A Common Life Lived with Uncommon Joy

Posts tagged ‘freezer’

Kitchen Stewardship

A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on stewardship vs. frugality, particularly in regards to my food budget.  I’ve made a lot of changes since that post and I wanted to give you a little update on my progress.

First of all, for the first time ever, it’s now the 22nd of month and I still have grocery money left!!  Usually I run out of funds around the 18th-20th.  I only have about $50 left but I’m so proud to have already seen progress in this area.  We have been eating out of the pantry and freezer as much as possible, and any grocery shopping I’ve done this month is just to replenish fresh items like milk or to buy markdowns to keep the pantry or freezer stocked.  Not only am I not out of grocery money yet, but we aren’t eating in a feast/famine cycle this month.

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The wall leading into my kitchen beside the pantry door. I bought this sign for $5 almost a year ago. The plates are all thrifted. This week I finally got them all up on the wall.

I also spent time this week cleaning out and reorganizing the pantry and all my kitchen cabinets, including my hutch and china cabinet.  I boxed up a lot to donate to our church college ministry’s annual yard sale and also gifted a few things to others I knew would be blessed by them.  Then I spent some time outside planting a little spinach and lettuce in pots (so I can bring it inside when the weather is too cold) and repotting two rosemary plants into one bigger pot.  I’m hoping to have a nice sized rosemary bush to plant outside when spring comes.  I started a compost pile on the backside of my raised bed garden and moved a seldom used patio table to the backside of the house to repurpose as a potting table.

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My china cabinet is now functional instead of just pretty and it better reflects the things I love.

Tomorrow I plan to do a major clean out of my fridge and upright freezer and make an inventory of what we have there and in the pantry.  Then I plan to make a list of meal possibilities to cook using what we have.  Although I can’t spend an entire day in the kitchen working on all the things I’d like to accomplish in there, I have a list of mixes and freezer foods that I want to work on bit by bit to make cooking from scratch easier and faster.  I will also make a list of items we need to restock so that when my next grocery check comes on the 5th next month, I’m prepared to go to the store with a plan and only buy the things we really need.

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This is the bookshelf beside my china cabinet. It sits in front of half the sliding glass doors, so it gets lots of light. I have a few plants on the shelves – crown of thorns at the top, a poinsettia I got for Christmas last year, a gerber daisy on the next shelf with a box waiting for foxglove seeds, and rosemary on the last shelf.

One thing I’ve become very aware of this month as I’ve focused on stewardship instead of frugality, is how abundantly blessed I already am.  It’s easy to make do with what you have when you take time to really see just how really blessed you are, instead of focusing on how much money you’ve saved or spent for the month.  I’d love to hear how you are learning to be a good steward of the things God has blessed you with.  Share your thoughts with us!

 

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Weekly Goals

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Any time I get bogged down in the mundane tasks of everyday life, I look at this quote by Charles Spurgeon and it always spurs me on.  This has been a week of being bogged down in so many little detail things that quickly drowned out the bigger tasks I wanted to accomplish.  I’m learning more and more what to let go of and what to make a priority.  In every family, that looks different because my priorities are not the same as yours.  I’m learning that’s ok, to not worry about what everyone else is doing and just focus on what I’m made to do – teach my children, care for my home, love my husband, and introduce people to Jesus.  That’s a simple to do list I can handle.

Let’s take a look at last week’s list and see what I accomplished:

Homeschooling: I installed Teaching Textbooks 5 for Gracie and she really loves it.  She’s doing two lessons a day.  I love the little bit of extra time it gives me to focus on teaching the Littles.  I posted a reading chart for Amber and Gracie.  This is one of the visuals that will be helpful for Amber to track her progress to a reward for her work.  I enrolled both her and Gracie in the Pizza Hut Book-It program, so for every month they meet their reading goal, they get to go out to lunch with Daddy and get a free personal pan pizza.  I didn’t get to everything on the list – installing Italian for Ross, making busy bags for Georgia or unit planning for Prairie Primer.

Kitchen Work: I made 9 pints of apple butter and a big batch of pumpkin waffles.  I still need to make apple dapple cake and make cookies with Amber.

