I’d like to introduce you to my 3X1 method aka my frozen dinner. There are two versions of it for which I will explain in more detail, but the basics of it are that I cut my cooking down considerably by freezing food. A lot of people do this for things like anticipation of a birth. My MIL makes large batches of cookies way in advance to have plenty for the Christmas season.
Anyway Version 1:
Whole Fryer Chicken is bought way in advance when they are on sale. I usually buy what I can fit into my tiny freezer. A day in advance I remove the bird and put it in my refrigerator to dethaw. I remove the packaging and the organs although you could eat these or boil them for stock. I season the chicken and place it in a crock pot early in the morning. I put it on high 8-10 hours depending on the pounds and make sure to check with a meat thermometer or cut into it before serving. You could also cook it over night on low. For dinner, I make sides to go with the chicken. Something like asparagus and rice or potatoes and green beans or a side salad.
Now here’s the cool part. After dinner is done, I immediately strip the bird. All remaining meat is removed. I usually toss the bones and skin but the bones can also be boiled for stock. What remains in the bottom of my crock pot is the drippings. I place a large bowl in the sink and a colander inside the bowl. I tip the crock contents into the colander to strain out any small bones or skin. The drippings or stock is freezed to be used in soups or any recipes that call for chicken stock or broth. The meat is set aside for a meal that calls for chicken.
Let’s say I decide to make chicken n’ dumplings. I immediately use all parts. First I take the stock and put it into a stock pot (funny). I add several cups of water enough to fill a small size stock pot. I add the chicken. I bring the contents to a boil. I add a frozen bag of mixed veggies. Then I take a can of biscuit dough. You can make it from scratch or buy it frozen and dethaw it. I take the biscuits and tear them into fourths and put them in the boiling pot. I add seasoning. Once the biscuits no longer look raw (they usually puff up). I remove the pot from heat and wait for it to cool down. Then I cover it with a lid and put it in the fridge. The process to make the chicken n’ dumplings takes about 30 minutes.
We eat it the next dinner. Whatever is not finished, I freeze. Hence the 3X1. It’s three meals- chicken, chicken n’ dumplings, and leftover frozen dinner- in one.
I choose a recipe that makes quite a bit. I try to pick something that serves at least 6-8 because there are two of us. I also try to pick something that freezes well. For example, chili, pastas, stews, soups, and gumbo. I make it one night. The next night I make something that I can control portions better such as tacos or one of my already frozen dinners. The third night we eat the leftovers; whatever isn’t eaten gets put in the freezer. Even the corn muffins made along with the gumbo or chili wind up in the freezer.
Important to note. I first built up a good reserve of frozen dinners so that we won’t be having the third meal so close to the first two. I have it worked out about a month later. I use my frozen meals once a week so I plan to replace the meal with a new 3X1 meal that same week. If you want less cooking, you could make two 3X1 meals during the week. Or if you have more time, you could make two 3X1 meals a month. It’s up to you. But I would recommend building up a supply first.
Also a big help is that a lot of recipes call for part of a vegetable. I usually chop up the remaining onion or bell pepper and freeze it for use later. Some veggies should be blanched (something I’m learning to do too) or boiled before freezing like potatoes. If you have a left over veggie and aren’t sure if you can freeze it raw, look it up on the internet. That’s how I learned that it would be better to blanch leeks.
Here are some fairly quick recipes that you can use with this 3X1 method that turn out well for us.
1 jar marinara sauce
3 cups water
8 oz lasagna noodles
1 lb raw bulk hot Italian turkey sausage or pork sausage
2 garlic cloves
2 oz Parmesan cheese (I usually buy it pre-shredded to save time)
2 tbsp chopped fresh parley (you can skip this and/or use dried parsley)
1 cup fresh whole milk ricotta cheese (about 8oz)
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
Combine sauce and water in a family size skillet and bring to boil. Break noodles crosswise into quarters and stir into sauce. Cover; reduce heat and simmer 16-18 minutes or until noodles are tender. Stir occasionally. Cook sausage in a separate skillet until sausage is no longer pink. Make sure to break it into small bite sized pieces. Add pressed garlic and cook an additional minute. Stir sausage into noodle mixture. Chop parley. Combine cheese, parsley and black pepper in a bowl. Put cheese mixture over noodles. Cover skillet and simmer 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melted and ricotta mixture is heated through. Serve. You can put additional Parmesan and/or parley on top.
Cook and prep time: 30 minutes
Slow cook Chili
1 lb lean ground beef or turkey
1 ½ cups of chopped onion
1 ½ cups chopped green bell pepper
2 minced garlic cloves
1 or 2 28 ounce cans of diced tomatoes undrained (I eye ball it. Since I've tweaked this recipe I can‘t remember if it‘s one or two anymore)
2 15 ounce cans of kidney beans
2 ½ tbsp chili pepper
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
¾ tsp pepper
Brown ground beef with onion, bell pepper, and garlic in a skillet. Remove excess grease. Put mixture in your slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients. Stir to blend. Cover and cook Low 8-10 hours or High 4-5 hours. Serves 6-8. Total prep time about 20 minutes.