Slotted spoons, serving spoons ... insufficient spoons to cook.
April 28, 2016 12:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations on recipes that can be batch-cooked when I have the mental energy and frozen for when I don't. They need to be REALLY easy/fast to reheat, and will need to feed one walking garbage disposal (me) and my fiance, who might actually starve in a supermarket (see snowflakes inside regarding difficulty level....)

Basically, my bank balance suffers when I run out of mental energy to do the thing and wind up calling our local takeaway for "minimal effort instant food" - it happens more often than I would like to admit, and I really want to be able to take advantage of my "up" times to make healthier, less expensive stuff that will fill that gap when I don't even have the energy or available mental runtime to make a grilled cheese.

Location: Medium-sized town, UK (we have a number of supermarkets and quite a good Oriental market nearby; there are also a number of Caribbean markets.)

Available equipment:
  • Two slow cookers, one 1.5 litre and one about 6 litre
  • An electric rice cooker, an electric hotplate and a separate electric waffle iron
  • A bullet blender and a larger blender
  • An oven, a stovetop and a microwave
  • A chest freezer and a second small freezer
I'm also looking into electric pressure cookers, so if there are multiple recipes that a pressure cooker could make food happen faster at either end of the process (initial prep or reheating) this would definitely sway me.

We do not have a dishwasher (well, we do - they're called Blue_thing and Fiance) - so for the low-energy days, minimising cleanup is also a pretty high priority. The fewer objects we have to dirty the better.

Fiance's no-go ingredients list:
  • Tomatoes in any form and at any quantity no matter how small
  • Beets
  • Pork unless VERY heavily spiced
  • Beef that isn't ground/minced
  • Lamb
  • Turkey
  • Chunky vegetables (shredded, noodle-shaped, finely chopped or pureed are fine)
  • Potato that is not cooked until fluffy and either mashed or fried crisp (no boiled potatoes, no new potatoes, no gratin)
  • Beans (except in very small quantities - lentils seem to be ok)
  • Nuts (including coconut and peanut butter)
  • Tuna or other strongly scented fish
I realise this makes things awkward - especially when I'll eat all of the above.

I'd love to make buckets full of chili and just have that when I don't have the energy to cook, but finding a chili recipe that doesn't contain tomato, beans OR ingredients I can't find like decent Anaheim-type chiles ... I've not managed it yet.

Though, to be honest, if there were suggestions on how to manage the "reheat-and-plate" side of things so that two separate meals are not double the work and ideally not double the dishes to clean up afterwards, that'd be equally valuable.

We both particularly like:
  • Chicken
  • Prawns/shrimp
  • Cheese
  • Spicy / Savoury flavour profiles
  • Ramen
  • Capsicum (Bell) peppers
  • Green onions/scallions/spring onions
  • Sweetcorn
  • Courgette/Zucchini
Any suggestions for recipes and making the "can't food, no brainspace" part of reheating easier would be much appreciated.
posted by Blue_thing to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I make pork chili verde in my crockpot and freeze it for later. It's just stew pork and green chilies cooked together on low until the pork is tender. I usually brown the pork before I put it in the slow cooker but not always, it's an optional step. I serve it either over tortilla chips or rice or lately riced cauliflower, it's a minimal effort meal for sure.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 12:55 PM on April 28, 2016

I have raved about the Instant Pot in multiple other threads - search for that and you'll find a handful of us that can't stop talking about it. It's completely changed my meal game, and I no longer spend an entire weekend day precooking for the week since I can make 2-3 days of food in 30ish minutes. I also boil a batch of eggs once a week, and make one big pot of rice to go with a couple of my go-to recipes (see other threads).

I had some sit-and-wait time in my workday mid-morning today and threw in a package of boneless/skinless leg quarters (almost 3 pounds) with a small can of tomatoes, two blops of tahini, and two blops of jar pesto. Five minutes on high pressure, let sit 4 more and then quick release - the entire process took a little under 20 minutes. That's at least two meals for two - we'll probably have it with microwaved broccoli for lunch today and on salad tomorrow. I'm trying to eat less rice and pasta, but I keep frozen meatballs, low-carb penne, and jar pasta sauce on hand at all times so one of us can throw that in (plus one jar of water; also 5 minutes high, 5m before QR) and have a couple days of meals in 20 minutes for about $7, less if you stock up when pasta sauce and pasta is on sale.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:20 PM on April 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

Stuffed capsicums are easy to cook, freeze, and reheat in batches.

