My sister-in-law is a wonderful cook, a chef really, and over the years she has educated me on a variety of topics, including but certainly not limited to: tomatoes, which should not be refrigerated but rather left on (a) their vine and (b) the counter to ripen; cous cous, which is not as exotic as it sounds and quite easy to make; fudge, as in her recipe is the most delectable I have tasted in all my vast experience of consuming fudge and fudge products—I know, I know, you think you or someone you know has a better tasting fudge, and I'm not here to argue with you, but . . . Chris Gahman makes the best fudge in the entire world, bar none; tea—how to select the real stuff and then make a good cup; the many uses of pizza stones; and the importance of baking on high-quality cookie sheets.
A multitude of interesting cookbooks sit on Chris' shelf, and perhaps 10 or more years ago, I remember selecting Once-a-Month Cooking from her kitchen library to read. While I never followed its system as outlined, I have used a version of its philosophy, which is basically to cook meals in batches and then freeze them for later consumption. I've mentioned some of my practices here and here.
The other day, I happened upon the original book's updated version, Once-a-Month Cooking Family Favorites. I bought it. I read it. I pondered. I made a decision. I was going to try the method exactly as directed. I talked it over with my husband to make sure he was on board, because he would have to watch over the children all day so that I could hang out in the kitchen. He agreed, and this past weekend I set out on my cooking adventure.
As suggested, I shopped for groceries the day before cooking. The book provides a shopping list, divided in categories (bakery, frozen, canned, meat, etc.), so my trip was focused and simple. It took me about two hours, because I chose to visit two stores (Sam's Club and my local market).
Then I spent all day Saturday cooking. The first three hours were spent in prep: rinsing, peeling, chopping, etc. If I do this again, I will definitely stop after the prep and call it a day. Once you've got all your prep work done, you go into assembly line mode and begin preparing each dish. For example, you start with a big batch of meat sauce, some of which you'll save for spaghetti and the rest you'll use to smother stuffed shells.
The day was horribly, exhaustingly L—O—N—G and next time I will break it up into three parts: Day 1 Shopping, Day 2 Prep, and Day 3 Assembly. You have to go through the process once to know how to adapt it to your needs, so I kept a pencil by the cookbook to jot notes and reminders into the margins as I went along.
Some of the recipes provide only 4 servings, so I'll want to double those next time.
I could have used fresh mushrooms instead of canned.
There was no need to chop an entire head of cabbage since it won't get used until the minestrone is actually served.
I will pay one of my kids to wash dishes while I'm cooking, because I ran through every mixing bowl, measuring cup, and cooking utensil that I own several times over and had to keep stopping to rinse out my finite number of skillets.
And so on.
The upside is that my freezer is full of 30 meals. THIRTY meals, people! One day of pain in exchange for a month of meals is the type of discomfort that I can handle.
Dinner last night: leftovers