Homemaking: I pulled all the girls’ fall/winter clothes down out of the attic but I haven’t started to sort through them yet.  I also pulled down the keyboard at Gracie’s request so she could play it.  I worked on my bedroom for a little while one afternoon, but then I destroyed it in the mad rush to get everything packed so I’m back to square one there.  I didn’t have time or the help I needed to move the furniture and treadmill around in the living room or reassemble our modular couch.

Personal: To bless Michael this week, I made a special breakfast for dinner he requested: pumpkin waffles, baked apples, scrambled eggs and coffee with homemade gingerbread latte creamer.  To bless someone else this week, I pitched in with the rest of the family to help clean up after the wedding reception.  I also watched my two nephews while my brother-in-law and sister-in-law served the BBQ for the dinner at the reception.  I got all the laundry washed before packing to go to the wedding by doing two days’ worth at a time.  It was really worth it to come home and only have one load of dirty clothes for the weekend to wash.  I read The Hiding Place and then passed it on to Ross for him to read.  He also has a dvd from Netflix on the Holocaust to watch and then he will write a paper on what he learned.  It’s not the same time period he’s currently studying in history but it’s interesting to him right now and the beauty of homeschooling is its flexibility in accommodating those interests. I started listing my frugal accomplishments and wrote my first blog post about it. I started a master list and added a ribbon bookmark to my household notebook.

Here are my goals for the upcoming week:

Homeschooling

1. Install Italian for Ross on the computer

2. Make three busy bags for Georgia to do during our read aloud times.

3. Post visual helps for Amber to help her know our weekly routine.

4. Continue unit lesson plans for Prairie Primer

5. Catch up on grading Ross’ work and create a midterm progress report

Kitchen Work

1. Make apple dapple cake to take to my family as we gather to celebrate my grandma’s life

2. Make cookies with Amber

3.  Finish garlic toast  for the freezer

4.  Make french toast for the freezer

Homemaking

1. Reassemble the modular couch and move the side chair from the living room to the master bedroom

2. Rearrange the living room furniture so I can see the tv from the treadmill more easily

3. Sort fall/winter clothes and then swap out with spring/summer clothes.

4. Help the kids to begin planning their Halloween costumes.  Our Halloween rules are: no scary costumes, no store bought costumes, get a lot of candy, have a lot of fun.

Personal

1. Do something to bless Michael

2. Do something to bless someone else

3.  Read three chapters of Galatians for You by Tim Keller – this is an excellent book that consists of expository preaching of the entire book of Galatians in written form.  The pastors in our church preach through books of the Bible in this way so this book is really appealing to me for that reason.  It’s like an extra few sermons during the week. It’s not a quick read so I don’t expect to get much further than three chapters this week.

4.  Walk the Color Run 5K with my best friend Dawn and her family on Saturday.  I’m really looking forward to looking like a crazy rainbow at the end of the walk!

What are your goals for the week?

Frugal Friday: Frugal Accomplishments of the Week

Knowing my love for homemaking and my desire to be frugal, my friend Gail introduced me to The Prudent Homemaker’s blog a few weeks ago.  As I explored her blog and website, two things had an impact on me.  The first was a story by Agnes Slight Turnbull entitled When Queens Ride By.  I highly recommend you take time to grab a cup of coffee and read it.  It’s a little long but it’s a beautiful story about a woman and her desire to do everything she can to help her husband as they go through a difficult financial season.  I felt like Agnes had peeked inside my world and written this story about me.  The main character is even named Jenny!  If you’re a wife and you want to know the best way to build up your husband, to be his helpmate, you must read this.  Go right now! I’ll wait for you…

Wasn’t it beautiful?? I pray it speaks to your soul with the same depth is spoke to mine.

The other thing on The Prudent Homemaker that caught my eye was a weekly feature she wrote listing all her frugal accomplishments for the week.  She listed everything she had done for the past seven days to save or make money.  Here’s her latest frugal accomplishment post here.  There was something about the act of writing and reflecting over all the ways I was contributing to our household financially by making or saving money, no matter how small a thing it seemed at the time.  I began keeping my own list and found it to be very encouraging.  And so, because I’m aspiring to write more regularly on my blog, I decided to do my own weekly feature of frugal accomplishments.   Enjoy the list below of things I’ve done in my own home and be inspired to add your own ideas in the comments.

