Friday, March 16, 2012

Meals in a Jar Guest Post Chef Tess

We always love when Chef Tess shares with our readers. ESPECIALLY when it has to do with Meals in a Jar!  Take it away, Chef Tess!!

I was in Utah this last week, and one of the classes I adored teaching was how to make shelf-stable meals in a jar that are good 5-7 years. This is, in fact, something I have done for my family for years. It's just a super practical way to have a "grab-n-go" meal for any occasion. Unlike other jar meals I've seen, the ones I plan are "just add water" and include the meat, veggies, sauce and all...ONE jar. One place. Grab-n-go!   These quart size jars make a meal for our family of 6 (4 adults, 2 children) and average about 9 cups of prepared food coming from the small amount of space in a quart jar. They can be made in mylar bags, but I personally prefer the jars. They're airtight, rodent proof and clear so I can tell if the food is still gorgeous. Yes, I do slip into my Hollywood fashion designer alter-ego and say, "Fabulous Darling! Fabulous!"  Yes. I realize I'm odd. Shhh. I'm happy in my delusion. It keeps me young. What was I talking about? Oh yeah...

While I was in Utah I made well over 30  meals in a jar in about an hour at my folk's house. My dad loves Italian Casserole so we made the "Baked Ziti Casserole"  in a jar. The ingredients had been sitting in the large cans for a while and I asked them why they didn't use them. "We don't want to open the big cans," was the response. So, I showed them how to make the meals custom to their needs.  We made the recipe in pint size jars (yes we cut the recipe in half) since it is just mom and dad at home now. That was the perfect size for them.  There was enough for dinner and some left over for lunches to take to work the next day. Yes...from the pint-size jar! 

When was the last time you made 30 full-size dinners for your family in about an hour and didn't get spaghetti sauce in your hair? I mean...really? It's just a really fast way to put together a lot of divine meals that your family will enjoy. Mom and dad had made a few other meals in a jar before and I'm happy to report that mom is teaching others how to make them! It's so simple, why not share this crazy technique? Initially, I used this method to plan my food storage for a year's worth of meals. Breakfast and Dinner were planned for 7 days a week. Monday dinner, baked Ziti. Obtain 52 jars of baked ziti and I had dinner for a year for Monday night. Follow with meals for the rest of the week (yes the printable recipes will be at the end of this post...don't pass out.) Do you see how it would be easy to plan around meals your family would actually eat and have the beautiful convenience of a grab-n-go meal without having to find cans and boxes?  For us, it's worked great. For the thousands who have been reading about it on my's been epic! We've had a magnificent response! Disclaimer: This is what has worked for us. If you choose to make the recipes, try a few out first and see if they are recipes your family will eat. I just know that 99% of the folks who have tried them, have loved them.

If you are new to  my series on homemade convenience meals you will want to read  the post on my blog: Introduction to the 52 Method.  You will be using a method called "dry pack canning". No liquid or pressure canning is necessary. If you opt to use the freeze dried meat in the recipes, please note: The repacking of Freeze Dried Meat must be done within 24-48 hours of opening the can and must be done in a dry environment. Once repacked you must use an oxygen absorber to make sure there is a vacuum oxygen free environment. Mylar bags can also be used instead of jars, but it is not recommended to use Ziploc bags as the sole source of storage if you are including meat. 

I'm sharing an adaptation to an old family recipe that I think is a keeper! I made it for my kids and the 12-year-old had 3 plates of it. Next time I'm making half gallon jars. I'm getting into teen years with these little whipper-snappers. Yikes. Needless to say, the meals will feed a normal family of 5...or one teenage boy. I also plan a loaf of bread a day per person (for rolls, breadsticks, or sides like that) in my food storage. I have a whole series of jars based on those too...but that will be a later post.   This is an adaptation on my mom's Zucchini Casserole. I grew up with this fresh from the garden and I wanted to capture the flavors in a jar meal for storage.  Thankfully Honeyville has the most beautiful freeze dried zucchini slices!  I have to stop myself from eating them like potato chips right from the can. You know what else I love? Honeyville doesn't add any junk to the freeze-dried fruits and veggies. It's just the veggie. Just the fruit. Nothing added but happiness. 

When the Ground Beef and Zucchini Quiche Casserole is in a jar, it looks like this...

