Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wrapping up 31 Days of Freezer Cooking

Whew, what a month! I've spent all month long filling up my freezer with all sorts of fantastic dishes. There were a couple items that didn't quite make it into the freezer or maybe are already gone. But that's okay, I'll be happy when school starts in a few weeks that I did this. We all know how crazy that first month is especially.

I really wanted to have variety when I set out to do this series. I hope I've armed you with new inspiration and recipes to do a little freezer cooking on your own time. Don't be overwhelmed to do it all at once, pick a couple recipes to start with when you have an extra hour or so on your hands. Or simply double your dinners for a week, you'll have an easy five main dishes right there. A freezer swap is another great alternative. Gather a small group of friends and spend the afternoon cooking away, each person goes home with a nice variety of meals.

Whichever route you decide to go, I know you'll appreciate the little bit of work you spent prepping nutritious meals ahead of time for your family. You'll find your evenings might not be so frantic and maybe even allow for just one more story at bedtime.  You might even notice a decrease in how often you're tempted to eat out. In the end that's both good for your health and your pocketbook!

I'll leave you with links to each and every recipe this month. That way it's in one easy location for you to browse through. You'll find all ingredients needed along with directions in each post. Good luck and happy freezer cooking!

French toast sticks
Biscuit breakfast sandwiches
Banana chocolate chip pancake bites
Cinnamon rolls
Mini baked oatmeal cups
Freezer waffles

Main dishes:
Ground pork pesto meatballs
DIY frozen pizzas
Cilantro lime chicken
Meatloaf burgers
Crock pot chicken tacos
Grilled chicken breasts
Two freezer-friendly casseroles
Pizza pockets

Side dishes/Appetizers:
Fruit slush cups
Layered nacho bake
Buffalo chicken potato skins
Twice baked potatoes
Garlic bread
How to freeze sweet corn

Pretzel bites
Peanut butter bread
Cookie dough for the freezer
Freezer-friendly cheesecake
Freezer smoothie packets
Homemade brownie mix
Pie crust

Garlic scape pesto
DIY cream soup

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pie Crust for the Freezer

I make pie fairly often throughout the year, surely a lot more than I used to. When I first starting baking I always thought it would be hard to make pie dough from scratch. So of course I would purchase the pre-made stuff in the store but never cared for the taste. Now I can't imagine not making it myself, it tastes so much better and is really quite easy.

I even like to make up a few batches at one time and keep the extras in the freezer. They thaw easily and you'll never know it was frozen ahead of time. This especially comes in handy close to Thanksgiving time, when pie is a must on the dessert menu.

Everyone has their own favorite recipe, this one is mine. I love the combination of both Crisco and real butter in the crust; you want that rich butter taste but the Crisco gives the crust that flaky texture we all like. I mix it all up by hand, with the help of my pastry blender. I used to use my food processor, but it's really just as easy to do it by hand. One batch will take me less than ten minutes to whip up.

You can use these for your favorite pies, both sweet and savory. We love treating ourselves to a classic chicken pot pie in the winter. If a simple crostata is more your style, one pie crust is all you'll need. You can even make the kids homemade pop-tarts for a fun treat. Whichever you choose, save yourself some time come the holiday season and have at least one batch of pie dough in the freezer. You'll be glad you did!

Pie Crust for the Freezer

1 stick cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup Crisco, chilled
2-1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
1 cup ice water

Combine flour and salt together in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter and Crisco until mixture is crumbly. Slowly add in ice water and combine until dough forms. Add in a bit more flour if needed.

Divide dough in half. Form each ball of dough into a round disc. Cover in saran wrap. Place into a freezer bag, make sure to date and label. Add to the freezer until ready to use.

When ready to use; thaw and use as directed in recipe.

Just a few of my favorite pie recipes:

Strawberry crumble pie
Pumpcan pie {a fun combo of pumpkin and pecan}
Freezer-friendly apple pie
Eggnog pumpkin pie
Turkey/Chicken pot pie
Peach pie
Chocolate silk pie

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mini Baked Oatmeal Cups

Even though I absolutely love summer, the scorching hot days spent relaxing by the water and soaking up the sunshine are my favorite. I am sort of looking forward to those cool, crisp mornings when school starts. Those mornings when we reach for a bowl of hot oatmeal to warm us up as we leave the house. This particular oatmeal.

It's my favorite, sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon; I love tossing in a handful of raisins and maybe even some pecans. Or some days I'll reach for whatever fruit we have in the fridge or freezer. It warms me up and keeps me feeling full all morning long.