Weekly Frugal Accomplishments

Received 50 free dot to dot activity books from an aviation group to add to Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes

Made 9 quarts of apple butter from an abundance of apples we received from two friends

Earned $10 in Amazon gift cards from Swag Bucks

Sold a book on Amazon for $2.49

Made my own gingerbread spice lattes

Got 25 free photo prints from Walgreens, a free 8×10 photo collage from CVS and 50 photo prints from Target for $4.25 with a coupon – all for Gracie’s shoebox letters

Used coupons to get a loaf of wheat bread, 5 bananas and an orange bell pepper for $1.25 at Target

Bought 29 loaves of bread for $26 at the bread store, enough to last us at least six weeks

Made garlic toast to stock the freezer from bread store purchase

Bought Teaching Textbooks 5 used instead of new for Gracie’s math, saving $30

Helped Ross shop and compare the best way to purchase an iPad mini with his own money – he bought one refurbished and saved $60

Blessed by family and friends with help for the wedding – the girls’ dresses and shoes, Ross’ clothes and the cabin we are staying in have all been provided for

Made muffins and cookies to eat while we stay at the cabin this weekend for the wedding, so we will only need to eat out one meal while we are there

Bought six activity books and a Disney Princess puzzle on clearance for $0.25 each to go in Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes

What did you do to save or make money last week?

The Difference Between Frugality and Stewardship

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Like any true Southern girl, my favorite place to be is in my kitchen making something delicious to bless the people I love.  My cousin Beckie has always teased me about how little TV I watch.  Truthfully, the TV is just too far from the kitchen to suit me.  Standing in the kitchen, cooking or cleaning, wearing my apron and listening to a sermon or worship music while I work is my happy place.  Today I had the urge to go spend the afternoon in my kitchen, cooking and cleaning and prepping some freezer meals.  My hands needed hot, soapy water, my favorite dishcloths crocheted by my cousin Donna (I have a lot of cousins y’all), and something yummy simmering on the stove.  I do some of my best thinking and praying when I’m in my kitchen.  As I scrubbed down countertops this afternoon, I started praying about our finances.  I know we are just one of many families struggling in the current economy, and thoughts of how to feed my family for less occupies my mind quite often.  I’m always looking for frugal recipes, tips on when/how to buy in bulk, the best place to get fresh produce or bread, anything to make our dollars stretch a little further.  Today though, as I scrubbed and prayed, a new thought entered my mind.  What if, instead of worrying and planning for how to spend my grocery money more carefully, I concentrated instead on using everything God had already blessed me with to its full potential?  What if I focused on using all the things I had stocked up in my pantry? What if I actually learned to use my fancy espresso machine (one of my best Goodwill finds) instead of stopping by Starbucks once a week?  I looked around and surveyed my kitchen, pantry and cabinets.  Everywhere I looked I could see items in need of attention – cleaning, repair, organization, or just actually being used.  I shifted my thinking from what I needed to do to acquire what I thought I needed to thinking about how to best use what I already had.

As I continued praying and seeking God’s direction in this new train of thought, I resolved to spend the month of October focusing specifically on stewardship instead of frugality.  I’m great at finding good deals and making a dollar stretch.  I’m not so great at maintenance and follow through.  Sometimes this results in unnecessary waste or things that sit in my pantry unused for several months before being donated to a food bank.  I decided a few steps that needed to be made and planned how to carry them out this month.  I will share the things I learn through the month and maybe we will both be blessed.

Here are the things I’m going to concentrate on this month:

1.  Eat from my pantry/freezer before going grocery shopping.  Each month, as soon as I get my grocery money, I rush to the store first chance I get and stock up on everything I can think of that we may need that month.  I use coupons, search for deals, know the best price and which store to find it in.  But by the 20th, I’m out of grocery money and depending on money from our regular account to get us through until next month check comes on the 5th.  It’s a feast or famine cycle.  This month, instead of focusing on acquiring more food, I’m going to focus on eating what we have, using what’s already in our pantry and freezer.  That’s not to say I won’t be grocery shopping, but I don’t plan to go until I actually need to.

