31 10/31/2013 life Food

Five Freezer-to-Crockpot Recipes for Busy Cooks

As a busy working mom, I often find that the dinnertime crunch is, shall we say, overwhelming. And that’s grossly understating it. Friends: when even your kids complain about the regularity with which you serve chicken fingers & oven fries, KD or (my personal favourite) cereal for dinner, then you know it’s time to make a change in the routine.

But let’s face it: when you leave for work at 7:30 a.m. and often don’t get home again until 6:30, I think we both know that the freezer has to be a part of the equation. So last weekend, I put my thinking cap on (read: spent about three hours on Pinterest) and settled on some make-ahead meals that I felt were doable for a novice batch-cooker, were easy to heat up (all were freezer-to-crock pot recipes) and, most importantly, would be most likely to be consumed by my children.

All-told, it took me under two hours to put all the freezer meals together, and it cost me  just shy of $80 to buy the ingredients (a pretty thrifty venture, it turns out). Each of the freezer packs required only basic chopping and bagging skills – essentially all you do is chop the meat and veggies into chunks and then toss them into a large Ziploc bag with the remaining ingredients (there’s one exception: the Mongolian Beef requires browning). Pop them in the freezer, and make sure you take one out to thaw for a day in the fridge before you dump the whole bag in the crockpot to cook. When you get home, the house smells great and dinner is only a pot of rice or noodles away. A few tips I learned as a first-time batch-cooker:

  1. Write the name of the meal and the reheating instructions on the front of each Ziploc bag with a permanent marker before filling the bag with your ingredients.
  2. Chop all the different ingredients at once and then make each meal assembly-line style. So, if you need nine chopped chicken breasts 2 onions and 3 peppers altogether, then chop all nine chicken breasts before moving on to the onions and then the peppers and so on. This is much more efficient than chopping 2 chicken breasts, half an onion and a green pepper, then having to do it all again for the next recipe.
  3. If you’re cooking for less than 4-5 people, divide each recipe before freezing. It’s much better to make enough for one meal and then have another fresh one waiting to go into the crock pot than making twice as much as you need and then having leftovers. Unless you prefer leftovers, of course!

Just chop, pour, zip and freeze! Couldn't be easier!

Make sure you jot down the name of the recipe and cooking instructions on the bags before pouring in the ingredients.

Here are the recipes, along with my review of each:

MONGOLIAN BEEF

in the bag: 

  • 1 pound flank steak, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 large green onions, sliced diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root (I used powdered)
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  1. Place flank steak and cornstarch into a resealable plastic bag. Shake the bag to evenly coat the flank steak with the cornstarch. Allow to steak rest for 10 minutes.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir steak until evenly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.
  3. Place all ingredients in a Ziploc bag.

to cook:

  • Cook on Low setting for 4-6 hours.
  • Serve over rice or rice vermicelli.

We loved this recipe! The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender and had a pretty authentic Chinese takeout flavour. Served with steamed broccoli it was a real treat. This is definitely a recipe we will repeat.

CILANTRO LIME CHICKEN

in the bag: 

  • 3 chicken breasts
  • juice from 2 limes
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1 (16 oz) bag corn
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper

to cook:

  • cook on low for 8 hours
  • shred meat and serve in tortillas
  • garnish with sour cream, salsa and grated cheese, if desired

I was looking forward to this meal most of all; maybe that’s what made it so disappointing. It might be worth making again, with a few changes. For instance, I would add the corn only at the end, maybe for the last 15 minutes or so and just to heat it through. I’d also add more heat to it; maybe some chill powder or cayenne pepper. 

HAWAIIAN CHICKEN

in the bag: 

  • 2-3 chicken breasts (whole)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 1/2 can of large pineapple chunks
  • 1/2 cup of pineapple juice (from can)
  • 2 chopped bell peppers (I used red and yellow)

to cook: 

  • cook on low for 6-7 hours
  • shred and serve over rice

Hello, Hawaii? Delicious called and wants its chicken recipe back. Or something like that. Anyhow: suffice to say this one was a hit. Juicy and sweet and bursting with flavour, this one will become a family ‘classic’ for sure. 

TERIYAKI CHICKEN

in the bag: 

  • 3 chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • a few sprinkles of ginger

to cook: 

  • cook on low for 4-6 hours
  • serve over sticky rice or udon noodles

I thought this recipe was decent, but my kids couldn’t get enough of it. We did not have leftovers the night I served this…my ten year-old went back for seconds, which is unheard-of around here. I served it over rice and we had some quickly stir fried snow peas on the side. Definitely doing it again.

ORANGE CHICKEN

in the bag: 

  • 2 cups carrots
  • 2 cups bell pepper (I used green)
  • 1 lb chicken breast, cubed
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 8 oz orange juice concentrate

to cook:

  • Cook on low 4-6 hours.
  • Serve over rice.

We’re big fans of Orange Chicken around here, and I have a tried-and-true Sweet & Sticky Orange Chicken recipe that we all adore, so it was a risk trying a new (albeit easier) recipe. Having said that, this one delivers. Both the kids and I enjoyed it (although maybe not quite as much as our favourite) and I’ll likely make it again just because it’s so easy to prepare.

  • Kwyjibos

    how flexible are these cook times? You talk about being out of the house for 11 hours during workdays, but none of these recipes have 11 hour cook times.

