Frozen dinner replacements?
March 31, 2005 11:40 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by a post on the blue, I'm looking for recipes to replace frozen dinners. They have to be impossible to screw up and can't require any fresh ingredients. Frozen or pantry only. No involved prep allowed for the frozen stuff either. Ideas?

An example would be something like chili con carne, since it can be made with frozen ground beef, canned tomatoes, canned beans, and dried spices. And is very difficult to screw up.
posted by smackfu to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have recipes per se, but some advice as someone who cooks and freezes (mostly stir-fries).

I like to use ziploc plates because they stack nicely in the freezer. I use the sandwich size. But if I had my way I would get one of those foodsaver things that vacuum seals food. The way I do it, I tend to get ice crystals forming inside the dishes and if I store them too long there can be freezer burn issues.

So if you're going to do this and you have some money to spare, get one of those vacuum sealers and seal the plate rather than just sticking a lid on it.
posted by duck at 11:48 AM on March 31, 2005

A lot of good tips, recipes, and links to other helpful threads in this older thread for good, simple, cheap eats.
posted by junesix at 11:59 AM on March 31, 2005

There's a book called A Man, a Can, and a Plan that might suit your needs.
posted by malaprohibita at 12:08 PM on March 31, 2005

take casserole, cover bottom with uncooked rice, add frozen vegetable layer, add frozen chicken layer. top off with a can of condensed soup and a can of milk, maybe a little water for the rice, although usually the frozen veggies give up enough fo that. bake & done. about 3.5 minutes prep time, 1.5 hours cook time.
posted by luriete at 12:14 PM on March 31, 2005

Get a crockpot! I don't cook much, but I can "assemble" a great vegetarian chili. I also swear by Trader Joe's simmer sauces...just throw a jar in with some frozen veggies (and/or meat or chicken) before work and come home to dinner.
posted by JoanArkham at 12:41 PM on March 31, 2005

Frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Costco are pretty much the best thing anyone cooking for 1 or 2 people can buy. Easy, quick prep, they last forever and, at about $2.19 a pound, usually much cheaper than fresh chicken breasts.

Stick a skillet on the range, pop in one of the frozen breasts, cover it, flip at about 7 minutes, drain off the broth (since these breasts are injected with a little brine), then let it go until the juices run clear. You can do any number of things with this. Throw some frozen veggies in near the end, toss it with some pasta or rice, stick it in a wrap, make chicken chili... the list goes on and on. Season however you want, but make sure you actually use some salt. (I think people are much too afraid of salt and, as a result, cook very, very bland food.)

Also, please don't use jarred or canned pasta sauce, or you will make me very, very sad. If you don't have the time to make proper red sauce, fry up some minced garlic (even the stuff in the jar), red pepper flakes, salt and pepper in some extra virgin olive oil, just for a minute over medium-low heat, then toss your pasta in that. A little good romano on top and you're good to go.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:47 PM on March 31, 2005

I don't understand why you would want to use frozen meat for a receipe you're going to freeze again-- unless you live in the Yukon!
posted by subatomiczoo at 12:56 PM on March 31, 2005

I think the subject is REPLACING frozen dinners, not creating them. When I cook I make 2-3x as much as I need and put the leftovers in single-serving-sized gladware containers (so if they get tossed by some agressive fridge-cleaner at work I am not too irked) which I bring in and microwave back to hot to eat for lunch.

I've bought the frozen cutlets before and they're fine, though it's somewhat cheaper to buy big packets of boneless skinless chicken breast when it's on sale and freeze it in ziplocs myself.
posted by phearlez at 1:19 PM on March 31, 2005

How about Swiss Steak? My mother makes a simple crockpot version of this that involves canned new potatoes, canned tomato sauce, a couple of beef bouillion cubes, and round steak. Combine ingredients in the crockpot in the morning, and add salt, pepper, a dried bay leaf, and garlic powder to taste. Set it to slow cook, and come home to dinner after work! I'm sure you can get frozen round steak somewhere, or you can buy a pack and stick them in the freezer yourself.
posted by vorfeed at 1:28 PM on March 31, 2005

Another Trader Joe's suggestion is their bags of frozen prepared pastas/risottos/etc. -- I always keep a stash on hand for those nights I get home late from work or the gym and want to fix a nice filling dinner in less than 10 minutes. (I especially like the gnocchi with gorgonzola and the mushroom/white wine risotto.)

