Stocking A Feastworthy Kitchen, Part 3 – Freezer

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If we’re being honest, I think my there would be a lot of PB&J eaten for dinner during the week at my house were it not for the freezer. I try to always keep mine full to the brim, despite the constant danger of a Ziploc-full of frozen chili falling out and taking off a toe. I guess you could call me something of an adrenaline junkie.

if you, too, would like to live more dangerously, here are a few things you should keep in your soon-to-be feastworthy freezer:

1. Raw AND Precooked Chicken, Portioned
After several dinner parties ended with me saying “Wait, we spent how much?” I started counting costs and quite often, I made waaaaay too much food for the amount of people I was actually serving. One of the most expensive foods that I would overshoot is meat, especially chicken. I came up with a strategy to help keep my meat costs down and my kitchen running smoothly: buying chicken breasts and boneless skinless chicken thighs when they went on sale in the big value packs, and freezing half in 10-12 oz. portions (the amount two people at my house would usually eat) in Ziploc bags. The other half, I would precook in large batches, chop up, and freeze for use in salads for lunches, soups, etc. Having two-person portions simplified cooking for groups of people as I knew that if we were having four people, two bags of chicken would most likely be enough.

2. Frozen Veggies
Look, we all have been at that point. That dark, dark place where you are driving home from work and suddenly realize you have absolutely got to go to the grocery store but it sounds like something you totally don’t want to do right nowSo you stop and grab a pizza, or Chinese, and immediately kick yourself because eating out out of desperation is usually never satisfying. On these nights, having a bag or two of frozen veggies can be a lifesaver – they can usually serve as inspiration for a skillet meal thrown together with what scraps you have left in the fridge or can be stir fried with pretty much any meat and served over rice for a bare bones night-before-grocery-shopping meal that at least (probably) won’t give you indigestion.

3. Frozen, Cooked Beans
In my pantry stocking article, I reference buying dry beans in bulk to save money. However, you just don’t get the convenience you do from canned beans (even if the canned beans come with all the sodium and that funny bean juice smell). Frozen beans are my answer to canned beans. Every time you make a batch of beans, make twice as much and freeze about one meal’s worth in several freezer bags. Lay these bags out flat on a cookie sheet and stick the cookie sheet in the freezer. The next morning, voila! You now have all the convenience of canned beans in a handy stackable format, but without the funny bean juice!

4. Frozen Tomato Paste/Sauce
Has anyone, in the course of making a normal-sized meal, used a whole can of tomato paste? I definitely haven’t. A great way to avoid having to store an awkward, tiny can of the stuff in your fridge until you realize you’ve forgotten about it entirely is to freeze your extra tomato paste (in tbsp sized portions) in ice cube trays. Pop ’em out of the tray and store them in freezer bags to take out as needed. You can also make large batches of homemade tomato sauce and store them the same way. Here’s a quick rundown of my favorite easy tomato sauce recipe:

1 large can diced tomatoes
1 can Herdez salsa
1 small can tomato paste
1 tbsp sugar

Give it a few pulses in a blender depending on the consistency you want, then use it on pasta, pizza, or meat dishes!

5. At least one homemade emergency dish.
There’s no shortage of freezer-friendly recipes on the internet. There are going to be nights when making absolutely anything sounds impossible, and for those nights, it’s best to be prepared. Use gallon freezer bags to replicate the same technique I mentioned for the beans above, and make double batches of your favorite freezer-friendly recipes. Two of my favorites are from Budget Bytes, Zuppa Toscana and White Chicken Chili. 

So, now we’ve covered things you can do to stock your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Hopefully I’ve given you a few ideas and techniques to keep your kitchen ready for a feast at a moment’s notice. Have any upgrades for the techniques I’ve mentioned? Maybe a freezer recipe you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

Pesto “Caprese” Salad

If we’re being honest, this recipe comes from a place of deep and abiding laziness. One night while preparing to have company, I had every intention of coming home from work, cleaning the kitchen, and then prepping the most adorable little caprese salad skewers. You know, like on Pinterest?

Yeah, I didn’t.