2.  Inventory and make a plan.  I can’t use it if I don’t know I have it, right?  I’m going to start with an inventory of my pantry and freezer and fridge and then make a written plan on how to use what I have.  This will also give me a plan for all my #10 cans of tomato sauce, extra loaves of bread, etc. that I intended to prepare freezer meals with.  I’m not a great menu planner but I can make a list of possible meals and list the ingredients needed so I don’t use them for something else, crossing off meals on my list as I cook them.

3. Learning to use and maintain what I already have. Two years ago, the week before my birthday, I found the ultimate Goodwill prize – a $400 Starbucks espresso machine for $10.  Happy Birthday to me, right?? I must confess that I still don’t know how to use it and only have espresso drinks when Michael is off work on a weekend morning (about once or twice a month) because he’s the only one that knows how to operate the machine.  This month, I plan to watch the same YouTube videos he learned from, practice, and learn to make some of my favorite Starbucks drinks.  I already have all the equipment I need – I just need to learn how to use it.  The same goes for the ice cream maker I bought to make special dairy-free ice cream for Georgia.  I’m sure I’ll find a few other things too as the month progresses.

4. Make mealtimes special.  Just because the grocery budget is tighter and our meals are less extravagant, doesn’t mean our table has to be.  I plan to make regular use of our special dishes, light some candles, use the cloth napkins and napkin rings, maybe even add some flowers or a centerpiece occasionally.  I have a large stockpile of things that I use when we host parties or have a family over to eat, but I rarely use them for our own family.  Again, concentrating on stewardship instead of frugality – using what I have to its full potential.

Stay tuned all month! I will be posting updates to my progress through the month and at the end of October, I will let you know how it affected my monthly grocery budget.  I’m excited to see what God will teach me about stewardship.

Weekly Goals

I’m really wanting to make a habit of blogging more often about the things I love to do – homemaking and homeschooling.  People are always asking me questions about how I do things.  And writing is a sort of therapy for me.  So I’ve decided to add a little structure to my writing for Life Lived Loud and start doing some regular weekly pieces.  I’m going to start with things that are helping me to be more purposeful and organized at home.  Hello Mondays is already a staple to the blog and this week I’m adding Weekly Goals as well.  Both of these help me to take a step back and evaluate my past week and put the coming week into a proper perspective.  I’m hoping that publishing my Weekly Goals instead of just writing them into my notebook each week will help me be more accountable to actually crossing things off the list.

Here are my goals for the coming week:

Homeschooling

1. Install Teaching Textbooks 5 on the laptop for Gracie’s math – I actually did this this morning.  I had some network issues with my laptop and elected to put it on Michael’s laptop instead, which will work out better in the long run since Ross’ computer classes are on my laptop and this way they don’t have to coordinate taking turns with it.

2. Install Italian program on the laptop for Ross’ foreign language

3. Assemble three busy bags for Georgia – She needs something fun and educational to do that’s already put together and ready to use.  I have lots of ideas for busy bags pinned on Pinterest – you can check out my busy bags board here – and decided to work on assembling a few each week until I have a good stock to rotate through.  I will write up a post about the busy bags I choose to make this week.

4.  Post visual helps for Amber – She needs some visual cues to help her know what day of the week it is and what our routine/schedule will be like that day.  Amber thrives on structure and needs to know what to expect so I’ve made a few things to help her with that.  Now I just need to post them in the house so she can refer to them.

5.  Unit lesson plans for Prairie Primer – I’ve completed planning for half of the first unit study.  I need to finish writing plans for the remainder of the unit.

Kitchen Work

1. Bake cookies with Amber – She made a cookie mix in her AHG unit and she’s anxious to make the cookies with me.  Plus we need to bring some snacks when we go to the cabin this weekend so this is the perfect time to make them.

2.  Make apple butter – Two weeks ago, we picked a half bushel of apples at the local orchard and then two people blessed us with a bag of apples.  We are planning to go pick apples in the mountains next week so I need to use up what we have to make room in the fridge.  Just so happens, I just ran out of apple butter so I’ll be making more this week.

3.  Make a big batch of pumpkin waffles to freeze – We had these for dinner tonight and most of them were eaten.  There were a few left to warm up for breakfast tomorrow but not enough left to freeze.  Cooking so many waffles at once showed me I need a bigger waffle iron – it took over an hour to make them all!

