I like to take a couple of hours or so in the kitchen to make several items for the freezer so that when I don't feel like cooking or don't have time to cook I won't be tempted to eat fast food, etc. I rely on a few pantry items to make this task much easier.
After deciding what to cook for the freezer assemble all the needed items. I am going to make a big pot of meat sauce and from that make lasagne, what I like to call rice-a-touille, jars of sauce and finally a chicken enchilada casserole.
I use several pantry items that save time - lasagne noodles that do not need to be cooked, pre-shredded cheese, simple canned pasta sauce instead of just adding tomato sauce and Mushroom Medley from Trader Joe's - from the freezer section - the mushrooms are cooked with olive oil, garlic and parsley. They are a little pricy but oh so worth every penny for the wonderful flavor they add to many dishes.
I timed the first part - it took less than 45 minutes to get to the point where things just needed to cook. First I put a cup of brown rice with 2 1/4 cups beef broth in the rice cooker, wrapped three sknls, bnls, chicken breasts in foil and put into a pre-heated 350° oven (depending on the size of the breasts will take 34-45 mins), put a large can of enchilada sauce (time saver to use canned than make the sauce from scratch) on the stove top with some beef broth, salt, pepper, 2 tsp sugar - when the onions and garlic are cooked added some of them to the sauce and let it reduce, finally I made a slurry of some of the beef broth and Wondra flour to thicken the sauce and make it more of a red gravy. For the onions take two big onions diced, cook them in a little olive oil and when almost done, add about 4 cloves of minced garlic, let it cook until translucent.
As soon as the onions and garlic are done add the following (if you don't want as much sauce just cut this in half) 2 pounds of ground bison (like to use bison because it is a much healthier red meat, my local grocery as well as Costco carry bison). Ground beef, chicken or turkey could be substituted. Stir to let it cook, add salt and pepper. When the meat is done, drain off any fat and add two cans of the pasta sauce, two cans of chopped tomatoes (I use two jars of my canned tomatoes from last summer taking out the bay leaves and the thyme stems and chopping the onion, squeezing the tomatoes between fingers) add the bag of thawed Mushroom Medley (or if you don't have Trader Joe's you would add sliced mushrooms once the onions are cooked). Bring to a boil, turn down and just let the sauce simmer.
Once the sauce has cooked down, turn it off and assemble your lasagne. I like to make a couple of casseroles rather than one big one - using the 8" square Pyrex casserole. Put some sauce in the bottom of the pan and spread it around then I take two of the lasagna noodles and using a table knife spread the tops with the ricotta cheese and lay the noodles over the sauce, add some more sauce, some shredded cheese, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese, repeat this twice more ending up with the cheese and the sprinkle of Parmesan.
The next item is the chicken enchilada casserole. Take the cubed chicken and mix with 3 cups shredded cheese and a small can of green chilies, spread on a cookie sheet - makes it easy to make sure that the ingredients are well mixed. Spread some of your sauce on the bottom of a casserole dish, cover with corn tortillas, half the mix, half a can of refried beans, tortillas again, some of the sauce, the remainder of chicken mixture, the other half of the beans, finally a little more cheese.
Before covering for the freezer sprinkle 3 chopped green onions on the top of the casserole.
This fuzzy photo (sorry) is just cooked brown rice spread on the bottom of an 8x8 Pyrex casserole.
In a little olive oil cook one large red bell chopped, one large sweet onion chopped and two big zucchini sliced - add salt and pepper and when the veggies are still al dente turn off the stove and put the veggies on top of the rice. Cover the top of the veggies with some of the remaining meat sauce, then add a little of the grated Parmesan. The veggie ingredients in this dish are the same as ratatouille except for the egg plant which is a veggie we don't particularly care for and the tomatoes are in the sauce for the topping.
The fruits of your labor - one large chicken enchilada casserole, two lasagne casseroles, one rice-a-touille, a jar of enchilada sauce for next time and two quart jars of the meat sauce to be used on pasta, veggies, etc. The last thing to do is to put labels on everything with the date. Some peace of mind knowing that you have items in the freezer for dinner!
Large can enchilada sauce
Small can of refried beans
Small can of chopped green chiles
2 large cans Del Monte pasta sauce ($ store has these)
2 jars home canned tomatoes or two cans chopped tomatoes
2 pounds ground bison, beef, chicken or turkey
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 large onions
1 large red bell pepper
2 large zucchini
Carton of low-fat ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
Large bag of shredded cheese, the trio cheese type
Box of no-cook lasagne noodles
Salt & Pepper
Mushroom Medley from Trader Joe's or large carton mushrooms
3 green onions
4 large cloves garlic
Labels, Martha Stewart Home Office #72439, available at Staples - free template online at Avery. The template is used in Microsoft word.
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