Last week, my friend Amy issued me a Saucy Mommy challenge: to feature some freezer-friendly meals that aren’t calorie-laden casseroles. I immediately turned to Google and Pinterest and saw that many recipes designated as “freezer meals” were rather heavy. Of course, a recipe doesn’t have to be designed with freezing in mind to freeze well — many of the entrees I’ve written about on this blog would make great frozen meals. Actually, I’ve created a new Freezer-Friendly category, and the recipes I’ve made that would freeze well are all listed there. But, I really liked this challenge because so many of us could use easy, make-ahead meal ideas. Whether it’s because you’ve got a newborn, or because you’re driving all over town to run errands and shuttle your kids from school to activities to home, or because you have a long day at the office, or all of the above (if it’s all of the above, please, stop reading and go pour yourself a stiff drink; you deserve it!), a hot, fresh meal that doesn’t require any prep or thought is much appreciated.
Some of my favorite freezer-friendly recipes were designed for the slow cooker. These recipes called for washing, chopping and otherwise prepping the liquid and vegetable ingredients ahead of time, freezing those, then simply dumping them into the crock pot with the meat the morning of the day you want to serve the meal. Technically, they’re not a “just pop this whole container into the microwave, and dinner’s on the table in five minutes,” but they really save time on cooking day, and nothing screams “hearty, home-cooked meal” like slow-cooked dishes! The orange-beef stew from mama and baby love really called out to me. I loved how it called for sweet potatoes, and citrus always pairs well with beef. So, I decided to give it a try.
Tuesday morning, I spent 20 minutes prepping the ingredients to be frozen (sweet potatoes, orange juice, scallions, garlic, soy sauce, flour). This morning (obviously, you can keep the bag frozen for way longer than a day, but I wanted to report back to you guys fairly quickly), I popped the frozen ingredients from the ziploc bag straight into the slow cooker, added the chuck roast, then poured in the beef broth. It took less than five minutes from the time I took the bag out of the freezer to the time I set the slow cooker and walked away. All day long, the house smelled amazing, and at 5 p.m., the kids and I sat down to this:
I’d say this is a keeper. In fact, this weekend, I’m going to go buy more ingredients and make up two or three bags to keep in my freezer. I’ll also buy the meat ahead of time — you can always keep that separately in the freezer, and defrost it the night before you need it. Fall’s typically a busy time for us, so having a few batches of this orange-beef stew already prepped and ready to pop into the slow cooker would be a great idea. (If you don’t like the idea of freezing the ingredients for easy cooking on the day of, you could also cook the stew, then freeze smaller batches of it, then just reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave right before serving.)
- 3 pounds of any beef roast (I used chuck, as called for in the original recipe)
- 2 cups of beef broth (I used the kind that comes in a box, although homemade would be superb)
- 2 cups of orange juice
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons of flour
- 2 tablespoons of minced garlic
- 1 bunch of scallions (I only used half a bunch), chopped
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- One-gallon freezer bag, labeled with the date and the contents
Add the sweet potato cubes and chopped scallions to the freezer bag, then add in the sugar, flour, soy sauce, garlic and orange juice. Seal the bag and shake or knead well to mix the ingredients. Carefully open the bag, squeeze out excess air, then reseal the bag. Place it flat in the freezer.
On the morning of the day you plan to serve the stew, remove the bag from the freezer and transfer the contents into the slow cooker (straight from the freezer is fine).
Add your roast (defrosted if it was frozen), two cups of beef broth, and salt and pepper.
Cook on low for eight hours, or on high for four hours. Shred meat with two forks before serving.
This was so delicious — the kids even had second helpings! I served it with a whole-wheat dinner roll and some spinach salad. Yum!
Sometime in the near future, I’ll go back to all of the freezer-friendly entries I’ve written and add special notes about how to freeze that particular dish. Thanks for reading!