Make-Ahead Recipes
January 5, 2004 9:02 AM   Subscribe

What's your favorite recipe that can be prepared ahead of time in bulk and frozen? I'm a single parent with a 13 year old girl to cook for. I work a normal job, then spend evenings doing the Mr. Mom number, housecleaning, clothes-washing, car-repairing, homework-helping etc. etc. My time for even minimal cooking is practically nil and I order pizza or bring home Chinese much too often. Does anyone know something good that I could make several copies of on Saturday and then freeze for later? Some years back Consumer Reports did a review of frozen chicken/veggie pies, and included a recipe for their own homemade and freezable pie that beat all the commercial ones on taste, nutrition and price. That's the kind of thing I'm fishing for here. FYI, I'm a middling cook (my biscuits succeed, my puff pastry fails.) Thanks very much!
posted by jfuller to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
How about a tomato-and-meat pasta sauce? I have a great recipe for it, so I make a big huge pot of it and freeze it a bunch of those Glad containers. Each container has enough for one meal for two people. I usually make spaghetti or linguini one night, baked mostaccioli or penne another time, and then lasagna or those Boboli pizza crust things the third time. If you have half a dozen or so recipes that can use the sauce, you don't have to decide in advance what you're going to make, but the time consuming part is already done.
posted by JollyWanker at 9:09 AM on January 5, 2004 [2 favorites]

Best answer: in the winter, healthy soups (lentils, fava beans, zuppa di farro) can be prepared in bulk then quickly reheated)

you can also cook ragu say on a Sunday, then froze it and serve it let's say every three days at dinner -- really nice pasta (water boils very quick, especially if you have a microwave), spaghetti al dente cook in about 7 minutes. so, 8 minutes tops (use a clock to wanr you when they're ready, you can fix another serving or clean the house while they're boiling)

much healthier than chemical-ridden Chinese and almost as quick

fruit and veggies can resist in the right part of your fridge (not too cold) for several days, that's another tasty and healthier alternative

you can freeze tofu, or soy steaks -- healthier and not as expensive as beef.
raw horse meat is kind of cheap and tasty and easily frozen and quickly cooked but it's not for everybody, I know (I'm European)

you can also freeze already-cooked rabbit, but careful where you buy it -- rabbits get sick quick and most non-organic rabbit is antibiotics-ridden

on preview,
JollyWanker's right of course
posted by matteo at 9:13 AM on January 5, 2004

Best answer: Pesto. Buy a ton of fresh basil, garlic, and pine nuts. Toss into a food processor with some olive oil and salt. Check for specifics but it's one of those recipies where exact amounts don't matter. Mix up a big batch of it, split it into one cup portions, and freeze. When you need a quick meal, boil up some pasta, toss a cup of boiling water into the frozen pesto to thaw it and toss it with the hot pasta. Keep a block of fresh parmegian reggiano on hand for shredding.

Add a salad or just some baby carrots to the side and you have a quick meal with minimal clean-up.

Beef stew and chili are also meals that freeze well.
posted by bondcliff at 9:19 AM on January 5, 2004

lasagna and baked ziti freeze well, and you can get a lot of meals out of a london broil, also Stir-frys (beef with broccoli or a mix of chicken and veggies)
posted by amberglow at 9:23 AM on January 5, 2004

Best answer: I second the pesto idea -- great on shrimp. Lasagne freezes well, too, as do bean soups.

I freeze burrito filling (black beans, onions, a little bacon, some chili powder, garlic, a dash of coffee, all cooked together then mashed up) for quick meals, as well -- brown some tortillas (use the toaster oven if you're in a real hurry, though oven-top toasting in a dry pan is best), add some cheese and salsa, and that's dinner.

