Bulk Cooking-Man Style or How to Cook for a Week in 2 Hours
I like to save money like I love eating – and as my Alfred Hitchcock silhouette clearly shows, I really, really love to eat. And I love saving time like I love saving money.
Luckily, I can cook about two weeks’ worth of delicious meals in less than two hours for very little money. Also – and, admittedly less luckily for my loved ones – I’m not afraid sing Emily Dickinson poetry to the tune of “Yellow Rose of Texas.” But, again, we’ll only focus on the former. Because, you know – that brevity thing.
Saving money and time in the kitchen is all about planning. Ten minutes of planning ahead of time saves me at least an hour of cooking time as well as a good chunk of money. Five more minutes of planning and I can also plan my escape. You know – just in case.
The first thing I plan out is the menu for the week. I do this so I can figure out what ingredients to get. Ideally, the same ingredient is included in multiple recipes so money can be saved by buying in quantity. Also ideally, the ingredients will be on sale and I’ll have coupons for them, too. When that all comes together, I do a happy dance.
Not that you need to picture my Alfred Hitchcock body doing a dance. Happy or otherwise.
After hunting and gathering the ingredients at the local supermarket, I’m all about saving time in the kitchen Using a lot of the same ingredients in multiple dishes actually helps, in this regard, too. Slicing and dicing the same veggies and accidentally cutting my finger is much quicker, for instance, when done in batches, then divvied up according to the recipe.
Let’s take a look, for example, at three dishes using several ingredients in common: chili, meatballs and lasagna. In my house, we use ground turkey because my doctor would like me to reduce my Alfred Hitchcock silhouette (in my defense, the size of my silhouette would be reduced, relatively, if he stood farther back, but, apparently, that’s not what he meant). In addition to the ground turkey, all three dishes (according to my secret recipes) require minced garlic, shredded carrot, minced onion and classic rock and roll.
Now, when making these three dishes simultaneously, it’s absolutely crucial to play some Rolling Stones. From here, I work from non-fragrant/savory ingredients first to the fragrant items last. Do it the other way around and you might find the stronger items overwhelm the weaker. And trust me when I say that when that happens, I can’t get no satisfaction. So I shred the carrot first, then mince the garlic, then the onion (if I mince onion first, the working surface retains too much moisture, which makes it hard to control the garlic…which would cause me to wast time).
Once the slicing and dicing portion is done, I separate the ground turkey into the amounts I need for the lasagna, meatballs, and chili. And yeah, it gives me a chance to run my fingers through cold, dead fowl. Because if we didn’t do it to turkeys, then you can BET they would do it to us. They’re just waiting for their chance. Always waiting.
I save a little more time by determining the order in which things are cooked. In this three dish case, I start by sauteing the onions and garlic in the skillet and crock pot while boiling the lasagna noodles in a pot on another burner. I don’t start mixing the ingredients for meatballs yet because I wash my hands a lot while cooking for fear of cross-contamination, which takes time. That, and I like to gloat over the turkey because I’m at the top of the food chain.
Once the onion and garlic are where I want them, then I toss the ground turkey in the pan and crock pot. By this point, the lasagna noodles are done, so I drain them. While they drain, I break the turkey apart for browning purposes and to reduce the risk of it trying to make one more attempt at revenge.
The skillet will be finished first, so I remove and drain the browned turkey, then return the skillet to the stove without washing it. Washing it would take time. And it would also remove some of the flavor nuggets.
At this point, I mix the meatballs, roll them out, put them in the skillet with just a little more oil and play some air guitar while “Jumping Jack Flash” is on. While they’re browning on one side, I pre-heat the oven and stir the meat in the crock pot.
Here’s the cool part: now can assemble the lasagna while keeping an eye on the chili and occasionally turning the meatballs. By the time the oven is fully heated, I’m done assembling the lasagna, the meatballs are browned on most sides, and I’ve discovered a solution for most international conflicts. But let’s concentrate on all but that last one.
The lasagna dish and skillet now both go into the oven. This allows me to focus on the chili by adding and stirring the beans, beer, shredded carrots and tomato soup. And, of course, wash the bowls and knives.
Once everything is done, I maniacally cut and/or scoop individual servings into plastic containers or bags and put them into the freezer. And, because they’re made in quantity, there are quite a few containers of every dish (which saves even more time and in future weeks). The day before they’re to be eaten, I defrost them.
My approach saves time and money. A lot of both, in fact. And, by planning everything ahead of time, you ensure everything will go smoothly. Which, of course, helps any cook avoid a 19th Nervous Breakdown.
Tom is a civil servant by vocation, a cook by avocation…and Upstate New Yorker by location. All three suit him well. They would suit him better if his Spousal Equivalent would let him wear his Batman cowl while fighting crime. Or cooking.