Thursday, August 30, 2012

My morning of batch cooking

(Wednesday afternoon)
I am so, so tired this afternoon. This morning I did a big batch of cooking and made at least the start to a bunch of dinners for our family. While it was exhausting work, I really only worked for 4 hours. And I saved myself a lot of dinner prep during those first couple of weeks of school, dance classes and back to my paid and volunteer work.

What did I make? I made lasagnas (and had leftover cooked Italian sausage to add to pasta for a quick meal), pot roast, beefy vegetable soup, some vegan mexi mix (it's lentils, barley, onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin and dried red peppers) for tacos, burritos or bun tacos (tacos on a bun), and a pan of oven-roasted chicken pieces. Our freezer is full to the gills!

Big batch cooking doesn't have to mean an exhausting day in the kitchen, though. You don't really need any specific recipes. Just think through what you and your family like to eat, and make more than the usual amount. So, big batch cooking for a young couple might mean preparing enough lasagna for 8 servings. that would provide dinner on the first night, plus leftovers tucked in the freezer for 3 more nights. Or batch cooking may mean making a huge pot of soup for a family or singles, with leftovers for a couple of following nights.

I know many of you already batch cook. Shara from Mama's Mission is cooking once to eat twice. Belinda from Frugal Workshop batch-cooked individual pizzas about a week ago. Carol from CT on a Budget cooks for the freezer on a regular basis. And, Sarah at Everyday Life on a Shoestring blogged about inadvertently batch-cooking cucumber sandwiches (a humorous look at how too many sandwiches come in handy with a hungry family). Batch cooking comes in many shapes and sizes. But the end result is the same. Cooking extra gives the home cook a much needed break from the daily grind of meal preparation.

I only big batch cook a few times a year. Once just before school starts up in the fall. Once just before the holidays, so I can have more free time to enjoy Christmas festivities. Again, in mid-March, just before the rush of tax preparation and spring birthdays. And maybe one other time during the year, if I'm feeling like I need a break from daily dinner prep. Otherwise my batch cooking looks more like a double recipe here, triple that there, cooking just a bit extra so there are planned-overs.

A few pointers to big batch cooking frugally
  • as I see things on sale or marked down throughout the month, I buy and freeze, as needed. The beef for the soup and pot roast were loss leaders items at Safeway a couple of weeks ago. The chicken Italian sausage was marked down to clear. The chicken pieces were both loss leaders and marked down (I bought one fam pack of legs and one fam pack of breasts). I had several other chicken pieces that I bagged up raw, and froze in meal-size portions.
  • I have a plan for first aid. I know what to do if I get a burn or cut, and keep bandaids and antibacterial ointment handy. Accidents happen. My knife slipped this time and I cut my finger. But I knew what to do. I turned off the stove, took care of the cut, and got back to cooking in a reasonable time. I do wish I'd had sanitary gloves to put on after treating the cut, as I still had meat to dice, and wouldn't want to introduce bacteria into the cut. So that would be an extra suggestion -- have food service gloves handy.
  • I use big batch cooking as an opportunity to use up odd bits in the pantry. As I was making the mexi mix, I remembered a dried chili pepper I had in the pantry, from a batch of enchiladas a while back. I soaked this and scraped the flesh to add to the mix. Used something up and gave extra flavor to the mix. I also like to use up dried spices that have been hanging around a while. For a rub for the chicken pieces, I used the traditional poultry seasonings of sage, marjoram, salt and pepper, but also added a bit of coriander, just to make it interesting, and use up some of the coriander. The beefy vegetable soup was a great dish to add all sorts of leftovers needing to be finished off, from pasta sauce, and barley to cooked garbanzo beans and lentils.
  • I cook the protein foods first. Once those are done I can assemble casseroles, stews, soups and fillings.
  • I use every cooking device I have. I admit, I have a great kitchen for batch cooking, with a 6-burner stove and 2 ovens. But for many years I had just a toaster oven and 4 burner stove (no main oven), and still batch cooked. If you have a crockpot, oven and stove top, you can have several dishes cooking at any one time.
  • I take a break mid way. I get quite tired after about 2 hours. This morning, I really needed that lunch break.
  • I allow cooked foods to cool at room temp for 30 minutes, then get into the freezer.
So, that was my day. I'm tired, but glad to have that done. And dinner for tonight is all taken care, so there's a bonus! And tomorrow is my day off. We're going to poke around in the shops in the vintage district we like so much. And treat ourselves to $1 ice cream cones at the general store. This has become a favorite leisure activity for the girls in our house!

