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  • New Favorite Kitchen Appliance: NutriBullet Blender

    One of the books I’ve been reading off and on is How to Live a Good Life by Jonathan Fields. He talks about the three buckets of life, the first being the Vitality Bucket. One of his suggestions is to have a daily green smoothie, and he recommends the site Simple Green Smoothies.

    CFO Favorites: NutriBullet Blender

    I’ve actually known about SGS for several years, and regularly used their formula to make smoothies in my Vitamix. My favorite combination is spinach, water, a banana, and whatever fruit I have in the freezer. Reading How to Live a Good Life made me decide to commit to a daily green smoothie.

    The thing about my Vitamix, though, is that it’s huge – the jar holds 64 ounces, or 8 cups! And it was difficult to blend up smaller portions in that large jar. Vitamix does make smaller containers, but they’re all rather expensive.

    So I got a NutriBullet, which came with 3 cups and 2 blades – all for less than the cost of one Vitamix jar. It’s been great, because it’s so easy to blend up one or two servings at a time. I have a green smoothie almost every day now, because of the ease and convenience (which are great strategies for creating a new habit, according to Gretchen Rubin, who literally wrote the book on happiness and habits).

    The NutriBullet does a fantastic job of making a smooth smoothie – I follow the SGS technique of blending the greens with liquid first, and I never get lumps. The only thing it doesn’t blend perfectly is berry seeds, so I avoid strawberries and raspberries when I use it because I really dislike the grittiness. (This isn’t a problem with the Vitamix.) I’ve been adding chia seeds to my smoothies lately, and those get blended up completely. (I do soak them first, which undoubtedly helps.)

    I love my NutriBullet so much that the next time I visit my parents, I’m going to order one for the their place and teach them how to make a daily green smoothie!

    This post contains affiliate links that help support this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you for clicking through them! You can read CFO’s full disclosure here.

    What Meals Freeze Well?

    One of the best things about freezer meals is that you don’t need to learn any new recipes – many of your family favorites will freeze well. This means you’ll be able to eat them more often, and with less time spent in the kitchen!

    What Meals Freeze Well?

    In general, casseroles, soup, stews, and meat freeze well. This includes meals like lasagna or any baked pasta – one of the first freezer meals I learned to make was these Cooking Light stuffed shells. Pasta sauce also freezes well, like my favorite bolognese recipe.

    A super easy way to make a freezer meal is to put a roast in a zip-top bag (don’t forget to label it!), top with your usual seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic, chopped onion or onion powder, etc.), and then freeze. When you want to cook the roast, defrost the contents, dump them into a slow cooker, add your favorite cooking liquid, and cook until tender. For example, I’ve done this with my Soy Onion Shredded Beef recipe – I put everything but the water in a gallon-size zip-top bag and freeze until I’m ready to cook it. Add a salad or roasted vegetable for a complete meal.

    I know it’s not a revelation, but uncooked meat freezes very well. You can just toss the meat into the freezer for later, but you’ll definitely thank yourself if you turn that ground beef into meatloaf or burgers first. For freezer meal purposes, it’s best to do something to the meat speed up your cooking process, whether it’s dicing chicken thighs for soup or cutting chicken breast into nuggets. Getting that one step done before freezing the meat can be the difference between “That’s too much work so I don’t feel like cooking tonight” and “All right, that won’t take very long.” (Why yes, that is the voice of experience.)

    Many frugal cooks like to brown their ground meat and freeze it in one-pound portions so it’s ready to go for tacos, etc. but I personally prefer not to do this because I don’t like the texture of the defrosted cooked meat unless I have a specific purpose for it, where the texture isn’t going to bother me, like in enchiladas. So I do keep one or two pounds of packaged ground beef in the freezer.

    As mentioned already, soups and stews freeze well, but if you’re freezing the prepped ingredients rather than a cooked soup or stew, I recommend leaving out the liquid (chicken stock, water, etc.) just to save space in the freezer. For example, if you’re prepping Crockpot Taco Soup, leave out the beef broth when freezing and add it to the slow cooker on cooking day.

    Meals that are mostly dairy don’t freeze well because the dairy can separate and change the texture of the meal. But if you have a meal that has dairy added at the end, freeze everything else, and then add the dairy before you serve it.

    Casseroles usually freeze great, although I usually throw them together on the day I’m serving them, using whatever I cobble together from the freezer. That’s the beauty of freezer cooking – it’s infinitely adaptable to how you like to do things, but as long as you use what’s in the freezer, you’ll save money and usually time too.

    What are your favorite meals to freeze?

    Getting Started with Freezer Cooking

    You don’t need a lot to get started with freezer cooking. In this latest installment in our new freezer meals series, I’ll share some ways to quickly build up your stash of freezer meals, as well as supplies that you might find handy. (Note: This post contains some affiliate links that help support this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you for using them! You can read CFO’s full disclosure here.)

