Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bulk cooking 1

And I've been writing this blog for just over 3 months now, every day except my vacation!

This is an idea with all sorts of names and even more approaches. Some focus on saving time, others on saving money, some on both. But the general idea is to cook a lot of food at one time to save time later. Remember, as always, to handle food safely.

The easiest way to explain it is to give one example, meant for one or two people with only  minimal freezer space. On Saturday, fix a beef or pork roast and a large whole chicken and roast them in the oven at the same time, adding vegetables to the roast broth and giblets to the chicken broth to cook (I like potatoes, carrots, onions, and mushrooms myself). Put a large pot of rice to cook, and cut up a couple of heads of lettuce and some tomatoes and cucumbers and mix a couple of large salads while the roasts are in the oven. Cover and refrigerate the salads, cool and refrigerate the rice.

When the roasts are done, slice some of the beef or pork and serve with the cooked vegetables and salad for supper while the rest of the meat cools. Refrigerate leftover salad and vegetables. By the time you finish supper, the meat should be cool enough to handle. Divide the rest of the roast in half and freeze one portion and refrigerate the other. Cut up the chicken, with the meat from each breast frozen separately for a meal, and the rest of the meat divided into in half. Freeze the two containers of breast meat and half of the rest of the meat, then refrigerate the rest of the meat, the giblets, and the carcass.

On Sunday, heat up a large soup pot of water. Add the chicken carcass and diced giblets, salt, pepper, a tablespoon or two of lemon juice, and garlic (if you like it), cover and turn down the heat to simmer for a couple of hours. Remove the bones and add the refrigerated chicken meat, leftover vegetables from the roasts or a couple of cups of rice if there aren't many vegetables. Simmer for about 1/2 an hour more, and serve with bread and salad. Have leftover soup for lunch the next couple of days.

On your Monday, warm the leftover roast in a pan with BBQ sauce, serve over rice with salad on the side. Before bed, take a chicken breast out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator.

On Tuesday night, dice the chicken breast, warm up with cheese, and serve over rice with salad on the side. Before bed, take a package of the roast out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator.

On Wednesday night, make open-faced sandwiches, toasted with cheese in the oven. Serve with salad. Before bed, take the package of non-breast meat out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator.

On Thursday night, dice and warm up the chicken meat, adding taco seasoning. Make soft tacos with diced tomato, onion, and lettuce. Before bed, take the breast meat out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator.

On Friday night, thaw some frozen vegetables, put on a pot of rice to cook, dice up the chicken breast while a bit of oil heats in a pan, then stir fry the vegetables and chicken.

The bulk of the cooking for the week is done on Saturday. The other days really don't involve much more than cutting up and warming up, for the most part. The oven use is mostly limited to Saturday too, other than briefly toasting Wednesday night's sandwiches. I used the simplest dishes I could think of; you should figure out ways to substitute your family's favorites. Large hams and turkeys can provide the meat ingredient for meals 2 or 3 nights a week for a couple of months. If you have the freezer space, you can make up casseroles, cook them most of the way, then cool and freeze to thaw and reheat later. If you have a grill, you can grill and freeze large batches of hamburgers, pork chops, sausages, hot dogs, and steaks all at once. Even an ordinary freezer over a refrigerator can hold a month's worth of pre-cooked meat to use in recipes.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fun on the cheap

First, it sometimes helps to rethink what is fun. Americans tend to think that sometime expensive is more fun than something that's free, and that's not always, or even usually, true.
If you've ever played in piles of leaves with a toddler, then you know exactly how much fun you can have for free. 

If doing something physical is your idea of fun, consider walking or hiking, two completely free sports. If you have a basketball, lots of communities have public courts of some sort. If you like to run, all you need is a decent pair of running shoes and a place with sidewalks. Team sports can be trickier, but if you just like to throw or kick a ball around, all you really need is a ball and a friend. Weighttraining---canned goods and homemade wrist and ankle weights. If you just want to be active but can't be on your feet for long, take up juggling, which has the added bonus of entertaining children for hours both while you're learning and once you can juggle.

If you like games, hit the thrift shops and yard sales for "new" ones. Or take up card games; all you need for those is a deck or two of cards. If you like computer games, there are free ones online (though be VERY careful for scams and viruses), and there are also cheap ones that can be played online or off (though those are becoming rarer). Keep playing older games too.

