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Smoothie Freezer Packs

My weekdays seem to be a blur of crazed days at work and rushed evenings–cooking and eating supper, followed by dishes. laundry and squeezing in a little QT with the Guy and Kiddo. Summers are, blessedly, a bit slower-paced, since the mad race to make sure the Kiddo is ready in the morning is out of the mix and there’s no fear of realizing at 9 p.m. that we need ink for the printer so Kiddo can finish a school project that’s due the next day.

But the slow, lazy days of summer are never as slow and lazy as I’d like. And every morning I still seem to be rushed getting ready for work. The result is that I frequently skip breakfast–it always seems like what would taste good to me would take too long to make, and what we have on hand that is quick is not what my taste buds want, and usually not healthy either.



I always find that I crave fresh fruits and vegetables more in the summer (good thing!), and smoothies are a great way to start the morning–but they definitely don’t fit my schedule. But what if I could find a way to make them work?

I’ve mentioned that I’m a big fan of prepping my ingredients for weekday meals on weekends, to make meal time simpler during the week. If I’m going to chop one pepper, I might as well chop them all, and not have to get out (and clean) the knife and cutting board multiple times. Fall is my busiest time of year at work, so often late in the summer I expend a little extra time and energy to plan and execute a slew of freezer bag crock pot meals. If you haven’t discovered these yet, you need to–here are a few to get you started.

So it occurred to me that I could apply the same principle of pre-prepping and pre-packaging for morning smoothies. I started with divvying up some strawberries, blackberries and bananas that I had on hand in to freezer bags.

Freezer pack smoothies Hint: Make sure to label what’s in your bags!

20150719_103804For some extra nutrition, feel free to throw a handful of greens in the bag, too. I’ll confess–I’m not much one for this myself, but I may try it now and again to see if I can grow to like the taste. To whip this up in the morning, just add a cup of apple juice and throw it in the blender (no need for ice since the fruit is already frozen).

Or, to pack a little extra protein punch to get through the a.m., there’s always the option to throw in a bit of honey and some frozen yogurt cubes. Spoon yogurt (I used Greek) into an ice cube tray, and after the cubes are set, pop them out and store them in a freezer bag to add into your smoothies as desired.

frozen yogurt cubes 20150719_153953



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Freezer to Crock Pot Meatballs

Freezer to crock pot meatballs

I love meals I can make ahead and freeze. And I love cooking with my crock pot. So it’s a safe bet that I really, really love meals I can make ahead, freeze and then throw in the crock pot. That’s one reason I really, really love these meatballs. The other reason is that they’re amazingly delicious. Or awful, according to the Guy. But awful is Guy’s code word for, “Will you please make these every night for the rest of my life?”


If you do a Google search for meatball recipes, almost all of them will call for you to mix up the meat madness, form it into balls, then either bake them or cook them in a pan. That’s where this recipes is deliciously different, and why it’s so simple. Instead of baking or pan-frying the meatballs, you let them simmer in a crock pot full of marinara sauce for six to eight hours, meanwhile absorbing all the rich tomato-ey goodness of the sauce. And since you’re slow cooking them, you can go straight from freezer to crock pot without thawing first.

I’ve also included a recipe for marinara. Of course, feel free to substitute your favorite jarred sauce if you’d like, but it really is very simple and much cheaper to make your own.

Freezer to crock pot meatballs

Freezer to Crockpot Meatballs

Meatballs

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 lb sausage
  • Small onion, finely diced
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 to 2 tsp. hot sauce, to taste
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Marinara

  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
  • 2 cans tomato paste (6 oz.)
  • 1 small onion, finely diced (1 T. minced dried onion if you’re in a hurry)
  • 2 T. minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 T. dried oregano 
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To make the meatballs, mix all but last three ingredients in large bowl, then work in half and half, breadcrumbs and parmesan. You can use a spoon if you’d like, but it really works better just to get in there with your hands and mix it all together…you’re going to get “meat hands” when you shape the meatballs anyway, so you might as well dive in, right?

Once everything is well-blended, shape into meatballs. I tend to make my meatballs gigantic, but you can downsize ’em a bit. Lay the meatballs out on a cookie sheet or parchment paper and put them in the freezer for an hour or two, until solid. Once they’re solid, you can put them in a freezer safe gallon storage bag and label them for later use.

Freezer to crock pot meatballs

To make the marinara and cook the meatballs, mix all of the marinara ingredients, except bay leaves, in your slow cooker. Add frozen meatballs to sauce one at a time, making sure that all the meatballs are covered by sauce. Add bay leaves and cook on low 6-8 hours (the larger the meatballs, the longer they will take to cook).

The one downside to this recipe is that, even if you use extra lean ground beef, the sausage produces a lot of grease, so you’ll have to take a few minutes after your meatballs are done to skim the grease off the top of the sauce. Don’t worry–the taste is worth it! And make sure to remove and discard your bay leaves while you’re at it.


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Friday Favorites: Freezer Meals

spinach lasagna freezer meal
spinach lasagna freezer meal
Spinach Lasagna Rolls, ready for the freezer.

“Friday Favorites” features my favorite great ideas/recipes/etc., from across the giant world wide webs.

Yeah, that’s a lot of Fs. Okay, I admit, I’m a sucker for alliteration.

Now on to business. I think we’ve already established that I love to cook. As much as I love it, though, there are days when time, energy or both are running short, and it’s hard to pull together something healthy and satisfying.

Which is why I also love freezer meals. Making a double portion and freezing the extra, or investing an hour or two over the weekend prepping a meal or two for the week ahead can add up to big relief when you end up working late or come home with a headache from the strain of a crazy day.


I’m working on some adapting some recipes of my own as freezer meals and posting them here, but for the time being, here are some good places to look for freezer inspiration.

Slow-Cooker Freezer Meals. This awesome post from the Test Kitchen of Melissa Fallis will leave your freezer stocked with half a dozen or more “ready to throw in the crock pot” meals. The five featured recipes include a lot of common ingredients, so you can devote a bit of time chopping some produce and cutting/prepping the meat, then divvy up the ingredients in gallon freezer bags. Label the bags with the appropriate day of cooking directions and stash them in the freezer for a busy day. Transfer your bag of choice to the refrigerator the night before you’re ready to cook it. The next morning, dump the bag’s contents in slow cooker, adding sauce or other liquid per the directions on the bag.

This SkinnyTaste post on adapting recipes to make freezer meals offers a sample of freezer-ready made meals, including Spinach Lasagna Rolls. I tried these out a few months ago when I was looking for something that I could make for a friend whose wife has a long-term illness,so he would have something easy he could just throw in the oven for dinner. I made an extra batch for home, and got a thumbs-up from the Guy. Bonus–they are a good bit simpler than a full lasagna, and if you’re not cooking for a crowd, you can bake just the amount you need.