Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bulk Cooking...

I prefer to bulk cook, when I have the time and money (to buy a lot of food at once).  I typically stock up on ingredients when they are on sale to make this form of cooking more economical.  Either way you do it, buy foods on sale and store them up, or make one huge shopping trip, cooking in bulk will save you stress, energy, and I think money!

It saves stress because at the end of a busy day, you can pop a pre-prepared meal into the oven!  mmmm!!  Convenience food with out being convenience food (which are not necessarily good for you, or cheap!).  Preparing your family's favorites in advance also saves energy...you'll use less personal energy by making 2-5 or however many you have room to store casseroles at once. 

It takes far less energy to make multiple casseroles that are the same as it does to do them one at a time from start to finish.  Just think, all those dirty spoons, knives, cutting boards, bowls, etc that you use to prep a meal will be used for the multiples but only washed once!  Yee haw for less dishes!!  So voila, there are two reasons for bulk cooking...do it once enjoy it for days, or weeks, or even months (imagine the possibilities with a huge freezer!) 

Another way this method saves is financially.  Now I know that you will spend about the same amount on the ingredients/foods for these casseroles whether you make one at a time or twelve, but imagine how many times you are too tired to cook, so you stop and pick something up...this saves that!  Eating out is far more expensive for a family than it is to cook and eat at home, so use this to your financial advantage!  We won't even deal with the "healthy" benefits from home cooking as opposed to eating pre-packaged foods.  There are many more benefits to this, but all this mumbo-jumbo isn't why you're here reading this blog...you want the recipes, so below I'm gonna let you in on some trade secrets...most recipes are from my mom (Joy) or my mother in law (Donna), but one new one is from my friend Janet...so enjoy, get inspired, and get cooking! :)

*Please note...my recipe box is in storage somewhere in Hephzibah, GA...lol.  So these were from memory and may vary from the original...but this is how I did it/do it. :)
*Also, I buy the metal 1/2 size steam trays from Sam's.  You get 30 for around $6-8.  They work great, then you can just trash them or reuse them. To be more earth conscience, you can purchase some 9x13 pans to reuse each month.  I have been purchasing some 8x8 pans to make smaller versions for our small family.

A MINI Schedule from this month's bulk cooking days:  I broke it up into two days because I only did this during Jonas's naptime.  It also was less time standing in the kitchen. :) 
DAY 1:
Boiled Chicken
Browned 1/2 the hamburger meat
Mixed up meat w/sauces/spinach for meatballs and hamburger packets
Cut up potatoes/onions for packets
Made 2 pans of meatballs/potatoes
Made 16 hamburger steak packets

DAY 2: 
Made 3 Lasagnas
Made 1 Stuffed Shells Dish
Made 1 Chicken Pot Pie
Made 2 Chicken Enchilada Dishes
Made 3 Chicken Rolls
Made 3 Chicken & Dressing Casseroles
Stored leftover Spaghetti sauce
Stored leftover shredded chicken


And here's the low down on my process: (You can skip ahead to just recipes if you want!)
The first thing I did (and I did this on 2 different days due to time constraints/nap time schedules that I have to work around) was put a large pot of water on to boil.  I scooped about 1/2 cup of chicken bouillon.  You can use the cubes, but I buy the powder from Sam's.  It just boosts the flavor of the chicken broth. While that huge pot is boiling away, (I cooked about 20 lbs of chicken for multiple recipes put together the next day!) I browned hamburger meat.  I bought 10 lbs, and browned 1/2 for lasagna/pasta dishes.  I browned it with italian seasonings/minced onions for flavor.  You can add chopped bell peppers too if you have them.  After it is cooked, drain the meat.  I stored mine and started the sauce the next day.  You can do it all at once if you choose.

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Ground Beef Recipes:
The other 1/2 of the meat I mixed with chopped spinach (fresh - I buy one bag from the prepackaged salad section, you can use garden or whatever.  I typically use 1/2 the bag for this mixture and 1/2 later...see below), minced onions, Worcestershire sauce, a couple eggs (1-2 per lb of meat you use), and I put some A-1 for a "smoky" flavor.  Mix this by hand.  I made this mixture into meatballs and hamburger steak packets.

