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Please don't remind me that I'm poor; I'm having too much fun pretending I'm simply "living green" like everyone else these days.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Once a month cooking

I first started cooking this way back when my kids were small and I had a garden. I didn't call it by that name back then. I just thought it was the most economical way to store the foods I had grown in the garden. Not only did I have a garden back then but I made most meal items from scratch and still do. Already cooked or prepared and frozen stuff from the grocery is like paying for your own personal chef. If you can afford a personal chef, why not just hire one and give somebody a job?

A year or so ago I saw there was a cookbook with that title and the name just stuck with me. I saw the book at the library and took it home to read. It was after reading the book that I realized what my style of cooking was called. The book has some very interesting recipes so it might be worth reading if you are so inclined.

I'll give you the theory behind the once a month cooking and let you judge for yourself. The theory is that every meal has certain steps from start to finish. You gather the items. You measure or chop ingredients in preparation for cooking. You cook a little. You add something. You cook some more. You add more..... and so forth. Preparing a meal can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour from start to table ready. Even longer if you simmer something for a long time.

So in theory you spend an average of one hour each day cooking the evening meals. That's 7 hours a week. If you can cut the cooking time down to 15 minutes; you will have saved yourself 5 hours and 15 minutes during the week. Multiply that by 3 meals a day.... that's 15 hours and 45 minutes saved per week.

In order to cut down the preparation time.... do as much of the preparation work ahead as you can. Have it in the freezer ready to measure for your meal. This method also cuts down on waste.

For example these onions. As you can see one onion has started to sprout. Some people will buy a bag of onions and keep them on the counter ready to dice and use in a meal. Over a short storage time the onions will start to sprout so they get thrown away and more bought. Other people will buy the already chopped and frozen onions.... paying for that personal chef I told you about.

Here you can see I've peeled the onions and I'm preparing to dice them. Did you know that by leaving the roots on the onions while you peel and dice them.... you won't get teary eyes? It's true! Try it and you will see. It also helps if you stand without your nose over the cutting, push everything away from you a bit. I have two bags of onions in this bowl... yellow and white.

By dicing these onions and putting them in the freezer..... it doesn't need to be done right before I start cooking. This saves time. Freezing them before they all sprout saves money.

I also find it hard to cook for one. I'm more used to cooking large meals for a whole gaggle of kids. Its much easier for me to cook for 30 than it is for me to cook only for myself. I mean really, a whole cake for one person? Thawing a whole pound of bacon just to fry one or two slices for just me? Thawing a whole pack of hot dogs when I only eat one? I have a choice.... eat repeated meals for several days using these items OR repackage it into the right size amounts before I put it into the freezer.

For example, hot dogs. I will eat one for lunch every now and then. The key here is ONE. But if I must thaw out a whole package just to eat the one..... I will loose money. Why? Because I can't see myself eating a hot dog for lunch 10 days in a row. Boring! Instead, I will open a package of hot dogs when I bring it home from shopping. I will wrap each hot dog individually then put into a freezer bag and freeze them. When I want a hot dog for lunch.... I take out one but the rest remain frozen for another time.

But I'm getting away from the once a month cooking. In the book the idea is that you take one day (or a weekend) to get a whole month's worth of meals precooked and put into the freezer. This type cooking assumes you have a menu for the month. The book also gives you meal ideas and gives you a menu to start with.

I don't go as far as the book with my once a month cooking. I don't cook a whole months worth of full meals all at once. What I do is get ingredients ready to use.... such as diced onions and green peppers. I will add to the once a month things as I cook other meals. For example when I cook rice. I will cook much more than I will eat at one meal. I will freeze the excess in individual sized packages to take out the next time I need rice for a meal. This eventually saves me money because I'm cooking the rice only once for several meals. Get the idea yet?

Now about precooked bacon. I cook my bacon myself. Yes, a whole package at one time. It goes into the freezer ready to take out one or two pieces as needed. Again, it saves me both time and money by cooking the whole package at once. I might use the bacon as a topping on a salad or as an ingredient when making myself some breakfast hot pockets.

The next thing I do regularly is take advantage of my inability to cook for one. I let my natural instincts cook far more than I will eat in one meal. I package the excess as individual portions to put into the freezer. When I decide to bake a cake or biscuits I will cook more than I need then freeze in portions just right for one. When I cook soup or stew I end up with enough for at least 4 meals. In a little over a month I can go from an empty freezer to a well stocked one with plenty of things to pull out and prepare a very quick meal simply by cooking more than enough for one meal.

Cooking this way is not new. It was very popular back in the 50s.... hmm....60s hmm.... 70s? The time back when people were buying freezers as the newest and greatest kitchen helpers. The time when frozen tv dinners first came out. The women who didn't want to go so far as to feed their family something on a tray but liked the convenience of taking stuff out of the freezer for dinner. These ladies were the ones to start preparing ingredients ahead of time or making their own tv dinners.

There are many things you can pre cook and put into the freezer you might not have thought about. Spaghetti (or any type of pasta) is one that comes to mind. Not a full meal.... just the spaghetti. When you are ready to make spaghetti again just take this out of the freezer and run hot water over it for a minute and its ready. You could make extra of a full spaghetti meal and freeze it too if you prefer.

Sausage for pizza is another thing that can be precooked. Cook the whole thing, freeze in portions ready to take out what you need for each pizza and half the work is done. Cook and freeze ground beef to be used in all types of recipes like sloppy joes or chili mac. Cakes, cookies, homemade bread, hmm..... look at it this way.... if you see it in the grocery store's freezer you can prepare it or cook and freeze it yourself.

It's helpful if you get yourself a book on freezing foods. My book is old. It was published by Rodale Press in 1986. It's called Stocking Up III. It's actually a canning, freezing, drying foods guide that I bought for the canning time tables. You can probably do an online search for a freezing guide too. I haven't searched yet because I use my book.

I think I covered most of the idea of once a month cooking. If you have any questions please use the comment on the post, I will get it in email. If you don't have your "no comment reply" turned on I can answer back through email.

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