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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cooking Day

When my friend T first asked me to consider freezer cooking for a month with her, I almost dismissed it without another thought. I'm glad I didn't, though, and we set a date.

Armed with the advice of several bloggers, T. helped get us organized. We started gathering recipes and entering them into a shared spreadsheet, multiplying quantities times six, since we hoped to get three entrees per family, per recipe. It seemed ambitious, but we thought that if we went to all the trouble, we wanted it to be worth it. Our families are similar in size, so we thought we could easily split everything 50-50.

We gathered 12 recipes, about half with ground beef, half with chicken--a few meatless--and then had a planning meeting to come up with our shopping and cooking strategy. We planned to buy a case of chicken breasts from Sam's Club and some 10-pound packages of ground beef in addition to using some of the venison that I already had in my freezer.

Twelve recipes. Three per family. That would give us each 36 entrees. If I used four per week, this would last nine weeks. This was a big motivator! 

We categorized our ingredient list into the three stores we planned to buy from, then met again on Shopping Day. It took us about three hours to hit three stores. She took home about half the meat and I took home the other half plus most of the pantry items since we would be using my kitchen. Here's a picture of most of our non-refrigerated purchases (minus the boxes of soda). Shopping lesson learned? Cheese is as expensive as meat.

Prep. The night before our Cooking Day, we cooked the chicken breasts in 18-quart electric roasters. This was wonderfully easy. The cooked chicken fell apart as we chopped or shredded it up in preparation for Cooking Day. We reserved the liquid for chicken stock, which we needed for several recipes. Because our ground meats (beef, venison, and some Italian recipes called for pork sausage) needed to be browned with or without onions, we saved this task for Cooking Day.

Some of our recipes called for cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup. Rather than buying these soups, we opted to try a homemade recipe mix that used dry milk and bouillon. I mixed this up the night before. Meanwhile, T figured that our case of chicken had a little more than our recipes needed, so she took the extra chicken and filled two bags per family of uncooked chicken breasts in a marinade, ready to thaw and bake or grill. That gave us two bonus entrees. Lesson learned? I think we did the right things for preparation.

Cooking Day arrived. T. and her daughter Joanna arrived around 7:15 a.m. and we quickly got to work. Joanna and my daughters Hope and Sydney started chopping about 30 onions. We were all teary over that process as the odor wafted through the house! Lesson learned? It is worth it to use a food processor for this task. Chopping onions is very time consuming. If we didn't have our girls to help, this would have been better to do ahead.

The day progressed and we worked through ground meat recipes first. We worked well as a team and our daughters were an invaluable help. They made the manicotti filling, piped it into about 100 manicotti shells, and also made nearly 200 meatballs. Although we roughly planned to work on meat recipes before chicken, we didn't have a strict order planned in advance. This was our first attempt and it was hard to imagine ahead of time what the day would be like and what would be best.

We quickly discovered that our pots and pans and bowls were not big enough. However, we had two 18-quart electric roasters and while we didn't think ahead of time that we would need them on Cooking Day, we ended up using them all day long! We made the chilis, enchilada sauce, sloppy joes, lasagne meat sauce, and soup in the roaster pan, using the heat for a few of the recipes that needed simmering. (Remember that roasters do not work for browning ground meat. This must be done on the stove top.) We used the second roaster pan as a giant mixing bowl for the manicotti filling and the chicken enchilada casserole. Lesson learned? We would have been lost without those big pans.

T and I had no idea how long the day would take us, but I thought we might finish around three in the afternoon. Instead, it took until about 6:30 that night. We worked nearly eleven hours straight and this included three very capable daughters helping us most of that time. Without them we could never have achieved nearly 40 entrees per family and probably would have had to scale back ambitions as the day wore on. You might think it would discourage us that it took so long, but we learned so much throughout the day that we both feel confident that next time will be easier. What did we learn? We had too many recipes that had multiple steps, such as lasagne and manicotti, and several that required bringing sauces up to boiling, which takes time when you are making large quantities. Our next Cooking Day will include more recipes, like chicken enchilada casserole, that simply need to be assembled. I'm very glad, however, that we did some more complicated recipes because we both admitted that we never bother to make them usually because our lives are so busy.

The entire day was worth all the effort after we proudly posted our Freezer Inventory List. After all the clean-up was done, I just kept going back to that list congratulating myself.

About 40 entrees! Made for about $7 per entree. That's a fantastic average for feeding a family of seven. Best of all, I'll be able to spend more of my kitchen time in December baking and enjoying Christmas cooking. Thank you so much, T, for inviting me to join you!


Meredith said...

Great work Amy! Well done. I usually cook in bulk - one for us and several for the freezer of anything that is suitable. And have often wondered about asking around if others do this and doing a swap of frozen meals. But this takes that idea to a whole new level. What a big day but what a big achievement.

Bon appetite!

lovemylife said...

Wow! Impressive! I've always wanted to try, but am overwhelmed with trying to organize/plan for the day. On the other hand, I have a cookbook with really yummy recipes that are made to be freezer meals, and it already has the amounts multiplied out for 3, 6 or 9 of each recipe, so if you'd ever like to borrow it, you sure can!

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