- Make a bunch of enchilada sauce or red pepper sauce. Freeze it in jars.
- Dump into rice cooker: rice, chicken or vegetable broth, sweet corn, chopped zucchini, chopped scallions, and spices (cumin, coriander, chili powder, garlic, onion). If you're feeling fancy, you can saute everything in a bit of oil first.
- Cut the tops off and pull the seeds out of your capsicums.
- Fry up some chicken or prawns and stir it in to the cooked rice.
- Stuff the capsicums with the meat and rice mixture.
- Top with sauce and shredded cheese.
- Bake in the oven or your crockpot.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 1:22 PM on April 28, 2016

My favorite thing to freeze and reheat is curry - so if you can find a recipe for curry that meets your criteria this may work for you. I make a big pot of curry and a bunch of rice. I freeze individual portions of rice and curry in glass n lock containers. They can be reheated by microwave, or at home I though them in a bamboo steamer with tinfoild beneath it for 20 minutes while I sit on my ass.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:53 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's my recipe for chicken adobo - I've never done it in a slow cooker, but it definitely can be done that way. Serve it over rice - which you can make fresh daily in your rice cooker or you can make a mass of and reheat. Watch out for peppercorns and enjoy.
posted by maryr at 2:00 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

For the tomatoes in chili, I would try subbing the tomatoes with one of the following: pumpkin, sweet potatoes, sweet peppers/bell peppers, squash/zucchini, carrots, turnips, or parsnips. I use corn instead of beans when making chili for my mother. I use lentils for myself, since I'm not a bean person.

This chili recipe has no tomato and no beans. It does have a beet added for color, but I'd sub that for bell peppers. Since your fiance doesn't like chunky vegetables, I'd puree everything before adding the ground beef into the mixture, and maybe add some corn to add the texture back since all the veggies are now a puree.
posted by PearlRose at 2:03 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Paella is friendly to you both and it reheats beautifully! It's also pretty easy to throw together. In fact, I've got some sausages and some chicken to make one out of tonight. I never put tomatoes in it, just omit and add more liquid.

Another one you might like is Vietnamese Bun. This one is fantastic in the summer, and is superlative with a fried egg on top. It's one you throw together. You can do the meat ahead and freeze, the veggies can be chopped and ready to use, the rice noodles cook superfast. Keep the vinaigrette in a jar in the fridge.

Chicken Florentine Lasagna. Cook, in small, microwave safe dishes, nuke when you get home.

Quiches freeze beautifully and are delicious for dinner with green salads.

Bon appetite!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:08 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

My other half has a lot of dietary restrictions, and we just don't bother to eat the same frozen/leftover food: there's always a range of pint jars of stuff he can eat, and if I make something I like he can't eat, it's clearly marked (and usually in a different storage container so he won't take it to work by mistake). Allows me more variety and leaves the food he *can* eat for him.
posted by clew at 2:55 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

As you are avoiding tomatoes and some of the recipes above that tomatoes you can replace it with roasted red peppers/capsicums or pumpkin/sweet potato that you puree up & a little more liquid, water or stock is good. It is also possible to just not include tomatoes & to add a little balsamic or apple cider vinegar & sugar to taste to get a similar acidic/sweet thing going that tomatoes bring, some paprika will give you the same red color & a nice smoky taste too. Red wine will also give you similar fruity flavors.

If you are avoiding beans you may want to look into adding Textured Vegetable Protein to your meals for some of the same goodness, it blends well with ground/minced beef.

You might want to look into soups as they freeze really well & are usually pretty damn easy to make. Cook up foods of choice with some stock or just water. Season & hit with a stick blender. It sounds like your boyfriend is Ok with some veg if the texture is right so this would be a way for him to eat them without that concern. Make up a good homemade stock & freeze it in serving sizes. A lot of Asian soups consist of simply pouring a great home made stock heated up over vermicilli & assorted veg/tofu/shrimp & letting the heat of the stock "cook" the ingredients. is a great starting point, you can both have just what you like you your bowl & change it up by using shrimp, leftover meats whatever. If you get an instant pot you can of course make a super fancy stock from scratch if you like.
posted by wwax at 3:46 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Dhal can be made in giant batches and freezes well. Divy up into single serves in zip lock bags. I also freeze precooked rice in single serves.

The new electric pressure cookers are quite magic - you could probably get rid of at least one of your slow cookers and your rice cooker. But they are best for meat and beans, neither of which are on your list.

Wonton soup. Chicken and corn soup. All the pureed soups. Dumplings. Risotto (there are ways of doing this in a slow cooker). Pilaf.
posted by kjs4 at 5:00 PM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm going to suggest a slightly alternative approach. I mean yes, by all means make shepherd's pie and freeze it in portions, etc. But when energy is a scarce resource, I think it's a mistake to bank your entire week's eating on the idea that you're magically going to have loads of energy on Saturday, which is (in my house at least) a recipe more for failure than dinner.