You toss them in a skillet (usually with just a little olive oil) for about 5-7 minutes or so and you're good to go. Eat 'em as they are or, if you do find you've got some fresh ingredients on hand, throw in some sliced veggies (I like asparagus and sweet pepper with the gnocchi), a little crushed garlic, and/or even some chopped nuts (walnuts or pine nuts are great for stuff like this, I find) while it's cooking.

You can also make a perfectly serviceable chili in about 15 minutes with a pound of ground beef or turkey (frozen -- just thaw it in your microwave), a can of beans (pinto, kidney, black -- whatever you like), a can of crushed tomatoes, and a packet of chili seasoning. Just brown the meat, drain off the fat, add in the other ingredients (and a little water, if it seems too thick), bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes or so. Top with shredded cheese or sour cream. Good for leftovers, too, especially over baked potatoes.
posted by scody at 1:56 PM on March 31, 2005

Response by poster: I think the subject is REPLACING frozen dinners, not creating them.

Oh yes, that's what I meant. I suppose the other way works too, but I'm not good at planning ahead.
posted by smackfu at 2:01 PM on March 31, 2005

Pasta with walnuts.

Put on water and cook a box of penne or ziti or something of that ilk.

While it's heating and cooking:

Slice an onion. I assume this is not involved prep.

Dump a goodly amount -- 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup -- of olive oil in a pan. Cook the onions until they are floppy-like. Dump in some red pepper flakes to taste.

While this is happening, put, oh, a cup or so of walnuts in a plastic bag. Beat the shit out of the bag with something heavy, such as a big can, or just chop up the walnuts with a knife or chopper-upper. You want medium-to-widdle chunks in the midst of a very coarse flour-like substance.

When the onions are done, dump the walnuts into the olive oil and onions, and stir. You'll make what in technical terms is a "goop" of onions and walnuts and red pepper flakes.

When the pasta is done, drain it and put it in something. Then dump the walnut goop into it, scraping the pan to get all the goodness onto the pasta, and stir like a motherfucker.

Then you can eat it, or, for added goodness, put some breadcrumbs and parmesan on top and bake it until golden brown.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:14 PM on March 31, 2005

Oh, and don't forget to dump salt in the pasta water. Like a couple tablespoons -- you want it to taste like ocean water, but less sandy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:15 PM on March 31, 2005

My new favorite: make a pot of small pasta shapes (bowties or whatever else floats your boat). While it's cooking, chop some bottled roasted red peppers, some walnuts, & some bottled green olives. If you happen to have fresh carrots or red onions, chop those up too...but you can skip them and make this a strictly pantry-product meal.

Drain the pasta when it's done, and toss everything together with a can of tuna and a can of white beans. Add some olive or walnut oil, some cider or white wine vinegar, and some salt & pepper. Enjoy!
posted by equipoise at 2:40 PM on March 31, 2005

Do you like soup? I'll pull a few recipes from my own website (with a couple adaptions to meet your needs). Lentil soup is easy and good, and reheats beautifully. Here's one using red lentils. These are actually dal, which are split, hulled lentils, and they have the merit of cooking up really fast:

1 c. red lentils
1 1/2 t. tumeric
1 smallish onion, diced
1 t. ground cumin
1-2 t. mustard seeds
2 T. butter
a couple of handfuls of frozen greens, the kind that come in a bag, rather than the brick-in-a-box
a couple of splashes of vinegar

Put the lentils, half the butter, the tumeric, and a teaspoon of salt in a soup pot with 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cover and let cook for about twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, take the remaining butter and in it gently sauté the onion, the cumin, and the mustard seeds until soft. Toss in the greens and keep cooking until they're thawed.