4.  Make apple dapple cake – I already have apples peeled, chopped and measured for the cake in the fridge, I just haven’t made it yet.  This will be another good thing to bake to take to the cabin this weekend.

Homemaking

1. Reassemble the couch and move the side chair from the living room to the master bedroom – We have a modular couch and right now it is separated into parts in two different rooms in the house.  I need to put the couch back into one unit to make more seating in the living room.  I also need to take out my little side chair and tuck it into my bedroom before my little fur babies shred it to bits.

2.  After #1, rearrange living room furniture – Right now the treadmill is on one side of the living room angled toward the TV and facing the window.  The glare from the window makes it impossible to see the TV from the treadmill for most of the day.  So I’m going to flip flop the workout center and the couch so that my back is to the window while I walk the treadmill.  I’m hoping that will make the treadmill more appealing and I can get back into a groove of working out more regularly.

3.  Keep working on decluttering and setting up the master bedroom – This is the last room in the house to declutter and reorganize and it is by far the most challenging.  This week I’m going to spend some more time tackling it.

4.  Inventory seasonal clothes for the kids – It’s definitely not time to make the big switch yet, but I need to pull out what I have for fall/winter for the kids this year and make my list of what we still need.  I have a small credit at a local consignment store I could utilize and our church will be having a family clothing swap next month, so now is the time to start preparing and planning for the things we will need to clothe everybody this fall/winter.  It also gives me time to gather things to donate to the clothing swap or to bless someone else with.

Personal

1.  Do something to bless Michael – This is one of my weekly goals every week.  It helps me to remember to be purposeful in doing something for him on a regular basis.

2.  Do something to bless someone else – Same concept here.

3.  Make sure laundry is current, iron wedding clothes and pack for wedding – We are doing two days’ worth of laundry on our schedule per day this week so that it’s all done by Wednesday instead of Friday so that I can go ahead and pack for the wedding.  Everyone has tried on their wedding clothes.  I just need to do a final ironing and hang everything up and get it ready to travel.

4.  Begin reading The Hiding Place – I found this at a yard sale last month and have been meaning to start reading it since then, so this week I’m adding it to my goals so I remember to start it.

5.  Keep a list of frugal accomplishments – Another blog feature I’d like to add is a list of weekly frugal accomplishments, things I did to either save money or make money.  In the midst of tight finances, I think this list will be an encouraging reminder of God’s provision for us.

6.  Start a master to do list – I have too many “to do” things floating around in my head.  I’m going to be purposeful this week in starting to write them down all in one place in my notebook as I think of them this week.  I also want to add a ribbon to my notebook to hold my current place – I’m getting tired of flipping pages, trying to find where I am!

So there you have it, my list of what I hope to accomplish this week.  Next week I will update you on my results and post another week’s worth of goals.  What are you hoping to accomplish this week?

Freezer Management 101 Part 3

So far we’ve stocked our freezers with bargain meats, veggies and fruits and made a few big batch recipes to help us make quick dinners on busy days.  The next step in freezer management is to add some breakfast foods and snack items.

One of the quickest and easiest items to prepare for the freezer is french toast.  Go buy a loaf of thin sliced sandwich bread at Aldi for $1.  Bring it home and prepare french toast as you usually would, using up the entire loaf.  Then lay the slices out on a cookie sheet (used waxed paper and layer them if needed) and stick it into the freezer.  When the slices are frozen, drop them into a gallon-sized ziploc freezer bag and label it.  When you’re craving french toast for breakfast, simply toast in the toaster just like frozen waffles.  Speaking of waffles, there’s another fast breakfast that’s easy to stock for the freezer.  Take your typical waffle recipe and double or triple it, freeze the waffles individually, then bag up when frozen.

Muffins are a frequently requested breakfast at our house but most mornings it’s all I can do to make coffee, much less muffins.  My solution is to mix up a few batches of favorite muffin varieties, put the batter into cupcake liners and freeze.  Once frozen, put the “muffin pucks” into labeled freezer bags.  When your crew is begging for muffins, just pull out the number needed, drop them into your muffin tin and slide it into the oven.  You will need to increase the baking time by 5-10 minutes when baking from frozen.  The bonus of this method is that if your kids can’t agree on what kind of muffins to eat, you can still give each of them what they want.