Swedish Meatballs:
Ingredients:
Hamburger Mixure
Pre-Baked potatoes - cubed
1 can cream of mushroom soup (when ready to cook it)
Water
Salt

Meatballs - make balls about 1 - 1 1/2 inches in diameter and place in rows in pan.  I also (baked the night before for dinner) use extra baked potatoes for this dish...cube the baked potato and put inbetween the rows of meatballs.  Freeze.  Before cooking, mix 1 soup can of cream of mushroom soup (or your own recipe) and 1 soup can of water, pour over meat and potatoes.  We crack sea salt over the whole dish after it is plated.  Meat, potatoes, and a veggie all in one dish!  (the spinach)  *Please note, this was the first time I included this dish for freezing ahead.  I've frozen just the meatballs before, but this is the first try with potatoes.  I'll keep you updated after we eat them. :)

Hamburger Steak Packets:
Ingredients:
Hamburger mixture
Onions - sliced
Potatoes - peeled and sliced
Mini carrots
*Aluminum Foil

Hamburger steak packets - (the spinach is an addition to mom's recipe, so you can take it or leave it.  I like to "sneak" in veggies when I can)  Tear off 12-15 inch lengths of aluminum foil and lay them out (I fold the whole stack of sheets into thirds so there is a bottom and two sides that stand up, to make more room on the counter.  Make hamburger patties out of the meat and place one patty on each foil sheet.  On top of this, put a slice of onion, 1 large slice of potato, or 2 small, and a few carrots.  Fold up the foil into a packet, sealing all the ends tightly.  Package them in groups (I put mine in groups of 4-6 depending if they are for us or for company.  Jon sometimes eats 2 packets at once.  Freeze away.  We love this dish! :) 

I normally cook these at 375 degrees.  I leave the meatballs covered with foil until the last 45 minutes or so.  They each take  1 1/2-2 hours if cooked from frozen.  *estimate, I just watch for doneness!

Spaghetti Sauce/Lasagna Mixture
Ingredients:
Hamburger meat (seasoned w/italian seasoning and onions/peppers)
Spaghetti sauce
Mushrooms
Ricotta Cheese
Spinach
Eggs
Lasagna Noodles
Cheddar Cheese - shredded


Lasagna:

The ground beef that was browned w/Italian seasoning and onions is your first ingredient.  Next add spaghetti sauce.  I typically use 1 jar per 1 1/2 lbs of meat.  You can do this to your own personal taste.  You can also use homemade sauce, which is highly recommended.  :)  I then add 1 can of mushrooms per jar of sauce.  For instance, I did 5 lbs. of meat and used 3 jars of sauce and added a few extra blended fresh tomatoes.  So it was more like 4 jars.  I put 3 jars of mushrooms.  Hope that makes sense!  You can season this to taste or leave out the mushrooms if you prefer.  Some like to add some ground sausage to their spaghetti sauce and that's good too.  While you are making this sauce, you should boil water and start cooking your lasagna noodles.  You'll want to cook these until they are tender, but not completely done.  They will continue to cook and swell in the pan while the lasagna cooks.

While that is simmering away, mix ricotta cheese (I bought the biggest container that Walmart had) 4-5 eggs, and the remaining spinach (chopped). 

Now that your two mixtures are done, and your noodles are cooked, you can start the layering.  I lay out 3-4 pans (however many you want to make).  First put a little sauce until it covers the bottom of the pan (not too thick).  Now start layering...usually 3 noodles will fit across the pans from Sam's.  Layer like this: Noodles, spread the cheese mixture over the noodles (not neatly, :) ), then sauce, and repeat: noodles, cheese, sauce.  The last layer will be noodles and then sauce with no cheese.  Top with shredded cheddar cheese and freeze. 

From frozen, you'll cook this on 400 degrees for several hours.  Thaw in the fridge for shorter cook time.  You can test it by sticking a knife in the center.

Stuffed Shells:
I had extra cheese mixture and sauce after making 3 lasagnas, so I cooked some jumbo shells, stuffed them with cheese and topped with sauce.  I laid them in a single layer in the pan and froze.  Similar in taste to the lasagna.

Any leftover sauce can be frozen for spaghetti night...you'll just heat and serve.  I froze mine (after it cooled a bit) in a ziploc freezer bag.

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Chicken Recipes:
I boil the chicken a long time...so that it is done enough to easily shred.

Chicken Enchiladas (from Janet)

Ingredients:
Flour (or corn) Tortillas (she used Whole Wheat)
Chicken
Salsa
Shredded Cheese
*Green Chilies (optional)

In frying pan, saute' chicken, salsa (enough to coat chicken, but not too runny), and a can of green chilies if you want them.  I personally may try to add black beans, rice, or corn next time.  :)  Heat it until mixed well.  Take that mixture and put into tortillas.  I used small sized ones.  Roll them up and lay them in rows.  Top with shredded cheese.

You will bake this until cheese is melted and it is cooked through (350 degrees).


