Sunday, May 2, 2010

Easy and simple meals (worth reading)

On Thursday I'm teaching a class on easy meal planning, preparation and cooking. I've had so much fun thinking and plowing through the hundreds of recipes out there. But it can get quite overwhelming, I just wanted to share all the great basics that help me get dinner on the table 5 times a week (yep I'm darn proud of 5 times a week!) And hopefully encourage others that it can be done even if you are not home to prep.

Drive by the drive threw, A little planning goes a long way with easy meal ideas, freezer meals and food prep! Just think of the nutrition you are giving your kids every time you take a moment to make a meal and skip the drive threw! To me it is one of the greatest "gifts" we can give our family.

One of the simplest strategies is to double or triple the recipe when you cook something that freezes well. It is just as easy to mix two pounds of meat as it is one so you can freeze a second meat for another night. Pasta sauce and soups take over an hour to simmer, but it doesn’t take 2 hours to simmer twice as much! Spend a few extra minutes layering a second lasagna or diving your soup for the freezer and not only will you have dinner for another night, but you’ll save yourself a lot of cooking time.

Another, simple strategy is to season your meats before you store them. Add marinade to chicken breasts, shape hamburgers and season your roast. When you move them to the fridge for cooking, the meats will marinade as they thaw. These quick, easy preparations can be done when you get home from the grocery store rather than at night when you are struggling to get dinner on the table. You can even prep ingredients for your meals.

Did you chop a whole onion, when the recipe only called for half? Onions and many other produce items freeze very well with no additional preparation. Store it in a freezer safe container for the next time you need half an onion. I often buy ground beef in bulk but rather than dividing the raw meat, I cook it all at once and freeze 1 pound packages. Think about how many casseroles and other recipes start with “Brown 1 pound ground beef.” Your first step is already done. That can go a long way towards getting dinner on the table quickly.

For meat preparations; Ground beef for tacos: I brown, drain, add taco seasoning and add black and red kidney beans (to boost up the nutrition) and then freeze in 1-2 pound portions. Now all I need is taco shells and fixings, easy! I also grill (all grilled recipes can be baked) huge amounts of chicken. If I've gone to the work of marinating and grilling chicken I always triple the amount. Once the chicken is grilled and cooled I cube into bite sized pieces and freeze in 1-2 pound portions. This way I always have cooked delicious chicken on hand. Just think of the endless possibilities. Chicken uses: salad, tacos, quesadillas, pita pizzas, soup or chili, pasta, really the options are endless. And now you have taken a huge chuck out of the meal prep. Even if you don’t have entire meals waiting in the freezer.

Some recipes: Crock pot

Creamy Peanut Butter Chicken

6 chicken breasts

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/3 Cup creamy peanut butter

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

3 Tablespoons orange juice

Add chicken breasts to ziploc baggie. In bowl mix all other ingredients together. Pour into ziploc baggie and seal tight. Freeze. When ready to cook, unthaw bag in refrigerator overnight and pour into crock-pot in the morning. Cook on low 6-8 hours.

Barbecue Chicken

1 whole chicken, cut up and skinless

1 Cup catsup

1 Tablespoon brown sugar, firmly packed

3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

In a small bowl blend together sugar, catsup and brown sugar. Pour into ziploc baggie and place chicken pieces into baggie. Seal and freeze. Unthaw chicken overnight and place in crock-pot in the morning. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve over rice.

Homemade tomato basil soup

This is a staple in my home during the cold months. I double or triple it it freezes well and sits in a crock pot well also. A seriously cravable soup. Serve with Parmesan cheese and bread sticks, or for the kiddos with gold fish and cheddar cheese. Serve with Salad.

In large sauce pot combine:

2 cans large crushed tomatoes (if you do not have a hand blender use tomato sauce)

1 qt. water

1 lb. softened cream cheese

1/4 cup fresh basil (or dried if fresh is unavailable)

1/3 cup sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Simmer ingredients for 1 hour then puree with hand mixer until smooth(or omit and have a chunkier consistency). Taste and re season as needed.

When I am feeling spicier. I add a little oil to the pan first and saute chopped garlic and onions. This reminds me of Zuppas version.