You know what I did do? I made this recipe. And it was delicious. It uses the traditional “tomato + mozzarella + basil” formula but replaces the fresh basil with pesto and mixes it all up in a balsamic dressing. The tomatoes and cheese marinate in the balsamic + pesto dressing and when the tomato juice starts to be released, forms this incredible light dressing that works so well on the baby spinach.

This salad makes me miss summer, as I always imagine having it outside on the deck, sipping red wine (though if we’re being honest, there’s really no time or place where I’m not imagining sipping red wine) and enjoying this with a light summer vegetable pasta dish. It’s beautiful, refreshing, and makes a great first course for a dinner party. You can also add grilled chicken for an easy, healthy weeknight dinner!

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Pesto “Caprese” Salad

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
4 oz block of mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes OR 4 oz of baby mozzarella pearls
2 tbsp jarred pesto
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 cups fresh baby spinach

1. Combine the cheese and tomatoes with the pesto, olive oil, and balsamic. Mix well.

2. Marinate the mixture in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours

3. Just before serving, toss with the fresh spinach

4. Serve with shredded or flaked Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top

Biscoff Tiramisu

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For my first recipe post, I knew I wanted to do something completely me – something created from little pieces of my heart. (But not actual, literal pieces of my heart, because that’s gross.)

I decided to combine three of my great loves: coffee, tiramisu, and my main squeeze, the one and only Biscoff cookie. But this recipe also served another, darker purpose: when I take the leftovers to work, they will further my mission to infect the great state of Oklahoma with a love of all things Speculoo.

In Oklahoma there are no Trader Joe’s, and so the cookie butter phenomenon hasn’t quite caught on. Biscoff cookies are relegated to the sad bottom shelves of Wal-Mart Supercenters, where they remain – looking unloved and, in the words of a friend of mine, like “old people cookies.” I want to make one thing very clear: I will not stand for this. 

I knew I wanted to really highlight how perfectly coffee and Biscoff go together, so my already nontraditional tiramisu got a little more out of the box with the addition of instant coffee granules to the cream mixture. Also, because I try to try to make things with accessible ingredients, I used cream cheese in the place of the traditional mascarpone.

Trust me, it’s still delicious. The crunchy cookies take on a soft, dreamy texture and the bitterness from the coffee and cocoa powder make this dessert rich, but not overwhelmingly sweet.

Whip up this dessert in less than twenty minutes with less than ten ingredients, many of which you probably already have in your pantry or fridge. I made it as part of a double-date night menu, but I think it would be a hit anywhere. Serve it to company, bring it to work, take it to your weekly game night, whatever – just spread the word, alright?

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Biscoff Tiramisu
1 package Biscoff cookies
2 blocks cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp instant coffee granules (I like Nescafe), plus 1 tsp for sprinkling
1-2 tsp cocoa powder (optional)
1 cup strong coffee or espresso, cooled or room temperature

1. In a small mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream (I used a hand mixer, a stand mixer or even some pretty intense elbow grease would work) until stiff peaks form, then set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and coffee granules. Whip until creamy and no “grit” from the sugar remains.

3. Working a quarter at a time, use a spatula to gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.

4. In a square serving dish, (I would not use anything larger than 8×8 – you can use a bigger dish, but you would need to pick up a second package of cookies or make do with only a single layer of Biscoff) arrange the Biscoff cookies in a single layer across the bottom. Spoon the coffee over each cookie individually. Repeat this process with a second layer of Biscoff cookies – arranging them in the same pattern as the first, then spooning more coffee over each cookie.

5. Gently pour the cream cheese mixture over the top (but try not to drool). Spread the mixture to evenly cover the cookies.

6. Sprinkle the cocoa powder and coffee granules on top, maybe even crumble some leftover cookies and throw those on if you’re feeling daring.

7. Refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours, but overnight is best. I understand if you wake up at 2 a.m. and absolutely need to taste test this – I found myself stumbling out of bed this morning and sneaking a few spoonfuls of the leftovers straight out of the fridge. I am working on assembling a support group.

8. Serve right out of the fridge with a cup of hot coffee and make everyone happy.

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