Most of the time I'll bake up a small 8x8-inch pan and then enjoy the leftovers throughout the week. This morning I tried something a little different though. Instead of baking in one pan, I divided the mixture between the wells of a muffin pan. Brilliant, right? Then I can take one or two from the freezer as I wish and not feel like I have to eat oatmeal for an entire week. Not that it really ever lasts that long.

I think I like this version much better and will continue to bake it this way. Everyone can add their own favorite toppings and be satisfied.

Mini Baked Oatmeal Cups

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick butter, melted

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients together. Add in milk, eggs, vanilla and melted butter. Stir together. Using an ice cream scoop, drop batter into wells of a muffin pan. Filling until 3/4 full. * I did not use liners but if you would rather, you can certainly use those. Foil or silicone might be your best options.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely before trying to remove from pan.

For freezing: Once completely cooled, run a knife along the edges of each well and carefully remove oatmeal cup. Set onto a baking sheet and freeze for one hour. Then transfer to a freezer bag that has been dated and labeled with contents. Be sure to remove all air and seal shut. Place into freezer until ready to use.

When ready to enjoy, thaw overnight in the fridge and then reheat in the microwave for one minute or until warm. You could also reheat in the oven or toaster oven. Serve with desired toppings and a little extra milk.

Makes 12 oatmeal cups

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pizza Pockets

I've shared these homemade pizza pockets {or calzones if you prefer} before. I made them for a freezer swap a couple years ago. They were a big hit then and still are. They're a nice change up from pizza and come in handy for lunches, especially if you're on the go. I love how freezer friendly these are too.

You can stuff just about anything into a pizza pocket. We usually stick with a combination of sausage, pepperoni and smoked ham. Ham and cheese, seasoned taco meat, veggies or maybe even a scrambled egg/bacon/cheese mixture would make great filling options. Filling choices are pretty limitless.

These will definitely come in handy when we start packing lunches again. I can warm them up before I send the girls off to school and they should stay fairly warm by lunch time. The hubby and I can bring them along to work and reheat in the microwave. I also like to have these on hand for weekend lunches, we'll be starting bowling league again soon and will need to have something quick for afterwards.

Pizza Pockets

1 batch pizza dough
Choice of fillings such as: crumbled, cooked sausage, pepperoni, ham
Mozzarella cheese
Pizza sauce, for serving

Once dough has been prepared and has risen, divide dough into twelve balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out using a rolling pin. Add desired toppings to the bottom portion of each rolled out piece of dough. Top with mozzarella cheese and fold over the other side of the dough. Pinch edges together to seal shut.

Place onto a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Pockets will be turning lightly brown and dough will be done. Remove from oven and let cool. If enjoying immediately, serve with pizza sauce.

For freezing: let pockets cool completely. Wrap each one in saran wrap. Place into a large freezer bag that has been dated and labeled with contents. Store in freezer until ready to use. When ready to enjoy, remove from freezer and let thaw. Reheat in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until warmed through.

Makes 12 pizza pockets.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

How to Freeze Sweet Corn

A few days ago I shared a picture on my Facebook page of a big pile of sweet corn. Every summer we purchase at least one bushel of corn to put away in the freezer for the year. Everyone gets involved, the kids love to help shuck, Josh helps me with the cooking process and then I do most of the hard work. But everyone takes part and that's what counts.

It usually takes me a couple hours from start to finish and yesterday we had spent all afternoon at the pool so I was really tired by the time I finished last night. But it's so worth it. I've currently got twelve quart sized bags filled with locally grown, non GMO sweet corn to nourish my family with during the winter months. Last year we did 18 bags and it was plenty, I'll see about adding a little bit more in the coming weeks.

Everyone has their own method, today I'm sharing what has worked for us. I'm certainly not saying it's the only way, you might have found one that works best for you. And that's totally okay. I will say, to be sure you have yourself a good, sharp knife on hand. Or if you have one of these handy gadgets, put that baby to use.

How to Freeze Sweet Corn

1. Remove all husks and silk hairs from corn. Rinse all ears in cold water, removing any remaining silk hairs or dirt.
2. Fill your largest pots with cold water, place the ears in water and let come to a boil. Boil for 6-7 minutes, then immediately remove corn and set onto a large platter to cool.
3. Using a cutting board and sharp knife, cut off kernels from each cob.
4. Dump all kernels into a large bowl, I usually add just a couple tablespoons of butter and let that melt in while I'm preparing all the ears.
5. Using a ladle, scoop corn into quart sized freezer bags. I don't exactly measure, but I assume there are at least 2 cups per bag for my family of five.
6. Remove as much air as possible from the bag before sealing shut. Make sure to label and date with contents.
7. Once the corn is completely cooled {I just let the bags sit out until I'm all finished} you may add them to your freezer. Lay them flat on top of one another for easy storage.
8. When ready to enjoy, remove from freezer and let thaw, then add to a saucepan with just a little bit of water and butter and let cook on stove top until warm. *If you're like me and always forget to thaw your corn out before dinner, just run the bag over hot water and it will become thawed.

