How to Power Cook!
Cooking meals “ten at a time” saves both time and money. You’ll have fewer trips to the grocery store—even a “quick trip” is very time consuming, plus you will have fewer impulse purchases (saves money). Many of the time-consuming tasks can be combined on one day, making dinner much quicker for the next two weeks, 1 month, or even 3 months! It saves money by making dinner easier so you eat out (or pick up take-out) less often – really BIG savings. Plus, dinner at home, around your own table, really makes a difference in family life. Many studies show that numerous childhood “problems” are experienced at a significantly lower rate—based on how many meals the family eats together AT HOME. The rate of juvenile delinquency and teenage pregnancy are lower (and test scores are higher) for those families who eat a mere 3 dinners together at home a week!
Helpful hints for preparing:
- Clean out and reorganize your freezer and refrigerator the day before shopping and cooking
- Have a family meeting (or sit down with a friend) and plan your two-week menu.
- You may want to come up with 2 or 3 two-week menus, and then simply put them back-to-back to reduce boredom and repetition. Once you have done the menu plan and the master shopping list, it’s a breeze to repeat it!
- Pick recipes which include a variety of preparation techniques. You don't want to have to cook 10 casseroles or lasagnas on the same day. Instead, pick a couple of casseroles, some marinated meat recipes (for which you simply need to mix up a marinade), some stove top recipes, and a soup or two. There are also crock pot recipes you might consider--you will need to assemble ingredients, but not have to do much else since you’ll be using your crock pot later to cook it. Meals you don't have to actually cook on the big "cooking day" will of course save you time that day this includes the "dump and cook" variety.
- Include a assortment of ingredients. This is especially important if you are really planning to eat everything up within one month. No one wants meat loaf 8 times in one month--or even chicken every single night.
- What if you don't have a nice, big, stand alone freezer? There are some ways around this. If the whole dish freezes, then a portion of that same recipe should freeze. Ideas include: the fillings for lasagna, manicotti, stuffed shells, and so forth. Just cook the pasta on the day you want to serve the meal, add the thawed filling, and bake! You can also double or triple meals you cook on a semi-regular basis and keep a steadily rotating supply in your freezer on hand for those busy days when you can't cook.
- Don't overanalyze this: Just pick some recipes and commit. This doesn't have to be the world's most amazingly coordinated month of meals. Pick some things that interest you and don't sweat the details. The point here is not necessarily to cook the most healthy or the most economical, but to feed your family a variety of reasonably healthy and cost-effective (and tasty) meals with reduced stress and a more pleasant chef at the table :). You'll no doubt learn as you go and become better and better at big batch cooking.
- How to save money: Planning ahead gives you time to watch for sales on your chosen ingredients. Warehouse clubs typically have very reasonable prices on meat, cheese and produce. You should also consider the sizes typically available for your ingredients: would it be most cost effective to double or triple a recipe? If a recipe calls for 1/2 a bag of chocolate chips, then doubling it would be more effective than tripling.
- Keep in mind that you won’t have to cook all the items on your menu ahead of time, only the food that needs a lot of preparation (or can be done easily in bulk) will be completed and frozen. For instance, if you are planning hamburgers on the grill, you only need to shape the burgers and freeze them.
- Use containers designed for the freezer rather than cellophane, waxed paper or thin aluminum foil. The proper containers will keep the food fresh, retain color better and help protect against freezer burn. Squeeze as much air as possible out of the containers before freezing. Two layers are frequently better than one; for example, wrap a frozen meatloaf in saran wrap and then in foil.
- When making your shopping list, check your supply of freezer containers and/or freezer bags. Add them to your list if you are low.
- Make your shopping list (in pencil) by going through each recipe that you select and listing the ingredients (even if you already have them). This will be your Master List. You will need to alter the quantity of many items on your list several times as you go through each recipe.
- Make photocopies of your final two lists to use for future menus.
- After your list is completed, go through your freezer and cupboards, mark off any items you already have so you know you don’t need to purchase them.
- Before shopping, clear off your counter tops--you will need the space! (You might also clear off the kitchen and dining room tables while you're at it.)
- If you have a number of recipes requiring cooked chicken, you might consider baking/boiling/sauteing the needed amount the day before. It will make your assembly go much faster on the day of.
- If you have young children at home, consider making child care arrangements (Saturday when hubby is off of work, teenage babysitter, neighbor, etc.).
Helpful hints for shopping:
- Shop the same day you plan to cook- saves putting many groceries away.
- Pull any frozen foods that you need to thaw for cooking and place in the refrigerator (do this the evening before).
- Pull any items from your cupboards and group ingredients for each recipe on your counter.
- Go to your “bulk” store first and get any items you need in bigger quantities. This will save you money.