Another favorite breakfast treat at our house is banana bread.  Banana bread is also great for welcoming new neighbors, bringing to friends when you visit and sharing with new moms when you deliver a meal (most people don’t think to bring breakfast items so this will be a welcome treat).  I have perfected an assembly line technique that makes it easy to bake four loaves at a time so when I see the bags of ripe bananas at the grocery store, I grab all I can and make lots of banana bread.  The recipe I’m going to share with you is from an old church cookbook I received from my mother-in-law at my bridal shower.  This cookbook is one of three I just can’t live without.

Banana Bread

*To make this assembly-line style , line up the ingredients in stations around your kitchen table.  Get the kids to help you by refilling each ingredient as you use it.  We’ve made as many as 20 loaves in one day using this method.

Cream together 1/2 cup cooking oil and 1-1 1/2 cups sugar.  Add 2 eggs beaten well and 3 mashed, ripe bananas; beat well.  In a separate bowl mix 2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp soda and 1/2 tsp salt into the mixing bowl along with 3 tbsp milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.  Stir in 1 cup chopped nuts if desired (I never use nuts since so many are allergic now).  Pour into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  (My oven does better at 325 for 1 hour 15 minutes)  In my experience, three batches of this recipe will fill four loaf pans as the recipe makes just slightly more than you need for each loaf and the excess from three batches is enough to fill a fourth pan.  Four loaf pans fit side by side in my oven so I can bake four at a time.   Cool completely before removing from pan.  Wrap cooled loaves with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil.  Be sure to label and date before freezing.

NOTE: One reader asked me about the safety of using aluminum foil and plastic wrap in freezing foods, voicing concern about a link to dementia and chemical leaching in plastics.  I have done quite a bit of research online and cannot find any reputable sources that confirm either concern.  Plastic wraps and aluminum foils must meet FDA food safety requirements and are both considered safe for freezer use.  It has been proven that plastic wraps should not be used in microwaving due to chemical leaching through heating but this is not applicable to freezer use.  The Saran company website suggests that if foods will be frozen for longer than two weeks, it is recommended that you use freezer bags instead of plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn.  I hope this answers any concerns you have about using foils and wraps with frozen foods.

Finally, we need to stock our freezer with a yummy snack that all kids love – cookies!  Practically any cookie dough can be frozen – just mix up the dough, scoop onto a cookie sheet and freeze.  When your kids ask for a snack, put a couple scoops on a cookie sheet and bake, adding a couple extra minutes to the baking time.  Here’s a recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies that makes a large batch and freezes well:

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Combine 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp salt and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, blend 2 sticks unsalted softened butter, 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until creamy.  Add 2 beaten eggs and 1 tsp vanilla extract and beat well.  Slowly add in dry ingredients and mix until smooth.  Mix in 3 cups uncooked oats and 1 cup raisins with a spatula until evenly distributed.  Chill dough for 15 minutes.  Use an oiled teaspoon or cookie scoop to measure out 2″ diameter balls of dough onto cookie sheet.  If freezing, transfer frozen dough balls into a freezer bag until ready for baking.  If baking, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown (longer if cooking dough from frozen).  Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Makes 3-4 dozen.  Optional bar cookies can be made by pressing batter into an ungreased 9×13 baking pan and baking for 30-35 minutes.

As always, I welcome your comments!  Feel free to ask questions or share your ideas or recipes as we learn about freezer management together.

Freezer Management 101 Part 2

It’s warming up outside but we’re working on keeping our kitchens cool by stocking up our freezers and making dinner prep easier.  Last time we discussed how to stock your surplus and find stock up deals to fill your freezer.  Today we will cover big batch cooking and using #10 cans to add more to our freezer stockpile.

Before I ever started making freezer meals, I learned how to do big batch cooking for the freezer.  These are simple, large quantity foods that are inexpensive to make and great for making quick dinners.  I have  a few standby recipes to share with you and methods that make this type of freezer cooking easy and uncomplicated.