Chicken Rolls (personal favorite, tried and true in freezer!)
Ingredients:
Cresent Rolls (one can per recipe you'd like to make)
Cooked Chicken
Shredded Cheese (1/2 cup to mix w/soup recipe, then 1/2 cup or so for on top, if you really like cheese, put more!)
1 Can Cream of Chicken Soup
One Soup Can Milk

Take Cresent Rolls and fill with cooked chicken.  Roll up and arrange in pan.  (Side Note/Rabbit Trail/What I do... You can do one package per pan or if you want to quadruple the recipe and increase the amount of rolls per pan, buy five packages of crescent rolls for four pans of rolls.  One package of crescent rolls per pan = 8 rolls, if you quadruple the recipe and buy 5 packs, you'd put 10 rolls per pan.  Good for larger families.)  Okay, so the rolls are arranged in the pan.  Now whisk together the soup, milk, and 1/2 the cheese.  Pour over the pan.  Top with cheese.  Simple and delicious.  Bake at 375 degrees.  I cook it for an hour covered and then about 40 minutes uncovered.  If the cresent rolls are puffy and browned, and the soup mixture is bubbling, then it is ready.  Ovens vary.  That time is for from frozen.  If you make this fresh it should be done in 45 minutes or so.  We love this!  It goes great with rice, and you can use the extra cheese/soup sauce over the rice.   

Chicken & Dressing Casserole (another favorite, tried and true in freezer)

Ingredients:
Cooked Chicken
1 Box of Stove Top Stuffing, Chicken Flavor (or whatever!) (One box per recipe)
1 stick of butter
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 soup can water

Melt one stick of butter and mix with one box of stuffing (you can do all of it at once, just use that ratio, for example, if making 3, melt 3 sticks of butter and mix with 3 boxes of stuffing).  Spread 1/2 the stuffing in bottom of pan.  Sprinkle as much chicken as desired in pan.  I usually count on 2-3 chicken breasts per recipe, if you are a meat lover, put more.  It doesn't have to be precise, I just eye ball it, and do a good covering in the pan.  Whisk together the soups and water.  Pour over Chicken.  Top with remaining stuffing.  Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour covered and 45 minutes uncovered or until hot & bubbly!  Enjoy!


Chicken Pot Pie
Ingredients:
Cooked Chicken
1 bag of frozen veggies (or 2 cans of canned mixed veggies, but personally they aren't as good)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup

and when you are ready to eat you will need:
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 stick butter

Cook veggies on stovetop until fork tender.  Layer chicken in dish, just a nice even layer.  (Optional: add crumbled bacon on top of chicken)  Now take cooked veggies and mix them together with the soups and pour over chicken.  Freeze.  You'll have to add the crust mixture when it is time to cook/eat.  It is simple, just melt the butter and stir together the SR flour, butter, and milk.  Pour over casserole and bake.  You can thaw this out first for better results in cooking.  If you don't, do like the other recipes and cook covered for the first part (an hour), then add the crust mixture and bake uncovered the latter 40-45 minutes.  Somewhere between 375-400 degrees is good!

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So that was a run down of what I cooked yesterday and froze for future use! :)  I seal them up really well with a few layers of foil (which I leave on for the first bit of cooking so they don't brown too much!) and freeze.  Another tip I'll share really quick is that I sometime find pans that are 1/2 the width of a normal pan from Sam's.  We get tired of leftovers with only 3 people eating a dish, so sometimes, I will take one recipe for a normal pan and put it into two.  I did this yesterday, I bought "Jumbo Loaf" pans.  While they were deeper than I needed, they were about 1/2 the size of those steam pans.  So I was able to make 1/2 sized chicken and dressing casseroles and 1/2 sized chicken roll dishes! :)  Just food for thought if you don't have a large family or if you want to not eat leftovers a lot.

Hope this was a help to you...and sorry it was so wordy.  I like to be precise and tell you all I "think" you need to know.  Sorry if it is repetitive...it's late, and phew, this was an undertaking! :)  Let me know in the comment section how yours work out if you try Bulk Cooking...you won't regret it (well while you're washing those mountains of dishes you might, but when you get to enjoy the fruit of your labor, aaahhhh!  How nice!)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing all this! I can't wait until I can "Bulk Cook" and with my large family of all boys it will probably be necessary for me to bulk cook. Unfortunately I can't right now because I don't have a freezer to hold it all but I plan to in the future when we can get a freezer to hold all the yummy pre-made dishes! I will keep your blog as a go-to resource when I get my bulk cooking started :-)

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