Freezer Meal #1: Honey Sesame Chicken

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my recent cooking ventures was to attempt to make freezer meals to pull out for dinner on busy nights.   I read a lot of Once-A-Month-Cooking websites, a lot of freezer-meal websites and came up with a collection of meals.  It wasn’t a giant collection, as many of the recipes were impossible to make dairy/soy free, but a good number of recipes nonetheless.  I made a grocery list and headed to the store.  In addition to the meats and veggies and spices, I purchased two boxes of freezer friendly gallon size ziptop bags. (I like to double bag my freezer stuff in case a leak should happen).   Then when I got a 2 hour window of time I set it all up:

1.   A meat chopping station

2.  A veggie chopping station

3.   Lots of measuring cups and spoons (every set I had)

4.   My recipes all printed and laid out in order of assembly-  I tried to do all chicken ones in a row so I could chop all the chicken at one time.

I assembled five recipes in about an hour and tucked them into the freezer.  We’ve eaten most of the meals now and some of our recipes were total flops.  A few were good with some additional spices. The best by far was Honey Sesame Chicken.

I found the recipe Honey Sesame Chicken on Damn Delicious where the recipe had been adapted from The Comfort of Cooking.   It originally contained soy sauce, but I swapped it out for coconut aminos  and added some salt to the recipe.  My coconut aminos is much sweeter than soy sauce and lacks the salt that soy brings to the party.  Add a little salt to the recipe and my family never misses soy sauce.  I wasn’t sure about the ketchup in the recipe when I read it, but when we ate it we couldn’t pick out that flavor at all.  Seems crazy but don’t skip it!  Lastly, my kiddos can’t handle any heat/spiciness in food so we left out the red pepper flakes.  Red pepper usually just adds a great background flavor and I love it, but it always seems like my most heat sensitive child ends up with the flakes in her food and then refuses to eat any more.  So we left that out of our batch.

The recipe was super easy to prepare.  To make it for the freezer,  I set a freezer friendly gallon zip top bag in a large bowl to keep it from falling over.   I dumped in the diced onion, garlic, honey, coconut aminos, ketchup, oil, chicken, salt and pepper.   I pushed the air out of the bag, sealed it, double bagged it in another ziptop bag, labeled it and froze it flat in our freezer.

I defrosted the meal still in the bag. and in the fridge, the night before I cooked it in the slow cooker.  I do want to note that I’ve started cheating in this part of the freezer meal recipes.  Most freezer meal recipes say to defrost in the fridge starting the night before.  Well, I often don’t have my act together that far in advance.  After cleaning up a dinner, getting two tired kids through the bath and bedtime routine and finding an hour to regain my sanity, I rarely think ahead about dinner the next day.  (Gotta work on this, I really do.)   So since I usually wake up and think, “Oh no!  Forgot about the freezer meal again!” I’ve started defrosting a double-bagged freezer meal in a sink half full of water with the tap dripping slightly.  (The dripping breaks up the cold water around the frozen item.)   In an hour most of my meals are completely defrosted and ready to dump into the slow cooker.   This procrastinator-friendly strategy is a time saver, but if you try it for any recipes make sure your meat is fully defrosted so it cooks evenly and fully.

My family ate this meal over rice.  This recipe calls for cooking the chicken for 3 and a half hours and then removing the chicken to cool and shred it.  When I took the chicken out I immediately started a pot of rice on the stove.  The recipe for the chicken says to cook an additional 30 minutes with the shredded chicken added back into the slow cooker, so my rice and chicken were ready right about the same time. My family loves jasmine rice.  Check it out if you’ve never tried it.

Honey Sesame Chicken

Ingredients

1 small onion diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

½ cup honey

½ cup coconut aminos

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup ketchup

2 tablespoons canola oil or other neutral oil

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Garnish for serving day (optional)

1 green onion, thinly sliced

sesame seeds, for garnish

 

For Freezer Meal Preparation:

In a heavy-duty gallon sized ziptop bag, combine the onion, garlic, honey, coconut aminos, salt, ketchup, oil, and red pepper flake (optional).   Place chicken thighs inside the bag. Seal bag tightly.  Gently squish/massage bag to combine the ingredients.  Place inside another ziptop bag, label and freeze flat.

When ready to make the meal:  Defrost.  Add to slow cooker.  Cook on high for 3 ½ hours.  Remove chicken from the slow cooker and shred with forks.  Return chicken to the juices in the slow cooker.  Cover and keep warm fro 30 minutes.   Great served over jasmine rice.