 Prepared, it looks like this...

You will need a few Honeyville products to make this.

My Mom's Ground Beef and Zucchini Quiche Casserole
adapted from  cheftessbakeresse: Geneve's Zucchini Casserole

1 cup Honeyville Freeze Dried Ground Beef (See safety note on FD real meats!)
1/2 cup Honeyville Freeze Dried Bell Peppers
1/2 cup Honeyville Freeze Dried Zucchini
1 T Honeyville Powdered Butter
1/4 cup Ova Easy Egg Crystals 
1/2 cup Honeyville Powdered Sour Cream
 2T  Ultra Gel
1/2 tsp Chef Tess Romantic Italian Seasoning
1 cup Honeyville Freeze Dried Cheddar Cheese

 *Real freeze dried meat must be in a glass jar or mylar bag with an oxygen absorber. Open all your cans of happiness. Line up your jars. Get all your measuring tools and stuff together. Make sure you have all your ingredients. 

Not all eggs are the same. I recommend the Ova Easy Egg Crystals because they are epic-delicious eggs! They cook and taste like a real scrambled egg. 

Put the green onion, ground beef, zucchini, bell pepper in the jar. Add the powdered ingredients and shake them down into the veggie mixture. This is how I get a lot of product into a small space. I shake things a lot in my jars. 

 Add the cheese and top with a fresh 300 cc oxygen absorber. You can also use the jar attachment on a food saver, but you'll need to either cut a coffee filter to fit the top of the jar or use a cupcake/muffin liner at the top of the jar just inside the rim to keep the dry particles from clogging the hose. I prefer the speed of the oxygen absorbers. Frankly, that's how I can do so many in a short amount of time. If you want to use the slower method with the lid attachment, you totally can. 

 In about 25-30 minutes, the jar lid will "pop", indicating you have a vacuum seal. 

I made eight of these meals in about 15 minutes (one was prepared and in the oven when I took this picture). Eat your heart out Rachael Ray. One dinner in 20 minutes is so last week. 

To prepare:  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Pour the jar ingredients in a 2-quart bowl and add 2 1/2 cups cool water. Allow to hydrate 10 minutes. 

 Lightly grease a 9 inch by 9-inch casserole (or solar oven 9 inch round pan works too). 

Cover with foil. 

 Bake until set, 325 degrees 50 minutes. Do not over bake. May be stored in the refrigerator after baking and heated for service. 

I had enough ground beef to make about 10 of these meals, so initially, the cost is about $8 a meal. Some meals or less if you use the TVP. The sausage TVP is amazing. I'm a big fan. 

There you go! Welcome to my meals in a jar!  Oh...and don't forget to share these ideas with your friends and family!  My sister Emily did some wonderful pdf's for this tutorial and method, including an estimated price list (based on the prices at about 6 months ago--retail store prices are lower generally),  recipe cards, and a shopping list to take to the retail stores for 12 meals (again, these are estimated quantities, as some product may settle during shipping).  If you print or share these, you are required to include my contact information and website information. Thank you!

Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess


kenlowder said...

Delish looking darling! I'm going to make a few. I will make a bunch in Mylar bags to give away should we have a zombie apocalypse. Give to hungry folks. Tell them to just add water, and send then on their way! Also less likely to break in a get out of dodge situation.

The only thing I question is 300cc o2 absorber? Isn't that a little overkill? The stuff that comes in my favorite jerky bag isn't close to that size.

Anonymous said...

I'm limited on storage for so many jars. Can this be done with a vacuum sealer?

Anonymous said...

Definitely interested in knowing if it can be done using vacuum seal bags instead of jars. Can't wait for the answer! =)

Thank you for such a great post!

Chef Tess said...

Mylar bags are okay, but the bags that come with the food saver are not recommended for the long term storage. 300cc is what I use for the quart jars. I need to further test on the mylar before I can make a solid recommendation, but I'd rather over-kill then not kill enough.

The Vintage Housewife... said...

oh my goodness...i am so excited about this. this is right up my alley for food storage. being new to this whole thing i wanted a way to put meals together instead of just having shelves of #10 cans please keep the reciepes coming and especially for the jars! thank you for helping me understand how to actually use this food. running to print all the goodies out thanks doll!

