Tuesday, July 23, 2013

6 Quick and Easy Freezer Dinners from 1 Ground Beef Dinner Base

What if you could really consolidate  the last few days of summer cooking into one quick and easy event, making 3 meals at a time using one simple make-ahead ground beef and veggie base and the meals were ones that everyone would agree on eating? Here's my fun and easy way to really make it happen along with 6 recipes you can make today using stuff you probably have in your cupboard! Come on...you can't lose here!

The first time I introduced this method of making freezer meals we made 6 casseroles out of one chicken divan recipe in This Post. It was one of the many Freezer Friday posts where we have had many a tutorial for freezer casserole, enjoyed giving friends a Freezer Meal Baby Shower, provided Auntie Em's best  freezer meal 5 week menu and shopping list, and shared my best tips for dove-tailing and making Freezer Meal Meat Main Courses. I love making smaller meal bases that are freezer meal pasta toppers. We've done many group classes and tutorials on Oven-Rise Homemade Freezer Pizza and given several ideas for: freezer meal potatoes,freezer Quichefreezer rice toppers, and freezer meal stews.  There are also some gluten free freezer meal menus.  

With that, here's the beef base and 6 new dinners you can make using this base:
Make-A-Head Ground Beef Base

3 medium onions, peeled and chopped or minced fine
3 lbs. 90% lean ground beef or 93% lean ground turkey (or chicken breast pieces)
3 garlic cloves, pressed
2 carrots, peeled and shredded finely
2 stalks of celery, chopped finely

Cooking Directions: Place all ingredients into skillet (12-in or larger). Cook over medium-high heat, breaking into crumbles, 15-18 minutes or until beef is no longer pink. Divide beef mixture into three equal portions (according to your recipe choices below). Label clearly with cooking directions. Chill promptly!

Home-Style Chili

In a gallon-sized freezer bag or container, add the following:
⅓ of the meat base
1 (15 oz.) can roasted tomatoes
2 (15 oz.) cans kidney beans
2 Tbsp. chili powder or Chef Tess Fajita Seasoning
1 small can diced green chile or jalapeno

Directions: Chill in the fridge up to 4 days or freeze up to 3 months. Defrost and heat for 15 minutes over medium heat. Serve with shredded cheese and cornbread if desired.

Taco Rice Casserole

In an oven-safe non-aluminum 9x13 pan, layer in order:
3 cups cooked rice
⅓ of the meat base
1 cup tomatillo salsa or red salsa
1 packet taco seasoning of your choice (or homemade),
1 cup shredded cheese

Directions: Cover and store up to 5 days in the fridge or freeze up to 3 months. Defrost and heat for 20-25 minutes uncovered at 350 or 10-12 minutes in the microwave on high.

Sloppy Joe Filling

In a quart-sized freezer bag or container:
⅓ of the meat base
¼ cup brown sugar
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
2 small red bell pepper, minced
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Directions: Chill in the fridge up to 4 days or freeze up to 3 months. Defrost and heat 5-6 minutes in microwave. To serve, divide between 4 toasted burger buns. Serve with coleslaw or side of your choice.

Italian Hoagies

In a quart-sized freezer bag or container:
⅓ of the meat base (pictured with chicken version of meat base)
2 Tbsp. Chef Tess Italian Seasoning
1 bottle roasted red bell peppers, drained well
¼ cup diced pepperoni

Directions: Chill in the fridge for up to 4 days or freeze up to 3 months. Defrost and heat in a microwave safe container on high for 5-6 minutes. To serve, divide between 4 Italian hoagies, top with provolone or cheese of your choice.

Cheeseburger Salad

In a quart-sized freezer bag or container:
⅓ of the meat base
⅓ cup mustard
⅓ cup ketchup
4-5 chopped dill pickles or ½ cup sweet pickle relish

Directions: Chill in the fridge up to 4 days or freeze up to 3 months. Defrost and heat out of bag in a microwave-safe dish for 5-6 minutes. Serve over 1 lbs. of shredded lettuce with 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, a drizzle of ranch dressing, and some fresh tomato wedges.

