Note: I have nothing against Lean Cuisine meals, or any freezer-section meals for that matter. Not at all. I don’t buy them–even the healthy-ish ones like Amy’s–because they generally have one or more ingredients I don’t like (e.g. mushrooms! cabbage! peas! Alfredo sauce!) Well, you get the picture. I’m kind of picky.
But who needs store-bought frozen dinners anyway? Right this very minute, I have 15 entrees ready and waiting in my freezer–all containing only Cammy-approved ingredients. Of course, I had to make them with my own two (overly large) hands to ensure no wayward vegetables or spices (curry!) were included, but it was well worth the effort. And this from someone who’s not exactly smitten with cooking!
Batch cooking isn’t anything new to a lot of people, many who cook and freeze weeks or months worth of full meals (desserts included!) in a single marathon cooking session. Those folks are often cooking for families and many have one or more extra deep freezers to hold all the extra food. Usually, I’m cooking just for me, so one shelf is plenty of space.
Given my lack of interest in cooking, my freezer meals are very basic. In addition to some taco soup, I have a few lean hamburgers, a couple servings of barbecued chicken, some turkey taco filling (lean ground turkey, taco seasoning, green chilies), and what I call Mexican Chicken even though there’s not really very much that’s Mexican about it. Simple meals with few ingredients. Simple preparation, too. The chicken and turkey entrees were slow-cooker meals, and I made the burgers on my George Foreman grill.
Of all those, the Mexican Chicken is my favorite, both for its taste and its versatility. It’s my version of a recipe Sahar gave me some time ago.
Mexican Chicken, Cammy-approved
1 pound (or more, if you like it meaty) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 15-oz. can chili beans (kidney beans in chili sauce)
1 16-oz. container salsa (I usually use a locally-produced refrigerated salsa, but jars are good too)
1 4-oz. can of chopped green chilies
Dump Carefully layer the ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 or 5 hours. Or if you’re in a hurry, like maybe you forgot you were supposed to be cooking it until early afternoon, you can cook it on high for 2-3 hours.
Remove chicken breasts to cutting board and use two forks to shred them to small pieces. A friend of mine dispenses with the forks and just pulls her chicken apart with her fingers. She says it makes for a more “rustic” dish. I say, who cares?
Before returning chicken to cooker, use a potato smasher (or your forks if you don’t have a smasher) to mash the beans (fun factor!). Then dump the chicken back into the cooker, stir it all up, and cook for another hour or so. Or until you get good and ready to eat dinner.
This usually produces 7 or 8 1/2-cup servings for me, with a calorie count of around 150.
There are lots of ways this dish can be served. Here are a few of my choices:
1) as is, with some side veggies (yawn)
2) on top of a salad of Romaine, tomatoes, and cucumbers with 1/8 cup of 2% cheese
3) in a wheat tortilla with a 1/8 cup of 2% cheese
4) as a sort of Mexican lasagna, with 1 six-inch corn tortilla, halved. Bottom layer is 1/2 the tortilla, then 1/2 the chicken, then the other tortilla half, the remaining chicken. I sprinkle a few sliced black olives and 1/8 cup 2% cheese on top and bake it in a 350° oven for about 20 minutes. Or until the cheese melts. I tend to
forget it overbake it, but another tablespoon of salsa takes care of that little problem.
5) I haven’t prepared this one, but I can imagine this would be tasty as a filling for stuffed green peppers.
If you’re reading your ingredient labels (and if you’re not, you should start NOW) and watching the sodium content, you can serve any of these dishes with some yummy blue corn tortilla chips and salsa. If not, there’s good old celery sticks for dipping. (I’m kind of over celery right now, so I’ve just been going with salad for a side dish.)
I suppose you could also make this with your own homemade salsa and fresh green chilies, but as long as I can find good quality versions of those products already prepared, I’m taking the super-easy way out.
That’s my version of batch cooking, with a recipe at no additional cost to you. After being caught a few months ago with nothing for dinner in the house, I much prefer this version of the good ol’ TV dinner. It doesn’t take long to prepare any of these (duh!), and it’s much cheaper per serving than most of the frozen entrees at the grocery store. (The Mexican chicken is around $2/serving the way I make it, including the cheese and tortilla.) Plus, it removes the nothing-for-dinner-so-I’ll-have-to-get-a-pizza excuse. I haven’t decided if that’s a positive or a negative.
A few web references to batch cooking, for the more serious cooks:
Assembly Cooking for Newbies (Wisebread)
The Five Day Freeze: Batch Cooking for the Rest of Us (also Wisebread)
Batch Cooking and Freezing (Netmums)
Large size Recipes and Tips for Quantity Cooking (Ellen’s Kitchen)
Anyone here a batch cooking diva or dynamo? Please feel free to share any tips or lessons learned!