School Year’s Resolution 1: More Freezer Dinners

September 5th, 2012 · 38 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning

You should see The List right now. In addition to the usual suspects (book doctor appointments, contact accountant, hire business partner!!!, “garage sale!!!!!”) there are all those tasks that have the distinct whiff of self-betterment, the kinds of things usually reserved for New Years. Does this happen to you? Do you get the Clean Slate feeling every September? Do you find yourself making silent resolutions to yourself in the Starbucks line like “Make More Freezable Dinners” or “Eliminate All White Foods” or “Call More, Text Less” or “Stop giving so much money to Starbucks.” Well, apparently a good number of you do, because upon my return from vacation, my DALS inbox was filled with requests for posts like these: (I’m paraphrasing)

How do I shop more efficiently?
How do I squeeze in exercise when I have kids, a job, and the need to sit down at some point during the course of my 18-hour day?
How do I cook with sustainable fish without mortgaging my life?
How do I serve more vegetable-based dinners without alienating the meat-eaters at my table?
How can I help you sell as many Dinner: A Love Story books as possible?

OK, so maybe that last request I might have made up. But the other issues are very very real so in the next week or so I’ll be addressing them and any other back-to-school resolutions you may want to discuss here on DALS. Well, except for resolutions about fondant. I will not be able to provide any assistance with fondant.

You can either email me those requests directly or comment below. In the meantime, here’s one answer to my Make-More-Freezer-Dinners Resolution. I made a big old pot of this pulled BBQ chicken for Andy’s birthday dinner party last spring (alongside some pulled pork, quick-pickled onions and jalapenos, and lots of slaws). In addition to being an excellent Make-Ahead Menu, I happened to notice that the pulled chicken froze exceptionally well. So my resolution this week is to make a pot of it on Saturday, freeze in small, thawable stashes (flat ziplocs!), and then be prepared for any dinner situation this school year decides to throw my way — late trains, babysitter cancellations, ridiculous amounts of extracurriculars and all! Warning: Freezer Dinner Ambition Subject to Waning.

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

1 cup barbecue sauce (bonus points for homemade, which takes 15-20 minutes, page 238 Dinner: A Love Story)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 chipotle pepper in adobo (not adobo sauce, just a single saucy pepper)
6 to 8 boneless chicken breasts (2 pounds-ish), halved if they are large, salted and peppered
Potato Rolls (slider or sandwich)
pickled onions and jalapenos (optional)

In a large heavy pot, mix together barbecue sauce, cider vinegar, onion, garlic, bay leaf, and chipotle. Add chicken and enough water to cover (about 2 cups), whisking water with barbecue mixture until it’s blended. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred with two forks. Bring the sauce to a boil until it thickens and reduces, another 10 minutes. Once it reaches desired consistency (should not be as liquidy as show in photo above — I was losing my light! I had to act fast!) stir in chicken. (If you want to freeze for a later use, allow to cool at this point, then spoon into zip-top bags and flatten slightly so they are easier to thaw.) Otherwise, serve chicken on potato rolls (sliders are always fun) with pickled vegetables (or jarred pickles), your favorite slaw, or shredded sharp cheddar.

For the super-ambitious, here’s how to quick-pickle some onions with jalapenos: Bring 2 cups water, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, and a heavy pinch of salt to a boil in a saucepan. Add red onion slices and cross-sectioned jalapenos and simmer, uncovered about 3 minutes. Drain and cool to room temp. Serve on top of pulled chicken sandwiches. I don’t want to overstate things, but…Killer.

And Just for the Heck of it…A Basic Cole Slaw

In a large bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup cider vinegar, dash of Sriracha, 3 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise, ½ teaspoon celery seed, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Shred half a head of green or red cabbage (5 cups) as thinly as possible. (With a mandoline or the shredding disk of a food processor.) Add to the dressing and toss to combine. Toss in a little chopped cilantro. Serve right away.

PS: If I knew anything about slow-cookers, I might suggest adapting the chicken for that use, too.

