Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Once-a-month cooking

Ooof, I just finished my bout of cooking. The idea of once-a-month cooking is brilliant: once a month (or another interval, depending on the size of your freezer, ability to cook quickly, etc) you buy loads of groceries, cook them in various ways, freeze them, and enjoy for as long as they last without having to set your foot in the kitchen until they're finished. It took me a while to get a hang of it (in some ways, I'm still learning the best ways). Here's what you need: a standalone freezer, tons of freezer-friendly containers, a variety of freezer-friendly recipes, and a few days that are relatively free.

I used to freeze everything in Ziploc bags, because they take up least amount of space, but a) they're expensive, b) environmentally-unfriendly, and c) I found a better way: IKEA Distans Food Saver (7x2). They're four cups, which is exactly what I need for my family of four, given that one cup is one serving.

How to find freezer-friendly recipes? Almost everything you can make is freezer-friendly; exceptions are vegetables that contain quite a bit of water; for some reason, boiled eggs; and things that separate into water and fat (such as cream). The best way though is to try freezing a small portion to see what happens to it. I also found that rice (and other grains like buckwheat) freeze weirdly: it requires extra minutes in microwave when heating, otherwise it tastes strange.

For the month batch I try to select a variety of grains and meats, never making less than 6 dishes, usually more (this month it was 14). Grains are things like brown rice, buckwheat, couscous, pasta and meats are chicken, turkey, pork, veal, and beef (occasionally in the form of franks or ground). I prefer recipes that mix meat and the side, but I'm game to try anything that's easy to cook and adds to variety. I usually sit down and put together a list of recipes, a shopping list and a cooking schedule so I can use this group of recipes again in the future. I currently have seven groups of recipes that I rotate so the dishes do not become tiresome.

I usually do an evening of active grocery shopping, followed by a day of cooking. Sometimes if I don't have a whole day, I split the cooking into a chopping day (preparing all ingredients) and actual cooking day (to ensure that I cook all of my 350F recipes at the same time, all of my 400F recipes, etc, to maximize the use of the oven).

Now both of my freezers (refrigerator and standalone) are full, and for the next month or so my cooking is going to consist of taking a container out of the freezer the night before, making an occasional salad and frying an occasional fish (I like it fresh). Leaves more time for the kids.

Here are some of the recipes I used this time.

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1 can chicken broth
2 tablespoons of preshredded fresh Parmesan cheese
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
Cook rice. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; saute 30 seconds or until lightly browned. Boil onions in broth and white wine till most of the liquid is gone. Mix everything.

Spaghetti, salt, garlic, olive oil, cheese, parsley (optional)
Cook spaghetti with salt and water. Strain. Chop garlic & parsley. Pour olive oil into deep pan, put garlic, fry for one minute, add spaghetti, fry for 5 minutes; turn off, add cheese and parsley.

2 lb beef, 3 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 3 medium onions, sliced; 2 cloves of garlic, minced; 1/2 c flour; 1 cup beef bouillon; 1 can of beer; 3 tbsp brown sugar; 1 tbsp parsley; 2 tsp thyme, salt
Slice onions, cut beef into serving size pieces. Brown on both sides in 3 tablespoons oil to which you have added 1 tbsp lemon juice. Remove steak to casserole. Layer onions and garlic over meat. Sprinkle flour over top. Preheat oven to 325F. Now combine bouillon, beer, sugar, parsley flakes, thyme, salt. Pour over steak and bake uncovered in 325 degree oven for 3 hours.

4 Servings, about 3 ounces each; Chicken thighs, boneless, skinless 1-1/2 pounds; Bread crumbs 1 cup; Vegetta; Garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon; Onion powder 1/4 teaspoon
1. Remove skin and bone; cut thighs into bite-sized pieces. 2. Place breadcrumbs and spices in plastic bag. 3. Close bag tightly and shake until blended. 4. Add a few chicken pieces at a time to crumb mixture. Shake to coat evenly. 5. Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly grease a cooking sheet. 6. Place chicken pieces on cooking sheet so they are not touching. 7. Bake until golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes.

1 can of salmon, 4 oz breadcrumbs, finely crushed, 1 onion, finely diced, 2 eggs, 1 tsp lemon juice, 2 ts dill
Trim canned salmon of large bones and skin as desired. Mix well with other ingredients. Form into patties and fry lightly in oil until golden brown.

2 lbs ground turkey; 5 ea potatoes, mashed; 1 ea egg, slightly beaten; 1/2 c mayonnaise; 1 tb lemon juice; 2 tbsp celery; 1 can green peas, drained
Cook & mash potatoes. Stir in egg. Spread in well oiled 9-inch pie pan. Combine mayonnaise and lemon juice; stir in turkey, celery, and peas. Spoon into potato crust. Bake at 375F 15-20 minutes or until hot through.

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