Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cooking with Heather

Since Heather posted about our cooking session last week, I wanted to put something up as well. It was really awesome and we both walked away with 5 or more meals worth of food (when I say meals, it will usually feed my family of 3 adults and 1 3-year-old for 1 dinner and at least one lunch or two lunches for leftovers. I use to make larger dishes and put everything in 13x9 pans but I am now aiming for more 8x8 or, even better, 9x9 pans to freeze good meals. (We are also losing an adult in our house so we will be back to two adults and a little one eating meals so the smaller pans will still give us plenty to eat with leftovers until the kid(s) are bigger.

This last time went especially well, I thought. We were prepared, we had all of the ingredients, we didn't need to go to the store for a last minute item and, since the recipes we used this time mostly used ingredients we had on hand, neither of us spent a lot of time or money going to the store to get a lot of special ingredients.

I wanted to add some of my recommendations to hers as we are trial and erroring our way through making larger batches of food and how working with someone else works.

1) I second Heather's comment about the fact that not everything you love to eat will freeze well. Somethings freeze well before you cook it and others will freeze well after you cook it. Others don't really freeze well at all and should be kept for meals that you make when you have more time/energy/etc.

2) Definitely invest in a freeze ahead cookbook or two. We both like the Super Suppers book (there are two but we only have the first one right now) and I recently got The Freezer Cooking Manual from 30 day Gourmet. I haven't eaten any of the meals out of the book but it has a really nice set up where it tells you exactly how much you need of each ingredient if you are going to make more than one batch of each thing. It also has different options for some recipes, so when we made the chicken enchilada casserole, I made mine more like a casserole and Heather made hers more like rolled enchiladas. Same ingredients, slightly different presentation. You can try to get some out of the library to try and see if you like it enough to buy. I got both of the above books out of the library first (I haven't bought the 30 Day Gourmet book yet, I'm still deciding about that one). Our library does not have many freeze ahead books that I could find so I may end up perusing a bookstore to buy others as we branch out.

3) I never know what we are going make because I am not the better cooker in our pairing but the big thing I have learned is to buy meat on sale and just stock up. You can decide what to make with it later. When the chicken breasts were buy 2 get 3 free, I bought 5 bags. I should have bought 10. I mean, what can't you do with chicken breasts? Good choices that I am starting to stock up on: boneless, skinless chicken, ground beef, and some beef pieces like flank steak or fondue pieces.

4) When you choose the recipes, choose no more than 4 or 5 and make sure that two of those are easy recipes that can be thrown in a bag. Casseroles are nice but the prep time and mess can be difficult to get as much done. We've done a great orange beef and broccoli that took less than 19 minutes to throw in a bag as well as several chicken marinades that could either be thrown in a crockpot or on the grill. We cook them and make instant mashed potatoes or a rice mix and a box of frozen vegetables and a balanced meal is on the table in short order.

5) Learn what you and your cooking partner think is a meal size. I grew up in a family with 5 people, 2 of them large growing boys. When I cook, I think in big portions. Almost everything I make is meant to go in a 13x9 pan. While I am now thinking in smaller portions, 8x8 and 9x9, I don't hesitate to make 13x9 dishes because I often freeze meals after cooking in one meal leftover dishes for Jim and I to take for lunches. Both Jim and I eat normal portions at a meal and enjoy having leftovers for lunch so that we don't end up with Lean Pockets or PB&J everyday. Heather's family eats very differently and as such she needs to make much smaller dishes. Knowing that ahead of time helps with planning so when I make one dish, she can make two of the same recipe and we have made plenty for everyone.

6) Definitely invest in some kind of tracking system. I still need to figure out what and how I am going to put on my freezer to track what we have and what we still need to eat. Next week, when I am back in town, I will work on implementing something since we are getting together to do a beef-a-thon soon!

7) My personal favorite: get your (older) kids involved and have a teenager or husband do the clean up. Ricarda, our exchange student, has been very tolerant and helpful this whole year. She helped us cook several times when we got together this past spring. She also did most of the clean-up last week after our chicken extravaganza since I had to leave for a doctor's appointment as soon as we were done. It was awesome to come back to a clean kitchen after spending 2+ hours on my feet doing the cooking.

8) You can definitely freeze cooked meat or cooked meals afterwards. It depends some on what you cook but most meals can be refrozen in smaller dishes for individual dinners or lunches. I cook a few things in the crockpot and in a casserole that are just as good frozen and reheated after you eat it fresh.

9) When you write the name and cooking instructions with your sharpie, make sure you include the date. I need to go back and do that for our last round but all of my books say you should really only freeze things for about 2 months. I think many things can go longer than that but you don't want to get to the back of your freezer and pull out a dinner that is too freezer burned to eat because it accidentally stayed in there for who know's how long.

Freezing ahead is really helping my family to eat a more varied and, in many ways, a healthier diet. We don't eat out a lot but we are certainly tempted to eat out more and we end up with little variety in our diets and a lot of stress about what we are going to make and eat for dinner. With freezing ahead, our weekly meal plan might look something like this:

Monday: freezer meal
Tuesday: spagehetti
Wednesday: easy cook from scratch meals (always have a couple of those you can rotate through)
Thursday: smorgasboard leftovers
Friday: pizza night! (cheap-o frozen pizza in my house)
Saturday: grill/crockpot
Sunday: freezer meal or scratch meal depending on time

1 comment:

HeatherV said...

You will have to see my freezer when you come down next week! It's insane. Plus I reorganized it so I now have room for our next cook a thon. I already have all the meat and let's talk once you are home about what to make.

Great post and you brought up some things I had forgotten. I am going to pass it along to a couple of people that commented they were interested in how we set everything up. I think we are putting Supper Suppers franchaise to shame. Should we quit our teaching jobs! hahah