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ELLEN'S KITCHEN

Back to where
you came from


Before You Begin
OAMC Freezing
Reheating/ serving
Equipment and Supplies
A Basic Workplan
Making a Custom Menu

Preparing for OAMC: Planning, equipment and supplies, shopping, precooking

You can plan your once-a-month cooking around seasonal foods and good sales. It's easy to check when your grocery sales ads are released and use that day or the next for planning if you can. Most family favorites can be found at half their usual cost during periodic sales. With OAMC cooking, you can take advantage of this; boneless chicken breast at $1.99 is much easier on your budget than $4.99 a pound.

Respect your own work

Make a notebook or folder for your OAMC recipes and experiences, with the recipes inside vinyl page protectors. Keep the shopping lists and work plans and note any changes you needed to make. When you use a recipe, note the results and any problems. Attach a sticky note to the recipe, (which is on 8"x11" paper, and inside a clear vinyl page protector). Note how many packages were frozen and the date on the post-it type note. You will know how many you have left, and have all preparation instructions handy. Some people keep a record on a list or erasable board on the side of the refrigerator or freezer and strike through as they use packages, like this;

Tofu fried rice 5 4 3 2 1 0
Burritos 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12...
Veggie Pizza, large 3 2 1 0
Apple cobbler 4 3 2 1 0

If the idea of cooking 30 meals overwhelms you, begin with a mini-session to prepare food for the next week or two. Or, instead of making one casserole, make three, and freeze two. To take your cooking to the monthly level, try taking 10 recipes and tripling them; you'll have a freezer full and only be eating the same meal a few times.

Picking recipes that freeze well

You can freeze almost any foods including most soups, casseroles, sandwich fillings, meals to serve over rice, chicken dishes, meatloaf, etc. Freezing can be disastrous for quality if you don't properly prepare your food or package it well.

For a new recipe, freeze a single-serving or single-recipe-sized item to test how well it keeps. It's important to cool things quickly, such as by immersing cooking pans or casseroles in an ice water bath. Putting warm things in the freezer take longer to freeze; quality suffers because large ice crystals form and it can raise the temperature of foods already stored.

How to freeze

Package your recipes so you can freeze foods as quickly as possible. "Flash freezing" describes the process of freezing things quickly and individually. For example, if you're freezing whole strawberries, lay them out individually in a single layer on a cookie sheet, freeze just until solid, and then pack tightly together in a zip-top freezer bag. Many people flash freeze items such as meatballs, Chicken or Tofu Nuggets or homemade waffles -- anything you don't want sticking together when it's time to take individual portions out of the freezer bag.

Freeze whole or in portions? Depends on the recipe and the size of the family. Individually sliced meatloaves or vegetarian neatloaves are very easy to remove for individual sandwiches, but a large whole one may take two days to thaw and is tricky to reheat without drying out.

Items like cream-based sauces and soups, potatoes and fried foods don't freeze well. To use them at all, mix with a liquid, slightly undercook and freeze quickly. Very small amounts of sour cream and small amounts of cheese may freeze well if they're mixed with other things, but larger amounts tend to crack or curdle when reheated.

Raw or boiled potatoes get mealy or watery when frozen. Undercook slightly. Reheating the potato will complete the cooking. The exception is the freezable mashed potato recipe from the big pots collection. Use it to make freezer-ready mashed potatoes, potato skins, and twice baked potatoes.

Label and date everything! Don't waste your efforts by turning them into mystery foods. Inexpensive labels applied to the foil before freezing will usually work fine. With freezer paper, you can write directly on it with a grease pencil. You can also use a Sanford Sharpie(TM) brand permanent marker directly on the bag or foil. Write out the name of the meal, date frozen, reheating and garnish directions ("add 1/2 cup Parmesan on top").

For freezing most dishes, zippered freezer-weight plastic bags are the most space-efficient way to stockpile food. Squueze out all the air and freeze flat, and when frozen, stack or store vertically. You really can fit a whole month's worth of main courses for a small family into the top part of a refrigerator- freezer that way.

A few recipes are better when they are assembled, then frozen, then cooked after thawing. You still save your prep time.