Molasses grilled chicken

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3/4 cup molasses

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon pepper

12 skinned and boned chicken thighs (or breasts, I only use breasts but feel free to adapt)

Combine first 6 ingredients in a shallow dish or large zip-top plastic freezer bag; add chicken thighs. Cover or seal, and chill 8 hours, turning occasionally.

Remove chicken from marinade, discarding marinade.

Grill chicken thighs, covered with grill lid, over medium heat (300° to 350°) 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until done.

Southern Living, APRIL 2005

Lemon Grilled Chicken

Serves 8-12

1 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp paprika

2 tsp basil

1/2 tsp thyme

1/2 tsp garlic powder

8-12 chicken breasts

Combine all ingredients. Marinate chicken overnight. Remove chicken from marinade and discard. Grill over med-high heat 5-7 minutes per side. This chicken is so tender and flavorful. You must try it. This is the one I use the most for freezing because the lemon flavor adds freshness to all other meals!

Pita Pizzas

Thai Chicken Pizza (my favorite, I LOVE LOVE LOVE IT)

This is such a winning recipe PLEASE try it, if the Thai pizza overwhelms you go for the cheese. I promise you'll thank me! Pitas- Costco has a great brand that is a great deal and never dry, called Pita Wrap the bag contains 10 pitas and is on the bread isle. (plan on one pita/pizza per person, I do make 2 for my hubby.)

For the Thai Peanut Butter Sauce

(There are a lot of ingredients, but once you buy them all you will be able to make quite a few thai recipes. A store as simple as Walmart has all these products, look on the oriental isle.) Also on my blog there is a amazing pasta that uses the same sauce.

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup chunky peanut butter

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce (if you don't have low sodium mix 1/8 cup soy sauce to 1/8 cup water)

3 tbs brown sugar

2 tbs rice vinegar

2 tsp grated, peeled fresh ginger (may use power instead)

2 tsp chili paste with garlic

4 garlic cloves minced

Combined and cook all ingredients in saucepan over medium and whisk until smooth, about 5 minutes. Set aside. I make this and save the extra in the freezer for next time. Remember I grill pounds of chicken at a time and then cube the extras and freezer. I use the chicken here. If you need, just bake chicken until no longer pink and cube.


Green onions


1 cup sprouts

1 cup sliced carrots

2-3 cups Mozzarella cheese (I love Costco's huge bag)


On a cookie sheet lined with tin foil (I've started spraying mine with pam, just to insure no sticking) place pitas. 3 will fit per pan. Pita is your crust, spread a layer of PB sauce (think pizza sauce.) Next add cooked chicken. Followed by green onions, sprouts, carrots and ending with cheese. This pizza is so flavorful I go light on the cheese. Now you can wrap in plastic and have a pre-made meal for a busy night just sitting in the fridge or freezer. Or bake at 375 for 5-7 minutes (if frozen add an additional 2-3 minutes cooking.) Finish with cilantro.

Now for the kids "SOOOOO easy pizza, you'll want to make it every night"



Sauce (store bought pasta sauce works wonderfully)

cheese (use your kids favorite kinds)

We stop here, but make what your family likes: pepperoni, ham and pineapple, bbq chicken, you get the idea.

Again line cookie sheet with foil and spray with pam. Then make you pizzas: pita, sauce, cheese, toppings of choice. Bake 375 for 5-7 minutes or until cheese is melted. K that was so easy the kids can even make them and you are keeping out all of the awful additives out of your food. And saving a chunk of change while doing it.

These could be made ahead and individually wrapped then frozen.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

4 servings

4 cups chicken broth

Generous dash ground black pepper

1 medium carrot, sliced

1 stalk celery, sliced

1/2 cup uncooked extra wide egg noodles

1 cup shredded cooked chicken or turkey

Heat broth, pepper,carrot and celery in large pot over med-high heat to a boil. Stir in noodles and chicken. Reduce heat to medium. Cook 10 minutes or until noodles are tender, stir often. Serve with crackers, rolls or bread.

Taco Soup

serves 6

1 pound ground beef

medium onion chopped

1 packet mild taco seasoning

16 ounces frozen corn

16 ounces kidney beans

16 ounces black beans

28 ounce can stewed tomatoes

8 ounces tomato sauce

Brown meat. Drain beans. Mix and stew all ingredients. At this point it can be added to a crock pot and cook on low for 2 hours or frozen. Serve with cheese, tortilla chips (lime ones are yummy) and sour cream.

