“It’s in the ‘Freezes Beautifully’ section of my cookbook, and I want to make something that freezes beautifully.” -Annelle (Steele Magnolias)
If I see one more person say “tis the season” I might just explode.
I love this time of year for so many reasons, really, I do. Thing is: the unnecessary and the unavoidable stressors make me want to scrap it all and only show up for the Nativity liturgy and sing Christmas hymns with my family and call it a day. Obviously that isn’t an option. And there are plenty of “stressors” I gladly pile on myself during this most wonderful time. (Christmas cards much?) So, I don’t really have a right to complain.
If you don’t already know, we’re Eastern Orthodox Christians. The season of Advent actually lasts for 40 days in our tradition. It begins on November 15th. It’s a time of increasing our prayers in preparation for Christ’s Nativity. The Advent season is then followed by the 12 days of feasting for Christmas beginning on December 25th (no matter what ABC Family says- the 12 Days of Christmas do NOT begin on December 13th).
Once, someone told me that a good rule would be to complete your Christmas shopping before November 15th. And, try as I may, I’ve never actually done that. I so badly want to! But it hasn’t ever happened. (I am a horrible gift shopper. And apparently I love the drama of the looming deadline.) So, gifts simply aren’t the way I can simplify over the Nativity season.
This past weekend, Brandon and I had the idea to start cooking for the whole of Advent. In an effort to keep our meals simple we would make 15 meals (making doubles of each recipe) and freeze them to be consumed through Advent. You’re correct in counting that as only 30 meals total. And you’re right, there are 40 days in our Advent. The remaining 10 meals give us wiggle room for picking up fresh ingredients to make a meal we’re craving, eating with friends or family, and for those nights when we want a meal out. We figured covering 30 of the 40 meals would be a good place to start.
I have a love/hate with freezer cooking. I prepped 20 freezer meals a few years ago and had a freezer breakdown while out of town and had to toss 18 of the 20 meals. It. Was. Devastating.
On the other hand, I’m obviously a big believer in freezer meals. I was a personal chef for a few years and made a career out of cooking meals for families in bulk and freezing them for later consumption. I’ve just never done it for my own family.
I’m determined to try again. Determined.
Each freezer meal will include the pre-cooked main component and will only require the addition of a side dish, grain, or bread before serving. Each of these things is an easy add and take minimal effort, especially if the main dish is already prepared. And if things are busy, they can all be eaten as stand-alone main dishes.
I wanted to include a list of recipes. I am notoriously not great at following recipes for main dishes. When baking- I don’t ever ditch recipes. But for cooking- I like to go rogue. So, this gathering of recipes is representative (sort of) for how I make these dishes. (Several of these recipes are from my old blog, please don’t laugh.)
So far I have cooked 18 of the 30 meals. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert by any means. But here are a few tips:
- Staying organized is key. Make a list of ingredients for shopping and keep a master list of recipes and tasks.
- Clean out your freezer beforehand. It’s about to be brimming.
- Although a massive cooking day would be fun, I don’t have a free Saturday these days to devote to cooking. So I’ve cooked in spurts. I cook 3-4 meals (doubled- so 6-8 total meals) at once and package them. I made the lentil soup during commercials while watching a show the other night. Breaking it up hasn’t been too hard, in my opinion.
- If you have favorite meals, start cooking extras to freeze for a few weeks before.
- Cook like items together. I have several black bean recipes. It made it simple to cook up a large bag of dry black beans and then make the different items at once.
- If a few of the meals require the same prep, say, chopped peppers, do all the like chopping at once and cook those meals together as well.
- You’re going to chop a lot of onions. Don’t even try to wear eyeliner on cooking days.
- Marry a man who’s willing to unload the dishwasher. There will be quite a few dirty dishes in your future.
- Soups and stews are great for freezing after being cooked and just need to thaw and reheat.
- Casseroles can be prepped then frozen without cooking. They’ll just be thawed and baked on the day you plan to serve.
- After cooking I let the dishes cool and package them in large freezer bags, individual portions, and in disposable aluminum pans.
- I freeze soups in freezer bags placed flat on baking sheets so they’ll freeze flat and not mold themselves into awkward space-hogging shapes.
- I also plan to place an inventory of all the dishes on the side of the fridge to mark as the foods are eaten. Simply because my freezer is a deep, dark abyss and foods will forever disappear.
- The day of the meal, thaw the frozen meal inside a large bowl or dish to avoid leaks. Then reheat or cook accordingly.
Here are the meals we plan on putting into the rotation: (In parenthesis I’ll include a suggestion for side items to round out the meals)
- Byzantine Lentil Stew (Serve with pita.)
- Black Beans and Rice
- Burritos (Serve with chips, salsa, and guacamole. Or with fajita vegetables and rice.) (No recipe to link for these, I simply fill tortillas with my black beans and rice recipe and any other freezable toppings, wrap, and freeze.)
- Mujudara (Serve with rice.)
- Three bean chili (Serve with mexican cornbread.)
- Corn Chowder (Serve with bread or dinner rolls.)
- Homemade Black Bean Burgers (Serve on buns with lettuce, tomato, and condiments. And alongside sweet potato fries.)
- Vegan Lasagna (Serve with side-salads.)
- Freezer Vegan Pizzas (Serve with side- salads)
- Chickpea Meatballs with Indian Gravy (Serve on rice with fresh cilantro.)
- Refried bean enchiladas
- Lebanese Spinach Pies
- Turka Dal (Serve with rice and fresh cilantro.)
- Falafel (Serve with tahini sauce, lettuce, and tomatoes in pitas.)
- Biscuits with soy sausage and tofu scramble
Any of the recipes that include pita, homemade bread, or the pizza crust- I use the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day master bread recipe. It makes a large batch of dough that will last for 2 weeks in the fridge and is so versatile. Although the bread requires some rising time, it’s an easy addition to any of the dishes and requires minimal effort.
I’ll return with an update as soon as I complete the task. I’ll also update you on how the thawing, reheating, and eating part of the equation works out.
Cheers to this year’s Advent being easy and beautiful!