- Go to your regular grocery store for remaining ingredients (without children if possible).
- Shop the inner aisles first, and then produce, then bakery and frozen foods last.
- If you need to shop during the few days leading up the big cooking day, follow a similar procedure, but make sure your perishable food is properly stored. Go ahead and set out your nonperishable goods grouped by recipe.
Helpful hits for Cooking Day:
- Gear up: wear comfortable shoes, an apron, hair back in a ponytail, and turn the music up!
- Have an empty garbage can that is easily accessible. Have a bag/container available for recyclables.
- Have a jar handy for leftover chopped vegetables for soup starter or compost!
- Before starting to cook, clean and sanitize your counter tops and sink. Empty dishwasher and fill the sink with hot, soapy water.
- Wash dishes as you go. Let one group soak while you prepare the next meal. When it’s the last time you are going to use a utensil, have the dishwasher empty and fill as you finish.
- Chop and prepare all fresh foods at once and put in bowls on the counter. “Scoop” required amounts when assembling your meals.
- It’s nice to have two sets of measuring cups and spoons – one for wet and one for dry ingredients.
- Write down start and finish times of foods that are cooking at the same time.
- As you finish a meal, cool on racks away from your cooking area (on your kitchen table, etc.)
- Start your longest cooking recipes first, so by the time you finish the last “quick” one, the first one will be complete. (Save dump recipes for last.)
- After your recipe has cooled off, store in zipper freezer bags (or other appropriate container).
- As you finish a recipe and you still have items (canned, pantry or frozen) that need to be added on the day you serve that meal, put an X on the label and explain to your family that they are not to eat this ahead of time. It's also helpful to make a note of the needed extra items on the package going into the freezer.
- Any cheese or bread crumbs that need to be added in the final stage of cooking should be measured and put into a small zipper bag and taped to the side of the freezer container or bag with the meal.
- Storage and labeling of meals:
- Line baking pans with foil and then pop the frozen casserole out and put the whole thing in a ziploc bag or rewrap with another layer of foil.
- Ziploc bags are great for nearly everything else.
- Make sure you use freezer quality wrapping; use 2 layers of wrapping for best freezer burn protection.
- Label everything! Before shopping day make up little labels with thawing/cooking directions on them and make another double set for your freezer inventory (these can be made on the computer and then printed out). Then, you can see at a glance what will be baked to reheat, what will be simmered, etc. before you head to the freezer to open that crucial door (and let all the cold air out!). Make decisions with the door closed, then open the door and quickly grab the meal of choice.
- Another trick is to package up smaller amounts in quart-sized ziploc bags (or even gallon sized if quart isn't big enough). Then, put ALL the ingredients for the meal (the extra cheese for instance) into another gallon ziploc bag. All the parts of the recipe are in one place and the larger bag acts as that crucial second layer of freezer burn protection (it's also clear so you can see what you're grabbing).
- Pull tomorrow night’s dinner out of the freezer the evening or morning before (depending on your frig). During defrosting in the fridge it is helpful to place meal in pan or on towel for condensation or possible leakage.
- After cleaning up, go out to dinner and treat yourself for a good day’s work!
- Keep a running survey and inventory: When you pull out the meal of the day, ask spouse and/or kids what they think. Do they like it? Any requests on their part for the next round? Keep a running list of meals you have left in your freezer to choose from and the dates that they were prepared. A white board works well for this; just put up a small one next to or on the freezer.
Sample cooking day line up:
Cheeseburger Meatloaf (2 recipes per)
Best Scones Ever (1 recipe per)
Apple Dumplings (1 recipe per)
Stuffed Braided Bread (1 recipe per)
Fish in Parchment (1 recipe per)
Spaghetti Sauce (lots!) (recipe on handout)
Creamy Peanut Chicken (1-2 recipes per)
Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas (1 recipe per)
Maple Honey Mustard Pork Chops (1 recipe per)
Tater Tot Casserole (1-2 recipes per)
Power Cooking Meal Ideas
2 lbs ground meat
5 small (6-oz.) cans of tomato paste
2 large (15-oz.) cans of tomato sauce
lots of onion powder
lots of garlic powder
lots of Italian seasoning to taste
Brown and season ground meat with salt and pepper. Drain grease and place meat into a crock pot. Cook on high for about two hours (stirring every 30 minutes or so to prevent burning). Then cook on low for about six more hours. Let sauce cook for a while before tasting. An extra can of sauce or paste can be added to thicken or thin the sauce as desired.
