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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Building a Better Christmas - Make Ahead Meals

Organized Christmas
Make Ahead Meals

The mid morning rush at the coffee shop was just slowing down when Mary dropped her huge handbag on the floor next to the table and melted into the seat across from me. "Carin can't make it." She held a large iced coffee against her forehead. "There should be a law against heat waves in September."
lo carb sheperd's pie
lo carb sheperd's pie 
Why I like it: Clean eating comfort food. Recipe easily tweaked to family's taste.

 I nodded. "Hard to think about Christmas when it's 90 degrees plus."
Why I like it: It's very close to my mom's award winning recipe. (Seriously. The woman chili has won awards. What? My mom share her recipes?! Hahahaha!

"I can't believe we closed the pool the day after Labor Day. All I want to do is stand in the kitchen with my head in the freezer."
I set my coffee cup aside and pulled a some folded sheets of paper from my purse. I handed them to Mary. "Funny you should mention the freezer. I spent some time thinking about food and time management this week."

Why I like It: A great vegetarian soup.  Read the post.You will understand. Mangia!  I ladle out the soup I'm going to freeze then add al dente pasta to it just before freezing. 

 "Time management? This looks like a shopping list."
"There is a list of make ahead meals, a calendar, and a shopping list." I pointed at the top of the list. "These are the four  foods I like to keep in the freezer.  They allow me to make a breakfast, lunch or dinner  with minimal prep.  Then there are seven freezer to oven recipes that I know everyone in our family will eat, and are dinner guest tested and approved. "

Here's the Best Recipe for Chicken Enchilada Casserole!  It's a great hit with my family!:
 Chicken enchilada Casserole
Why I like it: Easy prep, freezes great. Fun and festive.
"Some of these things are available already made. I assume you make them at home to keep the fat and sodium down?"
"I try to avoid the store bought prepared food. Yes, for quality and portion control." I sipped my coffee. "And it's nice to cut down on the kitchen clean up some nights. Not just that. Having some meals made ahead means spending less time in busy restaurants. Less opportunities to catch the latest bug. Not to mention the extra calories."

 Freezable Chicken Pot Pie | | @mealplanmom
Chicken Pot Pie
Why I like it: A healthier version of a favorite comfort food.

Mary raised an eyebrow. "Smart. I hadn't thought about that. The holiday season can be rough on those with lowered immune systems. The Calendar?"

Why I like It: Great taste. The recipe was right there on the box!
"Keeping track of plans and events on the calendar will let me judge how many fast or ready made meals to have on hand.  This is something I do in general. I am just going to step up my game."
"You know, I could see some real savings," Mary said. "by avoiding those unplanned take out and restaurant meals that seem to get out of hand around the holidays."

Southwest roll ups
Southwest roll ups 
Why I like it: When I make these I make some as per recipe, and some with a cooked saffron rice, black bean, corn, diced red and green pepper, and onion mixture. 

" I've been reading that the bread machine cinnamon rolls my family likes can be prepped and frozen unbaked. Having a couple trays of  those I could just pull out of the freeze and bake would be a wonderful thing."
"The giant goopy ones like in the mall? Oh, I looove those!" Mary moaned.
"With the left overs I make bread pudding with the  William Sonoma recipe.

Brioche Bread Pudding
WS Bread Pudding
"I'll look that up too. I like your top four make ahead list."
"I spared you the tofu quiche recipe,"
 "Thank you! These easily lend themselves to double batching - eat one, freeze one. I feel like an idiot that it hasn't occurred to me before now."
"Habit," I shrugged. "My mom never froze ahead. She would be horrified at the idea.  However, she did keep a well stocked pantry.  I followed her example which has evolved over the years to something more clean eating.  One of my favorite pantry lists is The Pioneer Woman pantry list. "

My Top Four Make Ahead  Foods 

1. Eggs & Bacon.  French Toast and a side of bacon. 2 slices of French toast, two rashers of cooked bacon per sandwich sized baggie. I pop the French toast in the toaster to reheat, and warm the bacon in the microwave for a few seconds checking for doneness. There are lots of great looking egg casseroles but I've never tried them so I can't comment.

2. Ground Beef  or turkey- I cook and freeze a sliced meatloaf and 2 dozen oven baked meatballs for Meatball Parmigiana sandwiches or spaghetti and meatballs 
3. Chicken  - Parmesan & Parmesan Chicken - I oven baked breaded chicken cutlets  instead of frying (eggplant is good also)  - I do Parmesan Crusted Chicken at the same time. The recipe is right on the Hellman's Mayo jar . (I use a light version, and a skinnier schmearrrr than the recipe.) 
 Cooked thin sliced chicken breast. - Easy to heat and sear in the griddle pan for sandwiches or slice and serve cold on a salad.
4. Ham salad.  Cut a Lite Spam into chucks. Drop into food processor. Pulse processor until mostly shredded and 2 peeled quartered hard boiled eggs. Add a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise. I use a 1/2 to 1/2 cup but you can adjust to taste. Add some onion, or a tablespoon of India relish. Whatever you like in your ham salad. Pulse until you are happy with the texture. I freeze it in single serve containers. Add some crackers, some fresh veg for dipping = yummy lunch.
Image result for cornucopia
"Most of this organizing Christmas business is stuff we know." Mary set aside the sheaf of paper. She rested her chin on her fist. "I feel like I should have been doing a better job all along."
"For me it's a matter of making a plan  then a conscious effort to follow it. Without a plan I just slide back into habit."
"That's so true. I am thinking there are about ten weekends from Halloween through New Years Day. I am going to take a week end and cook, cook, cook! Stock that freezer now. Life would be much simpler if I could cut down on kitchen time during the weekends in November and December."
"I'm starting small. My present system is a flexible menu plan. I spend one afternoon a week  prepping several meals which reduces the time and work needed at meal time. My goal is to add one freezer to oven dish to that afternoon of cooking. I'm already in the kitchen, and if I can follow through until Halloween, that's eight made ahead meals." I checked the time and gathered my things. "I've got to get going. Keep cool. See you next week."

DO you have any make ahead favorites? How much prep work do you do before the holidays?
Thanks for visiting. See you soon!

Due to technical difficulties I could not share my personal food shopping check list but there are many  decent versions available online. Here is one.
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  1. Love this post! Inspiring and smart ideas for now and all year. I like to keep spaghetti sauce, chili, some soups, taco meat and a few things like that. However, your ideas are really one pot dishes which makes it even easier. I'm going to think on this and work on it more.

    We make as many things as possible for our Christmas dinner ahead of time and freeze it. I was just telling my friend this yesterday as she was considering buying the grocery store meal. That sounds dangerous to me.

  2. Oh I meant to tell you that your Pinterest link doesn't work!


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