As I believe I mentioned before, we got a chest freezer for Christmas from the in-laws. My excitement over receiving an appliance as a gift is probably a better sign that I’m getting older than anything else. Ahem. Throughout last week, I made big batches of a few things so that we could get a little bit of stuff socked away to help with meal planning. And yesterday I did some more big-batch cooking. It’s not anything like once a month cooking yet, but I’m feeling my way around, and it’ll get there.
We had about ten pounds of chicken leg and thigh quarters, which we bought on sale at Meijer for 98 cents a pound. Now, here’s the thing about the meat we eat. When we can afford it, I really prefer to buy local, organic, free-range, etc. I do, in fact, think it’s a Really Big Deal. But we don’t have the capital right now to afford anything like stock-up quantities; the idea here is that by taking advantage of sales and eating a planned meal each night, we can squirrel away the money we save and start buying almost 100% ethical food by the end of summer. That’s the plan, at least. Small steps, and we’ll get where we want to be.
So let’s put aside for now the implications of buying really cheap meat at the grocery store (and trust me, I have a lot more to say on the matter, and you can be sure I will) and focus instead on what I did with it. First, here’s a list of things I added to the freezer yesterday.
- 10 breakfast burritos with eggs, sausage, and cheese
- Extra breakfast burrito filling, because I uh… ran out of tortillas; the shame!
- Roughly a pint of enchilada sauce
- Three meals’ worth of cioppino
- Four servings of chicken adobo, with sauce
- About five pounds of cooked shredded chicken meat
- Probably a gallon and a half of chicken broth
- The remaining pork and sauerkraut from New Year’s, four meals’ worth
- Braised carrot bags, to be described in detail anon.
I may be missing something; sadly, I left the inventory downstairs and my brain doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders. At any rate, it sounds like, and is, rather a lot of food, but it doesn’t feel like so much work when you set up an efficient schedule. For example, I chopped the onions for the burritos, the enchilada sauce, the broth, and the cioppino broth all at the same time. It would have been ideal if I could also have made chili and sauce bolognese, but the ground meat gods were not with us yesterday. And even I won’t try to excuse making vast quantities of food with 100% ground pork butt, because that ain’t healthy.
My day, roughly speaking, went rather like this. I woke up and messed around on message boards, as is my usual morning routine. I wrote myself out a rough Plan for Cooking (this is very helpful; even if you’ve done the same tasks 80 times before, you really don’t want to forget anything vital). Then I went downstairs and laughed when Joey Porter turned the ball over and then got sort of pissed that the Ravens were winning anyway, because I am a Steelers fan and I hate the Ravens. Once I got over that I headed into the kitchen.
The chicken was frozen, so it needed to be thawed at least enough to remove the meat kotex (thanks to one of my Trolls for the term), because nobody wants to eat mystery absorbent material. I almost always thaw with cold running water, because it’s fast. So, chicken met sink. Meanwhile I got out the big skillet and browned a pound of breakfast sausage. As it cooked, I grabbed the bag of onions and cut off their heads and tails, sliced them in half, and peeled them. If you’ve never cut large quantities of food, here is the A-#1 tip: Group like activities! So, for example, don’t take one onion and turn it into dice, then the next onion and turn it into dice, and so on. Take advantage of your muscle memory, or whatever that is, by performing the same action over and over. Trim all the onions, then cut them all in half, then peel them all, then dice them all. OK? OK.
That diatribe aside, I was curious to see how the food processor dealt with chopping onions. I’ve seen it recommended many times, but the one time I tried I ended up with an acrid, bitter, horrible pile of juice with fiber floating around in it. This time I used the slicing disc and the chopping blade at the same time, and it actually worked pretty well. The pieces weren’t really anything resembling even, but since I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, it didn’t matter super a whole lot. I have pretty good knife skills (thanks, working the pantry station at a restaurant!) but this was still faster and I’ll probably use it for those times when I need to chop five pounds of onions all at once.
I added about a cup of the onions to the sausage, and set aside one cup for the enchilada sauce and one cup for the cioppino broth. Oh, and the two onions I didn’t chop up, just halved and peeled, for the stock, later. The rest of the chopped onions went into two freezer bags for future use. Chicken was thawed enough to peel off the paper, so I did that and separated the individual pieces into the single big stockpot I own, then put in the ingredients for adobo. It involves cloves of garlic, and so did the enchilada sauce and cioppino, so as I’m sure you can now guess, I just peeled an entire head’s worth. The chicken adobo was set to simmer, and I moved back to the burritos, cracking a dozen eggs, adding seasoning salt, pepper, and grated cheese (the food processor is, by the way, the best ever for cheese-grating). Mix mix, and into the pan with the sausage, on relatively low heat, given the occasional stir/scrape as you do with scrambled eggs.
I’m sure, by now, you rather get the point, which is this: Efficiency! If you give a little bit of thought to your entire plan, you can pretty easily figure out how to save yourself doing a lot of unneccessary work. If there’s downtime where every pan is occupied, tidy up, do some dishes, or get food that’s done into freezer bags or containers and label it. Nothing to do in the kitchen? Move to the dining room, sit down, and work on a sewing or crochet project. Advice: Don’t stop working or you will decide you don’t feel like doing anything more today and everything will be all half-done.
Oh, I did promise to talk about the carrots, right? I really like braised carrots, and they’re easy, so I put together little kits for them. Basically it’s just liquid, butter, seasonings, and carrots, to make them. You can just freeze the liquid (stock, OJ, soy sauce, etc.) in ice cube trays; I mix the seasonings in, generally (salt, chipotles, thyme, chervil, etc.). Once it’s frozen, get some freezer bags and put in a reasonable serving of carrots, baby or sliced, several cubes of liquid and seasonings, and several good pats of butter. Seal, label, freeze, et voila. Come dinner time you just empty the bag into a saucepan and go.
I think I used all my organization up yesterday, because this post is pretty disordered, but I hope it’s provided at least some useful information for you. As I move into really cooking once a month (I need more stock pots, clearly), I’ll likely go over some of these things again, in finer detail.
Oh, one final thing: LABEL everything you freeze! You probably think you’ll remember what it is and when you froze it, but you won’t. And make a freezer inventory list so you know what’s in there without leaving the door open long enough to thaw all the contents. I’ll be uploading a PDF for this purpose sometime this week, after I make it look nice for you.