First we’re going to buy some #10 cans.  If you’ve ever been to a warehouse club or Walmart, you’ve probably seen the giant #10 cans of tomato sauce, veggies or applesauce and walked right by it thinking to yourself, “We never eat that much at one time!”  Guess what?  You don’t have to eat it all at once, you can freeze the rest!  Here’s a list of my favorite foods to buy in #10 cans and how to use them:

1.  Pizza sauce – A jar of pizza sauce is around $2 at most grocery stores.  A #10 can of pizza sauce is around $3.50 and is the equivalent of approximately 5 jars.  Not making enough pizza to feed an army?  No problem, just use what you need, spoon the rest into pint-size canning jars and put them in the freezer.  When you plan to use it, just set it out on the counter that morning and it will be thawed and ready for use by dinner.  If you like making bread, you can also make homemade pizza crusts and put them into the freezer until you are ready to bake them.  We don’t just use pizza sauce for homemade pizzas, but also for dipping pizza crusts in when we buy ready-made pizzas or make calzones, as meatball sauce for subs, or even pasta sauce in a pinch.  Tip: If you don’t like making your own crust, buy a premade fresh deli pizza (Walmart sells a 16″ cheese pizza for $6 and it’s HUGE) and top it with veggies and meats from your freezer stock before baking.

2. Tomato sauce/diced tomatoes – I’m listing these two together because I usually use them together.  I use them to make spaghetti sauce, hot dog chili, vegetable soup and regular chili.  Later in the post I will share these recipes with you so you can use up your #10 cans too!  At around $2.50 per can, they are too good a deal to pass up!  You can put the leftover sauce/tomatoes into pint-sized canning jars or quart-size freezer bags and freeze.  I also put tomato sauce in ice cube trays, freeze, then pop them into freezer bags.  You can then add a cube or two to whatever needs a little tomato flavor.  I mainly use the cubes to add to a small portion of pasta for Georgia when we are having mac and cheese (she has a dairy allergy).

3.  Canned fruit or applesauce – These run $3-$4 each and are the equivalent of 5 regular cans or 3-4 large cans.  These are a treat at our house, as I always try to buy fresh fruit instead of canned, but in the winter when fresh in-season fruit is scarce it’s a good option.  I usually don’t have to freeze these, just open and serve, then pour the remainder into a 2 quart pitcher with a lid that we use exclusively for food items instead of drinks.  It’s a clear pitcher so it’s easy for the kids to see what’s in it.  Once I open it, I will offer it at least once a day and it’s gone by the end of the third day.  Applesauce is a little slower in disappearing so I will serve it often but also make a few batches of muffins or snack cake with about half of it.  It freezes well too so if it doesn’t disappear quickly, just jar it up and stick it into the freezer.

4. Black beans – These are around $3.50 a can.  I love to add black beans to vegetable soup and chili, mix it with diced tomatoes and rice and corn for a filling meatless meal, or make burrito filling with salsa and chopped spinach (The kids think it’s cilantro and I’m not about to correct them!).  Just open the can and scoop out what you need, drain and rinse the rest and put into quart-size freezer bags (about 2 cups each).  Make sure you label them!  Lay the bags flat in the freezer and they will stack well once frozen.  I try to lay them out separately until they freeze and then stack them because sometimes they will stick together.

There are many other foods available in #10 cans – pudding, nacho cheese sauce, generic ketchup, vegetables – but I don’t generally buy them because it’s either something we won’t eat, we can make cheaper ourselves, or I don’t have confidence in how well it would freeze.  If you decide to try something that I haven’t mentioned here, let me know what you did and how it turned out.  Maybe we can add to our list of #10 canned foods!

