Friday, April 5, 2013

Budgeting & Insourcing...Use small windows of time to be prepared!

I have to be honest and say that the idea of Once a Month cooking always made me feel overwhelmed.

Just the thought of having to cook meals to last for a month made me a bit woozy. That's not to say that I didn't subscribe to the idea, because I most certainly did. I'm a great fan of being prepared for anything and pride myself on feeding my family from my own fridge and pantry rather than the local takeaway outlets.

I'm actually horrified sometimes, as two suburbs from us is a large group of takeaway stores that are almost a suburb in themselves, always packed to the rafters with cars and people from all walks of life, looking for an easy dinner alternative. I feel like running through the carpark screaming ' can have four times as many yummy meals for what you're about to spend on fat and sugar laden burgers and pizzas!!!'

Unfortunately, for some families, for a variety of reasons, takeaway makes an almost nightly appearance on the menu.

Things like cooked chicken, pre-prepared and marinated meat, frozen potato wedges, prepacked salads and so on are a good replacement for takeaway dinners if you must, but even then, you don't have to look too hard sometimes, to appreciate that there isn't that much to them that couldn't be done at home with a bit of forethought.

Every time I blink, there's some new prepacked salad, vegetable or meat dish available. From Butterflied Tandoori or Mexicana Chicken...basically the littlest chicken you've ever seen, split down the back and drowned in red spices of dubious Rainbow Salad, which ubiquitously claims 'seasonal variations will occur', which apparently licenses the manufacturer to include shredded broccoli stalks in the mix. Now I have no problem with eating broccoli stalks OR making the most of every piece of the animal, fruit or vegetable. But I do have a problem with paying $5 for a bag of grated carrot and broccoli stalk with 3 shreds of raw beet in it for colour, when I could produce the same salad at home for one fifth of the price.

I want to talk to you about maximising your food prep time, to ensure you have a constant supply of fresh, healthy food in your kitchen. That way, you can completely eliminate or at least limit, your consumption of convenience and takeaway food. I guarantee that this will save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year off your grocery and food bill, AND improve your health immeasurably.
So what I suggest as an alternative, is using small windows of time to pre-prepare meals, not just for today and tonight, but for several days and nights running. Think about it...why peel and cut up 5 potatoes, when in just a few minutes, you can peel and cut up 25. We're talking economies of scale here. If you've got the equipment to hand, and the ingredients in front of you, don't fiddle around making one meal. Prepare the base of several in just a few more minutes with very little additional effort.

This truly can be done in small windows of time. You don't necessarily have to go through the whole marathon, once-a-month style cookup if that doesn't suit you. I can achieve almost half a weeks preparation in half an hour, and so can you.

In 30 minutes you could:

Cut 5 kilos of washed potatoes into wedges and toss them into a large ziplock bag with oil and herbs, and throw them into the freezer for roasting later in the week.

Cook a large batch of steamed rice to prepare fried rice for dinner later in the week and refrigerate it. Fried rice made at home, with pre-steamed rice, beats the takeaway stuff, hands down.

Cut a one kilo block of cheese into neat slices (Did you know you get about 70-90 slices from a block and this takes no more than five minutes to do?)

Invest in a Mandolin slicer and use it to slice tomatoes and cucumbers for a salad for dinners and lunches and have some left over for microwave pickles.

Attack some apples from the fruit bowl, slicing them  for layered apple cake for dessert, a truly healthy alternative to apple pie or apple crumble or cobbler and very yummy indeed. Here's the recipe...

 Healthy Individual Layered Apple cake

Equipment required:

1 small ramekin per person
Vegetable Peeler
Apple corer
Mandolin slicer or very sharp knife (the mandolin slicer makes easy work of this)
Cookie tray


1-2 apples per person depending upon size of the apples
Cinnamon sugar (see below for instructions)
Cooking Spray

1. Make the cinnamon sugar first, by blending 1-2 cups of caster sugar with 1 heaped teaspoon of cinnamon per cup of sugar. Use more or less according to your love of cinnamon. Once you've used it for this recipe, store the excess in a recycled jar or airtight container...another pre-prepared ingredient ready to go for French Toast, Pancakes, Cinnamon Sugar Toast or another Layered Apple Cake!

2. Preheat the oven to 180C.

3. Peel and core the apples, and slice into thin slices using the mandolin (please use the spiked holder! These things are darned sharp and will slice a chunk of flesh off if you are careless!).

4. Spray the ramekins liberally with cooking spray or grease lightly with butter or oil. Sprinkle the base of the ramekin with the cinnamon sugar, or a little honey or maple syrup.

5. Layer the apples in the ramekins, sprinkling a little cinnamon sugar every second or third layer. Fill to the top of the ramekins and compress well by pushing the base of another ramekin down on the top layer. Sprinkle the top layer generously with more cinnamon sugar.

6. Sit the ramekins on the cookie tray and slide them into the oven.

7. Bake until a skewer inserts easily into the centre...anything from 20-50 minutes.

8. Allow to cool.

9. To serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of the ramekin, and invert onto a serving plate. Serve with a scoop of icecream or whipped cream.

Our favourite gluten free ice cream is simply a tin of condensed milk or condensed 'coffee milk' whipped with 300mls of cream, and frozen. Yum! Another inexpensive, home made treat!


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I love hearing from you! I always respond to comments, so don't be shy! Mimi xxx