Simple Tomato Spaghetti Sauce

1/4 cup oil (olive oil or veg)

1/2 chopped onion

2 cloves garlic minced

1 12 ounce can tomato sauce

1 6 1/2 ounce can tomato paste

1/2 tsp basil

2 tbs sugar

In large skillet heat oil onion and garlic until tender. Add remaining ingredients, simmer 20 minutes.

Add favorite sauce combos, ground beef, parmesan cheese, olives. And freeze. Usually plan on 1/4 cup sauce per person. Example: for my family I make 6 servings. So that means I need 1 1/2 cups of sauce for 6 pasta servings. I measure out 6 serving sizes and freeze in the quart size ziplock bags.

Strawberry Salad Dressing

2 tbs. red wine vinegar

3 tbs. sugar

1/2 cup oil (good quality)

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup strawberry jam (this is where I have fun, I substitute with blackberry or raspberry or boysenberry jam)

Combine all ingredients and whisk in oil in a steady stream. Dress salad just before serving. I make 2 batches of dressing and save the rest for a quick salad. We often just have a salad of grilled chicken, berries, and the dressing delicious. Possibilities: apples, crasins, mandarin oranges, pears, frozen berries, peaches.

Some freezer tips, and remember don't be afraid to try freezing your fav family soups, roasts, casseroles...

Freezer Cooking Tips

Label what your freezer meal is.

Rotate your freezer meals. New goes on the bottom of the stack or back of the freezer and older gets moved up.

Don't place your hot food directly in the freezer. Let it cool slightly, at least 30-45 minutes on the kitchen counter.

If you are adding your meal from the freezer to the oven, you will need to increase the cooking time.

If you are using potatoes combine with a liquid or moist ingredient. Potatoes don't always work well in freezer meals.

If you are including rice or noodles in a freezer meal, leave them out and add before cooking. Or under cook them slightly and make sure they're included in a sauce before freezing.

Include frozen vegetables, bread rolls, loaves of bread or dough for side dishes to your freezer recipes.

Try creating your own homemade frozen dinners by using dishes that are large enough to include side dishes. Place a meat and two side dishes in a freezer container and freeze. You have a healthy homemade frozen dinner for a busy night.

Some of my favorite sites and resources: 15 minute chicken, campbells kitchen, southern living (freezer meals), rachel ray 30 minute meals


ashley said...

Thanks Summer! this is an awesome post. You are so the go-to-girl for everything cooking related. Know whats awesome? Most of you recipes are dairy free and I can use them!!

Lisa Marie Trent said...

holy crap.

You freeze ALL of those?? That is so impressive. I'm dying for some of that Tomato Basil Soup right now.

runSUErun said...

Summer... I'm so glad you are doing a blog. Looks fabulous. Your freezer is rediculously organized! Can't wait to try your recipes out. Love ya cute girl. Tell your mom "HI" for me.

Tina said...

I'd like to use this great picture in a blogpost about meal preparation in general on my website ( May I? If yes, how would you like me to attribute the photo to you (name, website, and/or webpost link, etc.?) If no, I understand. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks, Tina.

Summer the krazy cake lady said...

Tina sure just credit the pic and post a link to my blog. Hope it works great.

Jenny said...

Thanks for your great ideas! I'm hoping to use your photo as well. Is this your freezer? Great picture. I will credit you and send readers to your site for more great freezer ideas. My website is If you have any great ideas on how to do a freezer meal group, I'd love your input on my blog. Thank you Summer! I can't wait to try out your recipes.

mandbrid said...

I found your link at and I am excited to try your recipes. I love how you label your bags on the ends....what a great idea! I hate having to dig through everything to find what I want because I write on the front of the bags - I'm definitely going to try it your way. Thanks!

Kiersten said...

I came over from Great tips & recipes. I am adding a few to my menu to try out. Thanks!

MommyLisa said...

I just found your blog and love it! I host a freezer meal group monthly/bimonthly and I'm always looking for new recipes! I can't wait until I have time to dive into your blog!

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