Is it just me or is once-a-month cooking everywhere these days? A friend recently suggested I give it a whirl, and suddenly it seems like almost every blog I frequent is writing about its merits. Now I am no stranger to cooking once and creatively using (or freezing) those leftovers, or to doubling a recipe and freezing the extra, but cooking once (several times actually, just in one day) and eating for the whole month? Hmmm...
Well, I did get myself a copy of the Once-A-Month Cooking cookbook, and I thumbed through it. I thought about how I could do this frugally (some of the recipes aren't that economical), and this week when I saw pork loins on sale for $1.29/lb, I knew what I had to do! We don't pig out on pork around here, but for 1.29 a pound, I can feed my family some tasty pork roasts and our favorite parmesan pork chop recipe. So I went hog wild and bought a whole pork loin. Chicken breasts were on sale too (anything less than $1.99/lb is when I aim to buy), so I bought 10 pounds of those. But that's not all. The london broil was $1.88/lb and ground beef was $1.79/lb., so I stocked up. Meat. It's what's for dinner. :)
You do know that when you buy meat from the store, regardless of what the sell by date is, you have to do something with it within three days (preferably sooner)? Somehow I forgot I'm not Super-Woman (although I think I was for Halloween way back when I was ten), and me and that much meat under deadline didn't mix so well.
So here's what I learned from this well-intentioned but poorly executed bulk cooking experience (which I spread over the course of three days):
1. You really do have to plan your time well. I thought I planned by knowing what recipes I'd prepare and what ingredients I'd need, but I failed to plan exactly when I would do this. "Sometime Saturday afternoon" just wasn't enough.
2. You really do have to start with a clean kitchen. If you get home from the store, all excited to bag up meats in marinades, and you think "This will be quick and easy" (because you're not cooking anything) but your sink is still full of dishes because you went to the store without washing them, it doesn't end up being "quick and easy" after all.
3. You know how cooking one meal with little kids can be tough? Cooking, or even just prepping, seven or more is even tougher. You really do need to plan, plan, plan, and then plan some more to execute this operation smoothly. Otherwise you'll just want to scream "ABORT!" (But you can't, because you have thirty pounds of meat you have to do something with...fast.)
4. You should plan to do little else on the day (or days) you are trying to pack your freezer full of ready-eats.
5. If you're not in the habit of cleaning as you go (or if you can't because of many interruptions, see #3), you also need to plan a day (or at least half-a-day) to cleaning up afterward. I'm serious!
6. You should not under-estimate how much work this will be. "How hard can bagging up meat with sauces and spices and sauces be?" I thought. It kicked my rear end! Remember, you have to make the sauces...even if you look at the recipe and think "piece of cake." But it's not a piece of cake when you have to prepare the ingredients for several days' worth of food in one sitting.
7. Originally I thought this would be great to do with friends, using our church kitchen. The sale on the pork loin and other meats (and how quickly I had to work once I had all that meat) made me try it on my own this time. Next time, I think I'll have a little help from my friends :)
8. You'll need the extra time you'll save on cooking during the weekdays to get caught up on what you didn't get done when you were cooking ahead for those weekdays. Or you'll just need to plan ahead really well for your cooking day (and all the contingencies that come in the course of a normal day with kids)!9. Better to do a little well than to take on too much to start.
10. Seek advice from those who have been doing this well for years. How do they make it work smoothly?
That brings me to an exciting announcement! I would like to start a once-a-month, once-a-month cooking festival on the first of every month, where we can all share what we are learning about bulk-cooking in one place. How do you make it frugal? How do you make it work without pulling out your hair when you have little kids to care for? What does and does not freeze well? And a host of other tips and techniques. So please mark your calendars, think about your experience with bulk cooking, write a post about it, and then come back to Moms in Need of Mercy on November 1st to link up and share!! I look forward to hearing from you and learning from you! See you soon!
Now I have to go finish cleaning my kitchen... :)