Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Big Batch Cooking - our adventures Part 1

A couple of months ago a friend decided that we should get together and make a ton of stuff to fill our freezers. She was expecting a baby and REALLY wanted something easy to have for dinner when the new little got here. Little did we know how the idea would grow.

4 of us got together on a Sunday and we each picked one recipe, made 4 batches of it and split the grocery bill 4 ways. After buying in bulk and having a couple extras, ingredients we ended up 6-8 meals for $35. The next month we were up to 10 participants. Cooking day was long and there were a few glitches, but we ended up with around 15 meals for $65. This month we are looking at 12. The planning process for these batch sessions is time consuming and some of the meals are not as healthy than I would like, but they are all better than a bag of burgers and fries on a busy night. Even on crazy evening when we have to jam dinner in between choir and Girl Scouts, I can have a no fuss meal ready for my family. I can't rave enough about how good this has been for us!!! I am really looking forward to having a full freezer during the crazy holiday season. It doesn't hurt at all that buying in bulk is saving us all major $$$ that will come in handy for presents. I am all for anything that gives me more money to feed my Target addiction.

They way we work it is that everyone send me their recipes. I multiply the measurements by the number of participants we have and add up all the similar ingredients so we can buy as much in bulk as possible. Several days before the planned cooking day, I go shopping and buy all the ingredients that we will need. Some recipes have to be made ahead, so the people making those items come and pick up their chunk of ingredients and go home to get to cooking. I try to prechop, slice and saute as much as possible before the cooking day. It really helps to keep things going smoothly if all we have to do is assemble the meals and drink wine on cooking day.

You may be asking yourself "What kind of meals are you guys eating? Are they full of fat and cream sauces?". Well we testing out a variety of meals and some are full of fat and cream. BUT, we are trying to branch away from eating a bunch church social type casseroles. My family tries to stick to a South Beach style diet plan and eat fairly low carb meals. I do have to admit the occasional fatty casserole sure does taste good though!

The first month, we had Spinach and Sausage Quiche, Pasta Fagioli, Sausage Lasagna and Chicken Sopa. Quiches freeze extremely well and are a great quick breakfast item. I would just pull one out of the freezer the night before and pop it in microwave for a fast weekday breakfast. The only problem with a quiche and batch cooking is that they HAVE to be baked before freezing. Otherwise,you would have a really big nasty mess. When you have 10 quiches to bake it can get time consuming, especially with 9 other people around, so from now on the quiches will be a make ahead item.

The Pasta Fagioli made a huge amount of soup because each batch serves 8. I had precooked the beef and vegetables, so all that needed to be done was put it all together in the pot and simmer. The pots were huge and took awhile, but the soup was great and it was well worth it. In the future though, huge batches of soup are a make ahead item. With more than 4 participants it would have been impossible to make the soup in a reasonable amount of time. Don't get me wrong I love my friends and spending time in the kitchen with them is wonderful, but there is a limit. We would all be sick of each other or completely drunk on wine by the time 10 batches of soup came together. So lesson learned, soups are a make ahead item for big groups.

The Sausage Lasagna was amazing and a great batch meal. Next time, I will make sure that the ground sausage is browned beforehand to save time, but other than that it was an ideal meal. The noodles did not have to be boiled, so it was a really easy assemble and tasted wonderful! Definitely a big batch hit.

Chicken Sopa was a our one cream sauce meal, but we did use the reduced fat varieties of cream of mushroom soup and 2% milk cheese. We used store purchased rotisserie chickens for the cooked chicken meat and it was an easy assemble and tasty meal.

So for our first big batch cooking adventure we ended up with 2 quiches, 2 8*8 lasagnas, 2 8*8 pans of Chicken Sopa and 2 gallon freezer bags of soup for $35. So for less and $5 a meal, I didn't have to do anything other than thaw and reheat. Much healthier than takeout and best of all - GOOD - FAST - CHEAP

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