right now

right now

Jul 22, 2010

Make do with what you have... Make Ahead Meals!

Make Ahead Mini-Stuffed Bell Peppers

I am always on a quest to find dinners to make and freeze ahead of time since most days I am too tired to cook by the end of the day and we all know how hard it is to get something decent on the table while the kids are screaming "when's dinner?" or "I'm hungry!". You would think they never got fed sometimes the way they carry on. I have no illusions that they will actually eat the following recipe, although I have a little bit of hope because... the little peppers are "cute"! Who knows?

The harvest: the peppers have officially started coming in batches of this amount every 3 days or so... what to do? Stuffed peppers, of course!

This year I am growing an Heirloom "'Lil' Yellow Stuffer"... not sure why it's called a stuffer, maybe the thickness of the walls? It's just as good raw! These just scream to be made in bulk and frozen however, they are about the size of meatballs. I am thinking I will use them that way, too, depending on what I stuff them with.

It was too hot to go to the store, so I just used whatever I had on hand. To the day's harvest of peppers and tomatoes, I added yesterday's tomatoes, some basil, shallots, a package of ready-heat rice & bean pilaf, and a baggie of ricotta mixture I had in the freezer from our last lasagna filling. That's the beauty of bell peppers, they will take pretty much anything you can stuff them with!

First, I diced some shallots and a few small tomatoes, sauteed them in olive oil. I added this in to a bowl containing the heated rice & bean pilaf package and the ricotta mixture. Stuffing: done!

I took the remaining tomatoes, blanched and peeled the skins off, added a bit of kosher salt and basil, and cooked down to make a sauce. Instead of slaving over straining the tomatoes, I just cooked the whole mess down in 30 minutes and stuck a stick blender in at the end. This only made a half pint, so easy was the goal here.

While the sauce was simmering, I cut the tops off and seeded all the peppers. This was by far the most time consuming part of it all, I would suggest a 2nd person to help, but I don't have that option! Then take a spoon and stuff all your peppers. I was lucky and had exactly enough stuffing for today's batch of peppers, not really sure how that worked since I don't measure!

Place your peppers on a cookie sheet in the freezer for a few hours. This pre-freezing is what gives you the "convenience" in convenience food. They don't stick together that way you only need to take out what you need for dinner.

After a few hours on the cookie sheet in the freezer, I put them in bags of 20, then placed those into a larger bag for extra protection. I don't use my Food Saver for things like this since I tend to be in and out of the bag frequently since these make a great side dish, too. Label, pop in the freezer and you're set!

Of course I had to try them last night...
I just took out what I needed, baked them at 350 straight from a frozen state until the peppers were soft, about 20-25 minutes, then topped with the sauce I made earlier in the afternoon. These particular ones had a southwest flavor since I used a rice & bean mixture, but of course would be awesome with most anything, meat, cheese, breadcrumb stuffing, etc. A new local gardening friend of mine brought a zucchini casserole to a BBQ last weekend that was delish, it had stuffing, shredded zucchini, shredded carrots among a few other ingredients and I am thinking peppers would be great stuffed with this too. We could all use a way to get rid of more zucchini, right? Full size peppers would make a great meal too, process is the same. I am thinking that these are so small I may even top pasta with them and use them just like meatballs.

All told, it took 1 person a little less than 2 hours from start to finish, which = the length of the kid's movie I stuck in to keep them out of my hair! Not bad, considering that I got at least 5 dinners from it into the freezer. Now what to do next with those peppers? It's not often that I am this motivated or that the kiddos actually sit still long enough for me to cook this much stuff!

I am thinking this is the perfect activity for a girl's night, with enough wine, hands, and peppers, this would take no time at all and everyone could leave with several dozen! (too bad I don't get to have girl's nights... just 5 & 7 year old boys nights LOL)!

What's your favorite make-ahead meal?


  1. Dang cute stuffed peppers! I do full sized peppers kinda sorta the same way. My filling is ground beef and rice (heavy on the rice) and seasonings. We still have several in the freezer from last summer. I either made too many or didn't pull them out of the freezer for an easy dinner often enough!