    Getting Started with Freezer Cooking

    How to Build a Stockpile of Freezer Meals

    The easiest, fastest way to put some meals away in the freezer is to double or triple what you’re already making. For example, I find assembling lasagna time-consuming and laborious, so I never make one at a time. I always make at least two, and if I have enough ingredients and pans, I’ll make three. I’ll bake one to eat right away, and freeze the other(s).

    Another easy way to add to your freezer stash is to turn leftovers into a new meal, such as enchiladas. I always have some meat leftover when I make beef or chicken tacos, so I pull out some frozen tortillas, a can of refried beans, a pouch of enchilada sauce (this brand is our favorite), and some shredded cheese – all ingredients I almost always have on hand – and make a pan of enchiladas that I freeze for a future meal. I’ve heard some people have a “catch-all” container for leftovers in their freezer and when it’s full, they make a pot of soup with the contents.

    One way of acquiring meals that requires a little more work and planning, but also can be lots of fun, is to do a meal swap with friends. Everyone makes enough meals for everyone else to take home, so if there are five of you, you each get four meals plus the one you made yourself. I have been wanting to do this for a while now, and this series has inspired me to finally corral my friends into it!

    Finally, the way I most often stockpile meals is a freezer meal prep session that lasts anywhere from a half hour to three hours, depending on what I’m making. This usually happens when I’ve bought a lot of meat at once, either from Costco or discounted at Ralphs or Target. For instance, I recently picked up four pounds of ground turkey at a great price, and made a meatloaf, bolognese sauce, turkey burgers, and chili, all of which went into the freezer. It’s a little more time-consuming than the other ways discussed, but still faster than making each meal separately, since I’m chopping, cooking, and so on, all in one go.

    Supplies to Help Make Freezer Meals

    You don’t need anything fancy to make freezer meals, but you do need some basic supplies so you can freeze the meals. Here are some things that will make it easy:

    • Baking pans – I have multiple ceramic and glass baking pans, but if that’s too much of an investment for you, you could always go with foil pans. If you opt for foil, check out how Andrea Dekker stacks her pans in the freezer.
    • Plastic wrap – Stretch-tite is apparently the premier brand, and I get the giant rolls at Costco, which last me many months, if not a year or two. Good plastic wrap is important to prevent freezer burn and properly preserve your meals.
    • Aluminum foil – Foil is also important for properly storing your meals in the freezer. Heavy duty foil is nice (I order the large roll from Amazon), but not a requirement. FYI, I cover my pans with one layer of plastic wrap, then with a layer of foil.
    • Zip top bags – I’m not picky about brands, although I would go with name-brand bags since they tend to be thicker and therefore less likely to tear. I’ve actually been really impressed with the quality of the bags from IKEA.
    • Food storage bag holders – These are absolutely not a requirement but I have this Joakri set and love them. If you’re freezing meals in zip top bags, the holders will definitely make your life easier.
    • Mason jars – These are great if you’re freezing liquids, like soup, pasta sauce, or milk that’s about to go bad. I highly recommend straight-sided jars like these because the liquid will slide out more easily if it’s still partially frozen.
    • Sharpie – You need a good marker to write on the plastic bag, foil or container. Always list the contents and the date. You’d be surprised how hard it is to remember what something is after a month!
    • Masking tape – I like to put a piece of masking tape on my containers to write on so I don’t write directly on the container itself. Masking tape always comes right off, and lasts forever. I’ve been doing this since I started making baby food almost 13 years ago, and I’m only on roll #2!

    What have I forgotten, and what tips do you have for easily adding to your freezer meal stash?

    Why I LOVE Freezer Meals (New Series)

    A couple of years ago, I really began to understand freezer cooking, and it’s dramatically changed my life. Freezer meals help me save time, money, and most especially, stress. So I want to show you how to incorporate freezer meals into your life with a new series of posts that will run every other week. I’ll share recipes, techniques, and tips for making freezer meals a natural part of your life.

    Freezer Meals Series

    To start the series, I wanted to give a little background, because it’s not like freezer meals are a new concept. Unfortunately for me, it got tangled up with the concept of once-a-month cooking, which I’d learned about first and never really worked for me. I think that’s why it took me so long to figure out why freezer cooking is so wonderful.

    Here’s the difference: The idea behind once-a-month cooking is that you cook just once a month, freeze a bunch of meals, and then all you have to do for the month is defrost, heat up, and eat. By contrast, the idea behind freezer meals (at least as I use the term) is to do the prep work ahead of time, but not necessarily the cooking.

    I really wanted to love once-a-month cooking but it never felt like a good fit. The food often didn’t taste great because the meals just weren’t the same once they had been frozen, a lot of the recommended meals were ones my family and I didn’t like, and it may have required cooking only once a month, but that was one session that required a huge amount of planning and a giant chunk of time (like all day).