Buy poly-packs of frozen vegetables for stir-frys--not as good as fresh, of course, but very quick. Brown chicken or beef, add hoisin sauce, then the vegetables.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:30 AM on January 5, 2004

Best answer: meatballs freeze well. with sauce (frozen homemade or something from a jar) and some sub/hoagie rolls can make great meatball sandwiches fast. and if you make enough, the meatballs can make another dinner appearance later in the week with spaghetti.

tacos would probably work also. brown the beef with taco seasoning and freeze. Once you get the bagged shredded cheese and a box of taco shells, all you may have to do is chop some tomato and lettuce.

i've made chicken pot pie from scratch and that also freezes well. it's rather time consuming initially though (taking care of the chicken, the stock, the vegetables, etc), but it works out deliciously and would be a hearty meal that you could just pop in the oven. of course, recipes may vary.

i totally recommend
posted by jerseygirl at 9:44 AM on January 5, 2004

Chicken/beef fajitas, black bean soup with (spicy) sausage, tomato soup, mac & cheese, lamb ragu (great with pasta or rice), couscous with various add-ins (i.e. vegetables, meat of choice, dried fruit, etc.). Food and Wine and Food Network's site (particularly the 30-Minute Meals program) may help.
posted by shinyj at 9:46 AM on January 5, 2004

Think jfuller is looking more for casserole type recipe(s): a dish you freeze, pop in the oven, set "time bake", leave for work, return home, serve & eat.
Any scandinavians like to share a good meat or veggie pie?
posted by thomcatspike at 10:04 AM on January 5, 2004

There are books out there that expouse something called "once a month cooking." The basic principle of this is taking one day and prepreparing a ton of stuff, sticking it into the freezer, then having easy meal prep the rest of the time. These books have lots of recipes that freeze well-even if you don't want to go the full route I imagine this would give you some variety. (I think these came out originally to give homeschooling moms some help. If you can't find them elsewhere try a large Christian bookstore for that reason.)

Also, this isn't frozen, but one of my easiest meals involves dumping a can of mushroom soup on some chicken (adding whatever seasoning you like-I like soy sauce) and letting it bake till the chicken is done. Isn't fast food, but simple enough-if you have leftover rice you can throw it in with it if you like.
posted by konolia at 10:08 AM on January 5, 2004

Best answer: The key to having freezing foods not suck is portion control, proper pre-freezer preparation and good labelling. My favorites are lasagna [or anything of the red tomato sauce variety] which can go from freezer to oven easily and quickly, stews, and especially bread. If you have cooking time but don't want prep-hassle time, my suggestions is the Winter Casserole: 1 can soup, 1 cup rice, 1 cup water, some chopped or sauteed veggies, meat if you like meat. Toss in a casserole dish, cook covered at 350 for an hour or so. There are a million ways to make this different depending what your family likes to eat and it's hot and hearty.

Other more healthy tips: many fruits can be chopped up and frozen and then added in to stuff like smoothies [melons, pineapple, berries. bananas will look ugly but taste great.] right before meals. Frozen nuts can be thawed out not too early and added to salads and baked goods. In fact, cookie dough is one of the best freezer foods Instead of making six dozen cookies [and ones made at home are frequently healthier than ones you buy out] you can freeze the dough in cookie-sized blobs, make five at a time and they'll always be fresh and there's less incentive to snack in between meals.

Soups and stews freeze very well, and if you make portions ahead of time [salsa containers work great for this], it's really easy to serve one, three or seven at the spur of the moment. My favorite in this regard is a big barley or lentil soup that is good for soup one night and then thickens up to a more stew-y consistency later on. A good bowl of soup/stew, a bag of salad [keep dressings on hand, who doesn't have a zillion salad dressings] with some fresh chopped veggies, and some fresh bread [see instructions for freezing bread dough, it's easy but needs to be done at the right time] really makes a good meal that doesn't seem like it's out of a box.

