocery store until January. In the next few days, I’m going to post our planning for other folks to follow along. Hopefully, it’ll make it easier for anyone else who wants to try their hand at freezer cooking. I’ve taken many suggestions from other websites on how to plan, and modified them to meet my needs, so take what works for you, and forget the rest.

Most of the planning is going to take place at Grandma’s while we’re there for the holidays. I also promised my mom that I’d help her make a few meals and leave them with her to show her how easy it is.

These are the general steps I follow, and as I post the details, I’ll link them in here:

  1. Pick your general recipes
  2. Plan your meals
  3. Write out all the prep work you need and decide what order you’re going to prep/cook in
  4. Write out your grocery list
  5. Go shopping
  6. Prep work
  7. Cooking/Assembling
  8. Labeling!
  9. Freezing
  10. Update your freezer inventory

Home at Last

I’ve spent the last three weeks in Europe (mostly Switzerland), where the food is really expensive.  I’m glad to be home to see Daughter Person and Dad – I actually missed her. I’m also glad that we had food in the freezer – I went to the grocery Sunday morning and only bought fresh stuff, knowing that there was plenty of food in the freezer.

According to the freezer inventory, we have a whole ton of food still left – however, Dad admitted that he wasn’t very good at marking things off when he used them, so we’ve got a bit of a guessing game over the next few months.  I think we can make it through November without having to make a meat run at Costco.  I will probably make a mini run in late November, early December, and make a new (much smaller) batch of meals to last us through the holidays – if I need to.

Our bank account is a little bit lighter until I get paid at the end of the month since I used cash for a lot of things, and I pulled it out at the ATM (from our account).  I get reimbursed for it (including all foreign transaction fees and conversion fees), and I could ask my boss for a check before my paycheck, but it’s not that big of a deal.  Thanks to YNAB, we can float the difference until my paycheck with no problems.  It did mean however, that we won’t be paying as much to debt this month as I would like, but we’ll be making up for it next month thanks to the additional money in my paycheck.

Freezer Cooking Taste Results

I’ve now been traveling for over a week, with this past weekend spent at home.  Dad enjoyed the Sesame Salmon and the Shrimp Curry, and I got to enjoy the Ginger Beef and Sesame-Soy Sirloin.  I really liked the beef dishes, although I think I’d use filet or flank rather than sirloin for that recipe next time.  I’m just not a huge fan of sirloin – even if it is USDA prime meat.

Daughter Person reportedly enjoyed the Salmon, but had trouble picking it up with her fork and it made her frustrated.  She tried the Ginger Beef, but again, frustration with picking it up.  It did go into her mouth and didn’t come back out, so that’s a success in our book.

As a treat, we introduced Daughter Person to sushi this weekend.  We went to a local sushi restaurant that we enjoy, and ordered either cooked fish or vegetable sushi, and shared it with Daughter Person.  I don’t like fish, much less raw fish, so I keep to the veggie sushi – my favorite is oshinko, not Daughter Person’s favorite.  She liked the rice, ate an avocado maki roll, and played with a california maki roll a bit.  She was more interested in the “kid’s” chopsticks we got for her (with the rubber band and rolled sleeve).  She’s not going to be using chopsticks anytime soon, but she was able to pick a few things up by clamping them together with her fist.

Massive Freezer Cooking Session – Lessons Learned

Today was finishing up the last few vestiges of freezer cooking.  There were 2 recipes to finish today, and getting more ginger from Wal-Mart.

I took Dad to donate blood this morning (I can’t for many reasons), and didn’t get started working on anything until about noon – then I wasn’t really focusing on cooking/prepping, so it took until 1:30ish to have everything done on the first recipe, and Dad and I finished the last recipe after Daughter Person went to bed.

I learned a lot these last 4 days:

  1. I bit off way more than I should have.  I probably should have limited myself to 4-5 recipes instead of the 11-12 I did.  I wanted to do more than dinners for Dad and Daughter Person though, so I went whole hog.  I really think we’ve got enough food for the next 3-4 months, not just 2.
  2. I need to have a better plan in place – like having freezer space to freeze things on cookie sheets so they freeze flat where needed.  I did the chicken fingers last, yet they really needed the space for a cookie sheet or two – I ended up just tossing them into the foil pan and hoping for the best. I also need to chop/dice *everything* beforehand, instead of doing it sort of haphazardly.  Yes, it means more space in the fridge to store the chopped stuff, but it’ll save time in the long run.
  3. I tried to plan everything on the computer (using, but I think I might have done better with pen and paper.  I probably would have spent more time making up a grocery list, but I think that time would have doubled as a “oh, I need to do this first…” check.  However, I have a monthly plan to print out for Dad while I’m gone.
  4. Trying to figure out how many servings (tsp/tbsp) in a oz is a PITA.  And I mean oz as in weight, not fl oz as in volume.  Spices have a different specific gravity than water, so it’s not as simple as it sounds.  I found some great references for converting from weight to volume though: Durkee’s list, the produce converter, and’s equivalent chart.

