Sharon Gray needed to change the way she prepared family meals. Cooking had always been a hobby and creative outlet for her. But now with two children, a husband, and a growing business (she's a senior director for The Pampered Chef in Mount Juliet, Tennessee), she needed ways to make homemade meals easy.
Unwilling to pay extra for the new generation of convenience products, such as marinated or seasoned frozen meats, Sharon created her own method of "investment cooking," a strategy taught by many Pampered Chef consultants. She takes advantage of grocery meat specials and invests time cooking in large quantities and freezing meals in various stages of preparation. With her freezer stocked, Sharon and her family can quickly and easily prepare their nightly meals.
Understanding the Easy Freezer Meals Method
Investment cooking revolves around cooking and freezing one type of meat at a time.
Here's how it works. Buy large quantities of meat on special. Most of Sharon's favorite family meal recipes are built around ground beef, chicken, and sometimes sausage. Her first step is to buy those items on sale. Her husband, Ricky, works in the supermarket industry, so Sharon knows when to look for items on special. To determine what cycle of weekly specials your favorite supermarket follows, talk to the meat manager. He or she will usually be more than willing to share how specials are planned and give tips on shopping. You can also check the newspapers to find the best bargains.
After determining what's on special, make your grocery list for all the meals you'll be preparing. In addition to meat, purchase any other ingredients needed, such as spices for rubs or marinades. Be sure to check the pantry and spice rack to avoid duplicating items you already have.
Shop one day; then prepare meals for the freezer the next. This will make your to-do list for each day manageable. Chop any vegetables you'll need for your recipes, such as onions, mushrooms, and peppers, and line them up on your counter for easy assembly. (Sharon is partial to The Pampered Chef's food chopper, but you can also use a sharp chef's knife.) Then move on to the meat preparation.
Chicken Freezing Tips
We're pleased to share some of Sharon's specific investment cooking tips and recipes for chicken here. We've included instructions for using a rub and marinade on flank steak, which is great for investment cooking.
Baked, grilled, or stir-fried chicken: Buy several pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Make four or five different recipes of marinades and rubs. Prick chicken several times with a fork to allow marinades and rubs to penetrate the meat. Package chicken according to your family's appetite.
Combine marinade and breast halves in labeled freezer bags. Seal bags, and knead the pieces of meat to circulate the marinade. Lay bags flat with pieces of meat side by side in a flat pan with sides. Marinate meat for desired time in refrigerator. Place pan in freezer; freeze bags flat. Remove frozen bags from pan, and stack in freezer. For kabobs or stir-fry, cut breast halves into cubes or strips, and follow the same instructions.
Cooked chicken for casseroles, wraps, chicken salad, etc.: Bring 2 whole chickens and enough water to cover to a boil in a large stockpot. Add 2 celery ribs, 2 carrots, 1 onion, and 4 garlic cloves. Reduce heat; cover and simmer about 40 minutes. Remove chicken, and discard vegetables, reserving broth. Remove chicken from bones, and shred. Place 2 cups shredded chicken in labeled quart-size freezer bags. Seal and freeze. Strain broth, cool, and refrigerate. Freeze broth in airtight containers or freezer bags for soups and other recipes.
Ground Beef Freezing Tips
Economical and versatile, ground beef is excellent for investment cooking. Prepare meat loaves, hamburgers, and meatballs, and freeze them uncooked. Or cook the meat with onions and garlic, and freeze it to use as a base for other dishes. On cooking day, just heat the base and add other needed ingredients to create quick tacos, sloppy joes, or beef stroganoff.
Divide 15 pounds raw ground beef, chuck, or sirloin into 3 (5-pound) portions. Use one portion to make 3 (1 1/2-pound) meat loaves (using your favorite recipe); one portion to make 20 (4-inch) hamburger patties (try Sharon's Moroccan Hamburgers); and one portion to make small, medium, or large meatballs (for spaghetti, meatball subs, or meatball lasagna).
Meatloaf: Line loaf pan with enough foil to close over the top. Press meat loaf into pan; close foil, and place in freezer for several hours or overnight. Once frozen, remove from loaf pan. Seal tightly with foil, label, and freeze. On cooking day, remove the foil, and place frozen loaf in loaf pan to thaw and bake.
Hamburgers: Form patties, using the recipe of your choice, and place in a single layer on a greased baking sheet. Freeze until the patties are no longer soft in the center. (This is called "flash freezing," which will keep them from sticking together when put into the freezer bags.) Seal frozen patties in labeled freezer bags, and freeze. On cooking day, remove the desired number of patties to a platter. By the time the grill is heated, the burgers will be thawed enough to grill.
Meatballs: Make up meatball mixture using your favorite recipe. Form meatballs using an ice-cream scoop; place in a single layer on a greased baking sheet. Place sheet with meatballs in freezer for approximately 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer frozen meatballs to labeled freezer bags, and freeze. On cooking day, brown meatballs, add sauce or gravy, and enjoy over rice or pasta.
Ground meat base: Cook 5 pounds ground beef in a large Dutch oven with 1 cup water, stirring occasionally until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in 2 onions, chopped, and 6 garlic cloves, minced. Cook until onions are tender, about 3 minutes. Cool and pack into 5 (1-quart) labeled freezer bags. Lay sealed bags flat in a pan with sides (this helps them keep their shape), and freeze for several hours. Remove frozen bags from pan, and return bags to freezer. On cooking day, heat the base, and add other needed ingredients to create tacos, sloppy joes, or beef stroganoff in 10 to 15 minutes.