Make some freezer meals for busy season

Wow! Did it ever get cold in a hurry! I guess I was in a dream world thinking we would get several nicer warm fall days. Maybe we will get a few more, but we can’t depend on it. Old Jack Frost got the flowers, so I don’t have to be concerned about where to put them in the house and watering them all winter. Time for fireplaces and furnaces to be on, along with the soup pot and the oven. Of course, I am always behind. Now, if I work faster, the cold won’t be so chilling. But just convince old bones of that. Now, if those cold showers would have been white snow, it wouldn’t have been so disappointing. We get what we get and have to like it, so the sweaters are where the shorts where, just a short time ago.

Another shock was realizing that the holidays are almost upon us. November, already. Time to get the menu set for two of the most important meals of the year. This past week did see baking mixes being made and supplies being checked so that there will be no “running to town” for a missed ingredient at the last minute. Holidays are more enjoyable when one plans ahead and isn’t so very rushed. That is a good plan for all of us, if we can just get organized.

Before the season gets too hectic, it is a good idea to make up some homemade “freezer” meals. Several packages of meatballs or stuffed peppers are two items that keep well and are time savers when one is pressed for time. It is too easy to grab “fast food”, which is not the best for family members, but we do it if we aren’t prepared to have something that is quick at home. Save the “fast food” restaurant for an occasional treat and save grocery money by making your own “fast food” to serve at home. Watch for the grocery store sales, too. It is just as easy to make double, or triple, meals when you make one, and have one or two in the freezer for a busy day.

We are still in the “animal house” situation. Two of the cats have accepted the fact that they are “outside” cats. Husband Norm did make a warm place for them to “winter” in his workshop. One of them kept tormenting the dogs so she went outside to cut down on the constant barking and tearing through the house. A favorite kitty went to Kitty Heaven recently, so we are down to only four cats. A sweet rescue dog has joined our other four dogs, so we still have a houseful of animals. I still miss my “Chicken Ladies”, but I don’t miss having to care for them, especially when it is cold and wet outside. I don’t remember being this lazy when our family lived on a working farm, but then we didn’t have a houseful of pets. All of our pets were “outside” pets then. I guess that is what happens when the kids “age-out.”

As our recent rescue dog liked to test wiring, a new Christmas tree is needed for the holidays. That is one purchase that should not be left until the last minute if one enjoys a lengthy “well lit” season — so the hunt is on. The tree here on the hilltop is always enjoyed all year with the Christmas decorations taken off after Christmas season is over and other holidays call for different tree trimmings. (Some of the family think I am a little weird since I keep a tree up all year; they are probably right but the soft lights are just as pretty and calming on a summer evening as they are in the winter. And a big tree is hard to set up and take down.) When does that “second childhood” start?

The winning cooks in the cookbook contest were listed in last Sunday’s paper. They are all to be congratulated as the dishes were great. There are many good cooks in our area that will have recipes in this year’s cookbook, so be sure to try many of them, along with the winning ones. During this coming year, if you have a special recipe, do keep it to enter in next year’s contest. Being involved with the cookbook is a highlight of the year for me and it is great to meet so many of you. Keep up the good cooking.

The local Craft Shows are everywhere during this time of year. Try to do as much of your Christmas shopping as possible at these shows to support your neighbors. If you make some of your gifts, they are an excellent place to get new ideas, too.

So many folks have had problems due to the weather where they live, so try to help them in any way you can. Remember those who protect us and thank them. Hug your kids — they grow up so fast — and let them know they are always loved. Count your blessings and pray for our country and peace. God bless.

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MEATLOAF

5 lbs. lean ground beef

3 eggs, slightly beaten

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1/2 cup ketchup or BBQ sauce

3/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/3 cup dried parsley flakes

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups dry bread crumbs or rolled oats

1 clove garlic, minced or 1 teaspoon garlic salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients. Place in4 or 5 loaf pans or shape into 4 or 5 loaves. Bake in preheated 350-degrees oven for about 1 hour. Cool. Wrap for freezing.

