Simple meals are never so appreciated than during canning season. If you grow a garden, then canning can’t be far behind.
From sunup to sundown and beyond, you go from the garden to the sink to the stove. You are skinning, slicing, dicing and stirring. Feeding your family during canning season is necessary, but an unwelcome task.
Your stove is full of canning pots. The table is overloaded with cooling jars. And the kitchen is hotter than a bonfire. The last thing you want to do is stop in the middle of everything and cook a meal. But your family has to eat, so what is the solution?
Get your Crockpot Out
Setting up your crock pot at the beginning of the day will allow you to ‘cook’ dinner without having to heat up the oven. There are so many one-dish crock pot meals out there, the only hassle will be deciding which one to cook.
Soups and stews are a great idea. You can serve them with crackers, or take just enough time to heat up a loaf of fresh bread in the oven. To do this, plan ahead and make the bread the day before. Once it has cooled, wrap it in foil and place in the refrigerator.
When you are fifteen minutes from dinner being served, pop it in the oven. When it is time to serve dinner, set out bowls, plates and utensils, and have everyone serve themselves.
Red beans and Rice is also a great crock pot meal, as is spaghetti sauce, or barbecued ribs. All of these meals means you will need to free up a burner for either the rice or spaghetti, but both should only take about 20 minutes to prepare. Make clean up easy too, with disposable liners!
Simple Meals from the Freezer
It may still mean turning on your oven, but having a selection of meals in the freezer can save you a lot of time.
When you cook a casserole, double the batch. Have one for dinner that evening, and place the other one in the freezer. Be sure to label it, so you will know what it is a month or two down the road.
Enchiladas can be frozen, and make a quick and easy simple meal. Add a bag of chips and some salsa, and dinner is served!
An easy and delicious casserole is Chicken and Rice. Simply cube up cooked chicken. In a large bowl, mix the chicken with one small bag (or two cans) of mixed vegetables, 2 cups of cooked rice, 1/2 cup of diced onions, 1/2 cup of diced bell pepper, and one can drained sliced mushrooms (optional). Spice it up with garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.
In a separate bowl, mix one can of Cream of Mushroom Soup with 1/2 cup Sour Cream. Blend well, then add it to the chicken mixture, stirring until it is all blended. Pour mixture into a 13”x9”x2” greased pan. Top with French’s Onions. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes.
This makes one casserole that will serve 6 people. It’s easy enough to either double the recipe, or divide this one into two 8”x 8”x2” pans. Bake one and freeze the other.
Make your Own Frozen Pizza
Another option is to make homemade pizza. These are a very simple meal, freeze well and cook in 20 minutes or less. The trick to this is to prepare and cook your dough ahead of time. Allow it to cool, then add the sauce and ingredients. Wrap it up as tightly as possible in plastic wrap, then wrap again in tin foil. Label it, then place it in the freezer.
When you are ready to cook it, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the frozen pizza either on a baking sheet or directly on the oven rack. Be sure your rack is in the upper middle of your oven to prevent the bottom from burning.
Chill Out Meals for Canning Season
On canning days, I like to prepare a simple, cool meal ahead of time. This usually means a chicken or pasta salad. I can put it together the night before, cover it and put it in the refrigerator.
When it is time for the evening meal, I just pull the bowl out and set a box of crackers beside it. Often, I also serve fresh sliced tomatoes, a fruit salad or deviled eggs to round out the meal. My family serves themselves, and I can continue to finish the canning chores.
Cool meals such as salads not only help with time, but also keeps from heating the kitchen up any more than it already is. Even a simple tossed green salad made with some of those fresh veggies is perfect for hot days – both outside and in the kitchen.
When All Else Fails…
If you still don’t have the time – or desire – to cook a full meal while you are trying to can, do it the easy way. Order pizza to be delivered. Have plenty of sandwich fixings on hand, and add chips and pickles. Or if worse comes to worse, remind your family where the cereal bowls are.
Don’t ever feel as if you are less than adequate when you have to resort to other meal alternatives. After all, you are sweating over a hot stove preparing meals for later in the year. That should at least count for something!
And while you are Canning Anyway…
Think ahead to next year’s canning season. Be sure to can things such as Vegetable Soup, Spaghetti Sauce and other quick and easy meals. This way, you will already be a step ahead in making simple meals for the time you are back in the heat of battle.