We go through this process each and every year and have had good luck with our corn. It's really such a treat in the dead of winter to taste that little bit of summer. I hope you'll be inspired to pick up some fresh, local corn and stash a few bags in your freezer to enjoy throughout the year. You'll be glad you did!

I've also had some questions about freezing other veggies. Again, I'm not an expert, but I can share what has worked well for me.

Green Beans- Last year we had quite a few of these in our CSA, so I simply cut up my beans and added them to quart sized freezer bags. No blanching. Rinse and dry them thoroughly to prevent any ice crystals. Make sure to remove as much air as possible from the bag. I've shared this before, but I like to put a straw in the bag and suck the last bit of air out to create a vacuum seal effect.

Carrots- With carrots I slice them and then blanch in boiling water for a few minutes. Drain and let cool, then add them to freezer bags.

Zucchini- I like to grate fresh zucchini and add to freezer bags so I can bake bread and muffins in the winter.  I haven't ever tried freezing it or summer squash in any other way though.

Tomatoes- I always like to make freezer spaghetti sauce with any excess tomatoes I have on hand. It freezes really well and tastes wonderful.

Bell Peppers- Chop up green peppers and flash freeze to use in chili, sauces, etc. They do lose their crisp texture when you thaw so they're great for cooked dishes, but not so much for fresh toppings like tacos.

These are just a few vegetables I've frozen before, I know there are a lot out there but I'm still learning myself and clearly do not have all the answers. If you have any other tips or ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments below. I'm sure we'd all love to hear them!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Two Freezer-friendly Casseroles

I've yet to touch base about casseroles throughout this series. Everyone has their own opinion when it comes to freezing pasta. Most of my experiences have been good but we've also had some mushy dishes in there as well. I think it's very important that you're preparing the pasta correctly, just to al dente and not overcooking it. Pasta does soften in the freezer so it's even better to under cook if anything.

But I do have two very good casseroles that I've frozen before and they've always turned out wonderful. As much as I don't want to think about it, fall is really just right around the corner and these will come in handy for the cooler weather.

My friend Denise made this Pesto-Chicken Pasta for a freezer swap and it was one dish that everyone really loved. The recipe makes enough for two 8x8 pans, which is even plenty for my family of five. By the time you add in salad and other veggies or fruit, you've got a really well balanced meal.

Another favorite is one dish I tried last summer, Taco Pasta Bake. Taco meets pasta, I mean what's not to love? I remember sending a pan with my daughter who was babysitting for a friend and even her family loved it. It's kid-friendly and easy to throw together. It also makes enough for two small pans, bonus!

If you've been anxious for some good casseroles to add to your freezer stash, these here are two of my very best. I know you'll love them! I'll list the recipe links below again, there you'll find all of the ingredients needed as well as instructions for preparing and freezing. Again, just make sure to not overcook the pasta, let cook just until al dente and you'll be fine.  Enjoy!

Freezer-friendly Casseroles:

Taco Pasta Bake

Pesto-Chicken Pasta

Friday, July 25, 2014

Garlic Bread

We love having a good piece of crusty garlic bread with our spaghetti dinners, or really anything Italian for that matter. Did you know how easy is it to make your own? I suppose a little more time consuming than grabbing a loaf from the frozen food section in the grocery store, but not much more, I promise.

Our local Hy-Vee currently has loaves of their soft french bread on sale for $0.99. It's perfect for these so I grabbed a pack of two loaves and make up a couple bags for the freezer this morning. I like to have the slices already cut and prepared, that way we can remove how many ever we'll be needing for our meal and won't have to worry about wasting.

You can definitely jazz these up a bit by adding grated cheese over the tops but I kept them simple today. Lots of butter and garlic flavor going on in, perfect for dunking into marinara sauce!

After they were all done baking in the oven, I piled them into a couple different freezer bags and tossed them into the freezer. Easy peasy! I'll be glad they're in there come dinner time.

Garlic Bread

2 loaves french bread
1 stick butter, softened
2 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of salt and pepper

Slice each loaf of bread into half or one inch slices, depending on how thick you like it. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together butter, garlic, salt and pepper. Spread a small amount onto each slice of bread. Layer the slices on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 mins. Just until starting to brown and crispy.

Remove from oven and let cool. Once completely cooled, toss slices into a labeled freezer bag. Seal shut and store in freezer until ready to use.