    It was Kelly at New Leaf Wellness and her method of freezing slow cooker meals before cooking them that transformed my relationship with freezer meals.

    For a while, I froze meals according to Kelly’s recipes, but after a while, I got the hang of converting meals into freezer meals, and freezing parts of meals.

    Now, I buy meat when there’s a sale – I’m always looking for discount stickers at Target and Ralphs. Usually, the meat is discounted because it’s the sell-by date. So later that day, I turn the meat into a freezer meal: ground meat becomes a meatloaf or chili, chicken thighs get cut up and marinated in a miso paste, chicken breasts get cut into bite size pieces to be breaded on the night I’m cooking them, etc.

    Some meals are just assembled, ready to be baked. Some meals get dumped into a slow cooker and left alone all day. Some “meals” are just components that need to be assembled and cooked, requiring more work on my part – but much less work than if I had to do everything at once.

    Because I’m cooking the food for the first time when it comes out of the freezer, it tastes fresh. I can make the meals when I have time and/or find a great sale and want to stock up on an ingredient like meat. Most of my family’s favorite meals can be adapted to the freezer in some way, whether it’s freezing the entire meal ahead of time or freezing components to speed things along.

    Freezer meals also make meal planning super easy, because most of the meals are already made – I don’t have to worry about what’s on sale or whether I have to buy ingredients. Many of the meals can be made ahead of time so they work for my busy schedule. For example, I plan slow cooker meals for the nights the boys have practice, and the food needs to be ready the moment we walk in the door. Most nights, I cook enough for leftovers so my husband can brown bag a lunch the next day. Since he doesn’t like taking messy foods like soup or pasta with tomato sauce, I save those meals for the weekends.

    I hope I’ve converted you and made you as excited about freezer meals as I am! Stay tuned for more in this series, and let me know if you have any questions or if there’s something specific you’d like to see addressed in an upcoming post.

    Why I’m Cooking More in 2016 (It’s not why you think)

    My new countertop oven has me cooking up a storm! | Chief Family Officer

    I freely admit that I’m spoiled by my parents (yes, even now), so I was only a little surprised and more than a little delighted when they said they would give me the one (very) expensive item on my wishlist last month: a Wolf Countertop Oven. (Thanks, Mom and Dad – you’re the best!)

    I had been wanting a countertop oven for several years, because (as I’ve mentioned several hundreds of times in my menu planning updates) I dread using my oven during the summer when my kitchen overheats. I read many reviews and the consensus was a Breville model.* The consensus was so universal that I almost pulled the trigger, but I wanted to see the oven in person – and when I did, I just felt it was only a hair bigger than my toaster oven and not worth the $250+ I would spend.

    And then I read Michelle at Hummingbird High’s review of her new Wolf countertop oven. She made two gorgeous pound cakes in it, which was a great indicator of its size. Michelle also graciously fielded some questions on Twitter from me, which confirmed that the Wolf oven was larger than a toaster oven – big enough to fit a 13×9 pan, in fact.

    So this is my new favorite toy:

    My new Wolf countertop oven has inspired me to cook more! | Chief Family Officer

    Even though I still have my large gas oven, I’ve only used it once since I got my Wolf oven. That’s primarily because my large oven is large – so it takes a long time to preheat, and I’ve always felt it was such a waste to use it if I wasn’t cooking a lot of food at once. (And in fact, the one time I used the large oven was on Christmas Eve, when I made prime rib.)

    Predictably, I’m baking a lot. Almost every day, in fact. But I’m also cooking more dinners because of my Wolf oven – so far I’ve made Beef Wellington, Cauliflower Gratin, and Baked Brie, just to name a few things. Tonight I’m making pizza, which I haven’t made in a long time. The oven is large enough to fit my pizza stone, and I’m motivated to make some frozen pizzas for the future.

    Now if I could just figure out how to use the convection setting properly (the one time I did, my cupcakes came out totally lopsided) …

    *This is an affiliate link – when you shop at Amazon after clicking through it, you help support this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you! You can read CFO’s full disclosure here.

    Quick Tip: Get Room Temperature Eggs Fast

    How to Get Room Temperature Eggs Quickly

    Sometimes recipes call for room temperature eggs. It happens mostly with dessert recipes, especially if they involve heating or beating the eggs. But sometimes you don’t want to wait for the eggs to come to room temperature, and with this quick tip, you don’t have to:

    Put the eggs in hot water for a few minutes.

    You do want to be careful not to make the water too hot, or your egg will cook in the shell. If you put the eggs in the hot water when you first start preparing a recipe, by the time you get to the eggs, they should be warm enough to use.

    Previously: How to Quickly Soften Butter for Baking