Bake 1 loaf for a meal (add topping as per instructions below) and freeze the rest for up to 3 months.

To serve frozen loaves: Thaw. Heat with topping, in oven or microwave.

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TOPPING SAUCE FOR 1 LOAF

1/4 cup ketchup

3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

Mix together and coat meatloaf in last 15 minutes of baking.

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STUFFED GREEN PEPPERS

(For 4 servings)

2 large green bell peppers

1 can (8-oz.) tomato sauce

1/4 cup water

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon chili powder

1 meatloaf, thawed, large enough to fill 4 pepper halves, divided into 4 pieces

1/2 cup instant rice, uncooked

Cut peppers in half, lengthwise. Blanch in boiling water about 3 minutes. Remove from boiling water and drain, cut side down, on paper towels. Combine tomato sauce, water, salt, and chili powder and set aside. Lightly grease 9-inch square baking dish. Divide the thawed meatloaf mixture into 4 portions and place in the pepper shells. Place stuffed peppers in baking dish and top with the tomato mixture. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 40 minutes or until rice is pupped and tender.

NOTE: I prepare the peppers and place the meat loaf mixture in them when I make it, then freeze the entire thing. Bake the peppers like this, covered with foil, for about 1 hour to cook the meatloaf mixture. Either sauce can be used to top the peppers. I think this is easier than using the frozen meatloaf.

NOTE#2: I make several peppers at one time when I make the meatloaf mixture. One batch is for tomorrow’s meal and the rest are for freezing.

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GRANDMA’S RICE PUDDING

4 1/2 cups milk

3/4 cup uncooked rice

1 large egg

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

Nutmeg

Warm the milk in a medium-sized saucepan. Stir in rice and bring slowly to a simmer, stirring often, until the rice is tender, about 35 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt. Gradually stir in some of the rice mixture until well blended, then return the mixture to the saucepan and stir over medium-low heat for 1 minute to cook the egg. Pour into dish and sprinkle with nutmeg. Cool in refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.

(If she made it when we were watching, some of it never made it to the chilling stage — we liked it warm.)

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CABBAGE SOUP

5 slices bacon, diced

1 lb. fresh cabbage, chopped

2 carrots, sliced

2 potatoes, sliced

1 stalk celery, sliced

1 small onion, diced

1 1/2 quarts beef broth (or water)

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

Salt and pepper — to taste

Fry bacon until golden but not crisp in a 3-quart soup pot. Add vegetables and broth and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Blend flour into the butter and stir into soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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MOM’S LEMON CHIFFON CAKE

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup salad oil

5 large egg yolks, not beaten

3/4 cup cold water

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

7 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add, in order, salad oil, egg yolks, water, lemon zest, vanilla extract, and lemon extract. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, mix all together until smooth. In a large (clean) mixing bowl, combine egg whites and cream of tartar and beat (with clean beaters) until stiff peaks are formed. Slowly, pour yolk mixture over beaten egg whites and gently fold in until just combined. Pour into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake in preheated 325-degrees oven for 55 minutes, and then increase temperature to 350-degrees for 10 more minutes. Invert pan and let stand until cool.

(Memories of the fifties — Mom had just added this recipe to her cookbook and we had enjoyed it several times. For her birthday that year, I (age about 12 or 13) had made her a monster cake of about 6 or 7 layers. Of course, praises followed. Brother Bill (age about 8 or 9) felt left out, so he made her a cake with this recipe. Not having all the ingredients, he used whatever he could find. It turned out rather flat and semi-translucent, and of course, I pointed out the failure (sibling rivalry!). Mom still praised his effort and I did eat some of it. (Flavor was almost good.) Early stern lesson for me — do not to tease my brother!)

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Patty Christopher is a longtime columnist for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

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