I may not be a Boy Scout, but …

Be prepared! It’s what the Boy Scouts are famous for, right?
Well, I’m adopting myself a new habit in the kitchen, thanks to a blog I read today.
I found a link on Facebook today to this fabulous blog:
http://whoneedsacape.com/2012/11/crockpot-freezer-cooking/
What a brilliant idea! As I read through the blog, I realised it wouldn’t work for me just as it was, but after a bit of mental cogitation, and some inspiration at the supermarket, I came up with a few things that I thought could possibly work in our family.
And this is the result:

Slow cooker freezer meals

Four meals, all prepared and ready to go straight into the slow cooker on busy mornings, and hopefully create a delicious meal while I’m off doing other things. The original blog post had a plan for 40 meals, all prepared within a 4 hour period, and kept in the deep freeze. The idea is to thaw a packet overnight in the fridge, pop it in the slow cooker in the morning, and come home to dinner ready and waiting at the end of the day. My plan is to play around with putting each meal into the cooker frozen (because it’s a big ask for me to decide what we’ll eat the night before!) and see what happens. I expect it will take a little longer to cook (8-10 hours on low, as opposed to 6-8 in the original recipes), but that’s OK – these meals will usually go into the cooker at about 8am, to be served around 6pm.

It’s a bit experimental at this stage, but I can live with that.

From the top, we have beef korma, sticky balsamic and vanilla glazed chicken, chicken korma, and honey mustard and sesame chicken. The kormas and the honey mustard chicken all have vegetables included – and therein lies the experiment – I probably should have blanched the vegetables before popping the bags into the freezer. But I wasn’t that organised this afternoon.

The original blog didn’t use many vegetables in the pre-packed meals, because the creator didn’t like the texture of slow cooked vegetables. I, on the other hand, can cope with it. I’m just not sure how the texture will cope with freezing the raw vegetables before cooking. But you live and learn, right? 🙂

Pro tip – write the meal name and any extra instructions on the outside of the snaplock bags (I used large size, but I think I’d get away with medium, although the large leaves room for massaging the ingredients around to coat everything evenly). If there are extra steps, like “add frozen peas half an hour before serving” or “add stock before cooking,” you might like to put those on a sticker on the bag, because I wrote mine straight onto the bag, and it rubbed off (yes, I checked it was permanent marker) while I was massaging.

So, for those interested in playing along at home, here are my “recipes,” such as they are. I like to play it fast and loose when it comes to recipes, I’m afraid. But if you’re more of a recipe person, I’d encourage you to click on the link above and check out the recipes there – there are a few I’m keen to try.

All of my recipes are based on serving my family – 2 adults, 3 children, with leftovers for lunch the next day, to save making sandwiches for school lunches.

Beef Korma: 

500g diced beef (I used rump steak, because that was the best option available when I was at the shops – but gravy beef or even beef cheek would work well)

1 sliced onion

2 cloves garlic (I just crushed them with the flat blade of my knife and threw them in)

2 carrots, chopped

1/2 orange sweet potato, chopped

1/2 bottle korma paste (about 3 tablespoons, give or take)

3 tablespoons coconut oil (see, I DID read the recipes on the other blog, LOL)

1 tin light coconut milk

And it’s as simple as putting all the ingredients in a large snaplock bag, sealing, giving it a good massage (something my kids were happy to help with – the plastic bag lessens the ick factor of touching raw meat), and into the freezer.  I intend to add frozen peas (about the same time I cook the rice to go with the meal), and I’m open to the possibility of adding a cup of beef stock to the mix before (or during, if necessary) the cooking. One of my favourite slow cooker tricks to thicken sauces is to use Orgran gluten-free gravy powder (about the only “processed” ingredient I like to use) – I’d mix that into the stock if I went ahead and added it. Just a tablespoon would do the job. Or (this just occurred to me), add a tin of legumes – lentils, chickpeas, something like that.

Sticky Balsamic Glazed Chicken

The recipe I used for inspiration used drumsticks, but for some reason, my children don’t really like drumsticks, so I used chicken breast fillets. And again, I played it loose with the recipe. This is pretty much what I did:

3 chicken breast fillets, cut into bite sized chunks, straight into the bag.

