Let me try to answer some of your questions:
1. What is your method for cooking all that chicken.
So simple, really. I just throw the chicken breasts into a pot with some onion, celery, garlic, carrots, salt and pepper (really, whatever you have on hand) bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for a couple of hours. I don't even cut the veggies up well...just halve an onion, cut off a few stalks of celery (leaves and all), and chunk 'em in your pot.The longer you simmer at a low temp, the more tender your meat will be. Then, just let cool and shred the meat (I use my fingers), divide up into your meal sized portions and freeze. We're not talking rocket science here!
DON'T throw away the broth! It's so good and flavorful! I divide it up too and freeze it in ziploc bags or rubbermaid containers. I seem to freeze it in 2 cup amounts...seems like that's a good amount for soups and other recipes.
I buy whatever kind of chicken is on sale, but I'm partial to boneless, skinless breasts. The bone-in kind were .99/lb not long ago so I stocked up (bones give your meat/broth a better flavor). I don't enjoy pulling the meat off of a whole chicken so I usually only buy those when I'm planning to roast one, but I think they might be cheaper. Don't know because I don't buy them often enough.
2. What is the time commitment for pre-cooking your meat?
I've gotten in the habit of doing this as I'm cooking dinner. For example, I did my grocery shopping last Saturday. We had spaghetti soup for dinner that night, so as I was browning the ground beef for the soup, I just browned the beef for the other meals. A day or two later I made chicken spaghetti for dinner, so I prepped all my chicken at that time.
It's a minimal time commitment if you multi-task, and the pay-off is HUGE!
3. What's the deal with Tillamook cheese?
I don't know...it's just my favorite brand. It is more natural than some of the other brands (no artificial orange coloring) and it tastes great! I buy either the medium or the sharp cheddar.
I do NOT freeze my shredded cheese. Some of you asked me that, but I think you misread my text. I use my food processor to grate it all at once and keep in ziploc in the refrigerator!
The two pound block lasts us at least two weeks, and oftentimes longer.
It's such a time-saving step. I don't know about you, but I can't even begin to count the number of times I'd get everything ready for tacos only to realize I hadn't grated the cheese! Argh.
4. What about leftovers?
I count on having leftovers.
John and I usually eat leftovers for lunch each day. I really don't like sandwiches and I prefer something hot for lunch.
Sometimes I find myself with lots of leftovers accumulating in the fridge and we'll have "Leftover Night" which usually means that we each eat something different and I get the night off from cooking. If we don't end up eating everything, I freeze what I can for another meal. I try very hard not to waste food.
At the end of the two-week meal plan period, if there are meals I haven't prepared, they just get added to the next two-week rotation.
5. Do you ever double the recipe and freeze for later?
Absolutely! Soups, chili, and casseroles are easy to freeze.
Here is a GREAT tip for freezing casseroles for later use. I got this from a Southern Living magazine years ago:
Line your baking dish with heavy duty aluminum foil, leaving 4-6 inches extra on the sides of dish. Pour casserole into foil lined dish. Seal the foil tightly. Freeze. When frozen, remove frozen casserole in the foil and return to freezer. When ready to bake, place thawed casserole (in foil) back in dish and cook. NO CLEAN-UP--just throw the foil away!!!
6. Any great crock-pot recipes to share?
Here are some slow cooker recipes from my recipe blog. Susan posted one last week for black bean chili that I can't wait to try, and Carrie posted one for cranberry chicken that sounded good too. Most soup recipes can easily be adapted for the slow cooker. If you have loads of time on your hands, you can sort through the 100+ links at Boomama's Souptacular Crockpotalooza.
If you have a great crockpot recipe you want to share, leave me a link in the comments.
7. What kitchen tools do you think are essential?
That's hard. SO many to choose from.
I use my large, heavy, non-stick skillet (Calphalon One--a gift from John a few years ago) almost every day.
My large stock pot sees lots of use too.
Good, sharp knives and cutting board(s).
Ali asked about the food processor...honestly, I really only use mine (pictured above) to shred cheese and to crumble cornbread when I make cornbread dressing. It's nice, but not necessary.
What about you guys...what is essential in your kitchen?