Sunday, January 4, 2009

Your how-to and why-to guide to Once a Month Cooking (OAMC) -- Part 2

Part 2
Here are the basic steps that we covered in Part 1:
1 Choosing the time
2 Planning and shopping
Here's what we'll cover now, on the second day:
3 Cooking
4 Labeling and freezing
5 Adapting recipes
Good shoes, good tunes, and comfy clothes will help a lot. Remember how "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down"? Well, bribes work well for this task too. Planned breaks, chocolate, a great movie, whatever gets you through it!
Group your tasks so that the flow goes well. If this isn't the smoothest, most natural thing for you, rest assured that it will get much better as you get experience with this method of cooking. Mostly, you really need to make sure that you know how each of your recipes work and how many of each you're going to make. Get the meats cooking early, and get your chopping done all at once. Don't chop upan onion for a recipe: chop all 10 onions for all the recipes.
As you work your way through the different dishes, don't worry about making each one start to finish. At some points you may have 10 or 12 recipes each half-way finished. That's fine! It's more efficient in the long run to group your tasks and combine any steps possible. As each meal is finished, set it aside to cool before packaging it up!
There are several methods to choose from, so once you pick your favorite, make sure you add the supplies you're going to need to your shopping list to pick up on shopping day.
Whatever method you choose, you're going to need to do some labeling. Masking tape or Avery-style stick on labels both work great. Whatever type you use, even if it's just writing directly on the foil with a Sharpie marker, you'll need to include at least this info: Name of meal, cooking directions, date it was frozen. You might want to add the date that you plan to use it if this is applicable to your organization method.
Freezer bags or aluminum foil
This is my favorite method. You can easily stack the packages that you wrap up, labeling them before tossing them in the freezer. When they are transfered to your fridge to thaw, they don't take that long since they're spread out. Freezer bags are particularly good for meals that have a lot of liquid in them, and it's easy to remove extra air as well. A higher-tech version of this is to use a vacuum sealer, which you may want to indulge in if you really get into OAMC.
Parts of meals can also be assembled but not cooked ahead of time. My friend Wendy suggested using silicone bakeware for this, particularly for muffins
For instance, you can use a muffin “tin” and put your muffin batter inside, freeze it and then pop the frozen muffins batters right out for baking later, just storing them in a ziploc bag until needed. The silicone has enough give that it aids the process.
Inexpensive reusable containers
Glad makes Tupperware-type containers now that are quite inexpensive. You can also save containers that would be good sizes for various meals and use those.
In-the-pan method
Line your baking dish with foil and fill it with the meal. Allow the meal to begin to freeze, and as soon as it holds its shape, remove it from the baking dish and label it for the freezer. When you're ready to have that meal, you can pop it into the baking dish to thaw and cook (with or without the foil still on it!). This method is great because it doesn't tie up your dishes for the month, but allows you to get the meal ready to go very quickly.
Not all recipes are equal when it comes to cooking either large quantities, or freezing for future use. There are a number of ingredients that can separate, become watery, or thin when frozen. Most are ok if included in a recipe that can be remixed before serving, but watch out for recipes that contain a lot of sour cream, mayonnaise, cream cheese, yogurt, frosting, cream fillings, or gravies. Again, you'll probably be alright as long as you can stir them up before heating and serving.
Some foods become just plain nasty when frozen, like cooked eggs and fried foods. Yuck! Your fries will be limp and your hard boiled eggs will feel like rubber. Some sauces and stews will thicken rather than thin. It's easy enough to fix with the addition of some extra water or other liquid. Sometimes it's difficult to predict just what will happen when a recipe is frozen. Pastas, rice, and beans will turn to mush if fully cooked before freezing. You can fix this by slightly undercooking when making the original recipe. Seasonings can be completely unpredictable: some will strengthen and some will weaken. Add herbs, spices, and seasonings during the final reheat if at all possible.
As you probably already know from buying frozen vegetable, even raw vegetables and fruit will lose their crispness, but they are perfectly fine for cooking afterwards.
I just learned recently that if you freeze heavy cream, it will never whip up afterwards! You can still use it for cooking, but just be warned about that little quirk. In fact, most things that "don't freeze well" can be frozen, you'll just have to figure out if you can live with the consequences. Baked potatoes don't keep their texture, but they can still become mashed potatoes :-)
One thing you might want to do is to start with some of the recipes in the links below which are already kitchen-tested for OAMC. That will give you a good feel for how to adapt your own favorite family recipes to this form of cooking.
Real Food Fast
Ellen's Kitchen
Once a Month Cookingworld
Real Food 4 Real People

Great links to more tips and other people's methods:
Real Food 4 Real People
Once a Month Cookingworld
Menues 4 Moms
Busy Cooks
Image: Stock.xchng

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