Thursday, October 2, 2008

Time to Cook!

I just had a lightbulb moment for an awesome post - let's see how "awesome" I can make it !! LOL! And... don't scroll down looking for pictures to see if you can skip the reading - because there are no pictures! Sorry, you'll just have to endure my talking instead :)

The title to this means "how you can have time to cook" :)

Time: 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks in a year, 365 (or 6) days in a year. Not very much, is it? Especially if you work outside the home. (Though working INside the home doesn't give you more "time", trust me - it still gets dark in the evening, you still get tired, you still don't feel like doing anything sometimes, you still get cranky, there's still "nothing" to eat every once in a while.... and you know how it is!)

I worked at a locally owned bank for a little more than a year between last year and the beginning of this year, so I know all about what it's like to come home feeling like any rejuvenated gray matter that was in your head when you left for work had been scrambled, fried, charred and then scrambled some more to see if anything was left. Is EXHAUSTED the right word? And you're hungry, but you do not feel like cooking - you barely feel like lifting the fork or spoon to your own mouth, let alone deciding what to put on the spoon.

I have to say I didn't do it alot, but here are a few things that I tried to do when I would get an "organization" spurt for a little bit.

To buy the food:
Use a day that you're not working (or if you can at all muster it up, go after work to save another trip into town - that's why I like the 24 hr WalMart) and do a massive grocery shopping trip. Today, I would try and make a massive menu plan (to fit my grocery budget of course) first so I'd only be buying what I need to buy, and not just randomly be putting stuff in the cart because I might need/want it for something.

I bought meat in the family size packs, the biggest bags of frozen veggies I could find, several heads of lettuce (it keeps ok in the frige and if it does start to go bad, you only lose the outside leaf or two - unless you really let it go bad!!), boocoos of lunch meat for Daniel's sandwiches, multiple dozens of eggs... Anything that could help me not have to plan another trip for as long as possible.

When I'd get home, I'd put everything away but the meat. If I bought whole chickens, I'd stuff one into the crockpot, the rest into pots on the stove and get them cookin' to pick off later to have chicken meat all ready for a casserole or soup. Then I would pull out my scales and start packaging away. Hamburger I put into ziploc bags. Mash the meat flat to fill the bag, and freeze it. Chicken pieces I wrapped breasts individually in saran wrap, then put them all in a big gallon ziploc, thighs I would wrap 2 per saran wrap thingy, and do the same thing - chuck them all in a big ziploc. Then I'd haul it all down to the freezer. This way, if I needed 1 chic. breast, I could grab one. If I needed 4 thighs, I could grab 2 packets... it really makes it easy!

To make the meal:
The evening before, I would get anything out of the freezer that I needed (this included the vegetable for the meal so that it was all thawed and ready to cook when I'd get home), and put it in the frige. I started to collect other ingredients as well... if it called for a can of soup, I got out the can of soup. I got out the onion, pulled out the bowl, the crockpot, the measuring cup, the flour... and put all that on a clean counter (or shove enough stuff aside to make a clean spot!). If the meat needed browned but I wouldn't have time in the morning, I'd pop it in the microwave to thaw, and then brown away. Once it's done, I'd stick it in the frige.

The next morning (and you could do this stuff the evening before if you don't have time in the morning) I would mix together as much as I possibly could. If it was a crockpot meal - woohoo baby! - that's even better! I'd chop the onion, mix together the flour stuff, or whatever... anything that could possibly be done before putting it in the pot to cook or in the oven to bake. And I would try to leave things semi-organized for when I'd walk in the door that evening so that I wouldn't have to think too much.

When you get home: Ahhh... all I have to do is dump the meat mixture stuff in the casserole dish, pour the milk/egg mix into the dry stuff and dump that on top of the meat and put it in the oven. And dump the corn into a pot on the stove. And then supper's on, and you don't have to worry about it until you go to eat it!

This method really helped with my "working and trying to cook" related stress level. Today, menu planning almost eliminates the need for me to worry about what or when to cook since I only have to think about it once a week instead of every day.

Elizabeth wrote an amazing post yesterday over on her blog about quicker meal times... she does even more pre-freezer prep than I do, so make sure you check it out!! I got some great ideas from her :)

And if you have ideas/methods that really help you out for meal prep, leave a comment about what they are :)


Elizabeth said... [Reply to comment]

Ok, I love your use of saran wrap with chicken! I hadn't thought of that and it would save me money from using separate ziplocs (aka: knockoff ziplocs haha). Great idea! And, I also think it's really smart to mix things in the morning. I make a lot of baked goods and this could save me a lot of time. I wonder if I could get away with mixing the flour, sugars, baking sodas, and chocolate chips together in bags and store them like that for later cookie baking... Hmmm. I wonder if any of those mixed together would make the shelf life shorter. You have me thinking! :) And, thanks for the shoutout! Glad you got inspired from my post.

Aliisa said... [Reply to comment]

From Aliisa:
It is so funny that you posted this. I have a friend that is having problems with this and I was trying to help her out. Im going to print this for her.

Something I used to do when I worked is before I bagged the ground meat into packages, I would cook it all. That way I had 5 pkgs or whatever of precooked ground meat and all I had to do was defrost it. I would also cook extra for example if we were having baked potatoes and I knew I was making mashed potatoes later in the week, I would cook all the potatoes so all I had to do was mash them later on. I would also dice onion ahead. While I cooked, instead of dicing one onion, I would dice 3 and bag the other 2 for other meals.

I dont do so much of that anymore since I stay at home. But it was nice back then.

Miriam said... [Reply to comment]

I thought about your "cookie mix" idea for a bit, and thought it was a great idea! Then I remembered that for most cookie recipes you have to cream the butter and sugars together, then add the other stuff... I don't know how it would work to add all the dry stuff at once. It might work just fine, who knows? Otherwise, I doubt it would effect the shelf life really. You could always store it in the freezer if you wanted to be extra safe.

Elizabeth said... [Reply to comment]

Yep, it is! It's a George Foreman 8-in-1. It's also a rotisserie, bun warmer, broiler, etc. I love it because my cookies come out PERFECT in the little thing!

Elizabeth said... [Reply to comment]

Oh and about the cookie mix... I haven't ever creamed the butter and sugar together. Mmmmm... I wonder if the texture would be even better if I try that! Right now, I just mix all my wet ingredients together and then dump the dry stuff in.

Sally said... [Reply to comment]

You have good news for working, cooking women! Uhhh...I'm still trying to get a mountain of kid's clothes organized over here (moving out the too-little stuff, putting in the drawers the correct sized winter stuff). I don't know when I start organizing my meals etc. I have my own cook-ahead methods I use, but other than that, I do it fresh.

$5 Dinner Mom said... [Reply to comment]

For sure! Go get you some free apples!!! I'd definitely ask! Unless they have grandiose plans to use them all, I'm sure they'd be glad to share! Go get em!