Cooking a Low Priority During Gardening Season? You Can Still Make Great Meals for your Family
If you’re anything like me (and I assume I’m not a totally unique weirdo…..although…….) Anyway, you probably HAVE to cook during gardening season, but what you really want to do is GARDEN! You can’t have takeout every night, so what’s an avid gardener to do?
This post is going to be a total departure from my usual. You see, I was doing some freezer cooking this morning to prepare for spring, and I thought I might not be the only one who does this.
During March and April, I try to get as many easy meals into the freezer as I can so that when gardening season really gets going, I don’t have to waste any precious outdoor time feeding my family.
OK, that sounded really bad, didn’t it? But, well, it’s kinda how I feel. So what’s a girl to do? Make some super-easy meals, that’s what!
Best Chicken on the Grill EVER!
I was given this recipe by my sister-in-law, Sue, some years ago, so I don’t know where it originally came from, but it is the BOMB! Tendy, juicy, flavorful, just YUM!
I’m apologizing in advance: I’m not a food blogger (as you all know!), so I don’t have the nifty plug-ins to make my recipes all pretty and printable. What I am going to do though, is create a PDF of the recipes I’m sharing with you. I’ll include it in the subscribers’ Resource Library as soon as this post is published, so be sure to sign up to receive my emails for access if you haven’t already.
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Marinated Barbeque Chicken (serves 4-6)
For the marinade:
- 1/2 cup oil (vegetable or olive)
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp dried onion
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 garlic clove, minced
Mix all ingredients together. Yup, that’s it!
- 1/3 cup wine or apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp ketchup
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
- 1/2 tsp dry mustard
For the chicken: You can use any boneless, skinless chicken. If you can get it already cut into tenders, all the better, but that can be expensive. If you get boneless, skinless breasts, just cut them into strips. You don’t need to get too picky, really any size is fine. One and a half to two pounds of chicken is what you’ll need.
Preparation: Here’s the beauty of this recipe. You just mix up the marinade, put the chicken in a freezer bag, pour the marinade over and freeze it. As the chicken thaws on cooking day, it marinates to absolute yummy perfection! I usually make 2-3 batches at a time and put them in my freezer. So easy!
On the grill: You’ll need to play with this a bit depending on what kind of grill you have and how big your chicken pieces are. I have an infrared grill, but I also have a grill pan that I use. This one is similar to the one I have. Set your grill to whatever temperature you typically grill your burgers.
I place the chicken on the pan, then drizzle the marinade in the bag over the chicken (be careful, it will steam up pretty good at that point. Don’t give yourself a marinade facial, please!).
I grill it for 5 minutes on the first side, then flip and grill for another 5 minutes. At that point, you’ll want to cut one of the thicker pieces and see if it’s done through. If there’s any pink, grill for 2-3 more minutes and recheck.
That’s it! Easy and absolutely delicious. My entire family LOVES this (and that’s saying something, it’s hard to get them all to like the same things!!) Grill up some fresh asparagus or some green beans from last year’s (or this year’s!) garden, make a salad, and you’re all set.
Beef Stroganoff (serves 4-5)
This next one uses a crockpot, one of my absolute must-haves for my summer kitchen. If you don’t have a crockpot, why not? I actually have 3. Yes, 3. But they’re different sizes, and there have been times when I’ve had all three going at the same time. So there.
I have both the above sizes. I tend to use the smaller one more because there are usually either 3 or 4 of us home for dinner, but if you have a bigger family, you might want to go with the larger one.
For the sauce:
- 2 tsp dried onion
- 1 can condensed golden mushroom soup
- 1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
- 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
- 1 8-ounce container sour cream
- 1 6-oz jar sliced mushrooms
- 1/4 tsp pepper
Mix the top 5 ingredients (minus the cream cheese and sour cream) in a bowl.
For the meat: 2 lbs stew beef. I prefer to cut it into smaller chunks before I put it in the crockpot, but that’s completely up to you.
