First of all let me say this: I am lucky enough to have a standing freezer in my basement. If you don’t have freezer space, bulk cooking might not be a viable option for you. I use it to stock up on things when they go on sale, berries, homemade stock, etc. Every once in a while I get motivated to do a big bulk cooking day and stock the freezer with meals for those nights (and I know they are coming) that I don’t feel like cooking. I am a teacher, so August always fills me with a sense of new energy and purpose. I’m ready to start a new year. This year I will be heading to work full time for the first time in 8 years. Until now I have been able to plan meals and shop on days when most people are working. I could roast a whole chicken on a Tuesday because I was home. Times are changing and I need to have the peace of mind that we can still eat a nice dinner as a family every night, even though I will have less time to cook. I am a big fan of quick dinners. In fact I have a whole slew of recipes that can be made in 20 minutes or so in my Quick Dinners category. Sometimes 20 minutes even feels like too much work. My goal this year is to skip that weekly pizza delivery and pop something in the oven instead, straight from my freezer cache. We wait 45 minutes for a pizza, why not for baked rigatoni?
When I say a meal for four I am talking about two adults and two kids. If I were feeding four adults I probably would have made the servings a bit larger and ended up with fewer meals.
I am also lucky enough to have a black market turkey dealer who hand raises about 30 birds every year. This year I bought two with the intention of roasting one for Thanksgiving and one for all of those leftovers. I never got around to roasting the second one until this week. Remarkably the turkey had been in the freezer for nine months and was none the worse for wear. It was still as juicy and delicious as if it were November 2013.
So, I roasted the 24 pound turkey (more on the method later) and once I carved it and picked it over it yielded about ten pounds of meat. I estimated that I could make about 10-12 dinners with that amount. Then I started to think about what I could make in large batches and freeze in family size containers. I didn’t want to do too many different dishes: too many ingredients, too much time, too much work. So I settled on two different dishes, Turkey Rigatoni Bake and Turkey Pot Pie. Both freeze very well and both can go directly from the freezer to the oven to the table. My thinking is that if we eat one of these freezer meals each week and we alternate the dishes every other week, we won’t get sick of them. I ended up with a bit more turkey and threw together a couple of crustless quiches as well.
I ended up with a grand total of 15 meals. Here’s the breakdown:
- 1 dinner roasted turkey/potatoes and gravy the first night(couldn’t resist) approx. 1 lb.
- 5 9×13 pans of Turkey Rigatoni Bake approx. 3 3/4 lbs. (3/4 pound per container)
- 7 Turkey Pot Pies, 5 topped with traditional pie crust, one topped with biscuits, and one topped with tater tots (because I weirdly had only 5 pie crusts instead of the 6 that I thought I had, then I needed something to top it with and found tater tots in the freezer).
- 2 Turkey, Spinach, and Cheese Impossible Pies (crustless quiche)
- I also made stock with the turkey bones that yielded about ten cups which I used for the pot pies.
The time on day one was minimal- roasting the turkey was hands off, just throw it in the oven. Then it took me about half an hour to break it down and separate all the meat and bones. That evening I tossed the bones into a big pot and covered them with water. The stock simmered for about two hours while we watched Netflix.
Day two I took in two stages. In the morning I made the rigatoni. The whole thing took about 30 minutes from start to finish. It doesn’t take any longer to make a triple batch of tomato sauce, just a bigger pot. In the afternoon I did the pot pies. The filling and assembly took about an hour. I saved time by using store bought pie crust and frozen veggies that were already diced. Don’t judge, we are going for easy and efficient here, not haute cuisine. The two quiches took literally five minutes.
I hesitate to talk about cost per serving. I have seen on Pinterest lots of bloggers talking about prices of things and trying to give price per serving. It doesn’t make sense to me to include it here. What I spend on the milk or eggs or even the turkey could vary so much from what you might pay in another store or another state. I also believe very strongly in buying the highest quality food that I can afford. This means that black market hand raised turkey cost me a pretty penny. You could probably buy a frozen factory turkey for much, much less. I try to buy organic when I can afford to, so again you could make your version of these dishes for less. For me this experience was not about saving money (though it has and will) it was about saving time and energy during the upcoming months when I know I won’t feel like cooking and might be tempted to call Round Table.
Roasting The Turkey:
I am a big fan of turkey and I love a good brine. This wasn’t about having a pretty turkey to carve on Thanksgiving. It was just about getting a lot of tasty meat. I thought about using the crock pot, but the bird was way too big and I didn’t really want to try to cut it into pieces. Disclaimer: my method is not approved by any FDA standard or health department. I am just explaining what I did. You can choose to roast yours according to the FDA recommendations instead. So, here is what I did:
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the thawed turkey in a roasting pan, breast side up. No rack. Drizzle it with olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. I placed a bunch of fresh thyme in the cavity-optional. Roast at 400 for one hour uncovered. Remove the pan from the oven. Turn the entire bird over, breast side down. Cover the whole pan tightly with foil. Return to the oven. Continue to roast for a second hour. At this point I had to leave the house, so I turned the oven off and left the turkey inside. I returned to the house several hours later, hoping it would be done. The turkey was still quite warm, and completely cooked. Not only was it cooked, but it was super juicy and falling off the bone. Not only was it juicy, but there was also a good 3-4 cups of drippings in the pan. Score! Roasting it breast side down really helped keep the white meat from drying out. Many recipes will recommend roasting at a low temperature for a long time, but I have always found that roasting on high heat, whether it is chicken, or beef, or pork, for a short time, yields a juicier end product. Again, if my method worries you, don’t do it. I went about picking all the meat off and chopping it or tearing into bite-sized pieces. Then I covered it and put it in the fridge. I put the bones in a large pot, covered them with water and brought it to a simmer. I would normally add veggies, but I couldn’t be bothered. I let it simmer for two hours. Strained it and put in into the fridge as well. It had a nice, clear turkey flavor.
