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Table Talk: Hot from the freezer

Kenny Kemp
After a day in the Crock-Pot, an entrée of coq au vin provides a substantial meal for a busy family.
Reed Robinson
Fresh vegetables, beef and chicken form the basis of four freezer-to-Crock-Pot recipes.
Reed Robinson
Chopped ingredients and trimmed beef and chicken line the counter, where they'll be assembled, along with sauces, spices and canned tomatoes, to make four hot meals.
Reed Robinson
Freezer bags of Cuban ropa vieja (clockwise from upper left), coq au vin, Asian chicken and beef goulash will go into the freezer, where they'll be ready for a long simmer in the Crock-Pot to provide a quick, hot meal.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I've been reading about a Crock-Pot cooking strategy that's so simple I can't believe I'd never heard of it. Basically, you plan a menu for a bunch of Crock-Pot meals, compile a shopping list, and prep and assemble all the ingredients at one time.You plop the ingredients for each recipe in freezer bags and into the freezer. On the morning you're ready for a hot meal made with almost no effort, you empty the contents of a freezer bag into the Crock-Pot and simmer away.Think of it. In less than two hours of dicing, slicing, measuring and mixing would yield the makings of days of hot meals sitting in your freezer. What a thoughtful gift those bags would be for a harried new mom, sick friend or home-cooking-deprived college student. Or for you, of course.It seemed like most Crock-Pot recipes could be adapted to the freezer-to-Crock-Pot schematic.After a little research, I found some tips on what works and doesn't in the freezer-to-Crock-Pot world.Don't freeze sour cream, creams, cheeses and other dairy products, or delicate vegetables and fresh herbs such as green onions, parsley or cilantro. Stir those ingredients into the recipe at the end of the cooking time, or garnish on individual servings.Place wet ingredients in the bag first, seal and knead the bag to mix thoroughly before adding chopped vegetables and meats. Seal and gently shake or knead to coat them.For convenient dumping, place bags to be frozen inside bowls a little smaller than the Crock-Pot. They'll freeze in that shape and slip easily into the Crock-Pot when frozen.Chop and prep all your ingredients first and place then assembly-line style down the counter. Open whatever cans you'll be using. Uncap condiments such as Worcestershire sauce, catsup, hoisin and soy sauce, etc. Pull all needed spices out of the spice cabinet.Dump all ingredients in heavy-duty, zip-lock freezer bags -- this is not the time to skimp on bargain bags. Squeeze out as much air as possible. Place in the freezer.That's it. The entire process took me about two hours to prepare and package four meals: Cuban ropa vieja (steak), Asian chicken, Hungarian beef goulash and coq au vin. The two hours of prep time included kitchen cleanup, but not recipe research, shopping list compilation and the shopping.The research I've done for you. Recipes follow. I've also included a recipe for beef in red wine sauce I made recently and think would adapt easily for the freezer-to-Crock-Pot system. The shopping list and trip to the grocery store you'll have to handle yourself.Cuban Ropa ViejaYields 8 servings. Adapted from 2     pounds beef flank steak     1     tablespoon vegetable oil
     1    cup beef broth     1/2     teaspoon cumin     1/2     teaspoon oregano     2     teaspoons vinegar     1    8-ounce can tomato sauce     1    6-ounce can tomato paste
     1     small onion, sliced     1     green bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips     2     garlic cloves, chopped     1     teaspoon fresh cilantro, choppedCOMBINE oil, broth, cumin, oregano, vinegar, tomato sauce and tomato paste in zip-lock freezer bag. Seal and knead bag to thoroughly combine ingredients.PLACE onion, green pepper, garlic and beef in the bag, seal and shake to coat.EMPTY contents of freezer bag into Crock-Pot. Cover, and cook on high for 6 hours, or on low for up to 10 hours.TO SERVE, shred meat and serve with tortillas or rice and sprinkle fresh cilantro on top.Nutrition information: Per serving: 293 calories, 14.2 grams total fat, 4.8 grams saturated fat, 91.8 milligrams cholesterol, 4.5 grams sugars, 491.7 milligrams sodium, 7.3 grams total carbohydrate, 1.7 grams dietary fiber, 33.1 grams protein.Asian ChickenYields 4 servings. The original recipe called for 2 cups of frozen corn, which I thought sounded strange. I omitted the