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38 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Divya // Sep 5, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Love this! I have a 1-year old so we don’t have the back to school buzz yet, but I too feel a sense of ‘clean slate’ as soon as September hits!
    Wait…business partner? You’re hiring? Oh pick me! Pick me! :) I would love just to be a fly on the wall during dinner time at your house! :)

  • 2 melyssa // Sep 5, 2012 at 11:55 am

    My kids and hubby would be so happy if they could pull this outta the freezer one evening when I’m off teaching ballet to cats. I think the pickled onions look even better though!

  • 3 Reynaul // Sep 5, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Love this idea! I have a 1 year old and a 19 year old, so I have always felt like September was the month for resolutions/clean slate more so than New Years! If you need a recipe tester, I don’t live in New York but I can certainly help you out!

  • 4 Heather Arnold // Sep 5, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Thanks for the meal suggestion. I was actually researching freezer meal recipes yesterday in preperation of Baby #2 coming in December so that I could have some things on hand and be more prepared! I am skeptical sometimes of freezer meals because rarely does anyone give freezing directions or it is a lot of processed canned foods that go in and I want something a little bit more upscale! Thanks!

  • 5 Laura // Sep 5, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Speaking of adapting things to the crock pot: I strategically equipped my husband with the DALS book, opened to the pork ragout recipe, and a crockpot, and a defrosted port shoulder. All night that yumminess simmered away…and we had a lovely dinner the next evening. Works wonderfully just as written in DALS, with crockpot on low for an extended period.

  • 6 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag // Sep 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    WOO HOO girlfriend you’re on FIYAH (that’s f–i-r-e, oh I’m sorry, I don’t know why I try to be funny ever) — anyway, loving new posts from DALS, yay happy day! I’m with you on the Sept renewal, I feel it much more so at this time of year more at any other time. I’ll be making this recipe this week. Probably tomorrow! Thank you!

  • 7 Ruth // Sep 5, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    regarding ways of selling more DAL cookbooks: have you thought of putting either/both the Name of your book or your web address on the BUMPERSTICKERS?

    I attached my Make Dinner Not War bumperstcker onto a sheet magnet before affixing it to my car, by the way. That makes it easily removable for washing the car. I see everyone reading it when I’m on the road.

  • 8 Sara // Sep 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Not a question on the return to fall, exactly, but I am curious about how the ‘summer of self-sufficiency’ ended up working out? I loved the idea of it and the initial post, and I wonder if this ended up being embraced in the house? Any chance of a recap of how self-sufficient – or not – they became?

  • 9 Renée // Sep 5, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Thanks for the freezer recipe, Jenny! Am furiously nesting as I get ready for maternity leave and baby #3 so this will be perfect. Quick question: How do you store the pickled onions? Do those go in the freezer too or do you keep them in a jar in the fridge?

  • 10 Charissa // Sep 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    i did (am doing) my part to help sell books…before I found the DALS site, I found your book!
    http://iamhappytoseeyou.blogspot.com/2012/08/8162012.html

  • 11 Ashley // Sep 5, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Now if you could just tell me how to fit numerous freezer meals into my tiny nyc size freezer, we would be set! :) I have dreams of suburbia and an extra freezer in the garage (*sigh*).

  • 12 Eileen // Sep 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Freezer dinners are definitely a necessity at our house, even though there’s no schooling to consider. I love the pulled chicken idea!

  • 13 Jessica // Sep 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    I am also wondering about the quick pickled onions and jalapenos. If I am storing them in the fridge should I keep them in their liquid? Can’t wait to make this!

  • 14 erinn johnson // Sep 5, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    This would be a hit in my house. I make so many meat free dinners that they always love a little beef or chicken in their diet. This would also be perfect used for tacos and perhaps even over some rice one night. So many options.

  • 15 anna // Sep 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    hooray, for back to school! i’m totally going to make this in the slow cooker and i will let you know the results. i am obsessed with my slow cooker.
    i love the idea of freezer cooking, but am not so great on the execution either. however, i have found it is easier for me to just double recipes when i have time and am already making dinner. i do the same when i make pancakes on sautrday mornings. then i just freeze the leftovers. i did that with your black bean burritos from the book. it has worked out great for weekend lunches.
    also, i made the fish cakes last night and they were a huge hit with my 3 1/2 year old. apparently, “anything cake” is the secret marketing tool with that little dude.