Layered or thick dishes can't be bagged easily. For these, square or rectangular freezer containers waste less space. Several freezer-to-oven casserole dishes, some rigid plastic freezer containers or disposable foil containers are useful. You can also prepare foil-lined casserole dishes. Use freezer weight foil to line and overlap the casserole. Once frozen, lift out the food, double-wrap in more foil or jumbo zipper freezer bags (squeeze out the air). Return the foil packet to the appropriate casserole dish when ready to thaw or reheat.

Reheating

OAMC recommends thawing most foods in the refrigerator overnight. That seems to work pretty well, but some of the larger or thicker foods take longer. You can safely move the food from the freezer to the refrigerator two days ahead of time.

If you thaw in the microwave, the item actually begins to cook unevenly. You MUST cook it as soon as you have finished thawing it.

Pizzas and burritos are cooked frozen.

Equipment and supplies for OAMC and quantity cooking

If you plan to try once a month cooking, you'll need some large cooking pots and pans. Enameled roasting pans with lids can go on top of the stove or in the oven, so they are extra handy. An instant read thermometer to check internal temperature of large pots of food or roasted/ baked items, is important for food safety both while preparing and while reheating.

A plastic cutting board that completely covers one sink gives a lot of extra work space. This is very convenient for working with high risk foods such as raw meat, easy to disinfect with your bleach and water solution.

The following are nice to have or borrow on a big cooking day: a large plastic cutting board that fits over one sink; shredding food processor for chopping large quantities of onions, celery, and other vegetables; good quality sharp knives; several large heavy stock pots; long handled spoons for stirring and mixing; one or more large crockpots. A Presto salad shooter is especially handy for shredding large amounts of cheese.

If you're cooking ahead breakfast items, you might want a waffle iron to make homemade frozen waffles (much tastier than the ones you buy from the freezer case). A two burner griddle is handy for pancakes or crepes or lots of sautéing.

Workplan

Everyone who will eat the food can help with these preparations! If you are preparing 30 meals for 10 people, it is a many-handed job.

Up to 2 days before

Develop and check your plan, recipes and shopping list.
Check supplies and equipment, including pots, pans, storage containers.
Check grocery stock, staples and herbs/ seasonings.
Clear refrigerator and freezer.
Stock your clean aprons and dishtowels.
Shop.
Soak any beans you plan to cook (overnight in refrigerator if it is hot weather). Put water packed tofu for any freezer recipes into freezer. Don't use the aseptic packages to freeze- take it out, cover in water and freeze, if you can't get water packed.

The day / night before

Do as much preparation work as possible.
Dice, chop and grate vegetables and cheese.
Brown or boil meats:
Ground Beef. Boiling (actually, simmering)ground beef is a great way to cook a large amount while defatting it very effectively. Cover to 1" above meat with hot water, cover, bring to a simmer and cook until temperature is 170 degrees throughout. Drain, saving broth, and refrigerate the meat in recipe size portions flattened in zipper plastic bags (may also be frozen). Chill the broth. The next day you can take off the fat and use the broth for soup, gravy or stew. This actually reduces the cholesterol in your beef dishes.
Chickens or chicken parts are also easy to cook by simmering. Rinse and quarter them, keep the heat at a simmer, add some onions and celery you will strain out and discard later, to season the broth. Strain broth as above, bag and chill chicken as is, skin and debone on cooking day, no burnt fingers.
Bake or broil tofu, prepare wheat meat/ gluten that will be used in recipes. You can prepare any crockpot dish overnight. Cook your beans, gluten, wheatmeat, or crockpot roast/stew in a low crockpot overnight so they will be ready to use the next day. Assemble stew and cook overnight in crockpot or oven. Crockpot- 1 hour on high, then finish on low. Use the automatic setting if available. Oven- Covered, 1 hour at 300 degrees, balance at 200 degrees.
Cook rice and/or grains, fluff, cool and refrigerate in zipper plastic freezer bags.
Chop or grate bread for bread cubes and crumbs.
If you plan to make your own tomato sauce, white sauce or gravy, you can do it tonight and it will be cold and easy to mix tomorrow.
Place any frozen vegetables and frozen tofu in the regular refrigerator before going to bed.
If you want to use an ice chest for fast cooling, fill it with ice still in the bags tonight. Getting it thoroughly cold will help it work better in the morning. In the morning, you can drain off the water, but leave the remaining ice in the bags.
Empty the trash, sinks and dishwasher.
Plan on a previously cooked dinner, pizzas or take out, or having supper out tomorrow, and a treat for yourself after: a long soak or footrub, a good movie, a good rest.
Get to bed early.