Hamburger and ground turkey – purchase about 8 pounds of ground meat and divide in half. To 4 pounds, add: Italian bread crumbs, a couple eggs, a can of tomato sauce, garlic and onions, salt & pepper. Form 2 pounds into 1 or 2 meatloaves and the other 2 pounds into meatballs. Bake both meatloaves at once in the Rectangular Baker, or make 4 mini meatloaves in the Mini Loaf Pan. Cool COMPLETELY. Wrap airtight in heavy duty foil and freeze. (To eat, take out of freezer at noon, LEAVE IN FOIL, put in a metal pan in 200° oven and let it heat through all afternoon until dinner.) -- Remember – do not reheat a frozen meatloaf on a stone. Leaving it in the foil, in a metal pan will keep it moist.
Cook meatballs in a skillet. When completely cooled, divide into zipper freezer bags. Use for spaghetti, Swedish meatballs, sweet & sour meatballs, etc.
For the other 4 pounds of ground meat, season to taste with onion, garlic, salt and taco seasoning mix. Crumble and cook in large skillet. When cooled, divide into zipper bags and freeze. Use for tacos, burritos, sloppy Joes, etc.
Sloppy Joes – Take 1 pound cooked ground beef and mix with 1 can sloppy Joe mix. Freeze in a zipper bag. When ready to serve, thaw and heat sloppy Joe mixture in microwave or saucepan. Place on hamburger buns and serve with chips, corn on the cob, salad, or potato salad.
Taco Ring – Take 1 pound cooked ground beef and add taco seasoning according to package directions. Freeze in zipper bag. Ingredients for when ready to serve:
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 packages (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent rolls
1 medium green bell pepper
1 cup salsa
3 cups shredded lettuce
1 medium tomato, chopped
¼ cup chopped onion
½ cup sliced pitted ripe olives
When ready to serve, mix thawed meat with 1 cup grated cheese. Unroll crescent rolls and separate into 16 triangles. Place triangles in a circle on a round pizza stone with wide ends overlapping in center and points toward the outside. (There should be a 5” diameter opening in the center of the stone.) Scoop meat mixture evenly onto widest end of triangle. Bring points of triangles over the meat filling and tuck under wide ends of dough in the center. (Filling will not be completely covered.) Bake 20-25 minutes at 350° or until golden brown. Mound lettuce tomatoes, onion and sliced olives in the middle of the ring. Garnish with sour cream. Salsa can be served in the green pepper, and placed in the middle of the ring with vegetables around it.
Chuck Wagon Casserole – Saute’ ½ cup chopped onion and ½ cup chopped green pepper in oil. Stir in 1 pound cooked ground beef, 1 can (15.5 ounce) mild chili beans in sauce, ¾ cup barbeque sauce and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to boil. Cool completely, then freeze in zipper bag. When ready to serve, thaw meat mixture. Prepare 1 package (8.5 ounce) corn muffin mix according to package directions. Stir in one can (11 ounce) Mexican-style corn, drained. Place meat mixture on bottom of 9” square baking dish and spoon corn bread mixture over the top. Bake in preheated 400° oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Shepherd Pie – Take 1 pound ground beef cooked with onion, salt and pepper. Remove from pan. Make a paste with flour and 1 can vegetable soup in skillet. Add meat to soup mixture. Cool completely. Freeze in zipper bag. To serve, thaw and place meat mixture in a casserole dish. Cover with a layer of frozen mixed vegetables and a layer of mashed potatoes. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 30 to 45 minutes, until potatoes are browned.
White Bean-Chicken Chili:
1 teaspoon Oil
2 ½ cups cooked chicken breast, cubed or chopped
1 cup onions, chopped
2 cans (l4 ounces each) chicken broth (reduced sodium)
1 can (6 ounces) no-salt tomato paste
2 cans (15.5 ounces each) great northern beans, drained
2 cans (4.5 ounces each) chopped green chilies, undrained
1 teaspoon cumin
1 clove garlic, pressed
Heat oil in dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot. Add chopped onions and garlic; sauté until transparent. Stir in cooked chicken and all other ingredients. Bring to a boil; remove from heat and cool completely. Place in a zipper bag and freeze. To serve, thaw then simmer in saucepan for 10-15 minutes.
Chicken Pot Pie:
1 can cream of chicken soup (cream of celery works too.)
1 can cream of potato soup
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
Frozen mixed vegetables or 2 cans Veg-All
salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon celery salt, if desired
1 package refrigerated pie crusts
Mix all ingredients together except pie crust. Freeze in a zipper bag. To serve, thaw chicken mixture. Place one crust on bottom of pie plate; fill with chicken mixture and top with remaining pie crust. Bake in a preheated 350° oven until crust is golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
And there's more!
Don't forget about
- Breakfasts (muffins, biscuits, scones, even egg McMuffins!)
- Desserts (cakes, cookies, etc.)
- Lunches (PB&J and lunchmeat sandwiches freeze! Tuna/chicken salad sandwiches made with cream cheese and Miracle Whip instead of mayo freeze, too!)