Home-Style Baked Ziti Casserole

In an oven-safe non-aluminum 9x13 pan, layer in order:
1 lb. of cooked ziti pasta
⅓ of the meat base
3 cups marinara sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1-2 Tbsp. of Italian Seasoning

Directions: Cover and store up to 5 days in the fridge or freeze, up to 3 months. Defrost and heat 20-25 minutes uncovered at 350° or 10-12 minutes in the microwave on high.

As a bonus, please read the details below on freezer meal safety and some things to know about freezer meals in general. 
How to Freeze Food Safely and Effectively 101
By Chef Stephanie Petersen

·         Buy Quality Fresh Ingredients: Freezing will not cover up inferior cooking or ingredients. Check the flavors and seasoning before freezing to be sure it tastes good.

·         Chill First: Make sure food is cold before you freeze it! This allows it to freeze faster and reduces the amount of drip loss (leakage of moisture that occurs during defrosting) the ice crystal will be smaller in chilled food, reducing the amount of water lost. The result is better texture and flavor. It will also reduce the amount of condensation (moisture that collects on the surface of food when frozen) when defrosted, the excess water will make the food soggy and tasteless.

·         Chill Cooked Food Uncovered: If you can’t bag and chill in labeled bags, it is essential that the food is chilled uncovered so the heat isn’t kept in the container (even plastic wrap!) If it’s a large pot of chili or meat, I freeze bottles of water and put them inside the pot to further hasten the drop of internal temperature.

·         Freeze Small: The smaller the item, the quicker it will freeze. Whenever possible, freeze in pint or quart-sized name brand freezer bags. Gallon size is perfect for pizza crusts and larger family sizes. I use quart-sized for my family of four. When you freeze it, do so with the bag laid out flat-- the increased surface area will not only freeze faster, but also be easier to store in stacks. I have a “freezer file” that I use. It’s an ice bin that I put the flat bags in just like files I can flip through!

·         “Open” Freeze Smaller Items: Smaller items like berries and cooked potato wedges can be placed on a parchment lined sheet pan (metal is best because of its temperature conducting qualities). Using this method will keep these smaller items from freezing in a block. I use it for twice baked potatoes and blanched vegetables.

·         Wrap Well: Squeeze out as much air as possible and label food clearly with permanent marker. Include defrosting and cooking instructions so anyone can cook it later (my husband needs it clearly marked to remove the ingredients from the bag before microwaving!) Preventing freezer burn is the key! There is nothing wrong with using two bags. I always use the name brand bags. If the store brand is used it needs to be double bagged anyway, so it is worth the cost of the quality bags. If able to use the specially made vacuum sealers and the freezer bags with them, it is a good investment.

·         Watch Freezer Temperature: On big freezing days, it is essential to check the temperature, as well as checking periodically to be sure the freezer stays cold on other days. Keep a freezer thermometer in the freezer. It should be between 0-30° Fahrenheit. If you are placing a large quantity of food in the freezer at once, turn the thermostat to the coldest setting until food is frozen.

·         Follow Defrosting Recommendations: It is best to defrost in the fridge or microwave. Do not defrost at room temperature because microorganisms like yeast, mold, and bacteria multiply quickly at temperatures above 40 degrees. It may still feel cool to you, but is a breeding ground for food-borne illness--don’t take chances! Cook defrosted food soon and chill leftovers as soon as possible.

There you go! Make some great dinners and save some time in the kitchen! 

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess

Friday, July 19, 2013

New August Arizona Classes...Including NEW Hands-On Classes!!

I can't believe we're almost to August!  Here's what we have scheduled for this upcoming Month! Also, I will be in California this weekend (July 26th and 27th). Details on that class are Here.   Arizona, get ready though, because we are starting a whole new series of hands-on classes for those who want some personal attention! Please pre-register if you are coming. It just makes things a lot easier when I know how many students to plan on feeding. Xoxo!