Day 2, Turkey Rigatoni Bake: Makes 5 13 x 9 pans
- 3 lbs. rigatoni or other pasta shape (farfalle would work well)
- 2 T. olive oil
- 3 yellow onions, diced
- 1 heaping cup carrots, diced
- 1 C. parsley, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 45 oz. plain tomato sauce such as Hunts (three 15 oz. cans)
- salt and pepper
- 3 3/4 lbs. cooked turkey, about 3/4 lb. per pan
- 10 C. fresh arugula or baby spinach leaves
- 2 lbs. shredded mozzarella cheese
Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling and cook the pasta until it’s nearly ready- it’s going to bake in the oven so you don’t want to overcook it. Drain and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook until the onion is almost transparent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Pour in the tomato sauce and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for about ten or fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, Arrange your 5 9 x 13 inch casserole containers on a table and spray them with cooking spray. Use containers that can go straight from the freezer to the oven, like foil or ceramic. Distribute the turkey evenly among the containers, about two cups each. Distribute the arugula or spinach evenly among the containers. Toss the sauce and drained pasta together and distribute it evenly among the containers. Stir the pasta, turkey, and greens together a bit, right in the pans. Sprinkle the cheese over the top, dividing it equally among the five containers. Allow the pasta to cool a bit before covering with plastic wrap. Otherwise the steam that’s trapped will continue to cook the pasta, making it mushy. Once cooled, wrap tightly with plastic, then cover with foil. It’s a good idea to label the foil so you can easily read what it inside. These will keep in the freezer for about three months. When you want to bake one, remove the plastic wrap, re-cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then remove the foil and continue to bake uncovered until the cheese is melted a bubbly. For faster baking, remove it from the freezer the night before and place it into the fridge, then by the time you are ready to bake it will be defrosted and bake in about 20 minutes. As a freezer meal, baked pasta is easy and very economical. You could replace the turkey with any cooked meat or sausage. Or, add some sautéed mushrooms and zucchini and make it vegetarian.
Turkey Pot Pie, makes 7 9 inch pies
- 1 T. olive oil, 2 T. butter
- 2 yellow onions, diced
- 3/4 lb. celery, diced, about two cups
- 2 lb. red potatoes, diced, unpeeled
- 2 lbs. mixed frozen vegetables (mine were carrots, peas and corn)
- salt and pepper
- 2 t. dried thyme
- 1 C. flour
- 9 C. turkey or chicken stock
- 1/2 C. cream
- 10 C. cooked turkey meat
- 7 pie crusts, rolled into 10 inch rounds ( I used Pillsbury)
Heat the oil and butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Saute the onion, celery, and potatoes for about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Cover and sweat the veggies for about ten minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and toss to coat. Cook for about two minutes, until the flour starts to take on a golden color. Add the stock slowly, stirring constantly. Add the frozen veggies. Bring the stock up to a boil and boil for one minute. It should start to thicken pretty quickly. If it doesn’t, you can try a 1/4 C. cornstarch mixed with a couple teaspoons of water until smooth. Stir the cornstarch mixture in and bring to a boil. Once the sauce is as thick as you like, stir in the cream, and turkey meat. Taste and adjust seasonings. A two crust pot pie takes much longer to bake, so I like to just cover the tops of mine. Arrange your 7 pie dishes or foil pie tins on a table and spray with cooking spray. Distribute the turkey mixture equally among all of the tins. Allow the mixture to cool a bit. Place a pie crust on top of each one and crimp to seal the edges. Cut a few vents in the center of each pie with a sharp knife. A great alternative to pie crust is biscuit dough. I just use Bisquick, cut it into rounds and place them on top. They take the same amount of time to bake, and the biscuits soak up that gravy on the bottom, yum. When the pies are cooled, wrap them in plastic wrap, and then in foil. Label the outside of the foil and freeze. Again, these will keep for about three or four months in the freezer. When you are ready to bake, remove the plastic, replace the foil and bake at 350 for one hour, removing the foil for the last ten minutes or so. When the crust is golden and the inside is bubbly, it’s ready. These are better if they go from frozen to the oven, don’t try to thaw them or the dough will be gummy.
Impossible Pie (crustless quiche) Makes 2
- 2 C. milk or cream
- 2 C. Bisquick baking mix
- 8 eggs
- 4 C. cooked turkey meat
- 4 C. baby spinach leaves
- 2 C. shredded cheddar cheese
Spray two 8 x 8 square pans with cooking spray. In a bowl mix the milk, Bisquick and eggs until smooth. Distribute the turkey and spinach equally into the two pans. Pour half the Bisquick mixture into each pan. Sprinkle a cup of cheese over the top of each pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze. When ready to bake, bake uncovered from frozen at 350 for about an hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. I have never baked one of these from frozen, so I am making my best guess at the time. If you have a different experience, please let me know!
This whole process took me about four hours total, and some of that time was just roasting the turkey. It’s going to save me a ton of time in the kitchen this fall. I can’t wait!