Once a month cooking is an intriguing and exciting idea that can help insure that your family is well-nourished with a minimum of daily effort. Last month, we introduced you to the idea of bulk cooking. This month we are taking you through a few more steps. We will show you how to evaluate your kitchen, select recipes, and design a customized shopping list.
Select your recipes. If this is the first time you have cooked in bulk, give yourself a break. This is not the time to try new recipes. Tried and true is the way to go. Also, if possible, select recipes that have some common ingredients, like canned tomatoes, broccoli, or black beans. If you have some recipes that you know will freeze well, consider those. Beans, chili, stews, sauces, and soups all freeze well. Many of these dishes can be eaten cold or hot, and be used as toppings for grains or vegetables. Make copies of your recipes; a stack of books on your counter is a clumsy space hog.
Inventory your cookware. You will need some large pots, like 6-12 quart stock pots, depending on your ambitions. You will probably need at least one large frying pan, as well as sharp knives and cutting boards, several spatulas, large spoons, and measuring cups and spoons. If you have not already visited a restaurant supply store, this is your chance. (See the July issue of Tasty and Meatless Good news for information on restaurant supply stores)
Evaluate your pantry. If you have selected your recipes, you can scan the pantry for ingredients. Specifically, this step allows you to check the freshness of your spices and seasonings. Most experienced bulk cooks prefer to shop separately for their cook date and for their everyday pantry items. You might find that now is the time to clean and reorganize your food storage area. Any actions taken to improve organization and knowledge of your own kitchen will pay off.
Survey kitchen space. If you don’t have a clear space for chopping vegetables and other preparation, find one or make one, any way you can. Use the kitchen table if necessary or bring in another table to use temporarily. You may be more comfortable sitting if you need to spend a couple of hours with your cutting board. Designate as many work stations as you can. You don’t want to clear space for a mixing bowl after you have chopped vegetables for instance. As you chop, you will want to clear away scraps immediately, so check your stock of cleaning supplies, sponges, paper towels, and garbage bags.
Establish a method for freezing your meals. Ziplock-type bags take up the least space, because they can be frozen flat and stored vertically. The meals would then need to be transferred to another container to cook. Remember, it is not safe to microwave in plastic of any kind. If you decide on rigid plastic freezer containers, square is more efficient than round and stacks easier. However, the plastic containers present the same drawbacks as bags with regard to reheating. Some people like storing the food in glass pyrex containers because they can go from freezer straight to oven or microwave after de-thawing. These containers do take up considerably more space though. The decision on how to store may depend entirely on your freezer storage capacity.
Dedicate one shopping trip for your cooking day. Pick up paper towels and toilet paper and pet food if you need to, but save your pantry shopping for another day, preferably several days before or after cooking day. Shopping for ingredients for 50-100 entrees takes concentration, so try to limit distractions.
Design your own shopping list. This may take several tries to perfect. You probably shop at more than one location (supermarket, health food store, farmer’s market, Costco, Asian market) so you will need to decide if your want several lists or just one all encompassing list. Once you determine the number of lists, group like items together for the most efficiency. For example, list celery, onions, and apples together to find at the produce section, and canned tomatoes, a jar of artichokes, and canned beans to find in the can aisle. Once you are happy with the format of your shopping list, make copies of it to use every time you grocery shop. This will streamline your standard grocery shopping as well.
Determine how much fresh produce you need. You will need to do some math. Sit down with your recipes and calculate how many onions you need to buy to have enough for every single recipe. Since you are using familiar recipes, this should be relatively painless. DO NOT wait until you get to the produce aisle to make these calculations, do them before you shop.
Check items off your list(s) as you shop. This may seem obvious, but if you require 72.5 ounces of canned diced tomatoes, you will need to keep track of how many cans this is, especially if are able to purchase larger sizes than 14.5 oz.
Store newly purchased non-perishables in a location separate from the pantry. Designating one bag per recipe, transfer cans, jars, and bags of grain, etc., to paper or plastic bags and store them somewhere else in your home. If this is your first bulk cooking adventure, stash the bags under your bed, in a closet, garage cabinet, or wherever is convenient. Having these items already collected in one spot will make cooking day even easier. It will also prevent you from accidentally using some items before hand, and no one else will have a chance to either. When you are convinced that bulk cooking will become a regular habit, you should designate a permanent storage place.
Article by guest blogger Cyndi Rook.