Preparation: Just like the last recipe, you can place the stew beef in a freezer bag, pour the sauce over it, and freeze. I’ll be sure to have several frozen before summer because these are so good to have for an easy-to-prepare meal.
Cooking Day: Thaw overnight in the fridge. Place thawed ingredients from bag in crockpot and cook on low for 8 hours. (My crockpot is an older model, so if you have a newer one, you should check your user’s manual for recommended cooking times).
About 2 hours before serving, add cream cheese and sour cream. It’s best if you cut up the cream cheese a bit before putting it in the crockpot so it softens more easily. Stir and cook for 2 more hours on low.
Stir well before serving. Serve over hot cooked rice or pasta.
Tip: Both cream cheese and sour cream can be frozen. You wouldn’t necessarily want to use either in a dip where texture matters, but when putting into a recipe like this one, they work just fine after being frozen. Just remember to take them out of the freezer in the morning when you start the crockpot so they can thaw.
Hot Dog Casserole (serves 4 with leftovers)
Admittedly not the healthiest recipe ever, but I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like this. Although it takes a little bit of prep, the beauty of this recipe is that once it’s cooked, it freezes beautifully! I’m thinking I might make 2 or 3 full recipes (when nobody’s home to snitch any) and freeze a whole bunch of it at once.
Of course, I’m not sure how long it lasts in the freezer because, even if I freeze 6 or 8 containers, they usually disappear within a matter of weeks. <<sigh>>
- 2 packages hot dogs (Any kind will work, turkey, beef, natural, organic, whatever your preference)
- 2 28-oz cans baked beans (again, any brand or variety is fine)
- 1 can Campbell’s condensed tomato soup
- 2 Tbsp dried onion
- 1 16-oz package pasta (fusilli is nice, but elbows work too)
- Boil pasta according to package directions and drain.
- Brown hot dogs in frying pan.
- Add pasta, baked beans, tomato soup and dried onion to hot dogs in pan and mix.
- Simmer for an hour or so (again, it’s not crucial how long you do this, but an hour or so is good to allow the flavors to blend.)
- That’s it! IF you have any leftovers (and that’s a big IF!), you can just portion it out into freezer containers and pop it into the freezer.
**One note on the pasta: If you decide to make this recipe gluten-free, don’t plan on freezing it afterwards. The gluten-free pasta doesn’t keep well in the freezer.
Burgers and Brats on the Grill
I’ve also started stocking up on certain things. My local market (right across the street from my house, SCORE!) has the best meats in the world. This week, they’re having a big sale, so I bought 12 pounds of hamburger.
I made quite a bit of it into burgers and popped them into the freezer. Using something like the freezer containers below makes the process so easy. And who doesn’t love hamburgers on the grill in the summer? A side of potato salad (store-bought, of course, haha) and a nice salad (from your garden, right?), and dinner is ready in 15 minutes flat.
Hubby loves beef brats, so I’ll start stocking up on them too. I can just put them on the grill alongside the burgers (because I don’t like beef brats, LOL) and we’re both happy, plus then he has leftovers to take to work.
I also like to stock up on any frozen or canned veggies I might need. I usually have some left over from the previous summer, but my stock is getting low by now, so I’ll get a few big bags of frozen mixed veggies to have as a quick and easy side. Canned or frozen corn and carrots are also good to have on hand.
What about an Instant Pot?
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Instant Pot. It’s a pressure cooker (not a scary one like grandma’s that might blow up at any moment!) that makes dinnertime soooo easy! If you’re anything like me (and again, I can’t be the only one…..I hope), you sometimes come in from the garden at 4 and wonder what mom’s making for dinner at 5. Then you realize, “Oh gee, I AM the mom. Crud.”
If that’s you, you NEED an Instant Pot! You can put frozen solid chicken in it at 4 and you’ll have cooked, yummy chicken at 5. Even better, it doesn’t heat up your kitchen like the oven would.