Back to the cooking thing . . .do you have any favorite recipes that you like to double up on? I'm also wondering, how do the kitchen staffs, in fine restaurants, make it through an 8-hour shift?

19 comments:

  1. Hi Lili, Thank you for mentioning my website. :) Your Mexi Mix sounds really good. I like to make my Mexican rice recipe and use it as taco filling for a vegetarian dish and as a break from regular tacos. Batch cooking definitely comes in handy during those busy times in our lives. Heading back to school is definitely one of them. Sounds like a busy, productive morning in your home. I love days like that. The benefits will pay off for a long time. :)

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    1. Hi Belinda,
      Mexican rice in tacos sounds good, too.
      It was exhausting, but now I'm set for dinners for a couple of weeks, which is always nice. And back to school time is not only busy, but I don't know how all our schedules will fit together just yet, with new after school clubs and activities. Just as I get used to one schedule, it changes on me! Oh well, that's life!

      Thanks for reading!

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  2. Hi Lili, I bet you will be so grateful for all that prepared food once things get busy again. I batch-cook quite a bit, which is quite easy to do with only two of us, and is a lifesaver when we get home from work and are both tired. I make big batches of mexican beans (which sounds similar to your mexi mix, just with kidney beans), pizza dough, curries, lasagne and moussaka for the freezer. Last weekend I made a big batch of veggie stock and a huge amount of homemade tomato relish (so much that I ran out of jars to put it in), so that should keep us going for a while.

    And because you asked, I used to work 10-hour shifts in the kitchen on weekends when I was an undergrad student, and you wear comfy shoes and make the most of sitting down for your breaks. And also make the most of the free food :)

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    1. Hi Economies,
      10-hour shifts -- Wow! I don't know if I could keep up with that. But I guess you learn to pace yourself. And things begin to fall into a routine.

      That tomato relish sounds good. Is it a sweet or tangy relish? I do wish I'd been on top of things when it was just my husband and me. We ate out a lot in those days, when we could have been socking away the money by eating at home.

      Thanks for commenting!

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    2. The tomato relish is kind of sweet and tangy at the same time, more tangy than tomato salsa. It uses both sugar and vinegar. I'm planning on posting it on my blog one of these days :)

      We don't eat out much, but that has mostly been because we couldn't afford to, both still being students in our late 20s. Lately our circumstances changed a bit and we have more money, but we are trying to sock it away :)

      Delete
  3. I don't formally do batch cooking during certain times of the year, but I often make extra spaghetti sauce and meatloaf for the freezer. However, even if I make extra of a recipe, the leftovers don't last long. Wally and Theodore have hearty appetites and the refrigerator often gets emptied during the middle of the night or certainly for breakfast.

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    1. Hi live and learn,
      Oh no! Just when you think you've gotten a jump on the cooking, it's all gobbled up! That sometimes happens here over the weekends. I'll pack up small containers of leftovers and push them off to the side of the fridge, with the intention of packing in Monday lunches. Well, by Sunday afternoon I'll notice the leftovers are gone!

      Sometimes, I'll put the leftovers out in the garage fridge, just to keep them safe for when I've got plans for them. no one ever checks the garage fridge in our house.

      Just curious, when you make an extra meatloaf for the freezer, do you cook it before freezing, or freeze it uncooked?

      Thanks for your comments!

      Delete
    2. I cook it before hand and usually cook it in large patties instead of a big loaf. That way it is easy to thaw individual servings if that's the way we want to do it. Actually, I mostly bake it in large patties because it takes a lot less time that way.

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    3. What a great idea! Faster (so saves electricity or gas), and gives you perfect serving sizes. I can especially see this as helpful for frozen meatloaf. You wouldn't need to thaw the whole loaf just for a few slices. Patties would also simplify meatloaf sandwiches.

      Thanks for the tip!

      Delete
  4. Wow, doesn't it feel good now that it's done?

    I love knowing I have things ready. That is a great list of tips. I have another that works well for me.

    If I am going to be making dishes that contain beans I will start them in the crockpot the night before the cooking session. Usually around bedtime works fine for me and then they are ready in the morning.

    Another thing for families that work outside the home -- save lasagna in serving size "squares" and it is easy to pull together your own microwave meal to take to work. I pull hubby's out frozen and pop it into a microwave safe container....toss in a few sides and at lunch he has a hot meal. Thankfully, it is far healthier and far less expensive.

    I often am lazy and don't want to pull a 4 hour cooking session but I will prep crockpot meals to be freezer ready. I have some great site suggestions if you are interested.

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    1. Hi Shara,
      It's great knowing I don't have to think about menus for the next couple of weeks!