If you like music, singing is free, and so is listening to the radio. I haven't tried it myself, but my kids like internet radio. Movies can be checked out of the library or traded with a friend. Local high schools often put on plays and concerts.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Groceries-May 25, long week

Due to our vacation, we didn't buy groceries until Wednesday morning, and we bought enough to last until next weekend. We also picked up some hard-to-find staples and dry foods while visiting my oldest.

We spent $14.09 at an Asian grocery, $3.40 for couscous and mushrooms, and $69.58 at our alternate grocery store for a total of $87.07. Dairy was $7.25, meat was $31.43, produce at $15.47, canned meals were $5.65, bread and pastas for $16.10, and the remaining $11.17 was for sugar, spices, and a couple of odds and ends.

These groceries will cover us for the next week and a half, including Memorial Day food and quite a bit of stocking up. We bought about 8 pounds of Japanese-style and pho-style noodles to try out, most of it for less than $.80 a pound. We also picked up few harder to find items for Asian dishes. We also stocked up on chicken, my fat free hot dogs, sugar, and some canned goods that were on sale. Lots of produce---the summer prices are starting to kick in for some things.

The visit to the Asian grocery had two purposes. One, we just enjoy seeing the incredible variety of ingredients from at least a dozen diverse cultures. And second, we get ideas for new things to try ourselves. We have at least 3 different types of noodles to test out for different dishes in our new wok. My daughters, who both love all sorts of Asian food, traded ideas as they saw things in the store. The Japanese style noodles look a lot like very thin spaghetti noodles. Pho, for those who haven't had it, is Vietnamese for soup, usually made with noodles in some sort of meat broth (other ingredients vary).

This is also part of thinking creatively about vacations. This was both fun and practical, and instead of spending money on an amusement park, we have new foods to try and new ideas. Years ago, we paid a young Indian friend to teach my oldest daughter and another friend a little Indian cooking, with the result that we enjoyed curry and riatas frequently. Unfortunately, coconut milk, used in the chicken curry, is a bit pricey for us at the moment, so if anyone knows a substitute, I'd love to hear about it

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


OK, I'm back from my vacation. I apologize for the lack of posts or warning for the last few days, but I didn't have time to pre-write anything, and I prefer not to announce to the world that I'm going to be away from home for a few days...

Because of the trip, there was no grocery post last weekend because we didn't go grocery shopping until today, and we bought enough food to last until Saturday, June 4th. It'll be a little different for that reason, and because we had the chance to pick up some more unusual items while we were visiting my daughter.

I'm actually on vacation for the entire week, plus next Monday for the holiday. I didn't actually plan it that way, I was accomodating someone else's schedule who wanted last week off. It's one of my cheap vacations. We did rent a car to visit my daughter rather than driving my own. Renting the car and gas ran about $140. My daughter treated us to two meals out, and we ate with friends we haven't seen in a while for a third.

Mostly, we just spent time together and went a few places that in themselves didn't cost anything. We did take advantage of the trip to go to a chain store that has some incredible deals on decent quality linens and kitchen stuff and a very large Asian market, both stores that my daughter enjoys visiting anyway. We picked up sheets for much less than they sell for locally (I've been pricing them for months). We got a nice large wok for $5. A good comforter for $15, and since I won't need it until at least October, plenty of time to make a cover for it. Two inexpensive throws that I plan to use as curtains to insulate two windows for about $3.50 each. At the Asian market, I bought some Japanese style noodles at $1.39 for 2 pounds, plus some similar things to try. Between the two stores, I spent about $95, but it was well worth the trip.

For those trying to outfit themselves, I have to lower my estimate of how much it would cost these days to get some basic kitchen equipment. They had a set of three pots that looked to be about 1 quart, 1.5 quarts, and 2 quarts, with lids for the large two, for $10. A reasonably sturdy omelet pan for $2.99. Cooking utensils for about $1 each. You could get adequate pots, pans, and utensils for less than $20. A set of flatware was $4, and some nice bowls were $.79 each. I think you could have gotten 4 place settings of flatware, bowls, plates, and cups for less than $15. They had a nice set of storage containers (18 piece) for $3.99. So I'd have to say you could put together very basic new cookware, tableservice, and storage containers for less than $50.

Oh, and what am I doing with the rest of the vacation? I spent a lot of today getting errands done, and the rest of my time off I'm going to reorganize some stuff, do a lot of cleaning, and just relax some.