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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Bulk Cooking Tips and Techniques



Get ready for tips,  hacks, and techniques that will help make your bulk cooking session a success.  Last week I wrote on "Why Bulk Cooking Saves Money."  If you haven't read that post, you'll find it here.  


Let's get started!  

My planning and executing a weekly Saturday cooking session has been the result of trial and error over a long period of time.  Feel free to embrace ideas that work for you and your family and ignore those that do not fit your lifestyle or time restraints.  I freely admit that there is no one "right way" to bulk cook.  But, I trust that some of the things that I am about to share will be helpful to you in your quest to provide thrifty, tasty, nutritious food for your family.

We'll approach this post in the form of a timeline:   planning on Thursday, prepping on Friday, and cooking on Saturday.  

THURSDAY: (Planning) 

Make a List of What you Have

I don't cook according to "what sounds good" or "what I see on the internet".  I cook according to what I have on-hand and in the house.  I HATE wasting food!  My goal is to throw out no more than 3% of the food that comes into my house.  

So, begin by looking through your fridge, freezer, and pantry.   List all items that you plan to use or which NEED to be used before they go bad.  I use a simple piece of lined notebook paper and list each item and the quantity which I have on hand. While planning my menu, I make notations beside each item and check it off the list when I use it up. 


TIP:  I keep my pantry organized like a store.  Beans and rice, tomato products, baking supplies, gluten free products, pasta, canned veggies, and canned fruits each have their own section.  This makes it easy for me to track what I have on hand and what I need to buy.  


Choose your Recipes

There are numerous websites which allow you to type in ingredients that you have on hand and it will pull up a list of possible dishes for you to make with those ingredients.  it also helps to dig out your cookbooks.  I choose a couple of cookbooks each week and try to pull as many recipes from them as possible.  If I find that I consistently cannot find anything that I really want to make in a cookbook, then I donate it.  Clearly I am not using it and it should no longer be taking up space on my shelf.

TIPS: 

  • Conquer your fear of substitutions.  Really!  I do it all the time.  I view recipes as "suggestions", rather than dictates.  Does the recipe call for cauliflower, but you found broccoli on sale last week and you have three heads just waiting to be used?  As long as it makes sense in the recipe, do it! 

  • Every week I make "everything minestrone".  If I have a veggie in the fridge or freezer, it is likely to make an appearance in that week's minestrone.  

  • I make notations on my list, reminding me of the cookbook in which each dish is located.  If I have printed it from the internet, I jot down "printed".  This saves me immense frustration while trying to figure out where the recipe is located when I am hip deep in chopped ingredients on cooking day. 

  • Don't plan a lot of new recipes which contain time-consuming preparation or cooking or are overwhelming in any other way.  This is a time to get a boatload of food cooked .... fast!  If you want to try something exotic, then do it later in the week when you can give it your full time and attention.  That's not to say that  never try new recipes on bulk-cooking day.  But, the majority of the items on my list are tried-and-true family favorites and the new recipes are fairly straightforward with ingredients that I know my family likes. 


Organize your plan of attack! 

I designed an excel spreadsheet for listing dishes and ingredients.  Each week I make 4 soups, 4-5 entrees, and 3-4 side dishes.  I have a separate section for each of these categories on my form.

TIPS: 

  • Across the top of the form I list ingredients which I need to chop ahead of time.  For instance, if the soup, entree, or side dish needs onions, then I put a check mark in the "onion" column.  At the bottom I write the total number of onions that I need to chop.  I do this for each main ingredient.  I don't list every ingredient.  I simply find this too time consuming and frustrating.  If I know that I need to chop 6 stalks of celery, 3 bulbs of garlic, 4 onions, 6 carrots and juice 4 lemons, then this seems to take most of the hassle out of the cooking session and tremendously shorten the amount of time needed to prepare a week's worth of meals all in one day.   

  •  Plan the order in which you will execute your recipes.  Consider both the cooking and prep time and move from longest to shortest.  I leave 1 or 2 recipes to possibly move to another day if I run out of time.
Here is my list for this week.  
 

 You may download your own copy here:  


Make a list of Ingredients you need to purchase.   

   I find that once I have done my best to match recipes up to what I have in the house, my grocery list is surprisingly short.

TIPS: 

  • I check the weekly sales ads and stock up on real food.  I also shop local farmer's markets during the growing season and belong to a CSA.  I focus on stocking a variety of fruits, veggies, and whole foods.  I buy items that are on sale and that I know my family will eat.  If I buy too much cauliflower, no sweat.  Nearly every fresh food can be prepped and frozen for later use. 

