Grim's Grub: If short on time, try these make-ahead meals
I've begun flirting with the idea of make-ahead meals.
Working two jobs, volunteering for the fire department and finding time to spend with friends, family and my dogs is ... problematic. Add to that the fact that I have to stop at some time to cook food and eat. The alternative, of course, is buying food from stores or restaurants, but who has the money to do that for long?
For my own experiments in premade foods, let's look at some of the staples of the busy family that can be found at any grocer. We'll separate this out by meal.
Breakfast: Breakfast burritos have always been one of my favorites, especially when my dad really wowed the family with homemade burritos. I am pretty sure I have already given instructions on making your own Toaster Strudels or Pop-Tarts (hint: pie crust, pie filling, bake, freeze).
Then there are yogurt cups they sell with toppings. You can achieve the same simple success with yogurt in a mason jar. It turns out those single-serve fruit cups at the grocery store come in sizes that fit perfectly on top of a wide-mouth jar. These can be filled with granola or high protein, high fiber cereal or similar toppings and then stored upside down on your mason jar to keep it separate from the yogurt until you want to eat it.
Lunch: I grew up with pot pies as an occasional treat at home. Hot Pockets were sometimes a nice treat, though I never did like any of them other than the pizza variety. Chuckwagons have always been one of my favorite road lunches, and those are easy too (buns, salami, ham, bologna, Swiss and American cheese; microwave in bag 45 seconds).
Don't forget Lunchables! These meat cheese and cracker trays are more adult than you think (called charcuterie, apparently). Finding compartmented bento boxes will make them more authentic. Your coworkers will be jealous if you bring homemade Lunchables to work.
Dinner: I've never been too fond of TV dinners, though it took me a while to really internalize their badness. Movies or advertising would trick childhood me into really wanting them once every year or two, and Mom would eventually cave. Lo and behold, Mom was right. I didn't care for them. They are truly the candy corn of dinner entrees.
If you have any cooking experience at all, however, you can use them as an inspiration to make TV dinners from your own recipes and I promise you your vegetables won't be as mushy, your turkey won't be as rubbery, your meatloaf won't be as greasy and your gravy won't be as chemical tasting.
There is nothing special to making these at home, so how a big company could mess it up so badly is a mystery. The basic formula is easy: protein, vegetable and starch. You can do roasted meat (pork, turkey, meatloaf, etc.), any vegetable that steams well and one of various potato dishes and you have a much improved TV dinner. You can also do entrees that have all these parts like stir fry and rice or pasta.
So, now we have our very own make-ahead foods for every meal, inspired as it were, by the meals we often like to buy at the store. Did I miss your favorites?
Ball Jar Pot Pie
- Leftover soup
- Two pie crusts
- 4 wide-mouth half pint jars
Line the jars with pie crust, using up one of the pie crusts. Fill the jars with soup. Use the second crust to make the top shell. Use a fork to crimp the edges together and poke one or two steam holes. Freeze. When hungry, put directly into a 350-degree oven for one hour.
This formula should equal somewhere just over 300 calories
- 6 crackers (go for butter crackers or something flavored)
- 6 slices of meat (summer sausage, sliced ham, hard salami)
- 6 slices cheese (pepperjack, horseradish cheese, smoked gouda)
- 1 100-calorie or lower treat from the Halloween section
Keep in sealable containers and eat for lunch or snack.
- 1 ½ cups flour
- 2/3 cup milk
- 6 tablespoons butter, cold
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
- Or use store-bought pizza crust
- ⅛ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried parsley
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ cup milk (for brushing)
- Pepperoni (try to get unsliced, and you can julienne it into small sticks)
- Mozzarella cheese
- Pasta sauce
Combine flour, salt and baking powder. Cut the butter into this mixture. Add milk and stir with a spoon before kneading approximately 5 minutes, adding more flour a tablespoon at a time until the dough doesn't stick to the sides of your container (not exceeding more than a cup of flour).
Cover and refrigerate.
On a lightly floured surface, roll this dough out into a 20- by 12-inch rectangle. Cut the dough into 8 squares, each about 5x6 inches.
Combine all spices.
In the center of your dough squares, add about 1 tablespoon of sauce,1 tablespoon cheese and ½ to 1 tablespoon of pepperoni. If you want more of any ingredient, you may customize the proportions. Fold the dough over the filling and press the sides down to pinch. Moisten them with just a little milk if they seem too dry to stick together. Try to shape them into rectangles with the filling evenly distributed.
Refrigerate these on a nonstick surface for 30 minutes. Once cool, brush your pockets with milk and sprinkle them with dry herbs. Bake these in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. Eat immediately, or freeze for use later.