I find it much more useful to make aspirational plans but also accept my own limitations and stock my kitchen accordingly. Frozen ready meals you literally bung in the oven are more expensive than cooking from scratch, but about 1/3rd of the price of a take-away. Nice soup in tins, like Baxters, is another option and a very inexpensive one.

We are down to one "fuck it, nobody can be arsed" take away a month, although we do still plan the odd extra one into the meal schedule. I cannot tell you how much more cost-controlled and less guilt inducing this is.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:22 PM on April 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

Enchiladas suizas. If you want this to go even faster, don't roll the tortillas around the filling, just layer tortillas and filling like you're making a lasagna. I've never specifically reheated this directly from freezing (I always put it in the fridge for a day) but I think you could just microwave it on half power for a few minutes to defrost.

Zucchini butter keeps in the fridge forever - no need to freeze.
posted by capricorn at 8:47 PM on April 28, 2016

Breaded and fried cutlets of eggplant/aubergine freeze and re-heat beautifully in the microwave. Very easy to make in large batches: peel (a few minutes in a very hot oven will let you peel them by hand, or just use a vegetable peeler), slice, dip in egg wash or flour batter, roll in bread crumbs, then in a pan with enough oil so that the slices float without touching the bottom when they're laid flat.

Eggplant parmagiana is one quick application, but that has usually involved tomato sauce when I've had it. However what I absolutely love (and in fact is the whole reason I had to try splitting up and freezing small portions of cutlets, otherwise I'd eat them too fast) is a sandwich composed of a nice bread roll, mayonnaise, eggplant cutlet, and a slice of provolone cheese.
posted by XMLicious at 9:43 PM on April 28, 2016

If you're willing to make two different meals, consider storing them in vacuum sealed bags. We use a FoodSaver brand vacuum sealer, and their bags can be simmered so that you can reheat them in their bags and not even have to wash the pot afterward.
posted by ethidda at 5:49 AM on April 29, 2016

A lot of the soups in the cookbook I recommend 99.9% of the time freeze really well. You can also make a batch of the biscuits in the same book, freeze them by twos in little baggies, and reheat them by throwing them straight into an oven at 350 for about 15 minutes. A bowl of microwaved soup and a couple of biscuits was what I lived on a lot in the evenings when I was stage managing and came home too tired to eat anything I didn't nuke.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:15 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh - and some of the salads in that same cookbook keep well in the fridge, so a bowl of reheated soup and a scoop of some salad also pair up well (that's actually the entire book's concept).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:16 AM on April 29, 2016

When I do this I just keep it really simple. Protein+veg+rice and sauces to pour on when I reheat. Fajitas and stir fries are great because you don't have to follow a recipe. I would put some rice in the rice cooker while I cut some onions, bell peppers, and for a stir fry some broccoli (or even coleslaw mix with cabbage and carrots works great) and then cut up some thawed boneless skinless chicken breast into strips. I recommend a carbon steel wok (could probably find for less than $20 new) on fairly high heat and plenty of oil—a wok will hold enough to cook for a week's worth of food, it's fast, and it's just one pan to clean. Drop the chicken in, cook it, season however you want it and take it out of the wok. I like just minced garlic and salt because garlic works in just about every cuisine. Then lightly cook the vegetables with some minced garlic and pull them off. Caramelizing everything is tempting but it could turn to mush in a week. I store everything—rice, meat, veggies— in separate Ziplocs just in the fridge. Then when I want to eat, I take a bit of rice, veggies, and protein, put something on it, microwave and go.

Protein+veg+rice is great because it's versatile. You can mix it up as a rice bowl, put hot sauce on it and sprinkle some cheese on top, or for stir fries there's soy sauce, Mae Ploy, sesame oil... You could look for curry sauces to heat up and pour over it all for something totally different. Putting things back together and reheating should only take a few minutes and cooking it all in the first place will probably take 30-40 minutes in all, one day per week.
posted by Flower Grower at 10:22 AM on April 29, 2016

When my kids were small and I was poor and stressed, we had stir-fries and curries (made in a wok) all the time. They are really simple, specially with pre-cut vegs and cubed chicken/pork/fish.
But you are saying you are so tired a grilled cheese sandwich is overwhelming. So it has to be really simple.
One thing is to freeze whatever you cook into something that can go directly to microwave/oven and then to the table. This is not about the food, but about the container. Do you have enough nice containers which qualify?

IMO, seafood is not well-suited for this task. It gets dry and sad in the proces. Eat seafood when you have the energy. Same with cheese - it goes rubbery in the freezer. Find solutions where the cheese is fresh though the rest is pre-made.

