I did however just do a marathon weekend of cooking getting ready for Back to School.
I started a job last fall for the first time in many years. I hated it and I quit....the nice thing about not actually needing a job is you don't have to stick around doing something you hate or more to the point working for someone you don't respect. Water under the bridge. That said...I've started another job part time that I am loving. (I used to own my own company and I am now working part time for one of my old customers. Creative and fun = perfect, I am not sure how long I will be needed but I'm happy to be along for the ride for now) It's great for pin money and it feels good to be out of the house.
What is this leading to? Well...lunches. I had to get organized. I started marathon cooking one weekend a month getting all the lunches ready as best possible so the kids could just grab and go in the morning. I could do the same as could hubby if so inclined. Boy have they grown fast. I now have one in his final year of University, one starting college (out of town...sniff), a young lady starting highschool, and our youngest in his last year of middle school. Time flies.
Shiny object alert....
Back to my point. Lunches and meals. I have really avoided processed deli meats for a couple of years now as best possible. I still love a great italian hard genoa salami (no innuendo...really), but the rest? Too much salt, nitrates and the like. I had started cooking up chicken breasts, roasts of beef and pork and making sandwiches with them on a weekly basis. I took it up a notch.
This takes some organization but it works beautifully once you get in the groove and it really does save a lot of time. I try to get everyone helping out, be it shredding cheese, peeling apples or digging in and cooking with me.
This weekend for example. We made. 40 Chicken Salad wraps, 25 Roast beef sandwiches, 36 Pizza poppers (my homemade version of a pizza pop), 15 servings of mac n cheese (thermos size), 15 meal size portions of lasanga (more...but they wanted to actually eat some that day....the nerve), 200 Meatballs, a double batch of beef stew, a double batch of spaghetti sauce (meat pasta sauce/ragu type) 3 chicken pot pies, 29 apple and blueberry crisps in jars.
Back on topic...
This takes a lot of prep and a big trip to Costco or the farmers market. Note, most veggies don't freeze well in sandwiches so we cut them up and keep them in the fridge. The kids grab what they want and put in seperate container to add to the sandwiches after defrosting.
Freezing sandwiches and lunches ahead of time is really easy and convenient. They grab what they want and it defrosts by lunch time. (don't use insulated bags though because they may not)
Ideas above are great for lunches. As are meatball subs, pork sandwiches, and the like. I've made chicken club (bacon and chicken...kids add tomato and lettuce at school), pulled pork (they didn't like those), tuna, as well as turkey.
Part of the trick is finding a good bread. For sandwiches I use a light rye from Costco (Canada). It works very well as it's a little hard to begin with so it doesn't get soggy. I use stone ground tortilla wraps without issue. There is also something called One bun Folded Flat bread that works fabulously for meatball subs.
Lets get to it shall we?
Roast beef Sandwiches.
Make a roast the night before and let stand in the fridge whole overnight. Cut thinly. I use a light rye for this and spread some mayo and a little dijon on the bread. Layer the beef to whatever thickness you like and add what cheese you like. I use either light swiss, or light havarti. Wrap in plastic or in a sandwich bag. again, place into a larger ziplock bag, label and freeze. For the roast? I personally make it rather easily. In my dutch oven I place the roast, add about an inch of red wine (cheap wine is fine), coat the roast in dijon mustard, add some crushed peppercorns and some garlic, sliced onions and off to races we go. Roast at 350 degrees until cooked to desired level.
Meatball "subs". Really these are meatball, 1/2 flat breads...
I make my meatballs the same time as my sauce and let them cook in the sauce. The meatballs absorb the flavour of the sauce and are tender delicious mouthfuls of yum. Again...very basic. Ground veal/beef. an egg or two depending on how much you have and some breadcrumbs to bind. The breadcrumbs help bind it all together and absorb the tomato sauce. Toss them into your simmering meat sauce or tomato sauce and let cook for a couple of hours.
After they are cooked I just scoop out the meatballs and make the "subs" The half flat breads are cut almost like a pita allowing you to put your mozzarella/provolone cheese in. The meatballs and a little sauce. Wrap and freeze. These can get a little soggy so don't go heavy on the sauce. You can use hoagie buns or whatever just note they can get soggy.
Crisps in a Jar
I just take my standard apple crisp recipe or blueberry crisp, and instead of putting it all in one pan I split it into clean, sterilized mason jars. I bake them in the jars and pop the tops on when they come out. They do seal but I would advise freezing them. I am experimenting on actually "preserving " this but as it stands right now the jury is out whether it is completely safe to do so. As a result..I advise freezing them after they have cooled down. I did actually just try a batch of water bathing preserving but I won't know the results for sometime so....use caution. I also advise the same for breads/cakes in jars. I often make banana bread and cakes in mason jars. Again...just bake them in the jars and top them. But do take caution and freeze them. They are okay for a couple of weeks not frozen I think but why take a chance. (not that they actually last that long in this house)
My version of pizza pockets. Roll out puff pastry as if for turnovers. Spread, pizza sauce, cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms...whatever. fold in like a triangle for a turnover and pinch. Bake at 375 on a cookie sheet until golden brown. cool completely and freeze. You will note I did these in muffin tins. DONT do that. It did not work out well. Tasty but soggy underside. I pulled all these out and finished them on the cooling rack underneath in the oven
For this I make my standard recipes and then once cooled divide them into individual portions and use my vacuum sealer. I can honestly say the vacuum sealer has been one of my best investments. Saves me a tonne of money. Again...Mac n Cheese is my standard recipe. Elbow noodles, some cubed cooked chicken, cauliflower and a teeny smidge of cayenne pepper to zip it up. Sauce is a standard white sauce with cheddar cheese. Mix it all up, place in a lasagna pan or casserole. coat with some buttered breadcrumbs and shredded cheese and bake for 45 minutes at 350. cool it down completely.
About a cup and a bit fit into the small thermos so I divide it up and place into vacuum bags. The kids just pull it out. Heat it up in the bag in the microwave and pop it into a thermos for lunch.
Same thing is done for Lasagna's and Chicken Pot pie. Stew and Potatoes I do a little differently. I mash up potatoes with sour cream and cream cheese and scoop it into muffin tins. I freeze it a little then pop each one into vacuum bag and freeze. This makes for an easy add on to a dinner when running to football practise or dance class after school. The stew I freeze in containers. I've also made roast beef with gravy and individually sealed portions into bags for quick dinners as well. Oh..RICE...rice freezes really well so freezing one cup portions in vacuum bags is also done. The kids sometimes like that at lunch as well.
It is a lot of work for a weekend but if you are organized you can get it all done and then relax for a month. (or more)
Do any of you freeze lunches ahead. Any more ideas? I will continue to share as I move along and make more. I'm sure I have more pics from last years adventures kicking around.