corn, and instead stirred in 1 cup of edamame just before serving. Adapted from     Juice of one orange     Zest of one half an orange     1    cup hoisin sauce     1     teaspoon fresh gingerroot, grated     6     boneless skinless chicken thighs      1    red bell pepper, seeded, de-ribbed and cut into strips     2     carrots, sliced     1    cup edamame     6     green onions, chopped     1    cup cashew nutsPLACE orange juice, zest, hoisin sauce and gingerroot in zip-lock freeze bag, seal and knead to mix.ADD chicken thighs, red pepper and carrot to the bag. Seal and place in freezer.PLACE contents of bag in a Crock-Pot.COVER and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours, or 4 hours on high.STIR in edamame just before serving.REMOVE chicken to a serving platter and top with green onions and cashews.SERVE over rice.Nutrition information: Per serving: 570 calories, 22.9 grams fat, 87.8 milligrams cholesterol, 24.1 grams sugars, 1,369.7 milligrams sodium, 65.1 grams carbohydrate, 6.8 grams dietary fiber, 31.3 grams protein.Hungarian Beef GoulashYields 8 servings. Recipe from 1     14-ounce can diced tomatoes     1    14-ounce can reduced-sodium beef broth     1     teaspoon Worcestershire sauce     3     cloves garlic, minced
     2    bay leaves     2     teaspoons caraway seeds, crushed     1 1/2     to 2 tablespoons sweet or hot paprika     1/4     teaspoon salt     Freshly ground pepper, to taste     2     pounds beef stew meat (such as chuck), trimmed and cubed     1     large or 2 medium onions, chopped     1    cup green and/or red bell pepper, chopped     1     tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water     2     tablespoons chopped fresh parsleyCOMBINE tomatoes, broth, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and bay leaves. Pour mixture into zip-lock bag, seal and knead to mix.MIX caraway seeds, paprika, salt and pepper.SPRINKLE seasoning mixture on beef, coating both sides.ADD beef to freezer bag.ADD onion and pepper.DUMP contents of freezer bag into Crock-Pot.COVER and cook until the beef is very tender, 4 to 4 1/2 hours on high or 7 to 7 1/2 hours on low.DISCARD bay leaves; skim or blot any visible fat from the surface of the stew. Add the cornstarch mixture to the stew and cook on high, stirring 2 or 3 times, until slightly thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve sprinkled with parsley.Nutrition information: Per serving: 180 calories, 5 grams fat (2 grams saturated, 2 grams monounsaturated), 48 milligrams cholesterol, 6 grams carbohydrates, 25 grams protein, 1 grams fiber, 250 milligrams sodium, 298 milligrams potassium.Chicken Coq au VinYields 6 servings. Recipe from 2     cups frozen pearl onions     4     slices bacon, fried and crumbled     1    cup sliced button mushrooms     1     garlic clove, minced     1     teaspoon dried thyme     1/2     teaspoon pepper (freshly ground)     6     large boneless, skinless chicken breasts     1/2  cup dry red wine     3/4  cup chicken stock     1/2  cup tomato paste     3     tablespoons all-purpose flourCOMBINE onions, bacon pieces, mushrooms, garlic, thyme, pepper, chicken breasts, wine and stock in a zip-lock freezer bag and seal. Place bag in freezer.COVER and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.REMOVE the chicken and vegetables from the Crock-Pot with a slotted spoon. Cover with foil to keep warm.POUR 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid into a small mixing bowl.INCREASE the Crock-Pot heat to high. Cover. In a mixing bowl, stir together the 1/2 cup of cooking liquid, tomato paste, and flour. Pour this mixture into the Crock-Pot. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until the liquid is thickened and saucelike.SERVE chicken and vegetables with the sauce ladled over them.Beef with Red Wine SauceRecipe from 3     pounds boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch pieces     1     medium onion, sliced     1     pound fresh mushrooms, halved     1     1.61-ounce package brown gravy mix     1    10 1/2-ounce can beef broth     1    cup red wine     2     tablespoons tomato paste     1    bay leaf     Hot cooked egg noodles or rice     Chopped fresh parsleyPLACE beef, onion and mushrooms in a 6-quart slow cooker.WHISK together gravy mix, beef broth and wine; pour evenly over beef and vegetables. Add bay leaf.COVER and cook on HIGH 6 hours. Remove and discard bay leaf.SERVE over noodles. Garnish with parsley, if desired.Reach Julie Robinson at or 304-348-1230. 
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