cooking

Cooking Once a Month is Awesome

Some of advice I ever got about Grad School was from a former professor who told me how batch-cooking and freezing meals helped her complete her dissertation. This simple strategy makes a huge difference in terms of productivity and eating healthy (if you choose recipes carefully).  For most of us our leisure time is limited (and sacred), especially if you are balancing family life and a demanding career. Who doesn’t want to spend less time in the kitchen and more time playing, connecting with others, being active, and having a life!

Batch cooking may just be your ticket!  The basic idea is that you cook multiple meals on one day and freeze most of them so that you have less prep down the road.  I’ve been doing this on a weekly basis for a while now but recently I felt like I was in the kitchen all the time so I started looking for new ways to do this.

After scouring the web I found several menu subscription services but nothing that offered many choices – most had 1 menu a month, take it or leave it. So of course I decided to do it on my own but I got quickly frustrated because there aretoo many recipes to choose from on the internet and I couldn’t decide which ones I wanted to make. It was taking up a lot of my time and the whole point was to save time and make life easier – not spend hours trying to decide what I wanted to have for dinner!

Finally, I found Once a Month Meals – a group of moms who offer several types of menus (e.g. traditional, vegetarian, paleo, etc.) to choose from and make it easy for you to cook meals for an entire month.  For each menu you get the recipes, an organized shopping list, prep day instructions (chopping, etc.), cooking day instructions, thaw list (to help you plan when to take things out of the freezer so you can eat them), serving day instructions (some recipes have add-ons or need cooking), and labels. Obviously it would take a few hours to do all this on your own!

You can also swap meals to make your own custom menu if there is something that you don’t like.  Just enough choice to be flexible without being overwhelming. The other great thing about Once a Month Meals is that they provide very helpful tips and resources to help you every step of the way and save you a lot of headaches.  For example, starting with a mini menu rather than a full menu was a really good idea.

I signed up immediately and yesterday I did my first mini menu.  It was a huge success!  Take a look at how my day went:

Before the big day:

  1. Pick your menu. I chose to do a mini-menu because I only had 1 day free to do everything (shop, prep, and cook).
  2. Decide how many people you are cooking for.  Even though there’s just me and my son I chose to cook for 4 people so that I would get more meals for basically the same amount of work. (Tricky, I know lol) The recipes and shopping list automatically update to correspond to the number of meals you select. Thank you Once a Month Meals!  This is super helpful.
  3. Check supplies and ingredients in your kitchen.  Do you really have 4 apples in the fridge for that recipe? Do you have a slow-cooker if you need one?  Cross-check the shopping list with your inventory and makes notes so you won’t forget.
  4. Add other things you want to buy for the week to your list. The menus don’t cover all of your meals and snacks so add in whatever else you need for the week. For us that’s stuff like milk, yogurt, salad greens for lunches, coffee, etc.

Shopping tips:

  1. Bring a pen so you can check off everything as you put it in your cart.
  2. Be prepared to spend more than your typical shopping trip. You are cooking more than you usually would so obviously it will cost more money. However, it also will save money because you will waste less food and make fewer last-minute trips to the grocery store or fast food joints.  (If you have time and energy for price-matching and/or coupon clipping this can help you save money too).
  3. Don’t go shopping when it is busy. Not something that I enjoy anyway but if you are trying to buy a lot of food it can be overwhelming to deal with a ton of people at the same time.

Prepping and Cooking:

I decided to prep and cook each recipe 1 at a time. The fine folks at Once a Month Meals recommend doing prep the night before your cooking day and I think that would be faster, especially if you are cooking a full menu.  For example, I ended up chopping garlic 3 or 4 separate times for different recipes instead of doing all the garlic at once. Research shows that switching between tasks takes more time than doing one at a time. Another benefit is that you lower the chance of cross-contamination (meats and veggies) and use fewer cutting boards 🙂

Tips:

  1. Clean your kitchen before you start.
  2. Prepare slow-cooker dishes first. Set em’ and forget em’ while you work on other recipes 🙂
  3. Wash dishes as you go. This reduced the number of dishes that I used and the cleanup I had at the end.

20150330_092258

What I made:

1. Paleo meatloaf:

20150330_104532

2. Crockpot sweet potato chili

20150330_104545

   

3. Garlic herb Crusted Pork Roast (sub for pork tenderloin)

20150330_111133

4. Almond butter chicken

20150330_114008

5. Jalapeno Chicken Burgers

20150330_120704

6. Pumpkin walnut protein muffins (my recipe that I added on)

20150330_124132

Grocery shopping took me an hour and a half and cooking took me 4 hours (10am-2pm). We had chili for supper (it was awesome!) and now I have a freezer full of yummy meals to help me through this busy month of marking and writing publications 🙂 You can have better work life balance and Once a Month Meals can help. Check it out!