my favorite recipe site:
posted by jessamyn at 10:10 AM on January 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ratatouille is easy to make in big batches and also freezes pretty well. A good variation I got from Real Simple magazine about a year ago is to take a pre-made pie crust (baked halfway), spread in about 4 oz. goat cheese mixed with 4-6 oz. cream cheese, layer in the ratatouille, then sprinkle parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil on top. Bake till parmesan is lightly browned.
posted by scody at 10:14 AM on January 5, 2004

Best answer: I second the "soups and stews" comments. It's amazing how inexpensive a VERY large and eminently portionable-and-freezable pot of truly rockin' soup can be. I very often cook on Sunday and eat that dish throughout the week. My personal favorite: cheep pack of "15-bean" mixed beans; a few smoked ham hocks; and veggies galore (onion, potato, celery, carrot, tomato, a bit of barley). Set your breadmaker to produce a sourdough loaf, and you're set for several days.

I'll also roast a whole turkey once a month or so, which not only gives you days' worth of meat but also a dynamite carcass for turkey-noodle-veg soup.

Last but not least, neglect not thy slow cooker. Chili, stewed chicken/potatoes/carrots, bbq "pulled pork" sandwiches--all it takes is a little pre-work in the AM and you can come home to a ready meal.
posted by clever sheep at 10:21 AM on January 5, 2004

Response by poster: > Think jfuller is looking more for casserole type recipe(s): a dish you
> freeze, pop in the oven, set "time bake", leave for work, return home,
> serve & eat. Any scandinavians like to share a good meat or veggie pie?

Everything everyone has suggested sounds excellent and will definitely be tried. But yes, anything Scandinavian or indeed anything not-American would be especially welcome. Asian? African? Central/South American? Martian? The kid is not a particularly picky eater but will not eat the same thing several days in a row.
posted by jfuller at 10:45 AM on January 5, 2004

I know this doesn't answer your question, but how about leaving the ingredients in the fridge with instructions for your daughter to start it?

I was a latchkey kid (i hate that term but what else do I use to describe a kid home alone waiting for a single parent to come home from work?) and my mom would leave, say, pork chops in the fridge with instructions to put them on the broiler pan and turn the oven up to whatever. We always had hot, homecooked meals and I learned to cook in the process. It may not work every night but it's an option now and then.

I'm a great cook today because of that. It taught me to not be afraid of the stove.
posted by bondcliff at 10:56 AM on January 5, 2004

Purchase a crockpot.

French Onion Soup, made with real meat stock, is the most delicious thing to come out of a freezer after six months of "maturation."
posted by five fresh fish at 11:00 AM on January 5, 2004

Purchase a crockpot.

A good suggestion, but beware, because cooking with the crockpot merely shifts the time burden a few hours ahead, as opposed to the longer time shift of frozen foods. I made chili in my crockpot this morning, which meant browning beef, combining ingredients, etc. as I was trying to get ready for work, feed the toddler, etc. This is just as busy a time of day as the arrival at home in the evening.

Do not overlook the usefulness of meat patties, either. You can make just plain hamburgers, but we also freeze lamb burgers, curried chicken burgers, and salmon burgers. This also has the portion control advantage, the scalability, and is also a lot less work in the prep than assembling casseroles and lasagnas.
posted by briank at 11:12 AM on January 5, 2004

another option is Schwan's. If your zip code is still accurate on your profile page, then they deliver in your area. They deliver frozen foods to your door. It's better than it sounds!

What I get from them are:
- Breaded Chicken Breast Filets (they take about a half an hour in the oven, but it's one of those things that you put in there and then do other stuff)
- Mashed Potatoes (this is really good and very easy to make; chunks of real potato that you stick in the microwave for a couple of minutes, add milk & butter, then heat up a little bit then you're done; also easy to make small portions)
- Quick Bake Fries (another thing you stick in the oven for about 20 minutes)
- Breaded Chicken "Fingers" (this you fry and is more labor consuming, but yummy)
- Frozen Broccoli (another heat up in the microwave, only florets so much yummier than what you get in the store; also it's cheaper since you buy more at a time)