When ready to enjoy, remove from freezer and reheat in the oven for about 5-10 mins. Just until warmed through.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Homemade Brownie Mix

As I've browsed freezer cooking recipes and articles over the past few years, I've always run into these make ahead mixes for cookies, pancakes, waffles, brownies and so much more. I'd yet to have tried one, but I like the idea behind it. Eliminate the convenience of simply opening up a boxed mix by pre-measuring the dry ingredients for your desired recipe. Because that's really why we think they are so much easier than baking from scratch, right? You still have to add in eggs, oil, butter and what not.

Normally when I make brownies for example, I have used recipes where you melt chopped chocolate into butter instead of using cocoa powder. So this morning I tinkered around with some recipes and finally came up with a good standard brownie that I could easily adapt to be made ahead. I was really happy with the results and even received thumbs up from the little taste testers.

They come together very quickly with few ingredients. In fact I spent probably about five minutes mixing together the dry ingredients for two batches. I can easily adapt the recipe to include different flavors. I was low on chocolate chips, so in the second batch I threw in butterscotch instead. Peanut butter or mint chocolate would also be fantastic choices. The finished brownies themselves are slightly chewy around the edges yet soft and decadent in the middle.

I will be storing my batches in the freezer just because the flour and other ingredients will stay fresh longer. I'm sure we'll have no problem putting these to use in no time though, in between hungry kids and bake sales for the school.

You can definitely adapt your favorite breakfast and dessert recipes to be made ahead, just mix together the dry ingredients and then add in the wet when ready to prepare. For those of you that might not be keen on freezer cooking, this could be an excellent way to still save you some time in the kitchen. Because in the end that what it's all about; giving you more time to focus on what's really important in life. Family.

Homemade Brownie Mix

1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup chocolate chips {or any other flavor chips you prefer}

additional ingredients needed to prepare brownies:
2 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, mix together all dry ingredients using a whisk. Label a quart size freezer bag with contents, date and additional ingredients needed to finish brownies. Pour dry ingredients into bag, squeeze excess air out and seal shut.

Store either in the pantry for up to six months or in the freezer for up to one year.

When ready to prepare brownies: dump dry ingredients into a bowl. Using a whisk, mix in eggs, melted butter and vanilla. Mix together just until smooth. Pour into a lightly greased 8x8-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Grilled Chicken Breasts

During the summer I find myself serving sandwiches, subs, wraps, etc a whole lot more than normal. Something about the warm weather and fresh veggies from the garden is inviting. Especially when we're cramped for time or don't particularly feel very hungry in the evenings.

Lunch meat from the deli counter can get old. Chicken breasts are always good and so versatile. I can season them up a bit or even let them soak in a favorite marinade all day. Tonight we enjoyed chicken and bacon subs topped with all of our favorite veggies. Simple and really good!

Grilled chicken breasts also freeze really well too. You can then use them for sandwiches, salads, wraps, served over pasta; anything your little heart desires. These come in handy when packing lunches too! Skip those drive-thrus and pack your own lunch. It's all about planning ahead.

When it comes to freezing the chicken, it's better to have only a small amount in each bag. I'd recommend no more than 4-6 breasts. That way if you don't happen to use up the whole bag for one meal, you're not opening and closing the bag a million times and ruining the quality of your meat.

You could even go one step further and prepare your subs or sandwiches to be frozen. You would want to place one chicken breast, maybe a couple slices of bacon as well if you wish onto your choice of bun/bread. Then wrap individually in foil. You can then place them into a large freezer bag. When come time to eat, just let thaw and reheat. Top with your favorite toppings and you've got a quick bite to eat.

Grilled Chicken Breasts

1. Prepare chicken breasts with choice of seasonings {for these I used Lawry's, garlic powder and pepper} or marinade.
2. Cook on grill until juices run clear, about six minutes on each side.
3. Remove to a plate or platter and let cool completely.
4. Once cooled, place a few breasts in a freezer bag. Make sure to label and date with contents.
5. Place chicken into freezer until ready to use.
6. When ready to enjoy, simply remove from freezer and let thaw in the fridge.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Freezer Waffles

Waffles used to be something we only made on the weekends when I had more time to devote to our early morning meal. In the past few years though, it's been convenient for me to prepare a triple batch on Saturday mornings and then freeze all the extras. That way we can pull out what we need throughout the week and simply reheat in the toaster.

When I first became a mom we would purchase a big box of waffles from our local Sam's Club, it really was a reasonable price for all of those waffles we would get. But then I discovered just how simple it is to make your own. And how much better they taste too. And better for you.

We have quite a few breakfast items I like to have stocked in the freezer and waffles are definitely top of the list. I always like trying new variations, but you can't beat a basic waffle with maple syrup. We've got school starting in less than one month so I surely will have as many of these stashed away as possible for those rushed mornings.

