I love living on a budget. And perhaps if I keep telling myself that, one day I might even believe it.
Being on a tight budget for the last six months (living alone is really not as cheap as it sounds) has taught me how to keep things simple, and look for ways to stretch my dollar. Actually, I do get a little bit of a thrill being frugal – using every last bit of something, creatively turning last night’s dinner into something almost entirely different for the next day, and – especially – making batches of inexpensive foods and baked goods for a week’s (or more) worth of breakfasts and lunches. I feel like such a frontier woman, being so self-sufficient and all. And my freezer has been my constant companion through my solitary living adventure.
Especially when it comes to lunch.
I’ve always enjoyed brown-bagging it to work. I am sometimes appalled at how expensive it can be to buy lunch, fast food notwithstanding. $10-$15 for a sandwich/chips/drink at a decent place, even more if you sit down and eat in a restaurant. There’s hardly ever a time I have cash just burning a hole in my pocket, so I always bring my lunch and heat it up at the office. Bringing lunch allows you to be creative and go beyond the strict sandwich-and-an-apple type fare. Sometimes, I’ll make something for myself for dinner, and all three or so leftover servings get packed in containers and lined up in the freezer for a fantastic grab and go lunch. Other times, as I mentioned, I’ll make a huge batch of something on a weekend, freeze it in batches, and nosh on it for weeks. I love cooking, but most days I’m not motivated enough to whip up a nice dinner if it’s just myself. It’s nice to have a bunch of individually packaged insurance policies in the deep freeze.
This week, I made a pan mac & cheese and a pot of tomato soup – one serving each for Sunday night’s dinner, followed by three day’s worth of lunches. The remaining two weekdays were filled in with some leftover Thai Red Curry that I made (and got sick of) a few weeks ago. That’s the beauty of the freezer – it allows you to leave something in there when you get tired of it, and revisit it at a later date when it sounds appetizing again!
This past Sunday I also made a batch of pizza dough and froze it (four individual servings), so dinner this week consisted of personal pizzas and cold cereal. I think I actually care less about dinner than I do about lunch.
I have found that just about anything can be frozen. I love being able to reach in there and pull out a healthy and nutritious meal whenever I like. Pro tip: label your containers! Black bean soup sometimes looks like chili when frozen.
Here’s what’s found its way into my freezer over the past few months:
- A big batch of chili (8-10 servings)
- Roasted Vegetable and Sweet Potato Black Bean Soup (8-10 servings)
- Marinara Sauce
- Mac and Cheese
- Thai Red Curry with Brown Rice
- Individual portions of pizza dough
- Multi-Grain Scones
- White Bean Spread (this freezes surprisingly well)
- Individually packaged brownies (because I cannot be trusted with an entire pan of brownies sitting on my counter)
- Homemade ice cream sandwiches
- Homemade bread (my recipes usually make 2 loaves)
- Store-bought bread and English muffins (defrost only what you need)
I am totally in love with my personal pizza dough recipe, so that’s the one I’m going to share with you here:
RECIPE: EASY PIZZA DOUGH
- 1 package (2 ¼ tsp) active-dry yeast
- 1 ½ cups very warm water (110°F)
- 18 oz all-purpose flour; more for dusting (I like to substitute whole wheat flour for half the amount of AP flour)
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 2 Tbs olive oil
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a mixing bowl and set aside to bloom for about 5 minutes (make sure the bowl is not cold). Meanwhile, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the flour mixture gradually to the water/yeast until combined. Then add the oil. Mix with dough hook for 5-6 minutes or until smooth and elastic (you can also knead by hand on a floured board).
Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into four equal pieces with a knife or a dough scraper. Roll each piece into a tight, smooth ball.
If you want to bake the pizzas as soon as possible, put the dough balls on a lightly floured surface, cover them with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
If you want to bake them tomorrow, put them on a baking sheet with a floured dishtowel, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in the refrigerator overnight. Pull it out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before shaping the dough into a pizza.
To freeze: dust each one with flour, and put each one in a separate zip-top bag. Freeze for up to a month. Transfer frozen dough from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before you want to use it. Then set it out on a floured surface (covered with plastic wrap) while your oven heats up.
Shape and top with your favorite stuff! Bake in a preheated oven (500 degrees) on a baking stone for 6-8 minutes. Make sure you let the oven heat up for about an hour – get that stone good and hot!