Sunday, July 31, 2011

Want to see my freezer?!

I've been cranking out the freezer meals this week and my freezer is almost full. And beautiful. Full and beautiful. I've manage to freeze a months worth of dinners and lunches and a few weeks worth of breakfasts in 1 week. I'm liking this "Once a Month" cooking. It does take a bit of planning and time but the freezer doesn't lie...


I'll break it down for you, but FIRST, check out my new Cuisinart pot!


Yes, it's sexy...I know...and so does the pot. Seductress!

Ok, a few of the freezer meals I've prepared in the last WEEK include the following: Two bags of marinated steak strips, Thai chicken with peanut sauce, lemon-glazed chicken breasts, buttermilk ranch chicken, Tuscan chicken, Italian smothered chicken, Beef Stew, 4 trays of enchiladas (one of which we had for dinner, muahaha), turkey ranch burgers, 2 turkey meatloaf's, 2 dozen turkey meatballs, 2 chicken pot pies, 2 beef pot pies, 1 tray of lasagna, and 4 single servings of lasagna, two homemade frozen pizzas, 6 single serving stuffed cabbage rolls, 2 bags of spaghetti meat sauce, bags of chopped cilantro and green onions, blueberry waffles, 2lbs cooked bacon, 10 breakfast burritos, and 10 chicken burritos.

WHEW! I'm exhausted just WRITING it out! Lord knows how I managed to do all that and chase two small kids around, but I did it. I just did a little every day while the girls napped and after they went to bed. And the easy stuff that I thought June would enjoy, I let her help. She's a great helper in the kitchen.


Ahhhh!!! The tortilla bandit!! Where is my Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time, when I NEED IT? Oh well, I can take her...I think. Oh and by the way, if you got the Red Ryder air rifle reference, then you're awesome.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Freezer Cooking Tips

So, in an effort to cut down on preservatives and to take full advantage of my coupon deals and "market special" meats, I've decided to venture into Freezer Cooking. You know, that totally intimidating idea of cooking mass quantities of food and freezing them for use at a later day? Well, I started off small and have managed to fill an entire full-sized upright deep freezer with a beautiful array of chicken, beef, turkey, pasta dinners, and stews. Not to mention the breakfast burritos, homemade breads, muffins, waffles, bacon, and vegetables.



First a few tips and tricks I've learned along the way.

Think to some of your favorite recipes. Is there a common thread among them? For instance, down here in Louisiana, most dinners need sauteed onions. So, if you use a lot of chopped onions, buy a bag when they go on sale, bring them home and torture yourself for one hour and chop them all (keep tissues handy *tear*) or be a ninja and just throw them in a food processor with a chopping blade. Separate them into 1 cup servings, put them in little Ziploc sandwich bags, put those bags in a freezer bag and if they were potent onions like mine usually are, go ahead and put THAT bag into another freezer bag. And freeze. Then, when a recipe calls for 1 medium onion or 1 cup chopped onion, you can grab one and throw it in!

If you catch a great deal on chicken (my Kroger had their chicken leg quarters on sale for 49 cents a pound, so I bought three 10-lb bags of chicken that day for 15 dollars) buy in bulk, salt and pepper the chicken and bake. Then cube or shred (or both) the cooked meat and separate into Ziploc bags, and freeze. A lot of  recipes can be made even faster if the chicken is already cooked!

If you have a casserole dish you like preparing but you only ever eat half of it at dinner and the rest gets put in the fridge (and then sometimes gets forgotten or passed up for something else) then separate your recipe into two smaller dishes. Bake one, freeze one.

If you decide to freeze one half of your recipes, line the dish with tinfoil, and then saran wrap. Assemble the casserole, let cool, and freeze. Once frozen, you can pop the casserole ice-cube out of the dish, wrap with tinfoil, label and stack in the freezer. Then when your ready to thaw and bake it later, just unwrap the tinfoil and saran wrap, and place the casserole back into the dish you froze it in. That way you don't have all your glass dishes tied up in the freezer. Then thaw and bake as normal when your ready to eat it!

The easiest things to freeze are baked goods. Muffins, pancakes, waffles, bread. If you are making pancakes or waffles for you family one morning, instead of throwing out that extra batter you have leftover, go ahead and make extra of whatever it is and once they are cooled, put them on a baking sheet and put in the freezer. Once frozen, put them in a labeled Ziploc bag. Then anytime you want one, just microwave or throw in the toaster for a quick breakfast. Got some muffins leftover or a loaf of Zucchini bread you want to save for later? After the breads are cooled, wrap tightly in saran wrap and put in labeled bags and freeze (muffins are wrapped individually). When your ready to eat, simply microwave the unwrapped muffin for 30 seconds, or let it thaw on the counter. Allow whole loaves of bread to thaw to room temp, and voila! Bread!

It's also a great idea to buy bacon when it's on sale. Bake it all on baking sheets, drain on paper towels, let cool, and put them on a clean baking sheet and freeze. Once frozen, put in a labeled bag. Then if a recipe calls for bacon, or you just want some for breakfast, you have fully cooked bacon that just gets nuked in the microwave for a few seconds to reheat! I use turkey bacon and it works great!


So, those are a few of my favorite Freezer Cooking tips. I hope it doesn't sound as intimidating now!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cinnamon Raisin Bread Tutorial

Nothing better than a slice of warm, homemade Cinnamon Raisin bread!


Ingredients

1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup warm water (must be between 110-115 degrees)
1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons of jarred yeast)
1 egg
1/4 cup white sugar  
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened 
1/3 cup raisins 
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour  
2/3 tablespoon milk 
1/3 cup white sugar  
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 
2/3 tablespoon butter, melted (approx.) 

Step 1
 
Dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside until yeast is frothy, about 10 minutes or so (make sure your water is at the correct temperature or the yeast won't activate.) 

Step 2
In a separate bowl, mix in eggs, sugar, butter salt and raisins .

Step 3 
Add yeast mixture and beat slowly. 

Step 4


Gently heat milk in a saucepan and cool slightly (120-130 degrees). Stir in the cooled milk slowly (so you don't cook the eggs.) 

Step 5



Switch to a dough hook (if using a stand mixer). Add the flour gradually to make a stiff dough..


Step 6


Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes until smooth.

Step 7


Place in a large, buttered, mixing bowl and turn to grease the surface of the dough.

Step 8


Cover with a warm, damp cloth and let rise (I like to let my bread rise in the oven with the light on. It has just the right amount of heat and keeps the bread out of drafts.) Allow to rise until doubled, usually about 1 1/2 hours.

Step 9




Roll out on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle 1/2 inch thick.

Step 10


Moisten the dough with 1 tablespoon milk and rub all over the dough with your hands.

Step 11


Mix together 1/3 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon and sprinkle mixture evenly on top of the moistened dough. Sprinkle a handful of raisins over the sugar.


Step 12



Roll up tightly. The roll should be about 3 inches in diameter. Tuck under ends and pinch bottom together.

Step 13


 Place loaf into well greased (you can use Crisco or butter for this) 9 x 5 inch pan and lightly grease top of loaf. Let rise in warm place (back in the cold oven with the light on), uncovered, again for about an hour.

Step 14



Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until loaf is lightly browned and sounds hollow when tapped.
Remove from oven and let cool on rack. Take melted butter and spread over top of loaf.

Step 15


After about 20 minutes, lay loaf on it's side and remove from pan. Allow to cool before slicing.