|Sweet Potato Oatmeal Muffins, perfect to make ahead and freeze. Recipe on the blog!|
When I went from working part time to full time. I started doing a lot of the planning things so that I could maintain my sanity. I knew that eating real food was non-negotiable. There was no way that I was going to buy made for me meals in the grocery store or do take out. Sadly, I also found that working everyday really cut into my cooking hobby. In order that I continue to love cooking, I needed to get super organized. Over time, I worked out my meal planning and shopping system. I became diligent at keeping track of what is in my freezer, fridge and pantry and I started to do a great deal of meal prep work one day of the weekend. It's so nice not having to think about "what's for dinner" while driving home... I already know! It's nice to know that I have everything I need in my house to get meals together for the family and that we will be eating real food and on budget. So yes, I actually do the things I talk about in my blog! A little time spent organizing and planning is time well spent when it reduces stress and makes coming home after work a breeze! For those of you who find cooking to be a chore, trying these strategies may result in you finding out that cooking can be a little more enjoyable and definitely less stressful.
Food Management Strategies
On my last post I talked about preparing a meal plan for the week based on your sale items in the flyer and what you already have on hand. When doing up your meal plan and shopping list, it's easy to take a quick peek to see what you already have in the pantry and fridge. The chest freezer may be another story all together. If you are like me, you may lose track of what food you have in the freezer because older foods get buried at the bottom and then forgotten. To overcome long, lost food, I organized my freezer into food category zones like lunch snacks (banana bread, muffins, cookies, and the like), meat, veggies, fruit, bread, etcetera. I also started to keep an inventory list of all items in the freezer. When I use something, I cross it off the list; when I put something into the freezer, I add it to the list. I like to make my freezer inventory list and date it. To help make this system work, it is key to make sure my additions and deductions from the list are accurate, otherwise, I will have to root around in the freezer regularly which is such a time waster! Also, I make sure to date the freezer items so that I use the older items first. If one stays on top of what is in the fridge, pantry, and freezer, it will be so much easier to plan the meals and do the weekly shopping. With proper tracking, you won't end up with unnecessary extras because you buy something "just in case"; freezer items won't get forgotten and freezer burned; and all the fresh produce in the fridge will get used before turning into biological experiments. Ultimately, you won't over spend on needless extras; you will save money because you are buying exactly what you need, when you need it and you won't be wasting food because it got forgotten and spoiled.
Cook Once, Eat Twice
Make a triple batch and split amongst containers. You will have one for the meal this week, one to freeze for another night next week or when you are especially rushed and then divide the remainder in 1 cup servings to be used for homemade pizza. I usually simmer this marinara further till it thickens enough to "mound" on a spoon. You can make your own pizza dough or use store bought whole grain pitas. I recommend Pita Break pitas made by Ozery Bakery because they don't use preservatives or miscellaneous chemicals. If you have made a second lentil/walnut Loaf, you can crumble the second one up for Taco Tuesday or stir some into your marinara for a vegan spaghetti meat sauce. You can add a few more mixed frozen veggies to the chicken stew, thin it with a little more chicken stock and serve it up as soup. Oh, the possibilities by planning ahead!
One of the easiest ways to help stay on budget is to not waste food. Embrace your freezer and take advantage of preserving raw and already cooked foods. It's a good thing we just talked about keeping a freezer inventory list! Freezers are great to stock up on really well priced sale items, assuming your weekly budget allows for it. Just remember to date and keep a good inventory. Meat, cheese, certain fruits, herbs and breads all freeze well, just be mindful to use the oldest items first. As we talked about, cooking larger amounts and freezing part of it for another day is a great way to save time and money, but don't underestimate the value of your freezer for preserving leftovers.
If I have single servings of never frozen before chilli, spaghetti or marinara sauce, I freeze and label it accordingly. This way, for occasions when a quick single serving is required, I have one on hand. Even shepherd's/cottage pie can be put into a container upside-down for a single serving in the near future.
When I have a little extra chicken or turkey leftover, I chop it up, spread it out and freeze it on a Silpat or parchment lined cookie sheet. Once the meat is frozen, I can package it in a freezer bag. The meat cubes are loose and individually frozen so I can grab as much or as little out of the freezer to make chicken salad, or wraps, or whatever my heart desires. This also works with some kinds of fruit, including pineapple, berries, and bananas. I've even frozen apple slices, after a quick dip into a vinegar/water solution to prevent browning.
Another of my favourite freezer tricks is to use my scoops to freeze tomato paste and hummus. For the tomato paste balls, I use approximately a 1 tablespoon size which works out well since many recipes call for 1-2 tablespoons of it!
At Christmas time, I use a lot of egg yolks in recipes for our Christmas Eve Feast. Instead of throwing out those egg whites, I put them into a 500 or 750 mL jar for storage. I leave at least 1.5 inches of headspace and store them in a freezer. I label the jar to indicate how many egg whites are in it.
Sometimes I have a jar that only has two egg whites. As time passes, I occasionally prepare another recipe requiring only egg yolks, so I continue to add egg whites to the jar (adding fresh egg whites on top of the already frozen). At some point, perhaps 10-12 months later, I usually get a hankering for angel food cake, which takes 11 egg whites. Now I have the egg whites that I need to make the cake. I thaw these egg whites in the fridge overnight. When they have thawed, I leave them on the counter to get to room temperature for optimal whipping. No fuss... no muss!
As of late, I have discovered that I can save up my scrubbed carrot peels, tops and ends of my celery and onions. I keep these bits in a bag in the freezer and use them in my stock. This way, only have to add a small amount of fresh veggies to the stock. Ultimately, I am minimizing the waste and using as much of my food as I can... even the scraps!
|Not the prettiest of posts, but certainly it will be tasty in 12-24 hours or so!|
I have a 3.5 L Cuisinart programmable slow cooker. If yours is smaller, you may only be able to use one chicken carcass and less water, but don't chintz out on the veggie scraps. There is a lot of flavour in them!
Slow Cooker Chicken Stock
2 chicken carcasses
1/2 fresh carrot, cut in thirds
1/2 fresh onion (depending on how many onion ends in the scrap bag)
1/2 stalk of celery, cut in thirds
6 sprigs fresh parsley **
2 fresh thyme sprigs **
2 bay leaf
2 tbsp raw and unfiltered apple cider vinegar***
8-10 cups of water, or enough to completely cover the ingredients just to the ledge the lid sits on.
** In a pinch, when I don't have fresh herbs, I have used 1 tsp dried thyme leaves and 1 tbsp dried parsley. The dried herbs get caught in the sieve.
*** The raw and unfiltered apple cider vinegar I like to use.
You can use this stock in your favourite soups, stews, or stir fries. Just freeze the stock in the quantities you use most. Pictured below is a Shepherds Pie Soup from Canadian Living. I used my chicken stock instead of the beef broth called for in the recipe and snuck in some hidden healthy lentils too. Super tasty either way!