I've talked about bulk cooking before. That post is the snap shot version - a quick how to. This one will be the unabridged one. I'll do this Q and A style.
Q: What kind of supplies do I need to cook in bulk?
A: Be sure to have on hand the following: large mixing bowls, stock pot, aluminum foil, disposable aluminum pans, freezer bags, permanent marker, and a cookie sheet (I put my freezer bags on cookie sheets to freeze things flat so I can then stack them up). An electric skillet with sides is also great to cook large batches of meat or veggies.
Q: Does it matter which friend I cook with?
A: Yes! You want to be sure you are compatible with your friend. Do you guys like similar foods? I'm not a big fan of casseroles, so it'd be difficult to bulk cook with someone who wanted a lot of casseroles. Some of this can be flexible. I don't eat beef or pork, but I cook with someone who does. I just substitute any beef for turkey. What about health convictions? If your cooking buddy eats only organic foods and you do not, it won't work well. You want to cook with someone who shops similar to you. However, if your friend wants to use whole wheat flour and you want to use white flour, it's easy to compromise by using half and half. Another thing to take into consideration is style of cooking. Does your friend like to chit chat while she cooks or focus more on cooking? Does your friend have to stick to the recipe while you enjoy estimating ingredient amounts? Issues like all those above may turn out to be frustrating for one or both of you. Be sure to talk about things like that beforehand. Do you have a similar budget? One of the benefits of bulk cooking is that it's cheaper. But, if your cooking buddy doesn't have the same goal of cheap food, your budget will suffer. If you're not sure of cooking compatibility, have a trial cooking day. That way, you can both see if it'll be a good fit.
Q: How often should I bulk cook?
A: This one depends on many factors. How big is your family? Bulk cooking is not just for large families! If you have a larger family, bulk cooking more than once a month may make sense. If you're just cooking for you, once a month may be over kill. How much freezer space do you have? This is really the most critical issue. You can only cook for how much space you have. How much time do you have? When I say "how much time do you have?" I mean short term. Because bulk cooking in the long run, will actually save you time. So for those who work full time, you may not be willing to give up one Saturday morning a month to bulk cook. But, perhaps once a quarter works better. Keep in mind that bulk cooking is beneficial even if you only do it once a year!
Q: How can I bulk cook with limited space?
A: Those of you who are limited on space can still do several things that can maximize your time, energy, and wallet. For starters, go through your freezer. Here’s the how to. That will most likely give you some space you didn’t think you had. One of the biggest things you can do that will not take up any added space is to cook your food before freezing it. For example, if you buy some chicken - don’t put it raw in the freezer. Go ahead and see what you need for that week or month and cook it. Planned for bbq chicken sandwiches? Cook and shred the chicken, add some bbq sauce and sauteed onions and put it in a bag. Place it flat so it saves space and you can stack other things on top. Have some ground beef that was on sale? Go ahead and cook it. It was going in there anyway, so make it less work for you in the future. Another idea is a freezer co-op of sorts. If you have a friend who lives close by who has an extra freezer, ask if you can "rent" some of the space. Payment can be in the form of food! Get more space. Another option is to get a small freezer. Be creative in where you could keep it...laundry room, garage, even some sheds have power. Prep meals in advance. You may not be able to freeze many meals, but you can still shave some time off of your nightly cooking by prepping your meals beforehand. Cut up all the veggies for the week so you don't have to do that every night. Go ahead and cook the meats that you need for the week and keep them in the fridge ready to be reheated. While this isn't really considered bulk cooking, it will save you time. Think outside of the freezer meal box! You can bulk cook things that don't need to be frozen...think granola, oatmeal packets, baking mixes, and dried bean soups (recipes for these things to come!)
Q: I don't have several hours (energy, desire, family to cook for, etc) to bulk cook. Any other tips that can help me?
A: You can still freezer cook by doubling your recipes that you are making for your meal. Making lasagna tonight? Make two and freeze one. Always make two batches. Always. Even if you’re just cooking meat. Double it and freeze half. Also, if you have freezer space, buy meat in family size portions if they are cheaper than the smaller portions (and they usually are unless the smaller ones happen to be on sale). When you get home from the store, go ahead and separate your meat into one (1) serving portions and place in a freezer bag. You can even add sauce for it to marinate in, saving you both time and money. Another tip is to freeze left overs. Making chicken for dinner tonight, but didn't eat it all? Put the rest in a bag and pop it in the freezer. Now you have chicken ready to use. Cook once, eat twice. What I mean by that is to plan two or more meals using the same ingredients, but different meals. Suppose you are making pasta primavera one night. Plan to have pasta salad the next. That way, you can go ahead and cook all the pasta the same night - cutting down on cooking time since it takes no more time to make a double portion of pasta as it does a single one. Make left overs for lunch. You can eat those that same week or put them in small containers and freeze them.
I'll be blogging about recipes and shopping next...so come back!