I’ve started figuring out the price per serving for each recipe and I’ll post that eventually.  I spent most of the afternoon setting up an excel spreadsheet with the numbers and calculations (and why I needed the weight to volume conversions).

Massive Freezer Cooking Session – Day 3

Today was a relatively lazy day for me until Dad came home.  Took Daughter Person to daycare, went to the gym, came home and chopped some veggies and then relaxed – watched some new Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, read some, etc.  About 2pm, started to cook – cooked the rice pilaf, the tomato-basil soup, and the thai red curry sauce.  All of which had to cool completely before being able to process and freeze.  So they cooled while Dad and I had dinner with Daughter Person and played with her until she was ready for bed.

After she went down for the night, we packaged up the recipes cooling, and Dad cleaned while I made the lasagnas.  We cut up an 8lb pork loin and stuffed it with garlic (something I’ve never had before – $1.99/lb) to be put in a crock pot later – doesn’t even need to thaw.

Then Dad halved chicken breasts for me while I prepared the freezer bags with the marinade.

Three recipes left – two simple marinades and one chicken fingers (slightly more work).  Hopefully, I’ll get those done in the morning and have the afternoon to myself.

Our freezer is looking a little umm… overstuffed.  I need to go back and do some math and figure out exactly how many servings of things I made  – I suspect I made more than the 2 months worth I was going for.  At least we will have food for a long while!

Today’s recipes:

  • Breakfast Burritos
  • Tomato-Basil soup
  • Thai Red curry Sauce
  • Rice Pilaf
  • Vegetable Lasagna
  • Sweet-Asian Marinade
  • Garlic Studded Pork Loin
  • Cherry Skillet Chicken

Massive Freezer Cooking Session – day 2

Today we got to use my new toy – a 20qt stock pot that arrived last week from Amazon. Here’s Dad holding it – next to it is a 2qt All-clad saucepan for size comparison.  It’s sitting on my induction burner.  We made two batches of garlic mashed potatoes.  Last time, we had to use the 12qt stock pot and our 7qt dutch oven to boil 10lbs of russet potatoes.  This time, it all went into the one pan.  We’re liking it.


Dad bought me the induction burner for mother’s day.  I’m just biding my time until we can afford the full induction range (and hopefully by then, it comes in white to match the rest of the kitchen).  Until then, we have one very powerful burner which we use most of the time.  All of our cookware except the 12 qt stock pot are induction capable, and with the new stock pot, that won’t be an issue – we can also get an “induction disc”, which makes the induction burner basically a regular old electric burner.

Today involved a *lot* of cooking and putting together marinades.  I cooked the curry for the shrimp curry, and we cooked the potatoes for two batches (48 servings) of garlic mashed potatoes.  Otherwise, it was pretty much putting together marinades.  I put all of the fish dishes in the freezer, and all of the flank steak and pork tenderloin recipes.  I made the basic red sauce for the vegetable lasagna, but didn’t make the lasagna yet.  I also chopped about 10 cups (7 large) onions which are in the fridge waiting for tomorrow’s recipes.  Lighting a candle to help with the tearing really does help.

I had a psychiatrist appointment this morning which kinda broke up the day.  Then I had to fetch Daughter Person at about 3:30-4, so I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked since I can’t leave the stove running while I’m gone.  In the morning, I started trying to figure out the cost per serving for the recipes, but it’s not done yet, so nothing to publish.

Tomorrow requires scrambling eggs for breakfast burritos, and then putting together the rice pilaf, the chicken fingers, veggie lasagna, and tomato-basil soup.  Dad did the potatoes tonight, so he didn’t help with halving the chicken breasts, so I either get to do that tomorrow or wait until he comes home to do two of the recipes which require chicken breast halves.

Daughter Person liked the pumpkin muffins, so those are definitely a keeper.