They also have tons of other things that you can get, and they even recommend meals. This could be a good option for something different.
posted by evening at 11:48 AM on January 5, 2004

My parents always used to start stuff in the crock pot the night before. Put it on pretty low, and it'll be fine.
posted by stoneegg21 at 11:49 AM on January 5, 2004

five fresh fish - can you supply the recipe?
posted by kelrae3 at 12:14 PM on January 5, 2004

Best answer: I make lots and lots of stuff and freeze it. Instead of using the Glad containers, which tend not to seal very well, I use freezer Ziploc baggies. Then I just either put the baggie in the microwave or I knock the food out of the baggie and put it in a bowl in the microwave. Don't forget to label the bag and date it - otherwise in a year you'll be wondering what the goop in the baggie is!

Here are some ideas
- All kinds of chili - meat, veg, etc.
- Burrito filling (mexican flavored ground beef, bits of veggies, beans) in 1-burrito-sized portions. Burrito wraps don't freeze well, so just buy fresh, defrost, and wrap.
- The aforementioned pasta sauces of various kinds - any tomato, meat or alfredo sauces will freeze just fine.
- Mini-quiches (any recipe will do). Watch out for the foil wrappers on the pies though, 'cause they don't microwave well.
- Mini-pizzas - get your daughter to help you assembly-line a bunch of pizzas. Either cook and freeze or just freeze raw then cook later. You can put all the cheese on'em and everything. These'll be way cheaper than frozen pizzas from the store.

I also tend to freeze baggies of staples like cooked rice (make a big pot and freeze individual servings), beans, and leftover pasta.

The crock-pot is also a busy parent's best friend. Get all the fillings ready the night before (as easy as peeling and chunking up some potatoes, onions, and carrots), and in the morning throw it all in with a piece of stewing meat and some onion soup mix and water to cover. When you come home, heavenly stew. It's a minor miracle.

Your daughter is also old enough to start cooking - get some bulletproof cookbooks (I learned to cook out of Anne Lindsay's cookbooks when I was 11-12), make sure she knows where the ingredients are and how to work the oven, and let her pick out and make one dinner a week.
posted by some chick at 12:51 PM on January 5, 2004

Along the same lines as my tomato sauce idea this morning: a big pile of ground beef or chicken, all cooked up in a big frying pan with some tomato, some peppers, chilies, chili powder, and etc. and then portioned into containers or bags. They form the basis of a bunch of different dishes that Americas associate with "Mexican food": tacos, burritos, nachos, enchiladas. As with the tomato sauce, you don't have to decide in advance what you'll be eating, you can decide on the spur of the moment, Hey, let's have tacos and just heat up the kind of meat you want to use.

Also: if you don't have one already, a wok is a great investment. They're easy to use, the food's healthy and you can make a little or a lot. A wok plus one of those $15 rice cookers and you're all set!
posted by JollyWanker at 1:09 PM on January 5, 2004

Best answer: Asian?
Chicken and spices in a wok
infinte variations, cheap and quick

this stew freezes well
also, any variations of rice and beans in a wok. poor man's food, good and healthy and pretty quick to prepare.

Central/South American?

Chili, as others have pointed out. Prepare a batch of extra hot, one of mild, one of vegeterian chili, freeze them, you'll have more variety.
carne asada
marinate in the morning, cook it when you come back home at night.

Recipes here
posted by matteo at 1:10 PM on January 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Matteo beat me to it... I was going to say that stir-frying in a wok is just about as fast and easy as taking something out of the freezer. I was eating stir-fried leftover New Year's turkey all last week (grated ginger, red and green pepper strips, broccoli, peanuts, 1 tsp. Tamari soy sauce, served over rice - simple!) and I enjoyed it a lot more than the original turkey dinner. You can usually do all the chopping and cooking that needs to be done in the time it takes for the rice (or noodles) to cook, or you can chop the veggies in advance and have them waiting. (Just don't try to chop and cook at the same time - have everything chopped and sitting beside the wok before you start to cook.)

