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  • 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

    This Week’s Healthy Dish: Chard & Kale Pasta with Bacon + Bonus Watermelon Radish

    Cook a new healthy dish each week in 2015 - chieffamilyofficer.com

    As I mentioned previously, I’m making one new healthy dish per week this year to help me conquer my fear/reluctance to try new foods and techniques.

    This week I tackled chard, which came in my mid-week CSA box. I should have taken a before photo – it was listed as “assorted chard” but I’m pretty sure I ended up with run-of-the-mill Swiss chard. I’d intended to make Orecchiette with Sausage, Chard, and Parsnips but somehow managed not to buy the sausage or parsnips so I ended up tinkering with this Bon Appetit recipe for Bacon and Swiss Chard Pasta.

    Chard and Kale Pasta

    I had bacon on hand, as I usually do, and since I only had one bunch of chard, I added a bunch of Lacinato kale, which had also come in my CSA box. I sauteed the bacon until it was starting to get crispy, drained most of the grease, and added the chopped greens and some salt and pepper (not too much because the bacon is a bit salty and I knew I’d be adding Parmesan). Once the greens were soft, I added a splash of heavy cream, tossed the greens, and then added the cooked pasta. Of course, freshly grated Parmesan cheese is a necessity of life.

    My kids mostly avoided the greens but ate the pasta itself, which actually counts as a victory around here (the older one ate the bacon too). Leftovers were delicious the next day for lunch, albeit sparse on pasta since the kids had eaten most of it. I’d say I’m as comfortable with chard now as I am with kale, and would gladly cook with it again.

    Also in my CSA box were a couple of watermelon radishes, which are as pretty as they sound. They are also totally not bitter! I’ve been eating them sliced thinly and raw, with a little salty cheese.

    On to next week’s food adventure!

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by KEKO64.

    This Week’s Healthy Dish: Quinoa Salad with Cucumber, Feta and Shrimp

    Cook a new healthy dish each week in 2015 - chieffamilyofficer.com

    As I mentioned previously, I’m making one new healthy dish per week this year to help me conquer my fear/reluctance to try new foods and techniques.

    One of those is quinoa. Well, it was, because I made it on Monday and it was great! I’ve actually had quinoa before, but I’ve just never liked it. Maybe it just wasn’t cooked well or something, because I was quite pleased with how it came out. I used one cup of uncooked quinoa, 3/4 cup of low-sodium chicken stock, and 1 cup of water. I combined them in a small saucepan, brought the mixture to a boil, and then left it to simmer for approximately 20 minutes. To be honest, I forgot about it until I smelled a slightly nutty odor and ran into the kitchen in a panic, convinced that I’d just burned the quinoa! But it was perfect – perfectly fluffy, that is.

    I then made this quinoa salad, although I skipped the carrot and added some sauteed shrimp. I sliced the cucumber pretty thin, and the salt from the feta pickled it slightly and gave it a marvelous crunch. I also added some Meyer lemon zest and lemon juice, since I wanted some acid to brighten the flavors.

    Quinoa Salad with Cucumber, Feta and Shrimp - chieffamilyofficer.com

    I will definitely make this salad again, and am on the hunt for other quinoa recipes to try.

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by KEKO64.

    New Cooking Strategy in 2015: A new, healthy dish each week

    Cook a new healthy dish each week in 2015 - chieffamilyofficer.com

    I’ve learned a lot about establishing new habits from James Clear, so instead of thinking in terms of goals and resolutions this year, I’m focused on changes and habits, and especially on changing habits.

    One change that I want to make this year is better eating habits – especially eating more produce and reducing my sugar consumption. However, I’ve noticed that I shy away from unfamiliar ingredients, or ingredients I’ve struggled with in the past even though they are supposed to be healthy.

    A good example is quinoa. I’ve never really liked quinoa, whether I’ve had it at a restaurant or made it myself. But a lot of people do like it and it’s healthy, and I’ve got a whole bag that I got for free at Ralphs sitting in my pantry. I’ve also got a bunch of beets from my CSA – I love eating them, but I’ve always been afraid to cook them. And, I just came across a recipe for Oven-Roasted Tofu, which is a way of eating tofu I’d never thought of.

    That got me thinking: Each week, I can plan to make a new “healthy” dish that makes me uncomfortable – whether it’s because of the ingredients and/or techniques, I will stretch my cooking abilities and knowledge, which is always a good thing, and my family and I can explore new foods. I know we may not like many of them (there’s always cereal to fall back on!), but I’m confident we’ll also discover some new favorites that will move out of the “uncomfortable” zone and into regular rotation.

    If you have beloved recipes for alternate grains, please leave them in the comments! Just keep in mind that we are a nut-free and seed-free house due to allergies (the only exception is sesame, for some odd reason). I’ll keep you updated in my weekly menu plans as to which recipes we are trying, and what we think of them.

    Spoiler alert: Since the beets are perishable, they’ll be the first new thing I try!

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by KEKO64.