Eat the Freezer

One of my favorite things about being the mom is that I get to choose every meal. If I don’t like it, we don’t have it. The problem is my family gets hungry every day, and they get cranky if I don’t feed them.

Every now and then I will have a week like this one, where I feel completely uninspired in the kitchen. Usually, I have taste for something, or feel like trying something new, and I can build an entire week of meals around that. For example, let’s say I feel like beef stew. I count on doing that one evening, and exclude other beef dishes for the rest of the week. It’s also heavy, so to balance it out I’ll make something light for one other meal: either soup or a salad-based meal. Throw in a pasta dish and a simple chicken or fish, depending on my mood, and there you have it.

But what happens when there is no center around which to build? Sometimes I ask my family what they want, but this is rarely as helpful as it sounds. My son always wants sushi, which would be great if we lived on the ocean and caught our own fish and seaweed every day. My daughter wants macaroni and cheese or hot dogs. Nothing against these choices, but I like to save convenience dinners for when we really need them.

Though I usually decide what I want then go out and buy it, frugal moms tell me I’m doing it backwards. To save money, they say, use what you have and buy only what’s on sale. So this week I decided to make myself a challenge: cook only what I already have in the freezer, fridge, and pantry. I allowed one trip to the store, but only to buy fresh produce and dairy..

Did I mention that I have two freezers?

Monday: stir-fry
I found a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, a wrinkled but edible bell pepper, and a mostly used package of rice noodles. I defrosted one of the three breasts in the package, cut it into small chunks, and soaked it in 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons Chardonnay, and a pinch of salt.

While the chicken soaked, I heated a cup of oil — yes, a cup — in a large frying pan. When the oil got hot, I dropped the noodles in a little at a time. They puffed up immediately and got crunchy. I pulled them out and drained them on a cloth. The baby ate most of them right from the counter, but a few did make it to the dinner table.

After draining most of the oil, I cut up the pepper, 1/2 an onion, and one clove garlic and stir-fried them together for a few minutes. When the onions got soft, I added the chicken mixture and cooked it all together until it cooked through. Served it with rice, puffed noodles, and soy sauce on the side. Four out of five of my family loved it.

Tuesday: calzones
I found the idea online and it caught my fancy. My kids love pizza, and since Tuesdays I have a little extra time to get dinner on the table it seemed like a good night to try it.

The online recipe calls for canned bread dough, but my husband decided to make whole wheat pizza dough from scratch using our bread maker. He made enough for a single loaf of bread, which was not quite enough for five calzones, even with one of them a mini.

I shredded some mozzarella cheese that was leftover from a few weeks ago and chopped up and sautéed an onion and a few mushrooms. These, plus frozen spinach, were the filling. My husband made a quick sauce using canned tomato sauce, tomato paste, garlic and spices. I let the kids pick their own fillings, then baked the calzones for 20 minutes at 400F. It was very well-received.

Wednesday: turkey burgers with guacamole
Turkey burgers are a tried and true staple in our household because they go so well with other favorites: sautéed onions, sautéed mushrooms, guacamole, BBQ sauce, and carrot sticks. The onions and mushrooms are from the same batch as Tuesday’s calzones, and the other items happened to be in the fridge. We don’t have burger buns, but we do have pita bread, some (more) rice noodles, and pasta.

I defrosted the turkey meat — I use regular turkey meat that’s 85% lean because I prefer the texture and flavor over ground turkey breast. I made patties and sprinkled them on both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder, then fried them in a grill pan, so the fat could drain off. I served them with the rice noodles and let the kids choose from the items above.

Thursday: leftovers/convenience
Thursday is usually leftover night and we rarely have trouble meeting the demand. It’s a great way to clean out the fridge, too. I was concerned there may not be enough this week for leftovers night, but as usual my fears were unfounded. My husband was worried, too, so he made a quick salad with white beans, chopped red onion, chopped tomato, and apple cider vinegar.

I keep an extra bag of ravioli in the freezer, just in case one of these weeks I’m right.

Friday: gnocchi
While doing my fridge inventory, I noticed a lot of russet potatoes. A lot. Why do I have so many russet potatoes? Same reason I tend to collect packages of baby carrots: their potential as a fill-in. You can pair a potato with any kind of meat or fish, and they are great in any form (baked, roasted, mashed, in soups, etc).

I made gnocchi once before and was surprised at how easy it was. Easy, but labor intensive. I use this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/gnocchi-recipe2/index.html. I learned to boil the gnocchi immediately after forming them otherwise they can get mushy and you will have to re-shape them. Not as much fun the second time around.

Anyway, it’s a good way to use those potatoes and the extra calzone sauce from Tuesday. If I can find some turkey sausage hiding in the freezer, so much the better. I plan to add a can of diced tomatoes, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese to the sauce.

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