Some basic stir-fy info here, and if you go to this search page and click "main" in the first category, "30 minutes or less" in the second category, and "stir-fry" in the last category, you will get six pages of stir-fry recipes. (Note that there's also crockpot and microwave selections in that last category.)
posted by taz at 1:38 PM on January 5, 2004

My timesaver: When boneless skinless chicken breast goes on sale, I buy up a bunch and freeze most of it. Then in a baking pan with a fitting rack, I roast about 2 pounds at a time for 45 - 50 minutes at 350. Over the top I spread bread crumbs, season salt, coarse black pepper, cilantro and whatever else I want.

When placing on the rack, you will have to overlap but that's ok, cuz then it bakes into one big piece which you can slice for sandwiches, hot meals, snacks, whatever.

When defrosting, I put one package in the refrigerator overnight, and before cooking, let it sit in the sink for about 90 minutes. That's usually enough to at least get it apart and on the rack.
posted by mischief at 1:47 PM on January 5, 2004

email? i've quite a few of these full recipes as i work serious hours and cook on the weekends to freeze. i'd rather email though than take up space here. of the best, take your pick from the short list:

cheese vegetable quiche (difficulty: about a 2 to 3 level on scale of 5 - > being hardest)
eggplant vegetable cheese bake (easy bake level 1 and it's a teen/kid favorite)
roast stuffed chicken dinner with stuffing (about a 4 level)
home made matzo ball soup (1000 of jews rolling over at giving this one out - pretty hard, about a 5)

etc, etc. but again, i'd rather email than post here, just to save space.

posted by eatdonuts at 2:06 PM on January 5, 2004

Best answer: easy recipe for chili: two big cans of kidney beans, two big cans of pinto beans, one can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans, one big can of tomato sauce, two small cans of tomato puree, one big can of stewed peeled tomatoes (or the tomato chunks with peppers), a pound of any type of beef (I prefer frying steak, but I am strange), a half pound of sausage, a very small can of jalapenos, two bullion cubes, cumin, chili powder, pepper, salt, and garlic powder to taste. Cook up the meat, pour everything into a big pot, stir and simmer for about three hours. Ladle it into the freezerware of your choice, let cool, then stick in the freezer. Keeps forever, and tastes brilliant reheated.

also, something that your daughter could very easily make: cheap and easy tuna casserole. One can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, one can of condensed cream of chicken soup, frozen peas, one large can of tuna, some butter, and pasta. Cook the pasta, drain the pasta, pour everything else in, stir over low heat until it's all blended together. (I loved making this for myself because it'd last me for at least three days' worth of dinners, and it was a major comfort food for me. Unfortunately, the cream of mushroom soup tastes differently over here in the UK than it does in the States, and it's just all wrong.)
posted by Katemonkey at 2:15 PM on January 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I faced the same issue some years back. My teen wanted something to eat when he got home . . . but I didn't want to buy processed food at $5 a pound. I began the "Mystery Burrito" program. Every time I cooked I'd double the amount I made and wrap the rest in tortillas. Stir frys and dried out stews work great. Typical sandwiches wrapped up this way sure beat the commercial equivalent (my pastrami & cheese burrito became famous.)
Take them out of the freezer, oil or butter the wrap and toast slowly in a toaster oven. With some inventive sauces & fillings there's no end to the meals (i.e., leftovers) you can package in a tortilla. Wrap them tight and--for the mystery part-- don't label them.
"Life is like a mystery burrito . . .you never know what you're going to get!"
posted by ahimsakid at 2:38 PM on January 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For an Asian recipe, how about trying some onigiri, Japanese rice balls? These don't freeze well, as far as I know, but they fridge quite well if you wrap them tightly in cling film, so you can make up a bunch on Sunday and eat them throughout the first half of the week. They take just a couple minutes to make, and you can make them with many types of leftovers and fresh or leftover rice. I love to make them with leftover salmon, curry, and stir-fry. If you eat meat, a little spiced chicken, pork, or meatball makes a great filling, too. And onigiri are fun for kids to make, since you shape them with your hands. You can get the nori sheets very cheaply at Asian markets - while you're there, pick up a bottle of furikake, these are cheap n' easy flavorings you can sprinkle on the onigiri for a bit of a change. You can also make yaki onigiri, basically the same thing only grilled. Onigiri are what I make when I have no time, and some leftover food n' rice in the fridge... they're speedy and tasty.
posted by vorfeed at 4:23 PM on January 5, 2004

