I was so tired out after doing my marathon make ahead meals that I was reluctant to do it again even though I only made 5 meals last time. I enjoyed the convenience of just plopping something in the slow cooker in the morning and coming home to a nice meal with no dirty dishes to clean up or mess in the kitchen. I started reading through a slow cooker magazine I had on my shelves for I don’t know how long and I decided to flag the meals I was interested in cooking. I then noted which I thought would be good freezer meals.
One of the things I dislike about several slow cooker recipes is that you have to do so much pre-cooking you might as well just finish it on the stove. Then I thought, these would make good weekend meals. Make them in the morning when you don’t have to rush off to work, turn on the slow cooker, run errands or goof of,f whatever, then come home to a nice cooked meal. I decided to do an experiment. I would try one recipe and prep another for the freezer. I thought once I am chopping up one onion it is not that difficult to just chop another. Soon I would have a stash of freezer meals without having to take an entire day to prep.
So the first recipes I tried were: Cider Stew and Italian Albondigas Soup
The Italian Soup required cooking the sausage ahead of time so I decided to cook it now and freeze the cider stew. If you are doing multiple recipes I suggest you print them out so you don’t have to flip back and forth and you can check of what ingredients you added so you don’t get messed up. Don’t forget to label the freezer bag before you add any ingredients. It is very difficult to write on them after you add everything. Include any special instructions or items you need to add the day off like more water or broth. Please see my previous post on Make Ahead Freezer Meals, Slow Cooker Style. There are several hints and tips.
Italian Albondigas Soup
- 1 pound Italian sausage
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 2 medium carrtos chopped
- 1 stalk celery chopped
- 1 can of diced tomatoes undrained (14.5 oz)
- 1 can tomato sauce (8 oz)
- 1 tsp oregano
- ½ tsp rosemary
- ½ tsp basil
- ¼ tsp thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 cans (14 oz each) chicken broth
- ½ cup Orzo or pasta
- Shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)
- Remove sausage from casings and cook in a large skillet with onion, garlic. Until browned. Drain fat.
- In a 4.5-6 qt slow cooker combine carrots and celery. Add sausage mixture.
- In a medium bowl mix Tomatoes, sauce, and dried spices, pour over sausage.
- Pour on the broth, cook for 8-10 hours on low 4-5 hours on high.
- Turn to high setting and add pasta, cook for 20 more minutes. Serve with Parmesan cheese
Now here is what I did
First I doubled the recipe since I have a giant slow cooker and wanted to have plenty for lunches during the week. Soups tend to freeze well so this is another method of getting a make ahead freezer meal. Double your recipe then freeze half.
I used beef hot spicy sausage. I compared the price and calories to turkey sausage and the beef had only slightly more calories and was about half the price. After removing the casings I tore the sausage into pieces about the size of small meatballs. I wanted to save my cutting board to chop the vegies and it is easier to wash my hands then the cutting board. While the meat was browning, I chopped the onion and minced the garlic and added it to the pan. I soon discovered my pan was too small so I had to cook the meat in two batches.
Mix in a medium bowl? That requires me to wash more dishes so I poured half a can of diced tomatoes into the pot then added the spices to what was left in the can, then poured that over, I then just dumped the remaining ingredients in the pot, gave it a good stir and set it.
When I went to buy the Orzo pasta I saw that it was $10.99 for this little container and thought forget that. Those weren’t the exact word but this is a family blog. I considered adding some quinoa instead but when I got home I noticed I had a spaghetti squash that needed to be cooked. See my previous posting on how to cook spaghetti squash
Recipe Review- This was great! A very good meal and not that hard to make. Full of nice healthy ingredients. Since I was going to use the spaghetti squash I decided to use only half the liquid so I would have more of a sauce than a soup. It still ended up very soupy but was a good thick hearty soup. The sausage was nice and spicy but the tomatoes were a cool balance. Don’t like spice? Choose the sweet or mild type of Italian sausage. I liked it thick and would recommend using only half the liquid. This is definitely a keeper and I am going to make it again. A +
Freezer style – If you wanted to use the recipe as a freezer meal I would suggest you sauté the ingredients in step 1 as recommended Make sure the sausage is cooked through. Let cool while you chop the remaining ingredients. Mix together the tomatoes, sauce, and spices in the bag, then add the carrots, celery, and meat mixture. Zip the bag and mix well. I would use chicken bullion instead of chicken stock (1tsp per can) then add 5 cups of water before cooking. Otherwise the bag may be too full.
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 3 medium carrots, cut in ½ inch slices
- 2 medium onions halved and sliced
- 1 stalk celery chopped
- 3 tble quick cooking tapioca
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 ½ cups apple cider or apple juice
- 1 tble vinegar
- ¾ tsp salt
- ½ tsp caraway seeds
- ¼ tsp dried thyme
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- Place all ingredients into a 3.5-5 qt slow cooker, stir to combine.
- Cook on low for 11-12 hours or on high for 5 ½-6 hours.
Now here is what I did
The directions couldn’t be easier. I decided to not double this recipe as it sounded a bit weird but I was willing to try it. I think I forgot to add the caraway seeds to mine which could have made a difference. I have read that some people don’t like the texture of the potatoes after they are frozen but I don’t mind so you can either buy pre frozen potatoes, chop the day of, or chop the night before and cover with water and refrigerate. I chopped everything, mixed it in a bowl then put it in the bag.
When making freezer meals I find it helps to mix everything before you put it in the bag. The bag can get to full to mix and if you don’t mix you end up with a pocket of carrots on one side and meat on the other. The flavors don’t meld as well. So mix ahead and dirty a bowl, get your husband to wash it. Heck you just spent all day slaving over a hot slow cooker, it’s the least he could do.
My house stays pretty cool so I placed the frozen bag in the slow cooker the night before to thaw out a bit. This would also help remind me that I needed to turn on the slow cooker before I went to work. In the morning it was still pretty much frozen but soft enough that I could squish it out of the bag. I turned it on and went off to work.
Recipe Review-When I came home 9 hours later the soup looked a bit over cooked. I was surprised since it was partially frozen and the original recipe is for 11-12 hours. I check and it was on low. Then the taste test. The flavor was bland. Chris had a bite and said, yup it tastes like a slow cooker meal. It reminded me a bit of a mild sauerbraten. I think it could be improved and I will try it again. My suggestions – add a package of onion soup mix or a beef bouillon cube to the mix and double the black pepper. I mentioned before that I don’t like having to pre-cook before I use a slow cooker but it does make a difference. Next time I will brown the meat in a little oil first. Without improvements this recipe is a C but I think it has potential.
Please try these recipes for yourself and leave some feedback on what you thought. Please include andy changes/substitutions that you made.