This is the exact model I have, which is the 6-quart (the picture is a clickable link, if you’d like more information). It’s more than sufficient for my family of four, but if you have a larger family or want lots of leftovers, there’s an 8-quart model available.
Hard-Boiled Eggs in the Instant Pot
You know my favorite thing to do with it? Hard-boiled eggs. Go ahead and laugh, but seriously, try it.
Hubby takes one a day to work in his lunch, so I make a lot of hard-boiled eggs. In the summer, how much fun is it to stand over a pot of boiling water and heat the kitchen up to make a pot of eggs?
With an Instant Pot, you don’t have to. Just put the little stand that comes with it in the bottom of the pot, add 1 cup of water, place the eggs gently in the pot, close and lock the lid. Set the lid to “sealing”, then hit the button for manual and set the time for 7 minutes.
Once you hear the beeps that signify cooking is over, let it vent naturally for 12 minutes. By that time, it should be fully vented. If not, CAREFULLY vent it manually and open the lid.
I take the eggs out with tongs, as they’re hot, and place them in a colander. Run cold water over them for a minute or two, then place them in your fridge.
What’s even more awesome about this is that when you go to peel them, they peel like a DREAM! No more stuck shells on your eggs!
Note: I have noticed that I usually get a cracked egg or two when they’re done. It’s not an issue for us as we eat them so quickly so I haven’t really tried to solve it. I’m wondering, though, if you started with room temperature eggs, they might not crack. Let me know if you try it, I’d like to know.
Instant Pot Recipes
If you like, just do a simple Google search and you’ll get thousands of recipes for the Instant Pot. But if you prefer a physical cookbook, I have two that I particularly like: The Easy Freeze Instant Pot Cookbook and Instant Pot Obsession.
If you’d prefer an ebook and you happen to be eating Paleo (actually, even if you aren’t, the recipes are REALLY good), the Paleo AIP Instant Pot Cookbook is one of my favorites too. If you buy it, check out the Sweet & Sour Chicken and the Teriyaki Garlic Beef. So good!!!
Some other Wonderful Recipe Links for You
I really like The Family Freezer. There are so many wonderful recipes on the site, and they can be mixed ahead and frozen, just like most of the recipes I gave you above. The 12 Healthy Crockpot Freezer Meals and 10 Freezer Meals with Simple Ingredients from Costco have some awesome recipes! You do need to sign up for some of them, but the emails are not frequent or at all intrusive. It’s totally worth signing up to get the goodies with this one!
Here’s another one for you: 365daysofcrockpot.com. There are both Crock Pot and Instant Pot recipes on this site.
I must warn you, I just clicked over to make sure the site is still functional and up-to-date and now I’m hungry! The Instant Pot Creamy Parm Soup and Instant Pot Garlic Parmesan Bacon Chicken both look drool-worthy. I mean, really, garlic AND parmesan AND bacon all in one recipe????
Last but certainly not least, check out noshtastic.com. One of the recipes I make a lot from this site is the Instant Pot Sloppy Joes. These are SOOOOOOOOO good and super easy!
I have to admit that I altered the recipe, not in ingredients, but in prep. I cooked the meat ahead, added it to a freezer bag with all the other ingredients and froze it. When I wanted to cook it, I thawed it and put it in my crock pot on low for several hours to heat and blend the flavors. Another great recipe to prep ahead and put in the freezer for a day when you want to garden, not cook!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my recipe rundown for the busy gardener. Don’t forget, if you’re already an email subscriber, you’ll find my recipe PDF in the FREE Subscribers’ Resource Library. If you’re not a subscriber, please head here and subscribe. I will NEVER spam you, but you will receive a weekly newsletter with happenings around the blog and instant access to all the goodies in the Resource Library.
As always, comments and questions are welcome and will all be answered by me. You’ll find a couple of pinnable images below to save these recipes for later.
Smile and have a crazy organic day!