I mentioned in an earlier post that batch cooking, or cooking more than one meal in one session of cooking, is one of my biggest sanity-saving tips. I thought I would share how I fit a session of batch cooking into my busy schedule.
As a homeschooling mom who also works outside the home, my time is at a premium, and I also have health issues, so a big day-long session of cooking once a month usually doesn't work well for me. I have done it only a time or two, and while I loved all those meals once I was done, I found I dreaded the big day so much that I just never got around to doing it. What works better for me is doing several smaller sessions throughout the month. I spread the work of that session over several days.
Today, I went to the store just to pick up some water. I broke one of my cardinal rules of shopping and decided while I was there to buy some chicken (Beloved is not a chicken fan; he is out of town; chicken was on sale at a decent price; I love chicken; haven't had chicken in forever; let's buy chicken). I wandered over to the chicken and was blessed from heaven to see package after package of bone-on breasts that had just reached their sell-by date, marked down to 59 cents/lb and thighs marked down to 71 cents. All just for me. I bought it all, over 75 pounds of chicken!
Because it was at its sell-by date, I decided to process most of it immediately. It was a busy day, so I got out my biggest roaster pan (left over from a broken Nesco Roaster), skinned all the breast pieces, sprinkled them with salt, onion powder, and garlic, covered the pan with foil, and placed them in the oven. After an hour I turned the temp down to 225 and left the house for errands and a doctor's appointment. About 40 pounds of meat was in that pan, but it only took me about 15 minutes to prepare it.
When I got home, the house smelled wonderful. We had a simple meal of hot chicken with rice from the freezer. I spread the rest out on two cookie sheets to cool. When it was cooled, I deboned it, put the bones back in the roaster with two cut-up onions, about 8 cloves of garlic, a bunch of chopped up celery, and some salt. I filled the roaster with water, added a couple of tablespoons of vinegar (to help the bones leach calcium), covered the pan with foil, and put it in the oven again at 225. That probably took me another 15-20 minutes. I will let that cook all night. Tomorrow I will strain the broth and make some soup for lunch with the broth, chicken, and leftover rice. I'll make enough to freeze at least one batch.
I also have 25 pounds of thighs to deal with. Tomorrow, I will look through my freezer cookbooks for a couple of easy recipes using chicken thighs. We can easily eat 6 pounds of thighs at one meal, so this will supply four meals. We'll have one for supper and freeze the other three. Cooking those four meals won't take me any more time than cooking one.
On Friday, I may or may not deal with the chicken breast meat cooling in my fridge right now. If I am up to it, I will find a few recipes and cook it all up. If not, I will just dice it up and freeze it in meal sized portions. I probably have enough for about 8 meals. I also bought 10 pounds of hamburger today, and I plan to make some spaghetti sauce with that. We'll have spaghetti for supper, and cooking up enough sauce for four meals also takes the same time as one.
What I am going to do with the breast meat is an unknown at this point. But by Friday night, I will have an extra five fully cooked meals in my freezer, plus a bunch of broth and diced chicken ready for a quick meal. If I am extra energetic, I may just cook up those chicken breast meals tomorrow or Friday and that will mean 14 meals in my freezer for just a few hours of work.
Other strategies that work well are to cook up a HUGE pot of beans or rice and freeze them in one quart containers or can them in a pressure cooker (the beans). Yesterday I was feeling lazy, with Beloved out of town, so I just had my daughter thaw a couple of bags of black beans, and we ate them with sour cream, salsa, and cheese, either in a bowl with a piece of cornbread, for us celiacs, or on a whole wheat tortilla. (Ever since I saw "Napoleon Dynamite", I love to tell my kids to make themselves a "dang quesadilla," pronouncing the "l". I know, I am easily amused.)
Anyway, that's what works for me. Any task you do in the kitchen, ask yourself if you can double or triple the results without doubling the effort.