    I think my favorite make-ahead freezer meal (right now anyway) is Mexican Tortillas. Just a meat and seasonings filling wrapped in a tortilla. Freeze a bunch of these "logs" and then plop in a cassrole dish, cover with grated cheese and heat for 30 minutes. I serve with shredded lettuce, sliced black olives, chopped tomatoes, taco sauce, etc.

  2. I've been reading your blog for a while. Thanks for sharing your life as a military mom/wife. Those pepper look so yummy. I didn't know they made a small variety like that. I'm adding them to my list for my garden next year. I'm a newbie gardener so I only have a couple things growing this year. I love making freezer meals too. I made some stuff potatoes a while back, we ate the last of them last night.
    Easy recipe:
    Bake the potatoes (rub olive oil, salt and pepper on them for a crunch skin.,
    When done baking scoop out the "innerds" of the potatoes, mix with a can of green chilis (or some from your garden!) some froze corn kernels, chopped up green onions and sour cream or yogurt.
    Stuff the skins with this and sprinkle on some paprika. Flash freeze them. Then put them in freezer bags.

  3. Those little guys would make awesome party appetizers! How fun! My favorite freeze ahead meal is my Mom's Meatloaf! I make huge batches at a time and them bag them up for later.

  4. Hi there, I followed you over from Granny's blog. Those mini peppers are just about the most darling things I've ever seen! Your stuffed peppers look just divine, but if you get tired of eating them, there's always the raw option. Sliced into rings, those peppers would be so beautiful atop salads. Or maybe you can put them in fajitas or in some stir fry dishes?

  5. You guys are great! I am definitely going to do the make ahead meals you suggested!
    Mama Pea, I always make double the amount of chicken enchilada meat& chile mixture and freeze but I am definitely going to take that extra step and roll them too now.

    Apple Pie Gal, I think I may try some mini-meatloaves since the kids will eat it now LOL (daddy is deployed so everything is "mini"!)

    LB, thanks for commenting! Excellent idea! The kids, and especially I, love twiced baked potatoes but I have never frozen them before. The kids call them "potato boats". The seeds are from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. If you haven't seen their catalog, go online and request one, the photography and seed art is so amazing it's like porn for gardeners when it arrives in the dreary months of January, definitely my favorite!

    Thyme2garden, hello! Those peppers are cute, I think it will be a nice diversion as appetizers to serve when I have parties when some don't care for the spicy stuffed jalapenos. As for the rings, I am growing 4 varieties of bells this year so I already have a few gallon size bags of mixed colors of pepper rings! We will be having stir fry all winter LOL!

    I have been meaning to get serious about make ahead meals for awhile now, but big things like lasagna are just too much without hubby home. I have done stuffed jumbo shells and they work great, but now I have some great ideas to get started!

  6. Ooooh Stuffed peppers! Delicious. Freezing them is a great idea!

  7. These look awesome! We just bought a small chest freezer. Maybe I'll try this with the Poblanos I'm growing this year.

  8. Oh, awesome Erin!! Really awesome! You cook so much like me! ...only better! I would never have been able to come up with that sauce...BUT now I CAN!! ;) Thanks!

  9. My favorite make ahead would be chicken fajita filling with double peppers and onions. Mr. Granny won't eat fajitas, and I love them, so I keep containers of the filling, along with soft tortillas, in the freezer for myself. When he's craving his fatty brats, YUK, I have my meal all ready to heat.

  10. These are just the cutest things! And who doesn't love stuffed peppers!!
    Do you blanch the peppers first or just stuff em' raw? I've always been taught to blanche first, but HATE that step and wondered if it was really necessary.....

  11. The stuffed peppers are adorable. I have a tiny pepper variety this year called mini bell. So far, the "little rascals" (group of neighborhood kids between the ages of 6 and 9)have eaten them all, so I haven't had to figure out what to do with extras!