In a separate jug or bowl:

3 tablespoons coconut oil (you could use olive if preferred)

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons sesame seed (yeah, right, as if I measured those, LOL)

1 tablespoon golden syrup (the recipe used honey, but I was after a more caramelised effect)

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Combine well, and pour into bag. Massage into chicken and freeze immediately.

I’m not sure how the vanilla will go. I added it as an experiment, inspired by another dish I love to cook in my slow cooker – vanilla braised beef cheeks. It uses a vanilla bean, rather than essence, but when inspiration strikes, I run with it, in preference to going back to the shops for a single ingredient.

And to serve, I’d probably garnish it with chopped parsley and maybe spring onions. If I have any at the time.

Chicken Korma

Same as the beef, but with 3 chicken breast fillets instead of the beef. My plan is to use chicken stock (about 1 cup) and gravy powder as described above, if necessary. But I find that extra liquid is rarely needed in my slow cooker anyway. Same deal with adding frozen peas at the end, too. I LOVE frozen peas! I was going to mix up the vegies a bit, but in the end, I was on a roll and it was just easier to use the ones I already had out on the bench.

As a variation, I like to use balti paste, and pumpkin in place of sweet potato – it gives a beautiful, sweet finish to the curry, and cooks right down so even the fussiest husband children don’t know it’s there. Not that I’m a vegie smuggler – I’m all for my kids knowing exactly what goes into my cooking. But pumpkin is an occasional exception to that rule 😉 Again, I’ll probably throw in a can of chickpeas and/or lentils, as well – or half a cup of dried red lentils (rinse these well first, or you’ll get foamy residue at the top of your curry – and if you go this route, you’ll probably need the extra liquid from a cup or two of stock, too).

Honey Mustard Chicken

This dish has been a favourite of mine since my very first days at Weight Watchers, back in the 90s (when losing weight was much easier because I was much younger – and skinnier!) but over the years, I’ve played around with it a whole lot. This is another version of that (and remember, I haven’t actually tried the results of any of these meals yet, so I don’t make ANY promises as to how they will actually taste!)

1kg, give or take, chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 sliced onion

2 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces

In a separate bowl or jug:

3 tablespoons dijon mustard

similar amount honey

3 tablespoons coconut oil (you could use olive, or just omit)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Combine, and pour into the bag, seal and freeze. I expect this one will probably need the addition of a cup (or more) of chicken stock for cooking, and intend to add frozen peas at the end also. Fresh green beans might be a good alternative, if you’re not a pea-lover. But this is one of those meals you could just as easily serve with the vegies steamed on the side, rather than included in the dish.

So there you go. Four freezer meals, ready to go, with very little effort. The hardest part of the whole job was keeping the flies out of the bags! (The kids were playing outside, and running in and out of the house, leaving every possible screen door open). Not sure how they will taste, but even if they fail, the experiment has been worthwhile – to figure out what will work and what won’t.

I’m really keen on this idea, because I have to go away for 4 weeks this year for a course, leaving hubby and the kids to fend for themselves. This might have potential to make their lives a little easier. Not to mention my own life – working longer hours, two kids’ worth of homework each afternoon, and with a few more “things” on during the week this year, I’m keen to minimise my kitchen hours wherever possible.

I’ve got a few other ideas to try as well – a mushroom and gravy casserole base with beef, maybe trying to hack my vanilla beef cheek recipe into a freezer bag, and my very favourite lamb balti curry as well. And I’d like to play around a little with pulled pork or lamb recipes, too – I’ve tried a couple of those in my slow cooker in the past, and although they are a little more work (shredding the finished product), I’d like to have a go.

Asian flavours are definitely a favourite in our house, but I’m keen to try some Mexican flavours, too – we recently introduced the kids to Zambreros, and they LOVE it, so I’m keen to play around with my own version of their incredible slow-cooked lamb and see what might happen.

So here’s to what might potentially make life a little easier and more convenient, all thanks to a blog post shared on Facebook on a Sunday afternoon.

I’d love to hear what works (or doesn’t) for you, too – cooking for me is a communal thing – it takes a village and all that.

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