I have been procrastinating a bit on writing part two, but tomorrow my coachman and I are headed out of town for some much needed R&R. We are headed to a marriage retreat. This is a different one than the one we usually go to, so it'll be full of surprises, I'm sure. They already sent an email with something about our massages being booked... looking forward to this little getaway is probably the understatement of the year! I figured I should get these recipes and the updated shopping list in your hands in case any of you are like us and seeing the summer fast food/take out bill start to make a divet in the monthly budget. For us, that always means it's time for a big prep and some ready-to-go meals for the busyness and fun of summer :)
If you missed Day 1 you can go check it out here.
Day 2 of the prep, my kiddos were up at the crack of dawn so I figured I would knock out a recipe before we headed up to football camp. I chose the chicken pot pie casserole. It seemed like a "dump all the ingredients in a bowl and go" type recipe and it was, for the most part. I realized as I gathered the ingredients that I did not fully pay attention when shopping and ended up with 3 cream of chickens and 1 cream of mushroom. As I've said before, don't panic if you go off script a bit... just roll with it! I have made recipes before that called for both so I figured no harm, no foul and just went with the cream of mushroom. Really what happened is I did the smell test. It's very scientific in fact - whenever I decide on what spices to use when cooking, I often open and smell them and if they smell like they go with the recipe, then I put some in. Tommy used to ask me what I put in the dinner whenever he liked something... now he knows I typically have no clue, I just smelled it. This is what I did with the cream of mushroom.. and it seemed to fit. We actually had it for dinner tonight and it was pretty tasty... it made me wonder about changing the recipe or possibly mixing it up next time with 3 cream of chickens and a cream of celery. We shall see!
The last part of the recipe said to quarter the biscuits and then drizzle with butter and toss in the bowl to coat them... this turned into an ooey gooey mess that I just had to go back and separate after. My suggestion (and what I will do in the future) would be to put a layer of biscuit quarters in the bowl and then drizzle with butter and keep doing that in layers until you are finished. Or just put them on the casserole and then drizzle the butter over them. Then you won't end up with a giant ball of dough that slightly resembles biscuit quarters.
I wrapped them up pretty quickly (double foil layer) and wrote the instructions for baking and then put them in the freezer and we headed off to the last day of football camp. Once again, the kids had a blast.
They were still a little lively after camp so we went to the gym so I could get a workout in. Shameless plug - if you have a Burn Bootcamp near you, go do the 14-day test drive. I've absolutely loved the workouts and the community I've found. However, I would not suggest doing one of their arm workouts before finishing your meal prep..... ouch.
The kiddos were good and worn after that, so off to naps and this mama got to finish her meal prep in peace (cue the hallelujah chorus). I did the Creamy Chicken, Broccoli and Cheese Bake next, which was pretty straight forward. I did at one point accidentally read the back of a different recipe card and saw "spread cream cheese over chicken".... since this recipe called for shredded chicken I spent a sec trying to figure that one out. Spreading cream cheese over shredded chicken without it turning into a giant ball of mess sounds a whole lot like nailing jello to a tree. Thankfully, I went back for a second look and realized my error and all was right in the world again. The recipe ended up being pretty straight forward and since the chicken was already ready to go in the fridge, the only thing I had to do was cut the broccoli and combine.
I finished out with the meatball recipe, which was probably the easiest of all. I will definitely be keeping this in my back pocket for the next time we host football players for dinner. It was super easy to put together and would go great on subs or spaghetti.
All in all, I ended up making 39 freezer meals. I doubled each of the original recipes which can be found in my earlier blog post (click here). Each recipe made 5 8x8 pans except for the chicken pot pie casserole - that one I only ended up making 4. I ended up needing less chicken than I originally planned for since the chicken breasts were very large so I cut them in half long-ways for any of the recipes that called for whole uncooked chicken breasts. I also didn't use the cayenne pepper or the green onions.. I plan on my kids eating some of this with us and if I want to have any hope of them liking it, I figured those wouldn't exactly help my case. So here is the updated ingredient list with the recipe names written at the top.
This shopping list is double each of the original recipes. If you are cooking for a bigger family you could certainly triple or quadruple the recipes; however, unless you have absolutely massive bowls, it would be hard to make it all at once. My suggestion for most of you would be to do double and freeze them in 8x8 pans. The thing that drives most of us to prep in the first place is the craziness of life, so it's very likely that there will be nights where everyone isn't home for dinner. If you freeze them in 8x8s then you can always cook 2 when everyone is home or just do 1 if you have a smaller crew that night.
Also, if you are an instant pot lover... GOOD NEWS! I tried pot-in-pot last week with a frozen meal and it worked! I used the parchment paper that I lined the foil pans with to pull the frozen meal out of the foil pan and then just slid it into corningware. Now here's where I wish I would have known a little more ahead of time... so I'll save you the hindsight regret. The dollar store had 8" foil rounds that would have made it so my meals were frozen to fit perfectly in the corningware. I had to take a knife and trim off the edges so it would fit in the circular dish. I just put the pieces below the rest of the recipe like so:
Put 1 1/2 cups water in the pot then I put the Corningware on the trivet and then lowered it down into the pot using the handles on the side. I originally set the cook time at high pressure for 16 minutes because that is the amount of time you typically do frozen chicken... but this was not enough time since it is in the Corningware and has some extra ingredients, so I ended up finishing it out in the oven. Do high pressure for 25-28 minutes depending on the thickness of your chicken. Quick release and then cut into your chicken to make sure it's done. You may need to adjust times here and there, but this is seriously a game changer for me since I don't always remember to thaw out my meals! I usually end up having to put them in a hot water bath to thaw them out some and then increase my baking time.
You can also do it thawed, just decrease the time to 16 minutes high pressure or cook in the oven for the amount of time the recipe calls for.
I also get asked quite a bit what we pair our dinners with. Some things, like the chicken pot pie, we may eat by itself or with a salad. Others need a little more forethought. I always keep brown rice and quinoa in the pantry. You can season them to accompany pretty much anything! We also do bountiful baskets. Each week I go online on Monday or Tuesday and order a basket for just under $20. The cath is, we don't know exactly what is coming, but thus far we have always been pleasantly surprised. There is almost always apples and oranges and limes or lemons, plus some veggies and salad ingredients. This was our basket from this past week (plus a pineapple not pictured):
The green beans and squash and salad fixings are nice pairings for the meals we have on hand. There are pick up locations all over the U.S. so definitely look into it and see if there is one near you! It keeps our costs low and saves me a trip to the grocery store.
I really hope at least some of this has been helpful and an encouragement to you. Prepping really has save us a lot of cooking time each evening and it has kept us from grabbing dinner on the way home or to wherever we are headed each night. Next up, I need to make some quick and easy on-the-go lunches so I will be giving you some fun ideas and shopping lists for that coming up!
PS... remember how excited I am for our retreat this weekend??? yeah, my husband just went to start my car... battery is dead... THIS RETREAT CANNOT GET HERE FAST ENOUGH! (well it can at least wait until my car battery is replaced... then I'm ready)