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Zesty Orange Chicken in the crockpot makes a great alternative to Chinese takeout. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Jessica Karley

Everday Gourmet: Prep and freeze recipes for your slow cooker

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As a working mom, I often run out of time and energy for meal planning each week. One great idea that I’ve seen floating around Pinterest is to spend one afternoon prepping an entire month’s worth of recipes for your slow-cooker.

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For those of you that haven’t seen those posts, you choose three to four recipes, multiply them by four or five, and place each batch into a freezer friendly Ziploc bag. Then, all you have to do is pull a bag from the freezer, place it in the slow-cooker, and head to work.

This method seemed like quite a task, but after giving it some thought, I decided that I could spend an hour or two prepping a few meals that would help to get me through some of the busier days of the month.

Even though it’s a very efficient way to produce your family’s meals, I still couldn’t see myself eating the same meals over and over again for an entire month, so I chose to only make two different meals.

Choosing a smaller number still allows for variety and gives me a chance to satisfy those last-minute urges and cravings. But, if that’s all you have time for, or if you are trying to control your grocery spending, I can also appreciate the ease and convenience of this plan!

Making these dishes takes a little bit of planning and a rather large trip to the grocery store, but it feels so good to get these packages put together and into your freezer! The recipes that I chose to make were Zesty Orange Chicken and Maple Balsamic Roast Beef.

I tried making the orange chicken a couple of different ways but found that my favorite, by far, was when the chicken was in seasoned flour and fried in coconut oil.

If you don’t have coconut oil, peanut or vegetable oil will work just fine, but I love the added flavor from the coconut.

I didn’t think that the breading would hold up in the slow-cooker, but it did. In fact, it also seemed to help keep the chicken pieces from drying out too much while ensuring that all of the delicious orange sauce was soaked in.

This sauce works well for the age range in my house, but it can also be made as spicy as your family likes by adjusting the amount of chili garlic sauce or adding crushed red pepper flakes.

Simply serve the chicken, vegetables and sauce over rice and be sure to pick up some fortune cookies for fun!

The roast beef recipe was inspired by my sister. Roast beef in the slow-cooker is not something that I’ve been a fan of in the past because the flavor always seems bland, but last week, she was discussing how she made a roast for the holidays.

She used a special maple-flavored balsamic vinegar, but for those of you that don’t have access to that, like myself, I tried to recreate her recipe the best I could.

I do recommend you make the recipe using 100 percent real maple syrup and not the “maple flavored” syrup that most of us are used to on our pancakes.

The roast beef in this recipe becomes extremely tender and can be served two ways. It is delicious served sliced on your plate with creamy mashed potatoes, or it also works great to remove the vegetables from the sauce, shred the meat with a fork, reduce the sauce down to 2 to 3 cups, and serve it as a pulled beef sandwich.

In the end, this turned out even better than I could’ve imagined. It worked great for budgeting because we made fewer last-minute trips to the store or spur-of-the-moment nights at a restaurant, and it allowed us to really spend time together.

This month, I think I’ll set a goal of preparing four different recipes!

Jessica Karley writes for the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald. She can be reached at everydaygourmetnd@gmail.com. Read her food blog at EverydayGourmet.AreaVoices.com.

Zesty Orange Chicken

  • 6 5-ounce chicken breasts
  • ½ cup coconut oil
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup thawed orange juice concentrate
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, fresh, minced
  • 2 bell peppers, large, dice (I use orange and red)
  • 1 small onion, large dice
  • 1 pound baby carrots

In a gallon-size Ziploc bag, add chicken, flour, salt and pepper. Seal and shake until all of the chicken is coated. In a large frying pan, melt coconut oil over medium high heat. When ready to fry, remove chicken pieces from bag and shake off excess flour. Fry on each side for 1-2 minutes or until the pieces turn a light golden brown. Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel. Set aside. In a small mixing bowl, combine orange juice, ketchup, brown sugar, chili garlic sauce, ginger and garlic. Whisk until smooth. Set aside. In a gallon-size Ziploc bag, combine bell peppers, onion and carrots. Place chicken pieces on top. Pour sauce over chicken and vegetables. Store in freezer for up to 3 months. When ready to cook: Remove contents from Ziploc bag and place in slow-cooker on low for 6-8 hours. Garnish with chopped cilantro, if desired.

Maple Balsamic Roast Beef

  • 1 4-pound eye of round roast (or any preferred beef roast cut)
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 small onion, large dice
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 8 ounces green beans, fresh
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup maple syrup, not artificial
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, fresh minced
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a gallon-size freezer Ziploc bag, place beef broth, vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Whisk until smooth. Add roast beef, butternut squash, onion, mushrooms and beans. Seal bag and place in freezer for up to 3 months. At time of cooking: Remove bag from freezer and place in refrigerator to partially thaw for 1 day. Place in slow-cooker for 8-10 hours on low.

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