Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fixin' Freezin' Feastin'

As much as I love to cook and eat vegetarian, it is much more difficult to eat-and-go.  When you want to eat fresh, healthy food, it requires a little more planning, prepping, and cooking time.  Last summer (prior to my conversion) my dear husband bought me a cook book called “Fix Freeze Feast” by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik.  This was my introduction to the world of cooking in bulk. 

Although the idea sounded great (spend a day prepping food that will feed you for many future meals) I never really got around to trying it until now.  The only caveat, over half of the cookbook has chapters titled “chicken, beef, or pork main dishes” and I no longer partake in these.  (There are a few pages of “meatless mains”, although most contain dairy.)  So I adapted. 

The concepts still apply (taken from “Fix Freeze Feast”)

1) Get Organized…plan ahead what you are going to make
2) Consolidate ingredients…pick what’s on sale and what you can buy in bulk
3) Go shopping…buy in bulk if possible
4) Prep your food
5) Label and assemble containers of food to freeze
6) Cook your food at a later time and enjoy!

For the past few weeks I loosely followed the above guidelines.  A few weeks ago I had a craving for lasagna, which I have not had in months.  I did a little searching online for recipes and couldn’t find one in particular that I liked.  I decided to just wing-it and see what I could come up with…which was rather dumb brave of me since I was planning on cooking in bulk.  The plan…shop for random vegetables and assemble them into two lasagnas, half vegan and half vegetarian with cheese (for the hubby). 

I came home with:

1 red bell pepper
2 zucchini
1 package fresh spinach
2 boxes of no boil lasagna noodles
1 container ricotta cheese (for him)
1 container Tofutti cream cheese (for me)
1 package frozen chopped spinach

What we already had at home:

4oz container fresh baby bella mushrooms (leftover in fridge)
4 cans of tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
1 package shredded Italian cheese (for him)
1 egg
Various spices
Red wine

When we got home I put Jason to work making sauce.  He makes amazing spaghetti sauce (I never knew that people actually made spaghetti sauce from scratch until I met him, Prego was all I knew).  While he was busy at the stove with the sauce, I started chopping away.  I ended up with a mixture of the red bell pepper, mushrooms, and zucchini which I sautéed with a splash of olive oil, some veggie broth, and a little red wine.

As this was cooking up on the stove I mixed up the cheesy fillings for our respective lasagnas…Jason’s consisted of the typical ricotta mixed with an egg and 1/3 of the pack of thawed and drained chopped spinach (on the top), mine was a mixture of the container of Tofutti cream cheese with the remaining 2/3 pack of spinach (on the bottom).

After all three components were ready (sauce, veggies, and cheesy filling) I started assembling the lasagnas.  We decided it made more sense to do two pans with half vegan and half vegetarian with cheese.  This way we could freeze one assembled pan before baking it, and have one pan for dinners that week.  I started with a little sauce on the bottom to help prevent the noodles from sticking.

(I continue to do each step with both pans but will only show one in the upcoming photos)

I then added a layer of noodles and veggies.

Sauce was poured over the veggies.  I added a layer of fresh spinach leaves and some Italian cheese to Jason’s side.

Next came another layer of noodles along with the cheesy fillings and more sauce.

This was topped with more noodles, and the first veggie layer was repeated (veggies, sauce, spinach and Italian cheese on Jason’s side).

The final layer of noodles was added and topped with the remaining sauce.  Jason’s side was doused with cheese, I added torn spinach to my side to further differentiate vegan vs. non-vegan (although I did sprinkle a little Parmesan on my side).

At this point, one lasagna went into the freezer while the other went into a 350 degree oven for an hour (I think it was an hour).  The results…

It was oh so delicious…although we both agreed we could have used more veggies.  I would say you could double the veggies (4 zucchini, 2 red bell peppers, 8 oz. mushrooms) and make more sauce (maybe 6 cans of tomato sauce?).  Either way, I really thought that the cream cheese sub mixed with the spinach was a good filling substitute for the ricotta.  It still has a similar texture, and you don’t miss the cheese as much throughout the lasagna.  I would also consider adding some vegan mozzarella on top.  

 Jason enjoyed his first vegetarian lasagna, I think it helped that he still had plenty of cheese on his side.  This pan of lasagna gave us four servings a piece which lasted through the week, and it reheated well in the microwave.  The frozen pan came in handy this last week which we heated in the oven for a little over an hour.  It tasted even better the second time around, perhaps the sauce had time to marinate the noodles and veggies?

So Round 1 of “Fix Freeze Feast” was a success.  For Round 2 we decided to try enchiladas.  I have made this recipe twice before, so I already knew it was a keeper.  I figured I would play it safe this time and make a recipe I knew we loved and would want to eat again and again.  The recipe is as follows found on

Quinoa and Bean Enchiladas

1 Green Bell Pepper, sliced (I used 2)
1 small Onion, sliced (I used 2)
1 Squash or Zucchini, sliced (I used 2)
4 cloves Garlic, minced
Cumin to taste
Chili Powder to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 c. cooked Black or Pinto Beans (2 cans)
1 1/2 c. cooked Quinoa (I cooked 1 ½ cups of dry quinoa)
1 c. Salsa
4 oz diced Green Chilies
Daiya vegan cheese, optional
10 - 6” Tortillas (will require more for future enchiladas)
20 oz Red Enchilada Sauce (I used 1 14.5oz can, will need more for future reheating)
1 Avocado, halved and sliced (omitted)
1/2 c. fresh Cilantro, chopped (omitted)

To cook-in-bulk for this recipe I doubled the veggies since chopping takes up a lot of the time in the prep work.  I took half of the chopped pepper, onion and zucchini and put it in a freezer bag for easy cooking in the future.  The other half was sautéed in a pan with a little olive oil, the garlic, cumin, and seasonings.

Meanwhile I started cooking the quinoa in the rice cooker.

After the quinoa was cooked I mixed it with the salsa, green chilies and 2 cans of black beans (we like a higher bean to quinoa ratio than the original recipe).

Once the veggies and quinoa filling were ready I began the assembly, a spoonful of quinoa mix and a spoonful of veggies in each tortilla and rolled it up.  I made one small pan for the freezer with no sauce (4 enchiladas) and one larger pan to bake that night (6 enchiladas).  We figured the frozen version might reheat better if the sauce was added just before baking.

I poured a can of enchilada sauce over the larger pan that was baked that night along with a little cheese (half real cheese and half vegan).

The larger pan then went into the oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

So no surprise to us, they were amazing yet again!  But what I was surprised about was how many left over and frozen enchiladas I was able to prepare in the same amount of time (about one hour of prep).  Here is what I ended up putting in the freezer.

This includes:
4 frozen assembled enchiladas (with no sauce)
1 bag of cooked quinoa mixture (half of what was leftover)
1 bag of frozen veggies ready to sauté

Between it all I figure we will get 14 more enchiladas (4 pre-made and enough filling and veggies for 10 more).  What a time saver that will be!  I think this type of cooking is the way to go.  I just need to be more creative in coming up with recipes that I can make in bulk.  Making it vegetarian/vegan is a little more challenging but definitely do-able!

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