  • 16 Susan // Sep 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Thanks for the freezer idea – so needed at school time. I’d love some vegie centric ideas too. I do have a question – when you store your freezer meals in plastic bags do you ever worry about the plastics leaching into the food? Do you cool your food first?

  • 17 Arturo // Sep 5, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Could try this with some tacos

  • 18 Victoria // Sep 5, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    I propose the next (or maybe last) chapter for your book: cooking-for-your-aged-parents-who-live-nearby-and-need-nutritious-meals. I provide meals for my 82-year old mother who just needs a little help in the kitchen. I too work full-time (literacy coach), work out, have no children at home except for retired husband. I usually just make a bit extra and save some for her, but her nutritional needs are different than ours. Any ideas?

  • 19 Madame Fromage // Sep 5, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    I heard about your blog this morning from a friend — I was eating eggs, sipping coffee, when she told me how her new live-in beau was obsessed with your blog (and your book). So, after I got all my work done today and cleaned off my desk, I sat down to have a look at your site as a little treat. I’m here eating a big bowl of grapes and loving what I see. Your site is beautiful, inventive, inspiring. Thanks for that. You have a new fan.

  • 20 Debbie // Sep 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    Jenny I feel so comforted by this post and also when I have Lazy Bolanese in my freezer!

    I hope you do many more of these posts!

    It is so nice to know I have something wonderful in the freezer when best laid plans fall apart!

    thank you!

  • 21 Tina I. // Sep 6, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Just had a batch of your husband’s “Almost First Place Chili” last night that I pulled from the freezer in a big flat frozen ziploc:-)

  • 22 Kerry-Ann // Sep 6, 2012 at 8:55 am

    You read my mind! September/back to school time is my “resolution” time of year. I’ve been thinking about freezer meals now that we’re back into the full swing of sports, piano and dance with little time to cook in-between. I’ll be making this on Saturday :) LOVE pickled onions and jalapeños-yum! So glad you’re back, missed your posts.

  • 23 Jane // Sep 6, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Amen to freezer meals. Also on my list this of tried and true to make and freeze this week; a batch of pork bolognese (Everyday Food) Ina Garten’s French Lentil Soup (I add the parmesan rinds rattling around the cheese drawer) and a big ole’ pot of Oaxacan black beans (NYT 3/9/09) Then bring on the soccer practices!!

  • 24 Stephanie // Sep 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Oh my, The September list. It rivals the December to-do list, I think. Can’t wait to try this freezer dish! I like to also stock up on chicken breasts, pork tenderloins and/or flank steaks and freeze them right in a marinade – preferably Asian marinades. The meats soak up the marinade as they defrost and in my neck of the woods, we can grill out just about all year.

  • 25 Jenny // Sep 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks for all the questions!

    RUTH: The bumper stickers DO have the URL on them now. You must have an early batch.
    http://www.dinneralovestory.com/bumper-stickers/

    SARA: Self-Sufficiency experiment went really well, thanks for asking. Still many more things to tackle (so there will be a sequel for sure) but the baking was a nice gateway!

    RENEE & JESSICA: I’ve never tried freezing the pickled onion & Jalapeno, and I’m sure it would work, but it takes literally 10 minutes to do the quick pickle, so I advise saving that last task for dinnertime. (You have to do something when you sip your wine, right?)

    SUSAN: Embarrassed to admit I hadn’t thought of the BPA issue with freezer bags — but I always wait to cool anyway, so I guess it hasn’t been much of a problem. Definitely allow to cool to be on safe side.

    CHARISSA – THANK YOU!

    And thanks to all the direct email requests, too. If I haven’t gotten back to you yet, I will very soon.

  • 26 Jen // Sep 7, 2012 at 8:28 am

    This sounds great–quick question: boneless or bone-in chicken breasts? Thanks!