An exception from the no seafood, no cheese in the freezer rule is brandade basically it is dried cod cooked in milk and garlic and mashed with potatoes. But there are tons of recipes out there, including quite a few with fresh fish. The are easy to make and freeze well.

Any chicken stew is very versatile: make a big batch of two whole chickens and portion it up into portions of stew for eating with rice and a batch of pies. Pies freeze very well. Buy the pie dough at the super-market.

The real bolognese sauce is without tomato. The best approximation in English I could find in 2 mins is here. Forget the tomato paste and add 1 or 2 finely minced red bell peppers for color and taste, and a little extra stock. With that, you can make pies, lasagna, and of course pasta with bolognese sauce. I'd make the lasagna and pies on the prep-day, but freeze portion-sized bags of bol for eating with pasta or on toast or pita bread. Try the exact same recipe, substituting minced aubergine for meat.

Both chicken stew and bolognese can be varied with different ingredients and spices - if you like spicy - spice them up! Or wait till you thaw them, to create very different tastes from the same base.

An entirely different concept: thin slice vegs you really like, cover them with olive oil and grill them, (stovetop, broiler or actual garden grill). Freeze them on sheets of paper so you can take out one sheet.
When you need a quick, delicious dinner: unfreeze the amount of veg you want, spread goats' cheese on bread (half a pita for instance) and put the roasted vegs on top. A few mins under the grill, and it is delicious.
posted by mumimor at 12:16 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hey! My magic recipe comes in handy once again! I mentioned it before in AskMetafilter (here with instructions, and again here). It's a savory chicken lentil dish that is cheap, filling, very nutritious, can be prepared in under half an hour in fairly large quantities, freezable and reheatable, and doesn't contain any of the ingredients you said your fiancee doesn't like. It can also be adapted to other dietary requirements, e.g. less spicy, using other meat instead of chicken, totally vegetarian, powdered spices if rushed for time, etc.

Check my first link for the recipe and instructions, as I enumerated them all there. I'd particularly recommend the version using red wine and broth as the base, using the olive oil, and using shredded chicken as the meat. It ends up with a thickish texture like chili, which is very satisfying eaten warm in the winter especially. I make several big batches and then freeze them all for instant meals later. When I freeze it, I try to maximize stacking ability in my freezer: I put a portion (for me, about a cup) in a small ziplock bag, get the excess air out, put the bag in the freezer on something flat (piece of cardboard, baking tray, etc.), and then repeat. You then can remove the flat thing once the baggies have frozen. So basically you end up with individual portions where the top and bottom are perfectly flat and thus they stack in a row in your freezer without taking up any extra room or sliding out. When you're ready to eat, just remove frozen rectangle from bag, put in large soup bowl, and microwave until hot. For me it costs about $0.50-$1.00 per serving - not bad for "fast food"!
posted by ClaireBear at 7:08 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Keep things around that have roughly the appetite-ruining profile of a hard-boiled egg. Fruit and your favorite toast toppings do well here. I've also kept a big bowl of slaw (don't think barbecue side-dish; think condensed salad) in the fridge to round out those nights when the weekly stew starts to lose its charm. Make your own -- it's super easy, super tasty, and gets better as it ages.

Meals also don't have to look like meals. A low-energy lunch might involve: sliced apple dunked in peanut butter, a leftover hard-boiled egg, and a nuked sweet potato. It's not a proper meal, but it's easy and cheap and filling and tasty anyway. Also, DarlingBri is on point with the "99% of the way there" prepackaged stuff from the grocery.

To actually get to your question: dumplings/potstickers/pierogi! I have eaten them for dinner for weeks and not gotten sick of them. If you can find "potsticker wrappers" from a local Asia-mart or large grocery, you can make a disgusting amount of them super fast. You can also make your own wrappers with flour and water and the internet.

Mix in a big bowl:
- any kind of ground meat -- 1-2 lbs or so
- any kind of vegetables/herbs (cabbage, carrot, mushroom, celery, green onion), shredded or finely diced -- also 1-2 lbs
- salt + pepper
- a spoon of flour, and 1-2 eggs -- whatever combination will make the resulting mash stick together into little meatballs
- (alternatively, use potato and cheese or basically whatever you think would fit in a ravioli or tortellini sort of thing)

To make them:
- Turn on the TV
- Spoon filling into wrapper and fold it up as you watch TV
- By the end of the show, you will have like a hundred of them
- Boil in a big pot; they're done when they float. Alternatively, steam until...the insides are cooked.

They keep well in the fridge for several days; they also freeze super well, both before and after boiling. If they're already cooked, just microwave them for a few minutes and you'll be good to go. Fry them up for breakfast even. Eat with whatever sauce is sitting in the pantry; silverware is optional.
posted by miniraptor at 7:31 PM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

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