Here are just a few variations that we have loved:

Easy Homemade Waffles
Blueberry Muffin Waffles
Overnight Oatmeal Waffles

Freezer directions: Once you have prepared your choice of waffles and they have cooled, place them in a single layer onto a baking sheet. Put into the freezer for about one hour, or until frozen. Then you can transfer to a large freezer bag. This way they will not stick together. Store in freezer until ready to use.

When ready to enjoy, remove desired number of waffles and reheat in the toaster.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Freezer Smoothie Packs

The hot summer heat is finally upon us in Iowa and I personally love it. The girls and I just got back from spending our afternoon at the pool. We've had lots of rain in June and then some lower than average temps lately so it's nice to have some good ol' hot sun to relax in.

When it gets hot like this though, our appetites tend to fall to the wayside. This is just one reason why I love smoothies. They can be packed with so many nutrients that our body needs and feel like a treat all at the same time.

I try to have these on hand at all times, not only for the warmer months but throughout the year. When we're running low on time and need something quick and nutritious; a smoothie can be the perfect meal replacement. Or even for snack time, my kids have always loved these.

I don't always make the same kinds, we like to change up the fruit to what's available in our fridge or freezer. Usually there's always banana for extra creaminess. Spinach or kale for that extra nutrition. If you've got chia seeds, add those in. Oats work really well too. I never feel the urge to add any sort of sugar or sweetener, if you're using seasonal fruit, that seems to be sweet enough. The kids never complain, but maybe it's also because they don't know otherwise.

You can certainly mix your smoothie up and divide into cups or containers and freeze that way. But these smoothie packs are wonderful. Simply grab one out of the freezer, a small container of plain or vanilla yogurt, a little bit of milk and you're all set. Within in minutes you'll have yourself a healthy and satisfying drink!

Freezer Smoothie Packs

1 banana, sliced
2 cups assorted fruit {can use fresh or frozen}
1 cup kale or spinach
1/4 cup oats

Layer all ingredients into a quart sized freezer bag. Push excess air out of bag and seal tightly. Label with contents and date. Place into freezer until ready to use.

When ready to use, remove bag from freezer. Place into a blender along with a 6 oz. container of plain or vanilla yogurt. You'll want to add in some milk for thinning. Blend all together until smooth and mixture has reached your desired consistency. Pour into glasses and serve.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Twice Baked Potatoes

I've shared these before with you, they are probably my favorite side to have stocked in my freezer. Just because they can be labor intensive especially for a weeknight meal, I'd rather make up a whole bunch at one time and be done with it. So that's what I do a few times throughout the year.

I'll bake up either a five or ten pound bag of potatoes and make them all into twice baked potatoes. I can't say they're the healthiest for you, but they sure are delicious!

We love to add these to our meals all year round, but I think they're awesome during the summer months. When we're grilling, I like to heat up a few to round out our dinner. These are usually on my list when I host my freezer swaps, I'm pretty sure everyone enjoys them as much as our family does.

Twice Baked Potatoes

5 lbs. potatoes
1 stick butter
16 oz. sour cream
1/2 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled
Lawry's and black pepper, to taste
chopped green onions
4 oz. grated cheddar cheese

Wash and scrub potatoes, place onto a large baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for at least one hour or until tender. Remove from oven, cut potatoes in half and scoop out the insides using a spoon. Place potatoes into a large bowl and leave the skins on the baking sheet.

Add in butter, sour cream, crumbled bacon, seasonings, green onion and cheese. Mix together well with a potato masher or electric mixer. Using a spoon, scoop potato mixture back into the skins. Place onto the baking sheet. If desired top with additional cheese.

Stick baking sheet into the freezer for one-two hours or until potatoes are frozen. Remove from freezer and wrap each one individually in saran wrap. Then place into large freezer bags that have been labeled. Return to freezer until ready to use.

When ready to enjoy, remove from freezer to thaw. Heat in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until warmed through.

Makes about 22 twice baked potatoes

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Crock Pot Chicken Tacos

These have become a favorite in our house recently. Tacos are always a welcomed dish but it's even better when you can throw everything in the crock pot and let it cook all day long. Without heating up the kitchen, that's just a bonus.

Today I prepared a couple bags for the freezer, they'll come in handy when we're craving a little Mexican food. This is another one of those dump and go recipes, you might spend five minutes tops. It's really that simple!

Start off liberally seasoning the chicken breasts with spices. That way they'll have good flavor. Nothing is more disappointing than bland chicken breasts.

Then you can simply put the other two ingredients into a large freezer bag, along with the chicken and you're done. How easy is that? Now go make yourself at least a couple bags for future meals. You'll thank me later!