      That's a great tip, about cooking the beans in the crockpot overnight. That would really make using beans a lot easier, especially with some of the longer cooking types.

      I wish I'd thought to make a lasagna and cut into squares, for take out lunches when I was single. I lived on Lean Cuisine Zucchini Lasagna for the years I worked. I ate that nearly everyday for lunch. I could have saved myself a lot of money back then.

      Yes, site suggestions are most welcome!

      Thanks for reading!

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    2. http://www.ringaroundtherosies.net/2012/02/freezer-cooking.html

      http://homesteadinghomemaker.blogspot.com/

      http://crockingirls.com/

      Both sites have excellent recipes. I sort of have to scroll through to find the ones I like. In addition to crockpot cooking, the second site has a lot of freezer prep foods (like tuna cakes for example).

      I was just introduced to the third site this week, so I haven't tried any of their recipes.

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    3. Thanks so much Shara! I'll be checking out those sites. I have done very little crockpot cooking, and am eager to give more recipes a try!

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  5. My biggest time saver for my evening meal prep is pre-cooking chicken.

    In my family, we really like chicken. My Kroger routinely has boneless/skinless chicken breasts on sale for $1.99/lb. Each time Kroger has this sale, I buy about 6 pounds of chicken. I bring it home and boil it for 20 - 30 minutes, until it tests done with a meat thermometer. I allow the chicken to cool, then shred it and put 2 or 3 cup portions in freezer bags. I also save the broth from boiling the chicken for future use.

    I used the pre-cooked, shredded chicken for various dishes...casseroles, skillet meals, even quick chicken and noodles. This is a big time saver for me. I have a lot of recipes for chicken skillet meals. Most of those recipes start with cooking the chicken until no longer pink. I just pull out a bag of my thawed, pre-cooked chicken. I heat a little olive oil in a skillet, add the chicken and heat it a little, then finish the recipe. I love it!!! :)

    Here is one really quick recipe that my family loves:

    Southwest Chicken

    2 - 3 cups cooked chicken breasts, diced or shredded

    2 cups uncooked instant rice

    1 package of taco seasoning or equivalent amount of homemade
    taco seasoning

    1 can Rotel (we like regular because we like spice, use mild if you don't like spicy)

    1 1/2 cups water

    Heat olive oil in skillet. Add chicken and stir until heated. Add Rotel (don't drain), taco seasoning and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring mixture to a boil. Add 2 cups instant rice. Stir, remove from heat and cover. Let stand for 5 minutes until water is absorbed. Stir. Serve with flour tortillas, shredded cheese and sour cream.

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    1. Hi,
      Yes I can definitely see how pre-cooking your chicken would be a great time saver. Also, it's a great way to take advantage of a good sale. Good for you for saving the broth, too!

      I'll try that recipe this fall. It sounds quite yummy, and fast! Two things I can't pass up on when deciding what to make for dinner.

      Thanks for that recipe and your tip!

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  6. Thanks for linking my blog Lili, although my cucumber sandwiches are a dubious batch cooking achievement!! I'm not a batch cooker by any stretch of the imagination; in fact the only thing I can think of that I ever make in double quantities, is a nut roast, which is the vegetarian equivalent of Live and Learn's meat loaf. When I'm on top of the menu planning I'll try to get ahead with some of the prep, to ease the load at evening meal cooking time.

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    1. Now that you've mentioned your nut roast, you're going to have to do a blog on it, Sarah! I haven't made a nut loaf in a very long time, but I used to make one from Diet for a Small Planet. I think it had cashews, mushrooms, onion and celery in it. I'll have to dig that up. Not the most frugal dish, with the mushrooms and cashews, but I really enjoyed it!

      Thanks for your comments!

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  7. Wow. I haven't pre-cooked that many meals since I was pregnant. We are more likely to cook a double-batch of food (this is especially yummy if it's been on the charcoal grill!) and freeze it. We will cook an extra ham or turkey at holidays when the meat is on sale, divide it into meal-sized portions, and ta-da! Pre-cooked meat to be used in a variety of ways. I like to roast a chicken, too, and we enjoy the leftovers in a different dish. And yes, we save and freeze the resulting broth.

    Lots of good ideas posted.

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    1. Hi Kris,
      I hadn't thought to cook an extra turkey during the holidays. I buy and freeze extra turkeys (and cook them later in the year). But cooking an extra one, then picking the meat off the bones, would save some space in the freezer. It's so nice to have all that meat, cooked and ready to throw into a quick dish! Thanks for the idea!

      I second that on the grilled leftovers -- yum! But grilled leftovers have never made it as far as the freezer in our house. I'll have to give that a try.

      Thanks for your comments and ideas!

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