When the lentils are done, you can leave them alone or puree them, which makes for a nice creamy smooth soup. It's a nice touch, but it's probably only worth it if you have an immersion blender. The point of this soup is to be deceptively simple, and it just won't be if you have to pour hot liquids into your Osterizer and back again. Unless you like that sort of thing, in which case go crazy.

Add the onion mixture and vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning.


Here's one for ordinary lentil soup:

olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground fennel seed
1/2 tsp. spicy red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups brown lentils
3 bay leaves
salt, pepper
7 cups water
splash red wine vinegar or lemon juice

Saute onion slowly in olive oil. When it begins to turn a warm gold, add garlic, cumin, red pepper, and fennel seed. Cook a minute more, then add the lentils, water, and bay leaves. Add salt (do add some now, so it penetrates the lentils, but err on the side of restraint) and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook about an hour. Stir in vinegar or lemon juice. Adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Tomato soup is also good, especially with grilled cheese.

3 tablespoons butter or oil
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon flour
one large can of diced tomatoes
pinch baking soda
pinch nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
freshly ground pepper

Heat the butter or oil in the bottom of your soup pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until transluscent. Add the flour and cook a minute more, stirring. Add the tomatoes, baking soda, nutmeg and water and turn the heat up to high. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and cover. Simmer 20 minutes. Blend the results. Stir in the milk. Taste and add more salt if you need it. Add ground pepper and serve.
posted by redfoxtail at 3:38 PM on March 31, 2005

I'll second the crockpot suggestion uptopic. One of my favorite things to make in mine is chili. The more fresh ingredients you use, the better, of course, but I've had good results by combining a couple cans of chili (currently I use one of Campbell's Firehouse Chili and one of Stagg's Steakhouse chili, or sometimes the store brand no-beans chili -- I like it light on the beans) and a can of Hunt's diced tomatoes in sauce (I like more tomatoey flavor to my chili). If I had a bit more time I might replace that second can of chili with a can of tomato sauce and some fresh browned ground beef (seasoned to taste). Other types of soups can also be improved by starting with canned soup, maybe a couple different brands, and adding some fresh items (maybe as few as one).
posted by kindall at 4:00 PM on March 31, 2005

Occasionally, I make what we refer to as "All my vegetables are going bad" soup. I saute some onions and garlic (whatever's on hand), and add a can of tomoto soup as a base. Then I add whatever vegetables I have in my fridge. You can throw in canned vegetables, too. I'll use canned corn, green beans, whatever I don't have that's fresh. You can also add rice or pasta to the mix at the end of cooking. I usually throw in some chickpeas or other legume to get some protein. Add basil, oregano and some hot sauce (tapatio or tabasco) to taste. Definitely salt and pepper. Just simmer it until the veggies are as tender as you like them. Sorry I don't have any measurements. Just about any proportions seem to work out well. It's good and healthy and doesn't require much attention or planning. Only caveat is to use low sodium versions if you are using a lot of canned veggies.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:17 PM on March 31, 2005

At Costco, you can buy bags of pre-grilled strips of chicken (like this, only frozen). They're great!

Add salsa and tortillas for tacos (canned black beans as a side dish). Add to pasta (with olive oil, salt, pepper, basil and oregano) for a simple but good pasta dish. Add a little curry paste and canned coconut milk and cook up some rice for curry. Heat 'em up and put on a good roll with your favorite BBQ sauce...well, you get the picture.
posted by joshuaconner at 9:17 PM on March 31, 2005

Tuna fish + gently rinsed canned pinto beans + very good olive oil + dried oregano + chopped red onion. Put into a tupperware and shake very, very gently.

Green apple slices with muenster.

Peanut butter and celery (yeah, we all ate it as kids, but it's still a perfect snack).

Carrots and blue cheese dressing from the supermarket.

All these ingredients last for ever.
posted by goofyfoot at 2:47 AM on April 1, 2005

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