  • As much as possible I eat seasonally, locally, and organically.  This does not mean spending a ton of money.  This does mean that I am getting the freshest food available, while supporting small farmers and the local economy.  I like to look the people who grow my food in the eye. 

FRIDAY: (Prepping)

Time for food prep. 



 TIPS:

  • Look over your recipes one last time to be sure that you haven't missed purchasing any ingredients.   You don't want to either run to the store on Saturday to get it or switch gears in the middle of your cooking session and need to find a substitute recipe that does not call for the missing ingredient.  

  • I cook beans ahead of time and have them ready for Saturday morning.  Yes, you can use canned beans.  But, the copious amount of sodium compels me to make my own. On Thursday evening, I soak my beans overnight in the crockpot.  As soon as I get up Friday morning, I  rinse the beans, fill the crockpot with water (leaving at least 1-2 inches of space the top), and put it on high for four hours or low for 8 hours.  

  • There are more beans in a six quart crockpot that I need for one soup recipe.  That's why after the beans have cooled, I remove extra beans with a slotted spoon and place them in a tupperware container in the fridge, leaving just enough beans in the crockpot for the soup recipe.  Then, I place the entire crockpot insert in the fridge.  On Saturday morning, I simply take the crockpot insert out of the fridge, add the rest of the ingredients for the soup, plug it in and in, place it on "high" four hours, and voila! I have soup!

  • What about the excess beans that I put in the tupperware container?!  I know ahead of time that I will have approximately 4 cups of extra black beans or garbanzo beans and I have incorporated those extra beans into my weekly cooking plan!  The extra black beans may become smoky black bean filling for enchilladas.  The garbanzo beans may be spicy garbanzo spread.  These two favorites make an appearance nearly every week at my house and both freeze beautifully.

  • If I don't plan to use the extra beans, they go into a freezer bag and are labelled and frozen flat for future week's cooking adventures.   I do exactly the same thing with rice.  These cooked, frozen beans  and rice have been a lifesaver for me when I am either sick or too tired to cook.  You can make an entire meal for six people out of rice, beans, and a few simple ingredients!

  • If you do use canned beans, drain and rinse them.  This reduces the sodium by more than 50%!  
  •  Make full use of your kitchen gadgets.  They save you time!  Here is a list of appliances that I regularly use for bulk cooking day:  a high speed blender, food processor, three crockpots, a rice cooker, a pressure cooker, a mini-chopper, and a food slicer.  

  •  If you have time and energy (I rarely do on Friday evenings.) you can chop your onions, carrots, celery, and garlic ahead of time.  If you can't, no sweat!  I still get one week's worth of cooking done in about 5 hours.  

SATURDAY: (Cooking)

On Cooking Day Follow these rules:  

1.  If you haven't pre-chopped the main ingredients (which are listed on your planning sheet), then do this immediately.  

2.  Get those little helpers engaged in the process. Have an older sibling read off ingredients from each recipe and send younger siblings on a quest to gather ingredients.  
  
3.  Begin with recipes that take the longest to cook. Get the crockpots plugged in and cooking.   

3.  Keep the oven full.  If you are heating up the oven for baked potatoes, then look ahead on your list and get that meatloaf ready to go into the oven too.  If it is too much to go into the oven all at one time, then make a note of when the potatoes and casserole will be done and have the muffins and bread ready to slip into the oven as soon as that space is vacated.  Use a timer for items that are in the oven.  Don't look at your watch and try to rely on your memory to time when they will be done. 

4.  Save 1 or 2 dishes for last that could be finished another day.  Don't pick something that has a critical ingredient that will wilt, go brown, or go "bad" if you wait until the next day to finish it.  This week, my pick for "another day" was a quadruple batch of dark chocolate pancakes, (my 13 year old's specialty.)  I can, literally hand him the recipe later in the week and he'll do the whole thing with no supervision.  

5.   Use your sous chefs to their fullest.  Chopping, washing, drying, assembling can all be done by helpful, little hands.  My kids all know that bulk cooking morning means "all hands on deck".  I have been both surprised and delighted by how much their help has cut down my cooking time.  It's also been fantastic to pass on cooking skills to them.

6.  Finally, after everything is cooked and cooled, place the soups, entrees, and side dishes in bags or containers for the freezer or refrigerator.  Label them with masking tape or erasable marker.  Believe me, otherwise, you'll forget what is in them!  I personally like tupperware for "sloppy" things like soup.  If you put soup in a freezer bag, double bagging it will cost little extra money and add an extra layer of protection against leaks.  If space is a consideration, freezer bags will always allow you to put more products in less space. Freeze all items flat and be sure that all the air is out of the bag. 

Next week, I'll share a weekly menu, tell you what we made, and include lots of photos!

Do all to the Glory of God,

Hope


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