Thursday, May 17, 2012

Freezer Meals: Vietmanese Bahn Mi and Pho with Lemon "Donut" Dessert

Bahn Mi with Five-spice chicken thighs and pickled radish and carrot and vegetarian pho

Here's my latest freezer meal for our exchange tonight! I found all the recipes on Pinterest and they turned out great! I grew in East San Jose in a densely populated Vietnamese area. I love pho, Vietnamese noodle soup, and recently became a fan of Banh Mi sandwiches. The other families in my freezer meals groups are fairly adventurous so I thought it would be fun to bring in some Asian flavors. And it was a funny coincidence that another mom decided to make an Asian dinner.

For our freezer meals group, we make enough for ourselves and then trade about 4-5 entire meals with the other families. If we get more families involved we'll still max out at trading 5 meals, but we'll have more variety and can pick and choose which meals we want to bring home. It averages that we have 1 freezer meal per week for the month. I really like the deadline of the exchange to keep me on track with cooking for the next month. Here's my menu and how I made it freezer-friendly!

May's Menu:
Banh Mi Sandwich (on baguette) with Five Spice Chicken Thighs and pickled carrot and radish. 
  • Serve the sandwich with mayo, lime wedges, strips of jalapeno, chicken and fresh cilantro. I marinated the chicken, then froze it. The families will grill or broil the chicken. The pickled carrots and radish are very sweet, but smell terrible. Don't let the scent throw you. 
Vegetarian Pho soup
  •  Broth is frozen in ice cubes. Defrost directly in a saucepan on low, then turn up heat to bring to a boil. Add dry rice noodles. Warm thawed tofu and veggie packet and add to bowl with noodles. If you need more broth add vegetable or chicken broth and season with soy sauce or our favorite Bragg Liquid Aminos (a lower salt alternative).
Mini Lemon Muffin Donuts:
  • Thaw and serve
Freezer meal all packed up and ready to go!

Freezing instructions:

This month, I wasn't sure how to freeze this meal because of the broth. Liquid is so hard to freeze and defrost in ziploc bags without a big mess, so I had the brainstorm to freeze the broth in ice cube trays. I used the ice cube trays with tops that I bought for when I was making Ava's baby food. Then, I popped the broth cubes in a quart size freezer bag.

Freeze the tofu and veggies in one bag and the marinated chicken thighs in another.

Don't freeze the pickled veggies. Store them in a mason jar with the brine, which will keep in the fridge for up to 4-weeks. The limes and jalapenos are sturdy enough to keep in the fridge for a few weeks or you can buy more. I didn't supply the cilantro, but you need that to be fresh.

I didn't freeze the rice noodles for the pho, but those can be stored in the pantry.

I'd love to hear your ideas on freezer meals you're thinking of making!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Family Vacation in the Mountains

Last weekend, we took our first family vacation to the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We had a great time! We took a long weekend from Thursday to Sunday evening.

From Indy, the drive is around 7 hours, but we had to stop several times for Ava to stretch her legs. I've shared before about our challenges on long car rides with Ava because she doesn't sleep much in the car. Both directions, she slept about an hour of the 7! I'm thankful that I was prepared with toys, activities, snacks, books, and DVDs for our car ride. A couple weeks ago, I pinned this blog post about activities while traveling with young kids in the car. There are some great ideas. We have a book with felt pieces that you can create your own scene, which really entertained Ava. I brought her portable chalkboard with magnetic alphabet and numbers, which did wonders. But it was Dora that saved us most of the time. Just to tell you how much Dora the Explorer we watched, Aaron and I had the songs stuck in our heads when we got back. I packed lots of her favorite snacks. Ava is starting to love peanut butter sandwiches now, which is a good for car rides.
Ava wanted to swim in the fountain.

A break during our stroll.
When we first arrived, we settled in to our rental cabin in the mountains. We had to drive about 15-20 minutes outside of downtown Gatlinburg. It was secluded and very peaceful. We picked that cabin because it was dog friendly. The only downside is that since it wasn't easy to head back to town, we decided to go out once a day instead of back and forth. We decided to grab dinner out at the Smoky Mountain Brewery where Ava devoured spaghetti with meat sauce. We were pleased since she's so picky these days. She had fun watching the other kids who dined with their families near us. On the way back to the cabin, we stopped by the grocery store to stock up on food for the weekend.

The next day, we decided to relax at the cabin to decompress for most of the day. Since we had a full kitchen we were able to make our breakfast and lunches there. After Ava's afternoon nap, we made our way downtown and walked through the shops. We stopped for donuts and sat on a bench by the water fountain in a shopping area. The three of us had fun walking together. Then when Ava got tired, we decided to call it a day and head back. On the way back we scoped out a local barbecue joint on the part of town by where the locals shop.  She stalked birds and wanted to hug them. Ava was sad when the birds flew away when she got too close.

From our driving tour

We went back to the cabin and Ava crashed out very early after dinner. She enjoyed our vacation so much that she barely took naps during the day. Instead of her usual 2+ hour nap, she slept less than an hour because she didn't want to miss anything. Then she crashed out very early at night. Having a house with a kitchen was nice traveling with a toddler so didn't have to leave the house much.

The next day, we took a driving tour of the Smoky Mountain Park in a path that is well known for the amazing water falls along the way. The water runs briskly and the sound is so calming. In fact, Ava fell asleep in the car and napped most of the time. She finally woke up towards the end so she got to see the last bit.

Relaxed by the soothing waterfalls. 
Aaron found a hiking trail for us that led to a beautiful waterfall. He told me that the Ramsey Cascade Trail is 4-miles, then we realized when we arrived at the park that it's 4 miles each way! I tried very hard not to be a nay-sayer when I saw on the park's website that the trail is estimated to take 5-7 hours to hike. I was worried since I only packed enough food/diapers for a 2-3 hour hike. Aaron told me that he was going to carry Ava and I would carry the back pack with our gear. Since we started out after 2pm, I thought it would be after dark before we got back if we went on the entire hike. We have a Boba soft structured carrier that goes on the front or back and has foot holds for Ava. It's such a great carrier to share between moms and dads because it adjusts easily. She loved riding on Daddy's back. She asked to get down a bit and we helped her walk, but the tree roots were a bit tricky. Ava started to get fussy and Aaron realized that we should head back. We ended up walking about 5 of the 8-miles. The trail was challenging and steep, but at least it wasn't too hot.

Taking a break with Mommy out of the Boba.
At the trail head.

Bena loved the woods.

On our last night in Gatlinburg after the hike, we stopped to pick up a pizza for dinner to take back to the cabin. It was relaxing. We enjoyed the hot tub a couple nights. The moon was full and bright both nights! I got a little freaked the last night because Aaron thought he saw something in the woods below us. A bear left a paw print on our garbage container the first night so I was worried it was a bear. We enjoyed dessert and good beer together, relaxing. It was amazing to be there last weekend. The only sad part was that we felt it was one day too short with the long drive. 
On Sunday morning, Aaron let me sleep in and he took Ava downstairs and started cooking breakfast. I got downstairs and it was such a treat to be served breakfast! We left the cabin after packing up. The drive home wasn't too bad. We're not the sure where we'll go on our next vacation, but this Summer we have a couple family reunion weekends so it probably won't be until next year sometime.
The moss-covered rocks were gorgeous!