Arizona Classes:

Teaching Kitchen
33 S. 56th Street
Chandler, AZ. 85226 Phone:(480) 785-5210

 Mom’s Smart Cookies in a Jar
Tuesday Aug 13 10 AM
Moms, Dads, Grandparents and anyone who wants to jump-start the holidays as well as get ready for healthy back-to-school snacks or teacher gifts will love this class. Tess will be baking up her favorite cookies and sharing some secrets and tips for great homemade cookie recipes. We'll be saving the Mega Mom’s sanity, one little jar at a time.   Class is Free.

French Macaroon Class with Chef Tess

Thursday, August 15th 10:00AM

The French Macaroon is a totally unique and unequaled cookie in it's delicate texture with a light crunch and crispy thin sugary crust. Filled with buttercream or rich chocolate truffle ganache, these are prized for their cookie perfection! Join me as I teach you hands-on in the kitchen for a personal training class. Unlike many of my other classes, this is a private event and taught in a small group where you'll make the cookies yourself and go home feeling confidant in your macaroon skills! Class is in store, but must be pre-paid.Cost is 25$ and registration is required.You'll take home a half dozen box class-made macaroons.Limited to 10 students.

Sweet and Savory Cream Puffs for Summer Gatherings
Saturday Aug 17 10 AM
Delicious and easy to make cream puffs are the perfect light and delectable addition to any of your summer events.  Savory or sweet fillings are a great way to share these with anyone.  We'll cover the basics and eat some cute little cream puffs. Class is Free. 

Flourless Silk Chocolate Cookies
 and French Palmier Cookies with Chef Tess

Thursday, August 22nd 10:00 AM

Ever wanted to know how to make "Elephant Ear" cookies (AKA French Palmier cookies)? These simple and delicious cookies are caramel crisp with just a hint of salt and spice. Plus we'll be making some gourmet flourless chocolate cookies that will melt in your mouth in decadence! This is a private pre-register required class. Space is extremely limited for personal one-on-one tutoring and experiences. Class is in-store. Cost is 25$ prepaid. Each student will take home 3 of each Flourless and Palmier cookies.Limited to 10 students.

Healthy Summer Dessert Pizzas
Saturday Aug 24th 10 AM
Classic summer dessert begins with something that will keep you cool and be a ton of fun for the kids to help make! This is a great weekend class for those wanting to find some fun in the kitchen with their family as well as some delicious new ideas for a healthy dessert! They sound rich, but they're closer to healthy than we want to admit! Come taste some really delicious caramel apple oatmeal dessert pizza as well as a Strawberry Brownie Cheesecake pizza.  Class is Free. 

Meals in a Jar/Mylar 
Easy  New Week Night Dinners 
Saturday Aug 31st 10 AM  
Now that the kids are back in school and you're settling down into a routine, what about making some family-friendly easy make-ahead meals that are shelf-stable and that any kid (or adult) can make for dinner anytime?! The 52 Method meals in a jar book is coming soon and this is an introduction into some of my favorite week-night meals that my family keeps returning to again and again. Great for short or long-term storage. I'll cover everything you need to know to be successful at feeding your family amazing meals. Class is Free.

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess

Sunday, July 7, 2013

God Gave Me Chocolate...Sort of...

 Sunday is the day I share a little of my soul...enjoy. 

I love chocolate.  I'll admit it.  I eat pretty clean, but every now and then I just want some a hunk of chocolate the size of my head...

 Do I ever give in to the craving? Not often. I know it will not end well. Usually it ends with a lot of regret and a 2 hour work-out because I feel guilty.  Then I berate myself for being so weak. Daggumit. I'm like an alcoholic but with chocolate...and please don't ask me to bake these again...
I will never eat just one. Ever.

