Prep-Freeze-Cook(ish), Part 1: Putting a Meal Together from Your Freezer

In our household, no one likes to cook during the week. I envy those people who say that cooking dinner helps them relax – executing a meal on a Tuesday night is right up there for me with being tied to my couch and forced to binge-watch The Lawrence Welk Show.

So in order to avoid a Weekday Jennifer Meltdown, we (and we is mostly me unless it’s grilling season) do as much batch cooking on the weekends as possible with the plan to get lunches and dinners for two through Thursday. In short, we live for leftovers – prized in our household for thrift, convenience, and the chance to eat more of what you enjoyed a night or two ago.

I’ve also learned to help myself out by stocking the freezer with meal “parts” in the same way you stock a pantry: items that you can pull out, thaw, pair with fresh items (or other leftovers), and get on with your evening.

A great, cheap, nutritious staple to have in the freezer is brown rice. I freeze large batches of brown rice so that I can make Bhudda bowls, a stir fry, or a quick pilaf, and rice is a great supporting character when you’ve got fresh vegetables to use.

The most ingenious way to make brown rice – ready for this? – is in your oven. Alton Brown’s strategy is one that can easily be doubled or tripled and frozen in small batches. (My go-to freezer storage is an old school deli container. For years I hoarded/obsessively guarded a collection of containers from Thai and Chinese takeout until it dawned on me that you can buy anything on the interwebs.) I store 32-ounce containers of rice and take them out a day or two ahead of when I’ll need to use them – or in a pinch, you can certainly defrost in the microwave.

Along with fresh vegetables, I also try to keep things like edamame beans, peas and other frozen veggies around for stir fry.

We’ve got an entire season of fresh veggies just begging to make friends with brown rice, so here are some options to check out to help you avoid Weekday Meal Meltdown:

Spring Green Stir Fry: Fried Rice with Collards (any green leafy will work here)

Mid-Summer Buddha Bowls: Oh She Glows Summer Bhudda Bowls, One Green Planet Veggie Bowls,

Almost Anytime Bowl: Sweet Potato Chick Pea Buddha Bowl

 

Enjoy!

— J.S.

Week 2 Market Menu:

This week at the Downtown Bloomington Farmers’ Market and Artists’ Alley:

Seasonal: More greens, and lots of vegetable plants for your gardens! Arugula and Spinach and Collards and Chard and Kale, Carrots, Chives, Mint, Potatoes, Radishes, Rhubarb, Turnips, and more. And confirmed with at least one vendor that there will be asparagus!

All Summer: Eggs, chicken, beef, oats, wheat, cornmeal, pork, cheese, honey, baked goods, lavender, mushrooms, popcorn, and much more. See the complete list of vendors at this year’s market for more information about produce and products.

This week’s Market Menu:

The name of the game this week is “work with what you have!” We have a lot of turnips, so I’ve gathered several recipes to help us make salads with them. But if a recipe calls for something you don’t have, don’t worry! I substitute heavily when I cook, with a few notable exceptions:

  1. vinegar – try to use the same kind specified. If there’s one kind of vinegar I try never to run out of, though, it’s plain white.  At the very least, it won’t overpower a dish if you have to use it in place of apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar. I’ve made the mistake in the past of keeping a deep pantry of balsamic, and then finding I was out of every other kind of vinegar.
  2. spices – omit something you don’t have, rather than substitute (or at least taste first!)
  3. butter/oil – follow your heart and taste buds here, but I like to use whatever the recipe calls for.

Breakfast Ideas:

Wheat Berries w/ dried fruit & nuts – New York Times
Pantry Check: Wheat Berries, optional spices (anise or fennel, cinnamon, nutmeg), raisins or other dried fruit, nuts, yogurt, brown sugar or maple syrup

 

Fried-and-Scrambled (aka Frambled) Eggs – Epicurious
Pantry Check: Eggs, Butter, optional add-ins (sausage, greens)

 

Lunch Ideas:

Salad w/ New Potatoes and Pickled Spring Onions – Smitten Kitchen
Pantry Check: new/fingerling potatoes, asparagus, spring peas or beans (optional), radishes, spring onions, white wine vinegar, whole-grain mustard, smooth dijon mustard

Your Custom Salad: Green, Big, and Single-Subject Salad, and Dressings! – New York Times, “How to Make Salad”. I plan to make several versions of this throughout the week, using whatever greens I grab at the market. Arugula for sure.
Pantry Check: whatever looks good to you!!

Turnip and Cabbage Slaw with Yogurt Dressing – New York Times, “In Praise of Turnips, Year-Round”
Pantry Check: turnips, green cabbage, greek yogurt, dill

Shaved Turnip and Radish Salad with Poppyseed Dressing – Splendid Table
Pantry Check: lemon, Dijon mustard, shallot, poppy seeds, honey or maple syrup, turnips, watercress, radishes, asparagus, chives

Dinner Ideas:

Swiss Chard Pancakes – Smitten Kitchen
Pantry Check: milk, AP Flour, eggs, onion, chives, shallot, garlic, parsley, chard, yogurt (optional)

Creamed Chard and Spring Onions – Smitten Kitchen
Pantry Check: swiss chard, onions, butter, AP flour, milk

Green Chickpea & Chicken Curry w/ Swiss Chard – The Crepes of Wrath (apologies in advance for that page being VERY heavy with photos. It takes forever to load completely on the iPad I use in the kitchen, but I promise the recipe is worth it!)
Pantry Check: chicken thighs, shallots, green curry paste, chili paste, ginger, coconut milk, chickpeas, swiss chard

Kale Puree (which you can use in nearly anything) – Edible Manhattan (they suggest using it in a polenta, but I love it as an alternative to tomato sauce on pasta)
Pantry Check: garlic, kale, sea salt (Maldon, ideally), extra-virgin olive oil. That’s it, really!

 

Bonus: Maple-Butter Collard Greens!  This is my favorite way to enjoy collards, and doesn’t require anything you don’t probably already have in your pantry. If you haven’t tried them before, give this recipe a shot! Chop collards roughly and discard stems. Slice a yellow onion and cook over medium heat in a large pan with a little olive oil until they start to caramelize. Add your collards and a splash of water — you want enough water to keep the collards from burning in a dry pan, but not so much that you’re boiling or braising them. Continue cooking over medium heat for about 15 minutes. When greens are tender, set the greens aside in a bowl and wipe out the pan. Add the following to the pan over medium-high heat:  2 Tbs butter, 1 Tbs apple cider vinegar, 1 Tbs maple syrup (the real stuff!). Cook while stirring, until the combined and slightly reduced to make a sauce. You can either put this on the table in a small gravy pitcher, or toss the collards in the pan with the sauce before serving. This makes 2-3 servings of sauce, but you may want more.
Pantry Check: apple cider vinegar, butter, maple syrup (REAL maple syrup!)

Extra-Bonus: Magic Sauce – 101 Cookbooks (this stuff is like liquid gold… use it on eggs, pasta, potatoes, just about anything)
Pantry Check: fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, fresh oregano, paprika, garlic, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, lemon juice