Now that we’re stocked up with #10 cans, it’s time to open them up and do some big batch cooking.  Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Spaghetti Sauce

Brown 3 lbs of ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken or even Italian sausage) with 1 diced onion (use your frozen stash!) and drain.  Using a large stockpot or crockpot, pour in one #10 can of tomato sauce and 1/3 to 1/2 of a #10 can of diced tomatoes, according to preference.  If the tomatoes are chunkier than you like, you can put them in a blender or food processor first and pulse until they reach the desired consistency before adding them to the tomato sauce.  Add your meat.  Next add in Italian seasoning and garlic, salt and pepper to taste.  I don’t really measure, I just know how much is about right for us.  You can’t take it back out if you add too much so always start out with a little, taste it then add more if needed.  Now add whatever veggies you have in your freezer stock or fresh in the fridge.  I chop mine really fine with my food processor or my Pampered Chef chopper if I’ve had a stressful day and need to get some frustration out.  The smaller it is, the less likely the kids are to notice and question it!  Stir well and then cover, leaving it to simmer for several hours, stirring occasionally.  When I make spaghetti sauce, I will boil enough noodles for dinner then after the meal, I will freeze the remaining sauce, cooling it and then putting into quart-size jars.  Make sure the jars are completely cool before you put them into the freezer – warm jars will raise the temperature of your freezer and the shock of putting a warm jar in a cold place may cause it to crack.

Chili

Start the same as the spaghetti sauce by browning the meat and onion, pouring the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes into a large pot, then adding the drained meat and onion.  You can also leave out the meat and make a vegetarian chili.  Drain and rinse 2-3 cups of black beans and 2 cups corn (either canned and drained or frozen), then add to the pot.  Add chili seasonings, cumin, garlic and chili powder to taste.  Again I do this all by estimation and don’t really measure anything, just add spices and taste and adjust as needed.  Stir it all up, add a lid and let it simmer and make your whole house smell good.  Now make some cornbread or grab a box of saltines and dinner is ready!  After dinner, do the same as with the spaghetti sauce – cool it, jar it and stick it in the freezer.

Hot Dog Chili

My wonderful mother-in-law recently gave me her recipe for homemade hot dog chili.  I usually refuse to eat chili on hot dogs because the canned chili looks disgusting to me but I love her recipe, so I begged her for it.  Here’s her yummy version: Brown 3 lbs of ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken) with 1 diced onion (use your frozen stash!) and drain.  Add 2 envelopes Chili-O seasoning mix, 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz) and 1 can tomato sauce (15 oz).  If your meat and/or tomatoes are too chunky, you can pulse them in the food processor before adding them to pot, but don’t make it too runny or it will dribble off your hot dog.  Simmer on low at least one hour, stirring occasionally.   Have hot dogs for dinner and freeze the rest, just like the spaghetti sauce and chili.   Tip: use a glass measuring cup to measure the tomatoes and the sauce if you are using a #10 can – the ounces are listed along with the fraction measurements right on the cup.

Mix Match Veggie Soup

This is what I call a “use it up” recipe, which is why it’s called Mix Match Veggie Soup.  Start with a base of tomato sauce (whatever is left in a #10 can after making something else), add diced tomatoes (again, however much is left in the can), and then throw in frozen veggies from your freezer stash, ground meat if you want it and your choice of seasonings.  You can even add leftover rice or pasta.  The longer it simmers, the yummier it tastes.  Leftovers freeze well, just like the other recipes.

Chicken and Broth

This one is super easy – it doesn’t use a #10 can but it’s just as quick and simple as the others and makes a lot.  Just take chicken and fill your crockpot (or a big pot on the stove) 2/3 full, add some seasonings and cover with water.  If you have any veggie scraps (onion or carrot peels, celery leaves, etc) throw that in there too. Let it cook on low all day.  Put a colander inside a larger bowl (big enough to hold all the liquid) and pour everything into the colander.  The colander will catch all the pieces of veggies and chicken and let the broth drain into the bowl.  Fish out the veggie scraps and throw them away – or add them to your compost heap if you have a green thumb – and set the chicken aside to cool.  Take the bowl of broth and pour into small canning jars (pint-size, like you use for jelly) and add clean lids and rings.  Leave it out on the counter until it’s cool to the touch.  Once it’s cool, put it in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, open each jar and skim the fat off the top, then reseal and put in the freezer.  The cooked chicken can be shredded or chopped and put into quart-size freezer ziploc bags – I use 2-3 cups per bag since it’s the typical amount needed for a recipe.  Be sure to label the bags and jars before you put them in the freezer!

In the next post of the freezer management series, we will add breakfast foods and cookie dough to our freezer stock.  As always, comments make my day!  Please ask any questions you have or share your own favorite freezer friendly recipe.

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