Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cooking in Bulk & Using your Freezer

I love to cook, but I love to cook in great quantities even more, because then I don't have to cook as much. I know it seems like a paradox, but you know what I mean ... I enjoy cooking, but I never want it to feel like a chore. Cooking for yourself also helps you control what, exactly, you eat and how it is prepared as well as the cost of it. Cooking in quantity saves the cook energy and saves the Earth's resources because cooking implements need only be rinsed between uses, if at all, and proper planning reduces wasted leftover ingredients that the cook doesn't typically use. Cooking in quantity also tends to reduce the cost of cooking because it allows cooks to buy in bulk.

You can cook in bulk even if you love variety. In my experience, once I find a recipe that meets my criteria, I make it often -- but not often enough to get tired of the meal. By cooking multiple portions of your favorite recipe and freezing them, you can access those meals with only 24-hour notice. There are a few tricks to "freezer cooking."

Choose recipes that:
  • Share similar ingredients and cooking methods. My first freezer-cooking menu is all Italian because they involve diced tomatoes, 1/4-cans of tomato paste, sauteing onions, ground turkey, and fresh herbs.

  • Make use of ingredients you don't typically buy because you never use the entire bunch / package and it's perishable (e.g., fresh herbs and half-cans)

  • Make use of ingredients that are available and cheaper in bulk.

  • Share a complicated or drawn-out preparation or cooking process that usually deters you from making recipes that involve that ingredient/method -- like cooking dried beans (dried beans are cheaper and have less sodium than canned beans)

  • Get familiar with your recipes and what cooking implements they require.

  • Organize according to whatever saves you time and use a method that helps you jump from one recipe to the next, in the order that maximizes efficiency. For those truly obsessively organized, try ...
    • Photocopying the recipes and number the steps directly on the page. Where multiple recipes share a step, I use a letter next to the number so I know that I need to look at other recipes to get the correct measurements. For example, all onion chopping gets a 1a, 1b, 1c, etc., written next to that step in each recipe
    • Typing up the steps into a master document (I think the Once a Month Cooking book has it set up this way)

  • To avoid cleaning your knife and cutting board more than once,

    • Save cutting onions until after all other vegetables that aren't going into a dish with onions
    • Cut meats last (after onions!)

  • Place multiple items in the oven at once if they share the same cooking temperature. Otherwise, try to go from lower to higher cooking temperature, so you don't have to wait as long (and use energy) to preheat the oven or cool it down before using it for the next item.

  • Use pots and pans for similar ingredients and, if there is a particularly hard-to-clean recipe, try to make that last -- so you don't have to put in a lot of elbow grease when getting the pan ready for the next item.
Food Safety:
  • Let hot foods cool before adding them to the fridge or freezer, because if they are hot, they will lower the temperature of the fridge or freezer until the food cools down -- compromising other food in the fridge or freezer.

  • To cool food quickly, to avoid bacteria from forming, stick the container in an ice water bath or freeze a clean bottle of water and insert it directly into the food (if it is a liquid consistency)

  • To conserve space, freeze in plastic bags. Be sure to initially position the bag in a shape that will work well in your freezer -- laying flat is best for our small freezer.

  • To conserve resources, freeze in reusable plastic containers.

  • To avoid confusion, mark the containers or attach a piece of paper to each container that has information on:

    • What is in the container

    • When it was made

    • How to prepare it

  • Consider portion and use sizes. For example, freezing a large-size lasagna doesn't make sense for a two-person family. Assemble half-size lasagnas so you're not stuck with too many leftovers. For chicken stock, divide it by the typical amount you use it in recipes. Consider freezing it initially in ice cube trays, then popping out the frozen chicken stock and storing it in a container or bag so you can grab one cube at a time.

  • If the item goes from freezer to oven (like a lasagna), line the baking container with aluminum foil and assemble and/or freeze the item in that container. When frozen, remove the food and wrap tightly in a freezer bag.

Links to other useful "freezer cooking" or "Once a Month Cooking" resources:

I am always looking for lean, minimally-processed freezer meals -- if you have any recommendations, please share! Right now, I just have one slate of meals for an all-day cooking fest (to be posted later this week). I'm not complaining, they're great meals, but it's always nice to branch out!

1 comment:

  1. I love your blog,Its quite different to read what others tell you to do on freezing foods and actually doing them, but you make it sound that I could really do em :)Hope you wont mind but I'd love to guide Foodista readers to your site, just add this little widget here to this post and it's all set to go, Thanks!