Once a Month Cooking - In the Kitchen at Last!
by Cyndi Rook
Are you excited about cooking, a lot? Unless you have gone on without us, you are still scheming and planning, and perhaps you have set a date and shopped for non-perishables to supply this adventure. Here are a few last minute hints, tips, and bits of sage advice that can help make your big cooking day a smooth rewarding experience, and one that you will want to repeat next month. The rest is up to you. We want to know how you do so be sure to send us an email about your experiences!
1. The night before cook day, several things can be done to save time before you start cooking. If any of your recipes include dried beans, and you have not already soaked them, they MUST be done over night. (Beans can be soaked and then frozen for the future, so you can soak days or weeks ahead) You can even start chopping. Carrots, for example, done in small dice, can take some time, so you might consider doing some pre-bedtime chopping as well. Refridgerate diced vegetables in plastic bags with a couple of ice cubes, and they will be ready to add to your recipe.
2. Make sure your kitchen, pots, pans, and utensils are clean and in top shape. Designate work stations if you don’t have permanent ones, and select which cookware will be used. Placing pots and pans on the stove the night before saves a few minutes digging through cupboards.
3. If you are using a slow cooker, getting it filled and heating should be one of your first steps, so set any non-perishables out to drop in come morning. Remember that slow cookers can be working for you while you sleep too.
4. If you haven’t done so, copy your recipes onto cards. You may have several recipes in action at once, and you need to be able to easily access any instructions you haven’t memorized.
5. Double check your ingredients. It’s really frustrating to be forced to turn off the stove and run to the store for something.
|Tip: In case you haven’t noticed, slow cookers have seen a major revival. They are still cheap, usually costing less than comparably sized stovetop piece, they are cinchy to use, save time, and if you no longer love harvest gold, avocado green, and orange, you can purchase sleek black, white or chrome models. Underscoring their renewed popularity are the numbers of new meatless cookbooks specifically geared to the slow cooker that have hit the bookstores in the last year or so. If you sold your 1970s model in a garage sale already, buy a new one or two and enjoy saving time and energy.
1. Sharpen your knives. Slicing, dicing, and chopping can be accomplished faster and much more safely when using really sharp tools. This is the not-so-well-kept secret of the professional chef that many home cooks still don’t seem to believe.
2. Collect your fresh vegetables if they aren’t out already and begin chopping, placing prepared amounts in containers of your choice. Bowls are easiest to work with, but they take up space, so you may prefer plastic bags. It’s most efficient to have all vegetables for all recipes prepared prior to beginning to cook, but if space is an issue, concessions to maximum efficiency can be made. Make it a part of the PLAN. Oh yes, have I mentioned yet in the last two months that planning is a major predictor of success and happiness in bulk cooking?
3. Seasoning that will be used in several recipes like salt and pepper should be placed together within easy reach. If you are using fresh ground pepper, grind a few teaspoons during the prep phase so that you only have to do the job once.
4. Depending on your space, measure out spices and seasonings for each recipe. However, to minimize clutter and maximize operating space, you can address each recipe separately as you begin it.
|Tip: Chances are onions are listed as an ingredient in most of your recipes. You may be instructed to mince, dice, chop, coarsely chop, or finely chop. Think about each recipe and decide if all onions can be prepared in an equal size without affecting the final outcome. Coarsely chopped onions would be out of place in a thin sauce calling for minced onions. In this case, mince, or better yet, use a food processor. I’m not in love with the mini-processors, but they mince an onion in about three seconds. Just chop onions for the remainder of the recipes reasonably evenly, place these in one large bowl measuring out as needed, and you have saved time and space.
1. As soon as you begin preparing to cook, you will know if you planned sufficiently. Every situation is unique, and only you will know your kitchen, your recipes, and your own preferences. That’s why you must plan for you. This also bears repeating: Before tackling a large scale operation, cook double or triple batches of a few recipes--the same ones you have selected for freezing if they are favorites--to determine any possible pitfalls that can be addressed in your final plan.
2. Know beforehand the order in which recipes will be cooked. This becomes important if you must use a pot for more than one recipe.
3. Consider doing only one recipe at a time, start to finish, before beginning the next. A little overlap might not matter depending on the dish, but don’t try doing three large recipes at once or things will start burning, ingredients may get left out or mistakenly placed in the wrong pot.
4. You may need to transfer cooked food to another container to cool, to reuse the pot, or just to get make room on the stove, so have some large heatproof ones handy. Pyrex or stainless steel bowls work well.
5. Clean as you go. Keep a spray bottle with soapy water and paper towels handy to wipe up spills or clean counters quickly.
|Tip: Because it is wider than it is tall, a Dutch oven, also referred to as a casserole, is a particularly cook-friendly pot for preparing large recipes. During the early stages of cooking, the wide bottom allows vegetables to be sautéed evenly with a minimum of stirring. Look for six to eight quart sizes for the most versatility.
1. For safety reasons, cooked food should be cooled and stored in freezer as soon as possible. A few days before cook day, crank your freezer down a few degrees below zero if possible to allow it to handle the sudden influx of warm containers.
2. To cool food quickly and evenly, transfer it to a shallower pan or divide it among several small shallow containers. You can also place the hot pan in the sink on a cooling rack with cool water running under it. Cool hot liquids like soups and sauces by stirring them frequently.
3. Foods stored in single serving containers will freeze more quickly.
4. Label and date containers. You will forget what you cooked before long, and every meal will be a surprise. Include simple reheating instructions on the label; indicate if additions are necessary. For instance, “Reheat for 45 minutes at 350 degrees and serve over rice.”
|Tip: The following websites will provide much more information, including lists of foods that freeze well and those that do not, which flavors intensify upon freezing and those that weaken, and how best to prepare and freeze fresh vegetables. There are also tips for reheating frozen foods.
Contains vegetarian meal plan using soy products, quantity recipes, filling the meatless pantry and hints for herb gardening
Freezer safety tips, lists of foods that freeze well and those that do not
Links that deal with preparing fresh vegetables for freezing, how not to panic if your freezer stops freezing
Consequences of freezing specific foods
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We want to hear about YOUR Once a Month Cooking experiences. How was the planning, shopping, cooking, and freezing? Did it save time or money, and what did your family think? Please share your successes and failures as well as new tips and advice to others. Just by writing to us about Once a Month Cooking, you will be entered into a drawing to win a gift certificate to a Tasty and Meatless favorite restaurant. We really look forward to hearing from you! Thank you for helping make it EASY to be Healthy... and Happy too!
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