Best answer: Fishes' Good Beef Stock

  • 6lb soup bones with marrow, and some oxtails, too
  • 3 large carrots, 1 large onion, 2 celery stalks with leaves, 1 large tomato, 1 small cabbage, 1 garlic clove, all chopped up into largish chunks.
  • 8 peppercorns, 4 sprigs parsley, 1 bay leaf, 1Tb salt, 2tsp dried thyme.
  • 10c water

    Brown bones, carrots, onions in large, shallow roasting pan in 450F oven for 45m. Turn occasionally. Drain fat. Toss everything into the crock pot. Cook overnight. Cool, skim fat, strain. Use as a base for soups.

    If it doesn't all fit in your crockpot, you'll have to use a stock pot. Use 12c water in that case.

    Fishes' French Onion Soup

  • 1/4c butter
  • 4 thinly-sliced onions
  • 1/4c flour
  • 4c beef stock
  • salt, pepper

    In saucepan, melt butter and cook onions until tender (10m). Toss everything into the crock pot. Cook overnight. Freeze six months.

  • slices of French (er, "Freedom"?) bread
  • shredded Gruyere (or Asiago, or other strong white cheese)
  • dry red wine

    Serve up with a splash of wine in the bowl, a scoop of soup, top with bread, sprinkle with cheese, broil until crispy brown. Feel the love.

  • posted by five fresh fish at 4:47 PM on January 5, 2004

    jfuller, is there any particular reason the girl isn't doing some cooking? In my single-mom's family, all three kids -- aged 13, 11, and 9, everyone cooks at some point in the week. I won't claim they're doing four-star dinners, but it sure helps take the strain off mom.
    posted by five fresh fish at 4:48 PM on January 5, 2004

    Best answer: Here's a really really easy soup recipe -- you could freeze it, but easy enough to make before serving:
    3 cans of black beans, drained
    1 can of rotel (extra hot is the way I like it)
    1 tsp of cumin
    2 cubes of bouillon (the 1-cup type - either vegetable or chicken) dissolved in 3/4 c. water

    put 2 cans of beans, the rotel, cumin, and bouillon broth into the blender & blend until smooth.
    put into a pan and add the last can of beans. heat it up. garnish with sour cream and chives/green onions.
    posted by j at 6:57 PM on January 5, 2004

    Oh, also, another thing you can do -- shred up lots of cheese (especially if you have a good processor) and put it into a lot of tupperware. Stick one lot in the fridge, stick the rest in the freezer, and then you've got shredded cheese for whatever you decide to do.

    If you also cook up a lot of burrito ingredients (ground beef, seasoning, refried beans) and freeze them too, then you've got instant burrito goodness.
    posted by Katemonkey at 12:55 AM on January 6, 2004

    Best answer: To expand on what Mischief said, many salad dressings are good sauces in which to bake chicken. A favourite of mine is chicken breasts in a creamy caesar salad dressing. Add a bit more garlic, ground pepper and some parmesan cheese. Bake the chicken and then freeze into suitable portions. Defrost and add to sandwiches, pasta, salads, etc.
    posted by deborah at 12:08 AM on January 8, 2004

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