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


jojo said...

What a great idea!

Charles said...


Anonymous said...

This set of recipes looks great. I like the idea of cooking like this as I can take advantage of what's on sale for the week. My finicky daughter walked though as I was looking at this post and asked me to bookmark it. I've been cooking unseasoned ground beef or turkey to use in individual burritos or on salads since we work and eat on different schedules. I can see packaging the casseroles in individual serving sizes for us.

emmers said...

Steph - love these recipes! I just need a little....clarification. If I am making 6 dinners, but to each one adding 1/3 of the meat mixture...after I have made the 1st 3 dinners I will be out of meat mixture. For the math challenged...approx how many cups of meat mixture should I be using to make the 3 lb ground beef + veggies stretch to 6 meals? Kindly advise. Thanks!

Chef Tess said...

Six different recipes that you can use making the base, but it will essentially only make 3 meals. Does that make more sense?

emmers said...

Yes - my question sounded like a complex story problem that you need to solve with some funky quadratic equation or something ;) glad you understood it. I'm going to double the meat in the meat base and make all 6 recipes - FUN! Thanks!