 

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Beef and Broccoli over rice

Things are going well at our house.  Holiday season is in full swing.  The Christmas tree is up, I’ve got most of the presents bought, a few wrapped and I”m narrowing down this year’s list of cookies to make.

Colin is doing great. He has found his appetite!  Although the pediatrician said a toddler’s appetite usually slows a bit at this age, Colin is just finding a new interest in food.  He is asking to eat and eating quantities that make my husband and I do a double take.   He still  has a lot of foods he doesn’t want to eat, including most vegetables, but he is slowly broadening his diet.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are his all-time favorite.  He wakes up in the morning and asks me to make him one for breakfast every day.  We haven’t been doing as many smoothies, therefore very little Neocate Jr., but we found some gummy vitamins and gummy calcium supplements that he seems to tolerate.

Yes, food is going better, which always feels good.  I also found a new recipe last week that I couldn’t wait to share.  I was hungry for something that tasted like Chinese food and so I Googled “Beef and Broccoli.”  One of the first results was a recipe from Food. com.  I decided to give it a try, making it soy friendly.   I substituted coconut aminos (which I buy at Whole Foods) for the soy sauce.  Since the coconut aminos are a bit sweeter than soy sauce, I used less brown sugar than the recipe called for and added salt.   The recipe called for a whole teaspoon of ground ginger, which is a lot more than I use in other gingery dishes.   While cooking it I thought the ginger was going to be too intense for my family, since it smelled so strongly of ginger, but by the time it hit the table the ginger had mellowed and it was delicious.  Both kids gobbled it up and my husband said it was the closest to real Chinese food we’d ever made at home.

I served the beef and broccoli over rice.  I used jasmine rice, since it is my husband’s favorite, but use brown rice, quinoa, couscous, or whatever your family prefers.  Just start the rice before starting the stir fry.  Cooking a stir fry usually goes quick and it needs your attention.

Two more notes- If you can’t use cornstarch try arrowroot starch or leave it out.  It thickens it but leaving it out won’t ruin the dish completely.  It has lots of great flavor going on! Maybe cut out the water that goes into the sauce in Step 2.    Second- make sure to cut your beef thin and against the grain.  A cheap cut of meat can be pretty good if you cut it right.  Look for the lines running in the meat and cut perpendicular to them.

Beef and Broccoli

3 tablespoons cornstarch, divided

1/2 cup water, more if needed

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 lb boneless round steak, sirloin or flank steak cut into THIN slices  (I used sirloin)

2 tablespoon canola oil

4 cups broccoli, cut into small florets

1 onion, cut into slices

1/2 cup Coconut Aminos

1 tablespoon brown sugar

A good pinch of salt  (about 1/8th teaspoon)

1 teaspoon ground ginger

(hot cooked rice for serving)

Directions

Ingredients

1.  In a Ziploc bag or medium-sized bowl, combine 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons water and the garlic powder.  Add the beef and combine.   Let it sit while you are chopping your onions and broccoli or just continue to step two.

2.  Combine the coconut aminos, brown sugar, salt, ginger, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and the remaining water.  Set aside (This sauce will go on near the end.)

3.   Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add one tablespoon of oil.  Add the beef and cook until beef reaches desired doneness.  (For me this means all red is gone.)  Remove the beef from the pan and keep warm.

4.  Add one tablespoon of oil to the pan and cook the broccoli and onion.  If broccoli florets are large, add 2 tablespoons of water and cover pan to help it steam.

5. When broccoli and onion are cooked add the beef back to the pan.  Give the sauce you made in Step 2 a quick stir and pour it over the beef and vegetables.  Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes to thicken.

6.  Serve over rice.

Beef Daube Provencal

I bought a copy of Eating Light magazine recently and found a number of new recipe ideas.  Due to the magazine’s focus on healthier eating, there are a lot of recipes without butter/cheese and many other recipes that are easy to change to fit our dietary needs.

The first recipe I tried was Beef Daube Provencal.  It was in their “Top 25 Favorites” list and I can see why.  It was delicious, pretty easy to throw together and a definite hit all around the dinner table.

Are you wondering what a “daube” is like I was?  Well the good old internet taught me it is a French word for a stew made of braised meat, vegetables, herbs and spices.  Yep- that about sums up the recipe!  When we ate it we said it tasted like a fancier beef stew with great depth of flavor.

The recipe can be made in a slow cooker or in the oven.  I chose the slow cooker route since I love “fix it and forget it” cooking.  I chopped my veggies the night before, adding in a handful of mushrooms that I needed to use up.   In the morning I browned the beef  and made the sauce before throwing it all in my slow cooker.  (I skipped the cloves, since I am either out of them or they are winning in the hide and seek game happening in my spice rack.)   I cooked it on low for most of the day and by dinnertime the meat was really really tender and our house smelled fantastic.

The first night I served it with some nice crusty bread to mop it up with. The second night I served it over egg noodles.   Both nights I used scissors to cut up the meat into tiny pieces for my kids.  Had I served chunks they probably would have balked, but with the meat blending into the veggies and sauce, they gobbled it up.

Here is the recipe for Beef Daube Provencal and a picture of it.   I swear I took a photo of ours but it too is hiding somewhere.   I swear I’m losing my mind this month!

Need an easy bread side to serve it with?   Pepperidge Farm Stone Baked Artisan Rolls are frozen bread rolls that you don’t need thaw.   Just remove from the freezer and bake.  (Nice to have something simple in an MSPI house!)   I found them in the freezer section and there are several types you can buy.  The variety we had,  French bread, was dairy and soy free.  Here are the ingredients for the French Bread rolls:   Unbromated Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour (Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Water, Contains 2 Percent or Less of: Salt, White Rice Flour, Malt Syrup, Yeast and Sesame Seed Meal.

Pasta with Broccoli

Pasta with broccoli is easy weeknight recipe that is a big hit in our house.  I would probably call it a side dish, but I’ve definitely served it as a meatless main dish with some other supporting sides.

My recipe is a dairy free adaptation of Giada De Laurentiis’ Farfalle with Broccoli.  The recipe I make is not much different from Giada’s, just removing some dairy and keeping it extra kid friendly.  The original recipe was finished with parmesan cheese, which is easy to leave out.  You can add a little salt if you think your pasta needs it.  I also use more olive oil in place of the butter.  The last change I often make is to omit the red pepper flakes when my kids are eating it.  Somehow the kids seem to find all the red pepper flakes.  The pasta is really tasty with the red pepper flake, adding a very subtle heat, so if your kids can handle the spice, give it a try.

When you read the recipe, please don’t recoil in terror when you see the anchovy paste. I dislike anchovies myself and couldn’t imagine how such an ingredient could be good until I tried this recipe. The anchovy adds saltiness and depth of flavor. It really makes a difference. I promise you though that your kids won’t take a bite and say, “Yuck. This is Fishy!” It is barely there, similar to anchovy in a great caesar dressing. I buy the paste instead of the fish in tins so I don’t have to waste any leftovers. The internet consensus is that 1/2 teaspoon of anchovy paste is equal to 1 anchovy fillet but check the box your tube of paste comes in. It will often tell you the conversion based on the potency of the paste.

Giada’s recipe is for farfalle, which is bow tie pasta. Barilla brand pasta now makes mini bow ties which are great for little fingers and mouths. If you don’t have bow ties or your kids like something else, pick another pasta shape!  Just make a note of the cooking time on the box and subtract four minutes.  At the end of the shortened cooking time, add the broccoli to the boiling water and cook another 4 minutes so your broccoli and pasta will be done perfectly at the same time.  The times in my recipe are for regular size farfalle.

Lastly this may seem like a lot of olive oil, but this is basically an olive oil sauce. The 1/2 cup of oil is for the full pound of pasta so don’t skimp!

Pasta with Broccoli

Ingredients

1 pound farfalle (bow tie pasta)

2 heads broccoli  (Equal to about 4 cups broccoli florets)

1/2 cup olive oil

3 garlic cloves chopped (I often use the equivalent in jarred chopped garlic in olive oil to save time)

5 anchovy fillets diced or 2 1/2 teaspoons of anchovy paste

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flake (optional)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

DIrections

Start boiling a large pot of water.  While waiting for it to come to a boil, chop the broccoli into medium-sized florets (so they will be bite sized after cooking).   Lightly salt the pasta water and then add the pasta.  Stir gently.  Cook the pasta for 5 minutes and then add the broccoli.  Cook for another 4 minutes.  Check the broccoli and pasta and if it done to your liking, remove one cup of pasta water and set aside.  Drain pasta and broccoli.

Meanwhile, start the sauce in a large skillet. Heat the olive oil and add the garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flake.  Cook for one minute.  Add the broccoli and the pasta.  Stir to combine and season with the salt and pepper, adding more if needed.  If pasta seems dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.  Enjoy!