As Neal A. Maxwell  observed: “It is not an easy thing … to be shown one’s weaknesses. … Nevertheless, this is part of coming unto Christ, and it is a vital, if painful, part of God’s plan of happiness.”
So, in admitting my weakness, I have to share something that happened this week. God gave me chocolate. It wasn't for my mouth, it was for my heart. I didn't eat it, I felt it in my soul.  Why? Because when I was faced with this overwhelming stress I had the urge to go break all my resolves to treat my body right and just eat a giant wedge of chocolate because it would make me "feel better"...I prayed for strength instead. Instead of reaching for a physical flavor and chemical to medicate myself, I turned to the Master Healer. He gave me what was better than any chocolate I've ever tasted! It was joy, love, peace and mercy beyond description. The answer came with a big helping of Grace. 
I almost felt defeated by my personal weakness this week. I almost gave in to despair. In the past I've attempted to hide it. But I have to confess, that admitting my weakness has allowed humility.  A new level of dependence on God has, out of necessity, become part of my daily walk.  I'm not perfect. I don't think I ever will be in this life. I'll always fall short...but I've seen new strength this week. I hope it continues. By the way, the best part about the Chocolate for the soul that God offers, is that it will never make you feel guilty later for leaning on it. It will never leave me feeling empty or weak.  It will always be free and I can find it anytime, anywhere, and I don't ever have to hide it from my kids to enjoy it later all by myself.  I want to share it with everyone! It isn't a guilty pleasure...it is an eternal strength. 

“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

Find your will to succeed in the arm of the Lord and the power of His might. He will comfort us more than anything this world has to offer...and he will Love us forever. Love is the answer. Love the Lord, love yourself, and keep moving onward and upward. We can do it!

There it is.

Always My Very Best,
Your Sister in the Faith

Chef Tess.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Gluten-free Vegan Almond Flour Graham Crackers

I love graham crackers. I've made homemade graham crackers for many years instead of buying the boxed versions and I can honestly say that it has saved us a lot of money! However, as of late I've been trying to eat carbohydrates that are much lower on the glycemic index.  I have been using Blanched Almond Flour a lot more and have noticed some outstanding results.  Graham crackers were a challenge because of the light color of the flour, but the addition of balsamic vinegar and Coconut Sugar to the recipe have solved that! Plus, there is a naturally occurring caramel flavor that comes with coconut sugar that I adore!
 Palm Coconut Sugar  is supposed to be great for helping regulate blood sugar.  It is low on the glycemic index and this really affects how quickly you extract the energy from the food. It is measured and used the same as sugar in baking, but I seriously use about half. Honestly, in most baking, you can almost count on the fact that you can reduce the sugar by almost half and it will still bake pretty similarly. 

Palm Coconut Sugar was explained by Dr. Oz. He showed the benefits of using it in This Video. There are still a few people who say it isn't as healthy a choice but I'm in the group that says hey, " It still has more vitamins and minerals than regular sugar and yes, it contains natural fructose. It isn't calorie free, but it is all natural." That being said, it is also very easy to harvest and is sustainable. 

Here's my recipe for these amazing graham crackers!

Gluten-Free Vegan Almond Flour Graham Crackers

1 3/4 cup Almond flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp Xanthan gum
1/2 cup Coconut Sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2T balsamic vinegar ( I love Wild Groves blueberry balsamic vinegar)
1/4 cup water

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a full sized cookie sheet or pizza baking stone.  A baking stone will help pull moisture from your crackers and give you a crispier finished product.

 In a quart-sized bowl, combine almond flour, salt, baking soda and xanthan gum.
  In a separate bowl, combine coconut sugar, vanilla,blueberry balsamic vinegar and water.

 Stir the wet ingredients until the the coconut sugar dissolves completely.  It shouldn't have any crystals still in the bottom of the bowl.
 Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir well until a nice thick dough is made.

Generally I will flatten the dough out a little by hand on a lightly greased pizza stone and then cover the dough with unbleached parchment paper. This keeps the crackers from sticking and you won't need to add any flour to roll them out. 
 Roll it to 1/8th inch thickness.
 Gingerly remove the parchment paper on top, being careful not to pull it away to quickly. 
  Lightly score the dough with a knife into 2 inch squares.
 Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown and crisp.  If there are thinner spots in your dough they will need to watched closely.  Remove the baking stone from oven and allow to cool on the stone.   I serve mine with a low fat version of the Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Cheeseball...

There you go! Some freakishly awesome crackers that taste amazing! 

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess