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Please help with (specific) ideas for frozen dinners?

**ETA: I guess what I'm really looking for are relatively healthy, well-balanced meals like a TV dinner, but homemade. Something with meat, starch, and veg all included that can be heated in the microwave only**

I'm trying to stock the freezer. Today I came into a surplus of BLSL chicken breasts and several beautiful pieces of filet mignon.

I've been freezing meat and thawing overnight to cook fresh for dinner, but the bf's job has changed slightly and he is working off hours for the foreseeable future. One day he'll be home at 3 PM and the next his boss needs him til 10 PM. So it is difficult to gauge when he'll be home for a fresh cooked meal.

He looks for things that can be pulled from the fridge or freezer and reheated in the microwave in a few minutes. So I need recipes that are already fully cooked and can be reheated without the oven.

I already stock the freezer with homemade meatballs and sauce, and a few different types of burritos which he loves (they are all meat free incidentally).

I'm kind of stumped, especially regarding the filets.

He's a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Nothing gets him happier than a steak and baked tater with all the fixings. At the same time, he also likes to eat light(er) and the most excited I've seen him over a dinner recently was a quinoa/veggie/pesto dish I whipped up.

No food allergies/aversions except for a dislike of shellfish and spicy foods wreck his stomach (so no chili or curries).

Any ideas? THANKS!

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  1. Stroganoff or stirfries with the filet - it's a shame but if you want microwave reheating, it's best to have the beef cooked all the way through. Stirfries for the chicken too, and chicken a la king. Just made the latter the other day. Serve over toast, or rice. You can always poach the chicken and use it in dinner salads which could be assembled ahead of time, but not dressed until mealtime.

    4 Replies
    1. re: greygarious

      Thanks greygarious, but a question: So for stir fries, would I just cook the whole thing (i.e. sliced chicken/beef, veggies, and sauce), then freeze it all cooked? Can I freeze it on top of cooked rice, or should I freeze rice separately?

      For the poached chicken, would I poach it, shred, and freeze like that? Then thaw in the micro?

      I've never eaten much from the freezer, so I'm a bit confused.

      1. re: nothingswrong

        Yes, you can freeze the stir-fries with the rice included, and the chicken shredded or intact. Just think of what meals are available frozen at places like Trader Joe's, and use those as guidelines for candidate dishes. Will the texture be the same as just-made? No. But the list of foods that are terrible frozen and reheated is short. Potatoes come to mind. Mashed is okay but chunks in things like soups and stews exude lots of water and become chewy-spongy in an unpleasant way. Some people think frozen latkes reheated in the oven are good; I don't.

        1. re: greygarious

          Okay, thanks. I am trying to picture the frozen dinners I used to buy and go from there. The bf won't let me prep anything for him when he gets home late--not even tossing together a salad for a side dish. But I hate to have him keep eating meatballs in marinara and frozen slices of homemade bread for dinner. I feel like there ought to be something green in there!

          Ideally I'm hoping to be able to freeze more rounded meals in their own containers that he can nuke just like he would a TV dinner from the grocery store (but hopefully it'll be healthier and taste better).

          I'm definitely going to give the stir fries a go; he loves Asian flavors. Thanks!

          P.S. I feel ya on the frozen latkes. Blech.

      2. re: greygarious

        Why is it best to have steak well done if it's later going to be MWd? I regularly reheat rare steak and keep it rare.

      3. Fin fish which has been commercially frozen when fresh holds up well and can be cooked from its frozen state relatively quickly. He may prefer red meat but it's healthier to eat fish once in awhile.

        1 Reply
        1. re: GH1618

          He does like fish, and we've done some frozen fish before. Just right now I'm up to my eyeballs in chicken breasts and filet mignon, so looking for ideas for those.

        2. Chicken pesto lasagna rollups, as recommended by juliejulz, once cooked, these freeze & microwave reheat beautifully.
          from Confections of a Foodie Bride
          http://www.jasonandshawnda.com/foodie...
          - Do take time to make as rollups – not as balanced or pretty when made flat in 8x8
          Note that for the white sauce, you want
          2 tablespoon unsalted butter - recipe said 1, but that's not std white sauce and also
          2 tablespoon all-purpose flour - recipe said 1, but that's not std white

          5 Replies
          1. re: MidwesternerTT

            Thanks MTT, I've seen these referenced a billion times and bookmarked them somewhere.

            I know it might sound nuts, but is there any decent substitution that can be made for the ricotta? I don't have any and am hoping to avoid YET ANOTHER trip to the grocery store. I'm sure he'd love these though, so if need be, I'll grab some tomorrow.

            Thank you for letting me know they reheat well in the microwave.

            1. re: nothingswrong

              I actually made them with fat free small curd cottage cheese, in place of the ricotta. Worked fine.

              Note that these start with cooked chicken, so there's a step in there first (poach your chicken breasts).

              1. re: MidwesternerTT

                Perfect. He loves cottage cheese and I think we have several containers right now.

                I did notice the poached chicken. Thanks!

              2. re: nothingswrong

                As a ricotta sub, any other mild cheese even if it's not as wet, or hummus, or other pureed beans.

                1. re: greygarious

                  I have a ton of mozzarella and was thinking of maybe subbing in that in a lesser amount... I need to use it up ASAP. Thanks. I think that dish will be good no matter what I sub in.

            2. You also might try various "salad in a jar", as the sides for him. He can dump out the salad and start munching it while his main dish heats.

              1 Reply
              1. re: MidwesternerTT

                I was doing this religiously for a couple months but the salads kept going to waste so I gave up buying salad greens altogether. He tends to eat huge loaded salads for lunch, so although he'll happily eat them when I serve them to him, he won't grab one on his own out of the fridge.

              2. This sweet potato pork stovetop stew is terrific, holds well in fridge, can be frozen. We're spice wimps and omit the adobo - sounds like you would, too. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9188...

                1 Reply
                1. re: MidwesternerTT

                  Sounds yummy, maybe I'd have to make it with chicken, as he doesn't really eat pork except for bacon. Not sure why, I've just never ever seen him eat pork for some reason. Bookmarked.

                2. I say you freeze portions of quinoa mixed with pesto like what you made that he loved, and then either freeze already grilled chopped veggies mixed into it or add blanched almost raw veggies that will become slightly more cooked when reheated.

                  Something like stuffed peppers would be good- either a rice/lentil/veg combo or whatever meaty version he likes, and while that is defrosting he could assemble a quick fresh salad from the fridge.

                  Enchiladas also freeze well, you could freeze versions baked in those individual loaf sized disposable tins and obvs leave out any too spicy ingredients, and use whatever meat he likes or that works best.

                  I recently saw a cafe that sold those chicken sausages that they had baked with a bready dough twirled around it- maybe it was pizza dough? Not totally enclosed. They were sold with a cup of marinara sauce for dipping. I'm sure you could bake and freeze those.

                  Freeze containers of beany meaty thick tomato sauce that he can have ontop of a microwaved "baked" potato.

                  For the meatballs and sauce you already have they don't always have to be served on pasta- he could add them to some premade polenta from a tube you keep in the pantry, add just the meatballs to a fresh salad for a lighter meal, or have them over thick toast as a messy open faced sandwich.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Ttrockwood

                    Yes, thanks for the ideas T! I was hoping you'd see this. The bf does like to eat vegetarian a lot of the time.

                    I've been Googling about freezing quinoa with mixed results. So you think it would be okay to freeze it mixed with the pesto? But freeze the veggies separately? I guess I could lay the pesto-quinoa in a dish and put the veggies in a Ziploc on top, then cover the whole thing.

                    I was also just looking at stuffed pepper recipes, and I have 2 extra peppers in the fridge. Will try that out as well.

                    He's been buying frozen enchiladas lately (Amy's) which he doesn't like much but "they fill the gap." I know he would love homemade chicken enchiladas.

                    The sausage/pizza dough thing sounds similar to the calzones and Stromboli I make occasionally. I make pizza dough, fill with cheese/veggies/meat, bake, then cool and freeze with little containers of marinara. There is still one left in the freezer, so I'm not sure if he doesn't like them much or what.

                    And usually he reheats the meatballs with a few slices of homemade French bread which I freeze. He just pops them in the toaster while the meatballs heat, then makes these little sandwiches :)

                    Thanks for all the ideas!

                    1. re: nothingswrong

                      Trader joes sells packets of frozen cooked plain quinoa that are kind of awesome, so i know it "works". I would just mix the pesto into the quinoa bf freezing, maybe keep veg seperate since they could take longer to heat through.

                      Amys actually used to (still does?) make a version of a beany veggie kind of pot pie that had a cornbread top to it that i ate a lot of in college- i figure an already cooked saucey beany veggie mix, cornbread batter ontop and bake it then freeze.

                      Enchiladas freeze great since they are saucy.
                      And yes, it was a lot like a stromboli or calzone but just half as much dough involved.

                      For veggies frozen grilled veggies reheat pretty well. And instead of buying and tossing delicate salad greens maybe make a massaged kale salad or slaw of some sort- either stays good for days and actually gets better, or he could take what isn't eaten with dinner for a lunch. I've been known to toss aging basic massaged kale salad with olive oil and lemon into a veggie soup....so no waste regardless. A slaw of cabbage/carrot/fennel with scallions and raw corn off the cob in a vinegrette can be treated the same way.

                      Ps
                      I bet if you used tofu ricotta (http://m.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/...
                      )In those roll ups that would work too.

                      1. re: Ttrockwood

                        Okay, thanks for the info. I'm definitely going to do a quinoa/veggie thing for days where he doesn't want something so heavy.

                        The bean/cornbread pot pie sounds like something he'd love. I made some small chicken pot pies a while back and he's got one of those left too, but I can try something like that one next time.

                        He LOVES kale salad, though he eats them for lunch most days. Either kale or spinach salad, or some combo of the two. But maybe it would be wiser to just keep kale around in the fridge instead of delicate lettuce since it will indeed keep longer and I can repurpose it more easily if it starts to go off (sauté it, add to soups, etc.).

                        Thanks for all these ideas!

                        1. re: nothingswrong

                          Yes, kale, swiss chard, nappa cabbage, and collards are all hearty enough and versitile enough to prepare in a ton of ways.
                          Another lighter idea would be collard wraps- just cut out the stem and fill with whatever (like your extra Bscb, some quinoa, and the pesto you made anyways) roll up tight like a burrito. Microwaving them later is actually perfect because the freeze and defrost will make the collard wrap tender...

                          1. re: Ttrockwood

                            That sounds like a great idea. I don't have any greens here right now but will keep it in mind for next time. He loves anything with a wrapper (like a burrito or empanada), so I think that would go over well!

                  2. Minestrone soup - loaded with cooked veggies, add in your chicken, shredded or chunked, for the meat eater.

                    Lots of ideas for food that keeps several days in the fridge at the link here, although that poster was trying to avoid freezer meals. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9661...

                    1. No specific recipes, just a technique suggestion.

                      Thinking back to a Top Chef Miami? episode where they had to make their own frozen meal in a a sack (one of those very sponsored episodes) and the ones that came out the best were the ones where they individually froze all the components and then portioned later. So cook, slice, and freeze everything, then assemble into containers.

                      1. I'm not certain from your post how much cooking you're contemplating--that is to say, how much prep work prior to saving the results in meal-sized portions. But as you've mentioned buying meats/poultry, I'll assume you're fine with the prep work.

                        Much of what comes to mind for me involves separation of starches from the meat portions. Alas, potatoes do not freeze well. But rice and even cooked pasta can go some way.

                        Ideas:

                        1. Braised meats or other moist-cooked ones freeze well. Stews, stroganoffs. chicken paprikash, chicken cacciatore, pulled pork (from shoulder/butt cut), or also less spicy versions of chili and curries go in this category.

                        2. Also, I often make extra rice with the intention of using day-old cooked rice for fried-rice dishes, which reheat well for several days from the fridge and which also can be frozen. Apart from the usual Chinese-style fried rices, which emphasize soy sauce and sesame oil, consider making Thai-style versions (my preference), which I make using homemade or store-bought chile pastes with garlic, onion, eggs, and various other little flavor notes (dried shrimps, lemongrass, galangal, cilantro).

                        3. Soups! With some bread on hand, these rule.

                        4. Enchiladas portion out easily and freeze pretty well.

                        5. Roasted whole chicken or turkey can be eaten from for days.

                        6. For the fridge, I often make a "base" for salad consisting of those drier elements that do not hurt each other when kept in a large Tupperware container in the fridge for days: lettuce, carrots, peppers, celery, cucumbers (with the wetter inside scraped out, or just use English style cukes). Then I put in many other items best stored until showtime: tomatoes, feta cheese, chick peas, olives, pickled peppers, etc. I also usually have in the freezer some pre-cooked ("grilled") frozen chicken strips, which thaw quickly and can be added into the salad, e.g.:

                        http://www.tyson.com/Products/Grilled...

                        Those chicken strips are not my favorite given their additives, but their convenience is not to be sniffed at in a pinch.

                        p.s.: consider getting a vacuum sealer like FoodSaver if you mean to do a lot of freezing.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Bada Bing

                          Thanks for the suggestions. I definitely do not mind prep work. The meatballs I freeze for him take hours and hours (obviously not all hands-on), and the individual chicken pot pies take a while too what with making the crusts, filling, baking, cooling, etc.

                          I was thinking of fried rice last night but wasn't sure how well it would freeze. Back when we started dating, he'd often go get a huge bowl of fried rice takeout and just eat that for dinner. I know he loves it.

                          When I was a kid, my mom used to buy us these frozen meals from Costco that heated in the microwave--they had fried rice on the bottom of the bowl and some kind of protein on top (usually like teriyaki chicken). I could've eaten those things daily. I'm thinking of putting something together like that. I know he would adore it.

                          Soups sound good, and I make some great ones, but I don't think he'll want them til the weather cools down a bit. It's still in the high 90s here.

                          I've had a FoodSaver in my Amazon cart for ages; probably time to bite the bullet and get it! Thanks!

                          1. re: nothingswrong

                            Fried rice / spiced cooked rice freezes well. I don't put scrambled egg in mine.

                        2. As someone who has spent A LOT of time eating from the freezer - both because I freeze surplus for lunches and future dinners and because Mommy loves me and stocks he freezer for me - (so I will admit with the internet cloak of anonymity but she is a VERY good cook so....) the hardest part for me is the starches - so many dishes freeze well with omitting the potatoes, rice, pasta or other grains and so many if frozen combined reheat into glop. Forget pasta, it just defrosts poorly. Good bread freezes OK and warms up great if a toaster of oven is used, potatoes do ok mashed and even better if they are mashed and baked etc but chunks of potato frozen = bad.

                          my thought is focus on slow cooked tender meat dishes - stews, pulled pork, coq au vin - there are a lot of choices here - other sauced dishes like chicken masala etc freeze ok too.

                          Separately have portions of rice/grains/bread frozen for defrost and reheat - these can be combined at will

                          also, dont discount the simple pleasure of soup and sandwich - if you have frozen soups and the makings of sandwiches on hand sometimes after a long day's work that is a great comfortable meal

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: JTPhilly

                            Thanks JT. Your mom sounds like a sweet lady :)

                            I'll look into some stews and braises.

                          2. For all of the below, you can add a simple vegetable on the side. Lightly parboil (broccoli, green beans, snow peas, peas, baby corn, etc) or roast (carrots, beets, cauliflower, etc), season (butter, or garlic butter, or a bit of lemon juice and herbs, or sesame oil, or a soy sauce) and freeze in the container next to the meat and starch. Undercook the blanched vegetables slightly, so they don't go mushy.

                            For meat + starch...

                            Chicken cooked with tomatoes, onions and mushrooms, tossed with a chunky pasta (cook the pasta al dente or it will turn to mush in the freezer).

                            Cooked filet served with double baked potatoes.

                            Chicken with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, served over rice.

                            Fillet served with mushroom sauce and served over mashed potatoes.

                            Grilled chicken served with spanish rice.

                            Fillet cooked with cumin and garlic and a bit of lime juice, served over fried rice and beans.

                            Chicken stew with tomatoes, corn, onion, beans, cilantro, lime juice and rice.

                            Filet served over roast root vegetables and potatoes, seasoned with herbs and garlic.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                              Twice-baked potatoes are decent frozen (after the first bake/mash/fill) and reheated in the microwave for the 2nd bake. Since one baked potato innard, mashed, fills only one half-shell, we like these with mashed-microwave-baked sweet-potato in the other (mash with butter, brown sugar and optional cinnamon).

                              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                Great, thank you for these ideas! They sound like perfect "TV dinner" type dishes.

                                I forgot about twice-baked potatoes. I've heard those do freeze well. I make them regularly for us, so I'll give those a try in the freezer.

                              2. We like this mustard-y sirloin steak and pasta with green beans warm as a one-dish meal. We omit the blue cheese. It is good as a cold salad, too, as intended by the recipe. http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/sirlo...

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                  Thanks MTT. He would love this dish. I think I'll make it for dinner tonight, since he said he wants some of the steak and I have all the other ingredients in the fridge.

                                2. Woo, what a bunch of cooking!

                                  So far I've made:

                                  -Chicken enchiladas, sauce entirely from scratch. They smell wonderful and are stuffed with a mixture of chicken, cheese, cilantro, and a cream/tomato sauce. They are packaged 2 to a container and cooling in the fridge.

                                  -Breaded chicken fingers. The bf asked for these. They're coated in panko and a parm/asiago blend with seasonings. I'm thinking of doing a bed of mashed potatoes and some sweet corn to go along side.

                                  -Chicken and veggie stir fry. I did sliced chicken breast, broccoli, and julienned carrots and red peppers. The sauce is a sweeter one I know he'll like with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, cornstarch, etc. Packed on top of cooked white rice.

                                  -Quinoa and grilled veggies. I've cooked them all off and they're cold in the fridge; still need to make the pesto to mix it all together.

                                  -Chicken lasagna roll ups will be finished later (I need a break). Need to make the pesto and tomato sauce and assemble; chicken's already poached and cooled in the fridge.

                                  I still have all of the filet to cook and another 2 lbs. of chicken. Holy cow! Thanks everyone for your help so far.

                                  Today I've learned I need a bigger freezer.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: nothingswrong

                                    Impressive!! He will be well fed for quite a while!

                                  2. Freezer meals I make for my Mom:

                                    Chicken and Roasted Red Pepper Corn Chowder
                                    Ham & 14-Bean Soup
                                    Mac & Ham & Cheese
                                    Beef Stew
                                    Pork and Apple Cider Stew

                                    The soups can be served with some hunks of bread and a salad and dinner is served (or at least it is for Mom and me!). A salad for the mac & cheese, boiled potatoes and carrots for the stews.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                      Thanks Linda! The mac/ham/cheese will have to go into the rotation. The bf will love it.

                                      I'm going to check out some beef stew recipes as well.