Lately, we've been depending a lot on convenience foods, takeout, and just plain not eating dinner. Mark's days are too long for him to reasonably be expected to cook dinner, and though I've been doing the best I can to take up the slack, I am not much of a quick cook. Since I'll be starting my new, not-from-home job the week after Thanksgiving (like how I slipped that in without ever actually telling you about it?), things are only going to get worse. I've been puzzling on how to deal with that and this past week, while Mark was safely away at a conference and I had the house to myself, I decided to do something about it.
I've long been enamored with the idea of "feeding the freezer." I've been reading frugality and homemaking blogs for years that advocate cooking in one day to feed a family for a week, or even a month. Ideally, this saves time and money. I never thought it would work for us, though, since there are very few things Mark cooks that are freezable. However, the few things that I have perfected DO lend themselves to freezing. So, I decided to give it a try.
I knew it wasn't reasonable, for me, to try to create a month's worth of meals. I also knew I didn't want to put the time in to cook anything I didn't already feel pretty confident in making, so no new recipes. With these things in mind, I decided to focus on four things I knew I could make, I knew Mark would eat (he's picky about cooking that isn't his own), and I knew would freeze well: lasagna; chicken, ham, and leek pie; chicken soup; and butternut squash soup.
After I decided what I was going to cook, I headed out with two purposes: grocery shopping and container shopping. I decided to forgo disposable foil containers and go with with heavier glass containers that can be frozen, heated up in the oven, washed in the dishwasher, and reused. The best place for something like that, I thought, would be Big Lots (I think I must have subconsciously remembered the exact containers I was looking for from my last visit there). I headed over to the store and purchased some Anchor Hocking containers much like these (mine have blue lids). I got six of the six cup size ($5 each) and three of the eleven cup size ($7 each).
Next, I headed to Costco, then Giant, and finally Trader Joe's. When I got home, my entire counter was covered in bags of groceries.
Which was when I came to the obvious realization. This was NOT all going to fit in the freezer at the top of our fridge.
Mark and I have been talking about buying a small freezer for years, but first we didn't want to do it until we moved here, and then we just didn't do it. Now, I thought, was the time. I looked on Craigslist first, to see if I could get a deal on a used model, but the only ones available were the very large sizes, and that was not what we wanted. So I started looking at ads online, and finally decided on the GE® 5.0 Cubic Foot Manual Defrost Chest Freezer, handily for sale at my local Home Depot. I went and bought the last one in stock, then got it home and wrangled it out of the car and down to the basement. It was a little touch and go on the stairs, but I had it plugged in quickly enough. The user manual advised me not to put anything in to freeze four five hours after plugging it in. That would be just the right amount of time, I thought, for me to cook my meals.
First, I made a quick outline of how I should go about things. It looked like this:
1. Put chicken in to roast.
2. Put squash in to roast.
3. Fill and run dishwasher.
4. Make red sauce for lasagna
5. Assemble lasagna.
6. Put chicken soup together to simmer.
7. Remove and cool squash and chicken.
8. Make pie dough for pot pie and refrigerate.
9. Put together squash soup to simmer
10. Put together pie filling.
11. Assemble pie.
13. Remove and cool chicken soup.
14. Remove and cool squash soup.
15. Freeze all.
16. Clean up kitchen.
And I did it, in more or less that order.
Squash and chicken roasting.
Red sauce for lasagna simmering on the back burner, mushrooms being cooked in butter and wine on the front burner.
Finished roasted butternut squash.
Assembled lasagnas in 11 cup containers.
Completed containers ready for the freezer: two six cup containers of squash soup; two six cup containers and one eleven cup container of chicken soup, two eleven cup containers of lasagna plus one extra container of sauce, and one chicken, ham, and leek pie.
Horrible kitchen aftermath.
All told, the cooking and clean-up took about six and a half hours, without any attempt to hurry. By my count, this is about a dozen dinners worth of food for Mark and I, with some leftovers. The lasagnas and pot pie, frozen without baking, will just need to be thawed and put in the oven. The soups can be heated on the stove, with dumplings or pasta added to the chicken soup to fill it out. And there is plenty of space left in the new freezer for more meals, Thanksgiving leftovers, or, as Mark said when he saw it, a half a hog.