  • 27 Caroline // Sep 9, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    I conquered my fear of raw meat and made this. It was delicious, and my husband was thrilled to have a non-veggie meal for once. We ate half, the other half is freezing in ziplocs!

  • 28 Jen // Sep 9, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    I make almost this exact same chicken on a very regular basis for my family, and I do it in the slow cooker. Typically, this is how it goes: throw all ingredients into the slow cooker in the morning, and set to cook on “low” throughout the day while I’m gone. When I get home, I pull the chicken out, shred it, and keep it warm, while I pour the sauce into a pan on the stove and reduce it there. We usually serve it just on buns with regular pickles, but I love these pickle ideas, too! (Just finished the book, btw–really enjoyed it!)

  • 29 Darlene // Sep 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    How many onions and jalapenos?

  • 30 Anne // Sep 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    I am trying this for dinner tonight! Also, I was happy to learn awhile ago that Ziploc brand bags are BPA free:
    http://www.ziploc.com/Sustainability/Pages/Safety-and-Plastics.aspx

  • 31 Melissa // Sep 27, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Hi there. I stopped by the site today to catch up a bit and ended up here. This is exactly what I needed. My wife is having a baby very soon, and I feel an intense need to get food in the freezer NOW, particularly things our 3 year old will also eat. I always have trouble thinking beyond soup. Thanks for the inspiration — and thanks to the commenters for additional ideas of what to freeze. Like one of your other commenters, I have a tiny Brooklyn freezer, but I’m determined to evict all of the other tenants of the freezer. Popsicles? Frosty mugs for beer? Forget you! It’s time to feed the family.

  • 32 bridgit // Sep 28, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    My son approaches any new food with a ready made grimace. He loves potato leek soup, he love corn on the cob, in quesadillas, etc., so I thought corn chowder would be ok. He was ready to freak out, but I let him pick out his own bowl (a tiny little ramekin) and he got to slice the cheese sticks to go on top. When we sat down to eat, he tried a little, then a little more, and ended up eating three (tiny) bowls full. Needless to say, I’m glad I made a huge pot… we’ve got a full dinner’s worth in the freezer. I read your newsletter. Do I win Placemat Art?

  • 33 Michele M // Oct 9, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Love it!
    I Liked Bodum on Facebook. Do I win the Newsletter Prize?

  • 34 Sarah Y. // Oct 22, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Mmm, made this tonight to rave reviews! I combined this recipe with a recent tip that I found on Pinterest — using the KitchenAid mixer to shred chicken. You can use the triangular-kinda mixer paddle thingie (which is of course the technical term). It worked like a charm. (Apparently the chicken has to be warm, though, or you’ll break your triangular-kinda mixer paddle thingie.)

  • 35 Sherri // Jan 2, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    HI! I just recently discovered your blog and book and have become obsessed! Your ideas for dealing with picky eaters has been life changing for me and my daughter! Is there a way to add a “favorites” or “recipe” section to your blog? I see so many things I like and would like to store them somewhere on the blog for easy reference. For now, I’m filling up the blank pages in your book with recipes I’d like. Just a thought! BTW, your book is my new “go to” bridal/baby shower present! Thanks!

  • 36 Jodi katz // Sep 3, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Is this a silly question– but does the recipe for pulled chicken sandwiches call for boneless chicken or chicken on the bone?? Would love to try this for dinner tonight!

  • 37 Sasha // Oct 23, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    I found this recipe on the Wednesday Chef and what a find! Seriously, this chicken. I’m not usually one to look forward to eating the same meal multiple days in a row, but for this pulled chicken I made an exception.

    I used homemade peach ketchup instead of bbq sauce for the recipe and it was all kinds of magic. Now, of course, I’ll have to try it with classic bbq sauce as well.

    Thanks for this weeknight star.

  • 38 Elemjay // Nov 27, 2013 at 1:41 am

    I too was inspired after seeing this on Wednesday Chef and made this last night – really great, loved it! I normally much prefer chicken thighs to breasts but this dish really needs the strands of meat – can’t wait to finish the leftovers!

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