    • Bridget

      I use an auto timer (like the ones to turn your lights on and off at certain times when you are on vacation) and plug the crockpot into the timer. Set it so it stops cooking when you get home and count backwards from there for the start time.

  • Chris

    To the OP, what are those white crunchy noodles that the mongolian beef is on top of? Is that rice vermicelli? I have never had rice vermicelli before so that is why I ask. They look like they are fried or crispy. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  • Laura Higley

    What is KD, paragraph 1?

    • BillVA

      Since the author spelled “favourite” with a u, I would assume that “KD” is a reference to a British dish.

      My mother was English and I never heard the term before.

  • kate

    Do you cook the chicken first, before freezing?

    • BillVA

      No, you thaw it out and then let it cook in the crock pot.

  • Melanie

    I featured your recipes in my blog! Can’t wait to try them.

    http://twoofakindfullhouse.blogspot.com/2014/02/freezer-meal-day-2.html

  • Katie

    I tried both the orange chicken and the teriyaki chicken recipes, and I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong! I followed the recipes exactly and they both turned out watery and overcooked. Any advice? I know I’m missing something!

  • Pingback: Crock Pot Hawaiian Chicken |

  • Leora Ruzin

    So do you just throw the bags in the crock pot or remove contents from the bag? I know, stupid question!

    • pearl85

      Hi Leora — you should remove the contents from the bag and dump it all into the crockpot. Happy cooking!

    • jessewfo

      Not a stupid question, The way this idiot wrote it it makes you think you dump the food into the crockpot still in the bag.

  • Chimom

    I don’t yet own a crockpot but plan on purchasing one now after seeing this. This may seem like a silly question, but obviously most of these items take several hours to cook. When do you put them to cook? In the morning before you leave or the night before? Do you have a brand of crockpot you recommend? Thank you!

    • BillVA

      A couple of points regarding timing:

      If I am cooking something I would like to de-fat before eating, I will cook overnight, then put in the fridge in the morning and de-fat/reheat at dinnertime.

      Otherwise, I will prepare all the ingredients before I go to bed, put them in zipper bags in the fridge so I can dump them in the crock pot in the morning before I go to work.

      Regarding crock pots…make CERTAIN you get one that says it is a slow cooker…not all crock pots are. I have 3 crock pots and one of them cooks too hot/too fast…lesson learned.

  • Jen

    Thanks! I’ve got some ready to go in the freezer now. Should I thaw before putting into
    the crockpot and cooking or are they cooked from frozen?

    • Hillary Pittman

      I haven’t tried these, however, the one’s I have tried, I have always just dumped out of bag when frozen. I think that if you do unthaw I would not do it all the way, just leave out for an hour and then put into crockpot, otherwise, leave frozen.

    • KH

      The intro says: Pop them in the freezer, and make sure you take one out to thaw for a
      day in the fridge before you dump the whole bag in the crockpot to cook.

    • BillVA

      Since this article has been resurrected, I’ll chime in on this.

      I freeze a lot of my meals.

      You DO need to defrost before putting in the crockpot. I speed this process up by putting the bag of food in a bowl large enough to cover the bag of food with water, weighing down the bag with canned foods if necessary to keep it submerged.

      It helps to break the food apart once it begins to thaw (such as chicken parts that may be frozen to each other) to speed up the process.

  • Ciara

    Trying all these now, I have most of the stuff only need a free fresh things, I always struggle with putting stuff together that doesn’t have ridiculous amounts of ingredients or things I won’t use except for 1 recipe these are great can’t wait to try them!

    • BillVA

      Don’t let it overwhelm you.

      The good thing about crock pot cooking is that you [usually] throw everything in at the same time, instead of trying to keep track of what-to-add-when.

      That makes it a whole lot easier. And if you are doing side dishes, you do not need to worry about timing everything to be done at the same instant…note the “4-6 hour” crock pot cook time. Letting things sit for an extra half hour or so will not make any difference.

  • Tami Martin

    I can’t wait to try this! I am so sick of figuring out what to make after pulling a 10 hour shift – it’s often cereal….again! Thanks for the ideas! :-)

  • Kat Clarke Murray

    Kristina, you’re right. I sliced the carrots into rounds and chopped the peppers into 1 inch pieces. Enjoy!

  • Julie

    making pineapple chicken right now…wish me luck!

    • Kat Clarke Murray

      Hope you enjoy it Julie!

  • Kristina

    Silly question, perhaps: in the Orange Chicken, I’m assuming the 2 cups of carrots are sliced and the 2 cups of bell pepper are chopped, is that right? These look delicious, and I loved your reviews underneath, but my favourite thing is that these can go right from the freezer to the crock pot. FANTASTIC! Thank you SO much, from a busy mom. I’ll be sharing this post! :)

    • Kat Clarke Murray

      Kristina, you’re right. I sliced the carrots into rounds and chopped the peppers into 1 inch pieces. Enjoy!

  • Julie

    okay, so wow! i had yet to see crockpot type recipes that weren’t barbecue! thanks for these…going grocery shopping now!

  • Mareka

    Those look delicious – especially the Mongolian Beef. Thanks so much for the helpful tips before and feedback following the recipes!! I am always looking for ways to simplify dinnertime and still eat reasonably healthy.

    • Cory

      Too much sugar so I reduced amt and they still tasted great !!

      • Kat Clarke Murray

        I would agree Cory. In fact, the second time I made the orange chicken I used one cup of orange juice instead of a whole can of concentrate. Tasted even better!

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