Cooking instructor and author Stephanie Stephens has developed a method to make home-cooked meals every weeknight.
Once a month she devotes a block of time to cooking enough dinner fare for at least 20 weeknights, then loads it all in an average-size refrigerator freezer. Each day she pulls out one entrée to reheat and serve with a salad or fresh vegetable.
It creates a big cooking weekend, but she saves time by combining prep work and grocery shopping. And she saves money by taking advantage of bulk bargains.
Inspired by Stephens's concept, we've organized 11 entrées ― from old family favorites to innovative international combinations ― into three recipe groups.
One set shares a lively tomato sauce:
Another stars with a huge batch of onions and garlic:
- Oven-Sautéed Onions and Garlic
- French Onion Soup
- Gruyère Croutons
- Chicken Pot-au-Feu
- Garlic Mashed Potatoes
- Lamb Shanks with Sherry and Onions
- Chard, Bean, and Pancetta Soup
- Lentil-Barley Stew
The third is a group of meats packed in simple seasonings:
- Moroccan Pork Loin with Dried Fruit and Lemons
- Soy and Ginger Flank Steak
- Grilled Rosemary-Mustard Lamb
Each recipe makes enough for two batches (except a leg of lamb, which is geared for a crowd or leftovers) to be thawed, one at a time, for a total of 21 entrées for family meals.
Next: Your weekend cooking strategy
Read all recipes and the game plan below.
Make a shopping list.
Buy groceries and supplies: You'll need:
- permanent marker
- 24 plastic freezer bags that are 1-gallon size, 4 that are 1-quart size, and 12 that are 1-pint size
- 8 foil pans that are 8 to 9 inches square, and 2 that are 9 by 13 inches.
This is the day you make tomato sauce, prepare the dishes that use the sautéed onions and garlic, and marinate the meats. Allow 8 hours total. (You'll want to reserve one of your dinners for tonight!)
Assemble all ingredients before beginning to cook. If you can, use a food processor to chop and slice as many ingredients as possible.
Prep while you cook:
1. Start oven-sautéing the onions and garlic.
2. While they bake, prepare and freeze the marinated meats.
3. When the onion and garlic mixture is done, season the lamb shanks with sherry and onions and put them in the oven.
4. As the shanks bake, make the tomato sauce.
5. While the sauce simmers, complete the dishes that use the onions and garlic, and freeze them (including half the lamb shanks). Cool tomato sauce, cover, and chill.
This is when you assemble and freeze all of the dishes using the tomato sauce, and the companion dishes: gruyère croutons and garlic mashed potatoes. Allow about 5 ½ hours total.
Package in freezer bags and foil pans
1. If ingredients include liquid, set each plastic freezer bag upright in a bowl, then fill.
2. Squeeze out all air and seal bag.
3. For better protection of frozen foods during storage, seal each bag inside a second one.
4. Lay bags flat in freezer until solid so they will stack.
5. Seal foil pans with a double layer of foil to protect foods for storage.
6. Label each dish with a permanent marker.
7. Make a master list of the dishes. As you remove each from the freezer, cross it off the list.
For best quality, freeze meat mixtures no longer than six weeks, others three months.
TO THAW AND SERVE
Overnight thawing: The night before serving, place container of frozen food in the refrigerator.
Quick-thaw: Heat frozen foods in plastic bags in a microwave oven at 50% power just until pliable, then cook as recipe directs or empty food into a microwave-safe container, drape loosely with microwave-safe plastic wrap, and cook at full power (100%) until steaming. Note: If your microwave accepts metal, you can also quick-thaw dishes frozen in foil pans; follow manufacturer's instructions.
Freezer to oven: Remove foods in foil pans from the freezer and place directly in a hot oven. Note that reheating times may increase dramatically with this method (see recipe notes).
More: 20 great chicken dinners