Crock Pot Chicken Tacos

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
15 oz. petite diced tomatoes with garlic and olive oil
pinch of salt and pepper
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 tbsp chili powder
small handful chopped cilantro

On a cutting board or plate, season chicken breasts well with spices. Place into a large freezer bag. Pour tomatoes along with juices into bag. Add in cilantro. Seal the bag and try to remove as much air as possible to eliminate freezer burn. Place into the freezer until ready to use.

When ready to prepare: thaw in fridge overnight. Dump contents into a crock pot and let cook on low for 5-6 hours. Shred chicken using a fork and let cook for one more hour in the sauce. Serve with desired toppings over tortilla shells or large leaf lettuce.

Friday, July 18, 2014

DIY Cream Soup

I don't cook with those cream of "whatever" soups very often, actually I can't even remember the last time I've used one. I don't care for the taste and I really do not like what's all included in the ingredient list. Yuck!

But sometimes I come across an intriguing recipe that contains it. Making my own cream soup has been on my to-make list for over a year now and it's about time I tackled it. I did some good ol' googling and searching and came up with a really good way to make my own now.

It's pretty versatile, I had some celery on hand so I used that. But mushrooms or chicken would be excellent choices as well. I highly recommend using chicken stock, especially homemade if possible, I think it gives the soup mixture an awesome flavor.

Feel free to double or triple the recipe if this is something you might use often. It's really very inexpensive to make, has a much better flavor and so much better for your health compared to the store bought versions.

DIY Cream Soup

4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup milk
1/4 cup diced celery, mushrooms or chicken
1 heaping tbsp Parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp pepper
pinch of paprika

In a medium sized saucepan, melt butter. Sprinkle in flour, stirring constantly to eliminate clumps and cook until mixture starts bubbling. Let cook for about one minute longer.

Stir in chicken stock and milk, stirring very well. Let cook until mixture becomes a sauce-like consistency, make sure to stir constantly.

Add in choice of vegetable or meat, cheese, and seasonings. Stir well and let simmer for about 3-4 more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

To prepare for freezer: Pour cream soup into a freezer safe container. Cover with lid and place into fridge to let cool completely. Then transport to the freezer. Make sure container is dated and labeled with contents.

When ready to use, remove from freezer. Let thaw in fridge until ready to use. Use as directed in desired recipe.

Makes 2 cups


Check out the great produce we just picked up from a local farm, minus a cantaloupe that didn't make the picture. This is exactly why I love summer! I'll be busy this weekend processing all of these blueberries for the freezer. I'll definitely be making some more of this blueberry-orange freezer jam. We've been out for awhile now and it's one of our favorites!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cheesecake for the Freezer

I honestly cannot take credit for this. My mom has always made her cheesecakes this way, it's a family favorite especially during the summer. We're not big traditional cheesecake fans, I will eat it more than she will but all that cream cheese is not something I'm big on. I like the fluffy whipped cream texture in this version.

While up at the river last weekend, my mom pulls out a container of prepared cheesecake filling from the freezer. She goes on to tell me that she had extra filling from the last time she made one and stashed it away in the freezer for another time. Genius! I have never thought of that before.

Instantly I bumped this up on my list for the month. It's too good not to share with you. We tend to make these cheesecakes more often throughout the summer just because it's such an easy dessert and I like to take advantage of the plentiful berries.

Since I can get two pies out of our batch of filling, I prepared one cheesecake for the freezer and then filled an empty container with the remaining mixture. Now when I need a quick dessert, I simply just need to add my desired toppings to the pie and we're good.

Freezer-friendly Cheesecake

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
8 oz. Cool Whip
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
prepared graham cracker pie crusts

In a medium bowl, cream together cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla. Fold in whipped cream and mix together well. Divide mixture between two pie crusts. Do not add any toppings at this point. Cover and place in freezer until ready to use.

If you'd rather not put into a pie crust just yet, simply divide the filling into two containers. Cover, label and date and place into freezer until ready to use.

When ready to enjoy, thaw cheesecake and top with fresh fruit or desired pie filling. If you froze just the filling, after thawing, spread mixture into prepared pie crust and again, top with your choice of filling.

Makes enough for 2 cheesecake pies.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


These were certainly a staple in our house growing up. Mom could whip up burritos for a quick and easy weeknight meal and it was something that we all loved. I always remember her making up extras to toss into the freezer for dad's lunches. Or something simple for us to reheat as we got older and were allowed to operate the microwave.

Now I find myself making these for my own family, usually for just the girls and I because Josh doesn't like beans. And just like mom, I always make sure to add at least a few extras to the freezer.