Cooking day

Remember, the first time you do this, it will take about twice as long as it will when you get some experience. Your first time, make sure the kids are out or busy with projects of their own.

Wear supportive walking shoes. Use support hose if you have them. This isn't the day to cook in bare feet or slippers. Wear comfortable clothes.
Eat a good breakfast, set out a one quart water bottle for sipping, put on some exhilarating music.
Make extra space with a card table or kitchen table. Remember that hot pots can ruin surfaces, put a heavy layer of Sunday newspaper sections on any surface that is not heat-resistant.
Remember to stop for lunch (and sit down while you eat). Take a short feet-up break every hour and a half.
Do as much meal preparation sitting as possible, at the kitchen table or using a stool next to the counter. This takes a real effort at first!
Prepare a disinfectant spray solution of 1/4 cup bleach plus 2 1/2 cups water, use this for counters and cutting boards, especially after cutting raw meat. Clean your dishrags and sponges in it afterward and then rinse well.
Cook, assemble, package and label.
Clean up enough to allow an easy morning tomorrow, but you can mop and do heavy cleaning tomorrow. BE PROUD!

How to make your very own menu/ recipe plan and shopping list

Select the menu

First, decide how many days you want to plan for. Looking at a long-term calendar helps; take into account activities where you will not need a meal (eating out, church suppers, etc.) Write that number in the top right corner of your page.

Select recipes you will use. As you write down the name of each recipe, also write how many meals it will make. This is the number of servings divided by number in your family. Stop when you reach the number of meals you need.

Plan the shopping list and the workplan

Go through each recipe one by one. If the ingredient is not already on your list, write it down with a tally mark for each unit you need; if it is already on your list, just put down more tallies.

At the same time, make a list of the processes - all the chopping, dicing, grating, browning, all of the things that you will want to combine on cooking day and do in advance to make assembling the dishes easier. Put the processes and amounts on your work list. This lets you get a full total for each item. Items might look like this:

onions, 10 cups: slice 7 cups, dice 3 cups
chicken, 20 breasts: 10 whole, 10 cooked and shredded

Last but not least, plan the order of work by checking which recipes need the oven or other cooking source and how long. For example, if I didn't precook my beans, I have to start them right away, so they will be ready in a few hours. And if I can only bake 2 9x13 pans at once, and I want to cook 5 pans plus a turkey, I better figure out what order I should prepare in- or I may decide to make a different dish that can be simmered for one of my choices.

Simplify your work

For chopping, you want to arrange it so you wash up as little as possible. You can use a food processor for most chores, starting with veggies, mildest flavored such as celery first, all the way to onions and garlic. Then give the processor a good wash and dry and grate cheese (again mildest such as Swiss to strongest such as sharp cheddar to minimize cleaning between ingredients). Then proceed to bread (crumbs or cubes). Meanwhile, cube any cooked proteins such as ham, meat, or tofu.

For the precooking, try to group like processes together as much as possible, to save stove space, dirty pots, and time. For example, cook all of the ground beef you need at one time. I even sauté bell peppers, take them out, onion slices, take them out and then sauté diced onions in the same pan.

Save freezer space by storing foods in plastic zipper bags, pressed as flat as possible, and remove as much air as possible. If you have to freeze part while the rest waits, put the waiting bags in the refrigerator or into an ice chest full of ice. This way you really can store a month's worth of meals in the small freezer above the refrigerator!

To reduce the clean-up afterwards, clean as you go. While you wait for something to simmer, load and run the dishwasher or wash a few dishes or utensils, or wipe the counters.

Leave the kitchen safe for the morning rush, but leave heavy cleaning for the next day. You've done enough for today.

 
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