Dru said...

Tess, in the price list, the first item is listed as "dried".
Dried what? :)

Anonymous said...

New to site, excited bout possibilities. Can the food saver jar vacuum be used instead of oxygen absorbers? Also does the food lose it's bright colors?

Ruby Jean said...

I just found your YUMMY!!! blog over at Chef Tess Blog... I am so VERY intriguied by this whole Freeze dried food... Do you know if there any classes for such a thing in the Southern California area..?? Just became your newest follower

Cookin' Cousins said...


There are classes offered at our Rancho Cucamonga Store in California. You can check the blog class tab for the schedule and we update them monthly. Hopefully in the near future Chef Tess will be out your direction again.

Cookin' Cousins said...


Please see Chef Tess' response on the Food Savor. And the amazing part is the food does not loose coloring! Awesome, huh? That is one of the wonderful things about Freeze Dried items!

Cookin' Cousins said...

The first one missing is FD bell pepper and the second is FD mushrooms. Left open is the TVP so you can choose what flavor you want. This is just a rough estimate of cost for you

Chef Tess said...

I am coming to Rancho in May...I can make sure we teach a 52 method class. It's one of the most popular ones I do. Xoxo!

Anonymous said...

Is there anywhere else I can get "ultra gel" or is there a substitute for it? My local honeyville store does not have it, and will not be ordering more, and I did not find on line.

Anonymous said...

You can get 2ply 3ML thick plastic bags and smaller oxygen absorbers at DC Sales seal these plastic bags inside a Mylar bag gives you double protection from both oxygen and light.

Cookin' Cousins said...

Yes. Ultra gel can be substituted for the exact same amount of cornstarch in this particular recipe

Michelle said...

What a wonderful site!! I cannot wait to try these. I have an over abundance of jars and while I enjoy canning, it will be nice to try something new. I also have some mylar bags that I will experiment with.

Are there any recipes for breads? I might just be missing them but would love to try them as well.


Anonymous said...

Question.....I have several recipes of Meals in Jars. Could the same thing be done with those?

Cookin' Cousins said...

Yes, your Meals in Jars recipes can be made and used in both the jars or Mylar Bags. Have fun!

Cookin' Cousins said...

Chef Tess has a basic bread recipe as well as a basic muffin recipe that will be shared this week. I will let you know when that becomes available.
Thank you

Cookin' Cousins said...

I have a handout I can e-mail you about the "Bread in a Jar" that you asked about. Shoot us an e-mail at and we will send it to you.
Thank you, Tenille

Max said...

Loved the baked ziti!!!! my question is how long of shelf life do you get when storing in jars?

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering if the #10 cans of freeze dried anything have to be used all at once or can you use what you need and put the cover back on the can for later use.

Cookin' Cousins said...

Hi Maz! Shelf life is 10 years for the baked Ziti.


Once you open our #10 cans, the product's shelf life drops drastically. We suggest taking the remaining product you don't use and sealing it in a mason jar with an oxygen absorber. Putting the lid back on the can won't keep the air out, and therefore the shelf life won't be as long.

Anonymous said...

If I put meals in a mylar bag to take camping, will the bags hold up to an MRE heater?

Cookin' Cousins said...

What a great question about the Mylar Bags. We've never tried them with an MRE heater before, and I believe the bags aren't intended to be used in heating up the product, just storing the product. said...

I have tried every which way to open the shopping list and to print the labels. But everything i try it says the web page is unavailable. Is there another place where these labels are so I can print them for my jars? Thanks

Cookin' Cousins said...

Hi Karen,

I spoke with Chef Tess and it looks like he website she had linked this information to went out of business, taking the shopping list and labels with it. Hopefully we'll have that information posted again in the future. Thanks for the question!

Unknown said...

I am wondering. This entire casserole only calls for 1/4 cup of ovaeasy egg crystals. 1/4 cup is the equivalent of 1 egg. So this entire recipe only calls for 1 egg?

Unknown said...

I tried this recipe today and while it is good it is very salty. The ham is too salty so I think I will make a vegetarian version next time.

maria said...

I'm making these meals for my hubby who works out of town. can we use zip lock bags, with out oxygen absorbers for use within weeks to a few months? thank you!!