Ok, it’s not really fall yet. Sometimes I think the beginning school gives me minor seasonal displacement – I think the leaves should turn as soon as the first bell rings and stay colorful until the end of October, which is not actually how it works! But despite the calendar and the temperature telling me it’s still summer, class has started and that means my energy is being sucked up by my already incredible to-do list.
After spending all day pacing my classroom and kneeling to look at student work and projecting my voice and my presence in a room full of thirty other humans, the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook dinner! I usually avoid this by cooking family-sized meals on Sundays and eating the same thing all week long. This works brilliantly – I can go to the store once a week and have tasty, healthy food every day (although I will admit I am developing a serious bias to foods that keep well in the fridge).
That is, it works brilliantly until the weekend I’m not home. And knowing that I’m planning on making an effort to adventure and get outside more this school year, I thought I’d better plan ahead a little bit more. So this weekend, I’ve been creating meals-in-a-bag that can live in my freezer until the moment I need them.
Meal 1: Cajun Shrimp and Rice
When Safeway has 2lb bags of frozen shrimp for buy-one-get-one-free, this is always a good choice. I chopped up 2 plum tomatoes, 2tbsp parsley, and 1 bunch of green onions and tossed them in a gallon bag. I also minced 3 cloves of garlic and put them in a small zip lock with 2 tsp of Cajun seasoning.
When the time comes to cook this up, I’ll make 3 cups of cooked rice (which starts as 1 cup of uncooked rice), heat the spices and garlic in 1 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of olive oil, and cook the tomatoes, green onions, and 1 lb of thawed shrimp together before tossing all that tastiness in with the rice.
Meal 2: Quiche
Whenever I try to make quiche, I end up making enough for two fillings and I have to freeze some of it anyway. Doing that one weekend last year inspired me to always have some quiche filling and pie shells on hand for a super easy dinner. The only caveat with quiche is that it still takes about an hour to bake.
I chopped 3-4 carrots, 3-4 sticks of celery, a box of mushrooms, a yellow onion, a ham steak, and cleaned a bunch of baby spinach. All that became the “solid filling” bag. Of course, the variations here are endless. Bacon, crab meat, artichoke hearts, asparagus, and various other left-over bits and ends have all made it into my quiches before.
I also shredded smoked cheddar, Gouda, Jarlsberg, and and Fontina cheese. I will totally admit that I splurge when I get cheese for quiche. It’s totally acceptable to use normal Swiss and cheddar instead; I just also like snacking on the cheese. This should total four cups of shredded cheese delicious-ness. The cheese does need to go in a separate bag than the other goodies. (Note that this is all to prepare two nine-inch quiches; I’ve also seen this amount of filling used to make one deep-dish quiche.)
When I go to make the quiche, the things I need to have on hand are a pie crust (sorry Mom, I definitely buy them frozen from the grocery store…), 4 eggs, and 3/4 cup heavy cream. Once everything is thawed, the cheese gets mixed in with the beaten eggs and cream, the veggies and ham get tossed in the pie crust, and the egg/cheese mixture gets poured over the top. I cover mine in foil so I don’t toast the crust too badly, and I bake it on a tray for when the egg rises over the top, at 375F for about an hour.
Meal 3: Chicken Enchiladas
This was a huge favorite at home, but I almost never make it on my own because of the effort of shredding the chicken. Mom used make the filling ahead of time and freeze it to avoid that conundrum. Like quiche, this takes a while to bake even if the prep is done ahead of time.
This starts by boiling 3 chicken breasts for 15 minutes and then shredding them with a fork. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s worth it. Then I go on to chopping an onion, a red, yellow, and green pepper, and saute all of that together. I mix all of this with a large can of chopped green chiles, a cup of green salsa, 4 tsp of cumin, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, and 4 cups of shredded Mexican cheese. This is what lives in the gallon zip locks in the freezer until later.
When later happens, all I need to add are eight tortillas, chicken broth, and cream. I don’t ever remember how much chicken broth and cream, of course, but I do know they get mixed in equal parts and poured over the top of the enchiladas until I can see it at the edges. I bake this at 350F for about 45 minutes. If I’m feeling fancy I’ll have sour cream, salsa, and/or avocado to put on top when they come out of the oven.
Beyond the relief of having something to eat when I’m starving and exhausted, I love preparing food against hard times later. Last spring I re-read Little House in the Big Woods, and a significant portion of the story is taken up by Laura describing how her family preserved food for the winter. Their attic was full of vegetables and jams and cured meats.
None of the recipes I described today particularly take advantage of the seasonal vegetables, but I have done some other projects that do. Some ideas include: baking, pureeing, and freezing pumpkin or squash (which is handy for anything from scones to soup), canning jams, jellies, apple butter, and/or tomato sauce, and cooking and freezing spinach (this happens in the spring but is awesome for making saag).
Last year I wrote a bit about canning apple butter; the apples we got were from a friend in Steamboat whose apple trees went crazy. They didn’t know what to do with so many apples! But this year, a late frost killed all the flowers, and this fall there won’t be any apples. We had an interesting discussion about how it can be impossible to predict the weather and thus the crop production of years to come. Years ago, people just had to preserve as much as they could and hope it would last. Preserving food helps me tune in to the seasons and the environment, as well as our history.
Your homework: How do you usually use food to take care of yourself? What’s one thing you can do this week, related to food, to take care of yourself?