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Friday, August 15, 2014

Batch Cooking

Batch cooking means just this: cooking in batches so you don’t have to cook as often because you have large quantities of food prepared.  This is typically a method used by larger families of at least a couple of kids – a parent makes 2 lasagnas at once and freezes one so there is one ready for next week.

However, batch cooking can cook for the single student too.  Say you would like to eat spaghetti; making an elaborate sauce for one serving does not make sense; you cook for 30 min and ‘inhale’ the result in 12 minutes! So you eat the sauce right out of the jar, letting the hot pasta heat up the sauce – yuk!  However, what if you spent 30 minutes making the sauce and had some for 5 extra meals? Now, that’s an interesting idea.

Depending how much you eat, a recipe for 4 or 6 may give you food for only 2-3 meals or for 5-7 meals.  It also depends if you like lots of sides to your meal: do you eat spaghetti with a salad and bread, or just a plate of spaghetti?

Pick something you eat often and you enjoy making: my example is spaghetti (sauce), but it could be something else, as long as it freezes well: Sheppard’s pie; chicken pot pie; quiche; chili; etc.  Instead of making only enough for 1 or 2 meals (or 1 meal with a bit of left over), double your recipe.  Yes, it may take and extra 10% time to cut more vegetables, but compared to making the entire recipe on a different night, it’s a very small amount of time.

Now you have two choices: either you cook the recipe as one (like chili) and save a few portions to freeze for later meals, or you divide the recipe in separate containers and cook separately (like for Sheppard’s pie). Either way, you end up with extra servings ready to freeze and eat on another day.

Now for the freezing part: you will need containers to freeze and a labeling system.  If you are sharing a freezer with others and they like to freeze food too (or keep some vodka in the freezer), you will need to minimize the space you use: square containers take up less space for the same amount of volume.  I like the disposable Ziploc ones (except I don’t dispose of them – I reuse them over and over).  Some people like to spray a light coat of Pam (an oil spray) to create a thin barrier between the food and the container so that the food does not stain the container (tomato sauce of any kind will do that); I don’t care about the stain myself.  Another space-saving method is to buy good quality freezer bag and to freeze the food in these – they can be packed almost flat in the freezer (do NOT try this with cheap sandwich bag – you can imagine the mess when they break).  If you have lots of space, empty 1 liter yogurt containers work very well!

A very important part of this system is labelling: if you don’t label your food, A. someone else may eat it if you share your freezer; B. you will not know what is in the container (chili looks a lot like spaghetti sauce once frozen); C. you may eat someone else’s weird concoction!  What I find works for me is masking tape (not the one from the dollar store though – the good quality stuff from a hardware store), about ¾ inch wide.  If you stick masking tape on a warm and dry plastic lid, it will stay on, even after you freeze the container.  However, do not try to label an already frozen container like this: the humidity on the container and the cold will prevent the glue of the masking tape from working properly.  On the piece of masking tape, I would write my name (if sharing the freezer), the name of the dish, the number of servings (in case I freeze in different quantities), and the date (so I don’t forget about a dish made 6 months ago).

In my kitchen batch cooking, I have found a huge number of dishes that freeze well, and a few that don’t.  For example, soups are great if frozen with the pasta a bit undercooked (you can remove the soup to be frozen from the pot before the soup is ready, and then continue cooking the portion you plan on eating now), but cream soups tend to have the milk separate during the freeze-thaw process (it doesn’t alter the taste, just the texture).  My favorite scone recipe does not freeze well baked, but the raw dough freezes will so I will make twice the recipe (I only thaw a half recipe at the time), form into four dough shapes and bake one and freeze three.  Most of my muffin recipes freeze very well so I will make a double batch (24 muffins), freeze 18 (I can eat 6 muffins in a week), and put a frozen muffin in my lunch bag every day after the first 6 are eaten for breakfast; the muffin thaws between breakfast and lunch and keeps the rest of my lunch cool.

You may wonder why I love batch cooking so much. It’s not the cooking as much as the lack of need to cook on other nights – it’s great to take out spaghetti sauce from the freezer, cook some pasta and TA-DA! Dinner is ready!

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