*This post is cross-posted on my blog about nursing teaching and research (emilyaread.com)

Week 2 – Grocery Shopping

So Week 2 of my Frugal February is here and I was WAY over budget today.  There were a few staples that I needed to buy (oats, olive oil, quinoa, etc.) and I wanted to try a few things – like making seitan (aka “wheat meat”) that required special ingredients. Fresh salmon filets were also on sale so I bought 5 of them so I can freeze a few portions for later. Thankfully I have a PC Plus card and got $60 of free groceries today with my points!  My total would have been $170 but it was only $110 🙂  Pretty close to the $100 weekly budget but I still feel like I’m kind of cheating. I’m starting to wonder if $100/week is really realistic if you want to eat well and have variety.

Price matching did save me a fair amount today – I got a pineapple for $1.99, English cucumbers for $0.99 each, and saved a few bucks on the sweet potatoes and grapes.  I go to a cheaper store so many of the deals I had listed were already cheaper!  My trip to Bulk Barn on the other hand was very expensive.  One thing that I need to start doing again is making a Price List (a list of things I buy often and how much they are at different stores) so that I can see if it actually is cheaper at the bulk store.

Looking forward to trying out the seitan recipe from the cookbook “Big Vegan” by Robin Asbell!  I will definitely write about that since it is seems super weird and I’m not sure that I’m going to like it but if it turns out then it will be a great meat substitute 🙂

All the glorious food I got this week!

All the glorious food I got this week!

How to Master Cooking Magic

Sometimes the best meals are impecably planned, but often most of us just throw something together from the ingredients in our kitchen.  While this has resulted in some Read kitchen disasters (i.e. coconut flour pasta, buckwheat mush, and watermelon protein shakes), generally the outcome has been delicious (and healthy).  Having some basic cooking skills and a sense of what flavours are friends (and which ones are not) can go a long way in making a dish from whatever happens to be populating your kitchen at any given time.

What is Cooking Magic?  Definition: The phenomenon that occurs when a chef (you) creates something impossibly lick-the-pot-with-your-finger delicious out of seemingly random things; the science and art of transforming ordinary food into a divine and tasty dish; the experimental process of creating food art with limited resources

How does it happen?   Call it intuition, life skills, or a combination of risk-taking and a stroke of dumb luck – regardless of the source of such a miracle, cooking magic can happen to you (and probably has at some point).  Set yourself up to experience the miracle that is cooking magic by doing a few simple things:

  1. Stock up with kitchen basics:
    • A good knife + cutting board
    • Saucepan
    • Spices & herbs (garlic, salt, pepper, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, crushed red pepper, etc.)
    • Cooking liquids (balsamic vinegar, olive oil, worschester sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, hot sauce, etc)
    • Sweet stuff (choose from honey, molasses, cane sugar, honey, maple syrup)

2. Select a main ingredient from what you have in your kitchen.  For example do you have a package of chicken breasts you need to use up? Maybe you make a spicy marinade with some crushed red pepper, honey, olive oli, garlic, and a spoonful of orange marmalade.  Or you could cut them into chunks and make shishkebobs paired with a homemade peanut satay sauce.  Maybe all you have is some flour and a tomato.  Yes, I am giving you flour and a tomato as main ingredients.  Make some foccacia bread topped with olive oil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and tomato…oh, and don;t forget to grate a little parmesan cheese that you found hiding in the fridge.  Amazingly simple but so good.

3. When in doubt, google it. If you don’t know how to use spices or make bread, you can find out how very easily.  Type your main ingredient(s) into google with the word “recipe” and see what pops up.  You never know what you might find. 

4. Hit the library.  Want to try a cook book before you buy it?  Or maybe you just like free books (I know I do!)  Head to your local library for a really big selection of cookbooks about everything.  From making heart-shaped cookies with buttercream frosting to grilling recipes to make you drool, there is something for everyone!  The bookstore is another great option but I recommend trying out recipe books before you invest.

5. Practice makes perfect!  The more you cook and try new things, the more masterful you will become at pulling together ingredients and pairing flavours (a.k.a. cooking magic).  Hint: If you are just experimenting for the heck of it, make small batches in case it turns out poorly.

Cooking magic often happens when you least expect it.  Being able to whip up a batch of barbeque sauce is a skill that will come in handy when you unprepared, yet ready to embrace and conquer the task at hand (to the approval and satisfaction of all involved).  It doesn’t have to be fancy – sometimes knowing how to make a fantastic sandwich can go a long way 😉 

~Live Inspired~!

Emily