Burritos are a very simple and versatile dish to make ahead. Ground beef is our favorite but using shredded chicken breasts would also be good. I like using my homemade refried beans instead of store bought, just because I get more for my money and they taste better. If you have access to a microwave for lunch, I highly recommend you consider these. I was able to make ten burritos out of one batch, one would be plenty for myself at meal time. Pretty frugal if you ask me.


1 lb. ground beef
1-1/2 cups refried beans
1 cup salsa
grated cheese
10 tortilla shells

Brown ground beef in a large skillet until crumbled and no longer pink. Drain grease well from pan and return cooked hamburger to skillet. Add in beans and salsa, stir well until combined. Let cook for a few minutes over low heat until everything comes together. Remove from heat.

Divide mixture among tortilla shells, placing right down the middle of the shell. Sprinkle with cheese and roll up burrito style. Burritos should be pretty well cooled by this point.

To prepare for freezer: wrap each burrito well in foil. Then place into a large freezer bag that has been labeled and dated. Place bag in freezer until ready to use.

When ready to enjoy, remove from freezer and let thaw. You can warm in microwave for a couple minutes. Or I like to heat mine in the oven for about 10 minutes so it gets a little crispy. Serve with additional salsa if desired.

Makes 10 burritos

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cinnamon Rolls

Our family enjoyed a little weekend getaway along the river with my parents. Unfortunately the area has gotten so much rain this summer and the river is still high that we were not able to get out on the water. We did however have a relaxing three days up there and I personally enjoyed being "unplugged" from most technology.

I usually like to help my mom with the preparation of our meals when we go up there. These homemade cinnamon rolls were part of our breakfast one morning. I made it easy on myself by freezing pans of rolls last Thursday so we could bring them along.

I actually do this quite often. If I'm going to take the time to make cinnamon rolls, I might as well make at least a double batch and store extras in the freezer. You'll never know the difference and it will save me so much time in the end. You can even prepare your buttercream frosting and divide that into small baggies to freeze as well. Then you've really got everything you need for a fresh pan of cinnamon rolls for those lazy weekend mornings.

Cinnamon Rolls

2-1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup milk, room temp
2 eggs
5 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
4-1/2 cup flour

for the filling:
1 tbsp melted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

for the buttercream:
1 stick butter, softened
1 lb. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
milk for thinning

In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve yeast into milk and let sit for 5 minutes. Add in eggs, melted butter, sugar and salt. Mix to combine. Gradually add in flour, you might need to add in up to one half cup more. Once dough has come together, switch to the dough hook and knead for five minutes. Remove dough and place into a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm spot for one hour.

When dough is ready, punch down and turn over onto a well floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll dough out into a large rectangle, about 18x16 inches. With a pastry brush, spread melted butter on dough. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Starting with the long side, roll up the dough, making sure to pinch seams to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut into 15 slices.

To prepare for the freezer: Place rolls onto prepared baking dishes, I used foil pans. Then cover with both a layer of saran wrap and foil. Label and date the pans and place into the freezer immediately. When ready to use, thaw overnight in the fridge. Remove from fridge and allow to rise for at least 30 minutes, or longer if possible. Then bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 mins.

To make buttercream: In a large bowl, cream together butter and vanilla. Gradually add in powdered sugar, mixing together well. Add in milk by the tablespoon, in small increments, just until the buttercream has reached your desired consistency. Frost rolls with buttercream when done.

You may also transfer frosting to small baggies for the freezer. Simply fill the bags with frosting, seal shut and smooth until flat. Place with cinnamon rolls in the freezer until ready to use.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Meatloaf Burgers

I'm really sorry if seeing raw meat grosses you out, for the purpose of this series it just helps to show you photos such as above.

I've talked about these burgers a few times before. We first tried them almost two years ago when my friend Ally shared the recipe on her blog. I have since included them in my latest freezer meal basket for my good friend and they also enjoyed them as well.

My hubby is not a fan of meatloaf, at all. So I get that some of you might be turned away at the name. But I encourage you to just try these. They're really flavorful and if you've got ripe, juicy tomatoes from the garden, that will be the perfect topping! Along with pickles, ketchup and mustard of course.

Any sort of prepared burger patty is another great item to keep in your freezer. Whether they're seasoned with your favorite spices or something more creative like these or another favorite of ours: grated cheese, Lawry's, pepper and barbecue sauce. During the grilling season, having these prepped ahead can be a lifesaver. You've already done all the hard work! It's all about making our lives just a little less complicated and I'm all for that.

Meatloaf Burgers

2 lbs. ground beef
3/4 cup crushed Ritz crackers
1/4 cup quick oats
2 eggs
1/3 cup ketchup
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
Dash of Lawry's, Parmesan cheese and garlic powder

Into a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Using your hands or a large spoon, mix everything together really well.Form into 8 equal sized patties.

To freeze: place patties onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze for 1-2 hours or until frozen. Remove from freezer, wrap each patty in foil. Place all burgers into a large freezer bag that has been labeled and dated. Freeze until ready to use. When ready to use; let thaw and then cook on the grill to your desired preference.

Makes 8 patties. I recommend using within six months.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Buffalo Chicken Potato Skins

I apologize now if you're not a fan of anything buffalo style, I can't help it, our family just loves it. Even the kids, as long as the sauce isn't too spicy, they'll eat it right up. I'm calling these potato skins, but I suppose they almost look like a twice baked potato of some sort.

I think they're a great appetizer, side dish, heck even a light lunch or dinner. You could probably sneak more veggies in there but I like the hot wing/potato combination just fine.  If buffalo sauce isn't your thing, try substituting barbecue. Of course you'd want to eliminate the ranch dressing as well.  I bet barbecue would taste just as good too!

I know football season is a bit ways away right now, but I'm thinking these would be a great addition to your spread.  Don't you agree?

Buffalo Chicken Potato Skins

8 medium sized potatoes
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup ranch dressing
1/2 - 3/4 cup hot wing sauce {I prefer Cookie's brand}
Lawry's and black pepper, to taste
green onion, for topping

Scrub potatoes well and place onto a baking sheet. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 45-60 minutes. Remove from oven, slice in half and scoop out the potatoes. Add half to a large bowl and save the other half for another use, such as mashed potatoes.

Combine the shredded chicken, cheese, ranch, hot wing sauce, Lawry's and pepper with the potatoes. Sort of mash the potatoes with the serving spoon as you're mixing everything together well. You'll want the mixture a little chunky.

Using a spoon, scoop the mixture back into the potato skins. Sprinkle with diced green onion if desired.

If preparing right away, put back into the oven at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Just until skins are crispy.

For freezing: do not bake, place baking sheet into the freezer for 1-2 hours or until frozen. Remove from freezer and wrap each potato individually in saran wrap. Then place potatoes into a large freezer bag, make sure to label with contents and date. When ready to use; let thaw and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until warmed through.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Cookie Dough for the Freezer

When it comes to baking cookies, I tend to go in spurts. Obviously around Christmas time I do the majority of cookie baking and then every so often throughout the remaining months. If I can help it, I love to have prepared cookie dough balls in the freezer. When I need a quick dozen made for friends stopping by or a bake sale at the kids' school, it's not a big deal. Or if I'd rather us not eat three dozen cookies within a few days, I make sure to stash some of the dough away to prevent that from happening.

You can see there's plenty of reasons as to why it's helpful to keep your freezer stocked with cookie dough. But let's just be honest, there are days when I'd rather not stand in front of the stove rotating pan after pan of cookies. I just want to bake a quick dozen and be done. It takes me way less time to prepare a sheet of dough balls and be done. I'd rather be outside playing with the kiddos.

We've all got our favorites, the hubby loves his chocolate chip, the girls always request grandma's molasses cookies and one of my favorites have always been an old fashioned oatmeal raisin. I wish I would have had more time and energy but the other day I decided on chocolate chip and these toffee malted cookies I haven't made in years.

They are one of the first recipes I ever baked and instantly became a favorite in our family. I've since made a few adaptions, but the recipe originated from an old Taste of Home magazine my mom had. It's a soft, chewy cookie with crushed Whopper and Heath candy bits inside. Just an all-around great cookie that anyone would enjoy.

Before I share the recipe with you, I first just want to take you through the easy process of preparing your cookie dough for the freezer. After you've mixed up the dough, using your cookie scoop, place dough balls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Flash freeze for at least one hour, you'll want the balls to be completely frozen. Then transfer to a large freezer bag that has been dated and labeled. When ready to bake, simply remove cookie dough from the bag and place onto a cookie sheet to thaw. Once thawed you can then bake according to the recipe's instructions. Pretty easy!

Toffee Malted Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3.4 oz. package french vanilla instant pudding
1/2 tsp vanilla
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup instant oats
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup finely crushed Whopper candy
3/4 cup Heath bits (found in the baking aisle)

In the stand of a large mixer, cream together butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add in eggs, pudding and vanilla. Gradually add in baking soda, salt, oats and flour. Batter will be getting thick. Mix in both candy bits until well incorporated.

To freeze: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a cookie scoop, drop dough balls onto the parchment paper. Place in freezer for at least one hour or until frozen. Then transfer to a large freezer bag that has been labeled with contents and date. When ready to use, place dough balls onto a prepared cookie sheet. Let thaw and then bake in the oven.

To prepare cookies: Bake at 350 degrees for 12-13 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Store cookies in an airtight container. Makes almost 3 dozen.

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