Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Preparing meals ahead to save big $$$$...

Yes it's true.
Some of my friends do believe me to be quite insane. Especially when I start talking about insourcing and preprepping meals and stuff. They just shake their heads and say 'but they sell that already done at Coles'. Yes. I know. But not the way I do it ;-)
Here is my bit of insanity from yesterday....it saved me about $200 on my grocery bill, bought lunches and snacks. Now that's a good insanity!
I have a background in Catering and Event Management and worked with chefs for many years, so I have learned to multi-task. You can have chicken simmering, casserole bubbling, quiche baking, cookie dough mixing and be cutting potatoes all at the same time. It's just get one thing going, move on to the next, then the next. You kind of start with the thing that is least complicated, moving on to the more complex. So here is the order I tackled my preparation, and what you can achieve, with practice, in a single two hour session.
1. As soon as I got in the door with the groceries, I put on the stock for poaching the chicken and turned on the oven to preheat. Once it was boiling I dropped the chicken breasts in, popped the lid on and switched the heat off .... 3 minutes. Leave for twenty minutes....not peeking...and they'll be perfectly succulent and moist. See the full method in my 'Recipes in four sentences' section.

2. While the water for the chicken was coming to the boil, I put on a big pot of rice as per my method in Recipes in Four Sentences. Similar to the chicken, once boiling, I covered it and turned it off.... 3 minutes.

3. Continuing to unpack groceries as I go, I found the butter and left it out to soften and trimmed and packed the bacon when it came to hand in the same bag....5-10 minutes. I trim most of the visible fat from my bacon, and coil it into little rounds, storing it sitting up like that in a plastic container. The little coils are easily removed individually for cooking. The rinds and fat are kept in a ziplock bag to flavour baked vegetables. Layed over the surface of cut vegetables on the baking tray, they replace other oil, and add a nice robust flavour to pumpkin, sweet potato and potatoes.

4. I finished unpacking the groceries, only leaving out what I needed to work with at one end of my kitchen bench. Next to it I arranged all of my containers and implements. I set up the food processor on my other tiny bench. Note that I only have two small benches and a sink to work on, so not much room, but I do have a dishwasher, and I'm fastidious about rinsing, stacking, washing up and putting away as I go. About 15 minutes maximum to find all the containers, knives and baking dishes and set them out.

5. I sliced and divided all of the remaining chicken breasts and bagged them in my own marinade which I randomly squirt into small ziplock bags, standing up already open...15 minutes. Into the freezer they go.

6. Next, I trimmed the rump which was already sliced, and popped it in to large or small ziplock bags with marinade and extras like slivers of garlic and quartered onions...longest time of all...about 20-25 minutes. Then into the freezer.

7. I cracked 2 dozen eggs into a large bowl and whisked with 2 cups of Gluten Free flour and 4 dessertspoons of baking powder, as well as some crumbled chicken stock cubes, salt and pepper, 2 cups of natural yoghurt and 1 cup of milk. I sprayed 2 pie dishes and a casserole dish with cooking spray, then tossed in some of that 'diced bacon' that comes already done. I also sprinkled in some dried onion flakes and some dried granules of garlic. I then divided the mixture evenly between the three dishes and popped two into the oven. The third one I baked later with the Gluten Free biscuits. As soon as they were done I cut them into pieces to fit the containers I had, and froze them in layers with baking paper between them. I can fit half a large quiche in one deep takeaway style container. This took about 7 minutes to prepare and get into the oven, and 10 minutes to pack and freeze.

8. I sliced a wombok (Chinese cabbage) with the mandolin and refrigerated it in a lined and covered lettuce keeper. 3 minutes. This forms the base for all of our salads for the week, and stir fry towards the end of the week. I'll add other ingredients as the week wears on for each individual salad. The wombok keeps really well compared to bought salad mixes.

9. I then peeled and sliced the onions for a batch of my onion confit using the mandolin, and removed the chicken from the stove to the bench to allow it to cool before refrigerating it. I got the confit going and then used the food processor to prepare the relish and get it simmering. This took maybe 15 minutes.

10. I made the sandwiches next which took no more than 10 minutes. No butter. Just the ham and cheese (which I'd sliced up myself last week using a cheese slicer) and packed in pairs in ziplock bags. The family just butter the top slice before putting in the sandwich press. Butter inside is unnecessary.

11. I rinsed out the food processor and blended the butter for the butter blend. Five minutes max.

12. Now that the butter is nice and soft (I use reduced salt home brand butter for the bikkie dough), I use the electric beaters to make the cookie dough and refrigerate it. Five or ten minutes. I bake them later or the next day once the dough is chilled.

13. Then I stored the remainder of the chicken breast not used for the toasties and the rice in large ziplock bags and froze them....Three minutes?

14. I had bought washed potatoes, and I simply cut a dozen or so with an apple corer and segmenting tool. You get them in the kitchen shops for around $10. It looks a bit like a wheel with spokes, and you just pop it on top of the potato and press down hard, and it cuts your wedges for you. You also get these really cool looking cylinder shaped ones that, if it were an apple, would be the core. Just another tool that makes really quick work of a task. I then put them into to large ziplock bags along with glugs of olive oil and herbs that I like, and tossed them around in the zipped bag before refrigerating them for dinner that night. Note that I use these fairly quickly as they don't respond well to freezing and defrosting.

15. Finally I made the casserole, which took only a couple of minutes to dust with flour (I'd already prepared all the rump remember), pan fry in the wok, and then add a bottle of passata and some herbs and chicken stock to, and it simmered away for an hour until ready, so it was probably the only thing still on the go, but I didn't even look at it.

So, with cleaning up and storing the casserole, I'd say it was probably 2 1/2 hours if I look at it properly. But definitely two hours of actual preparation. And remember, I've been doing this for a long time, and I know my way around my kitchen. I've got the containers and the appliances and the nice sharp knives and utensils which ALL makes a difference. So work your way up to the task.

I also make sure that I have sufficient storage space in the fridge and freezer before I even start. We have a spare small fridge with a smallish freezer in our garage too, so that gets stocked up at the same time.

Now while that might all sound daunting at first, the key is to just start, and keep going. Do not sit down, don't answer your phone. Wear comfy shoes and an apron, and just go for it. You can do it!

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  1. Oh Mimi, I am exhausted after all that. I will have to go and have a nanna nap :-) Seriously though, you are a very organised person and that is a great routine you have. Do you have marinade recipes to share? I didn't realise you could freeze them. What a good idea.

    1. Nanna Chel that is funny, you taking a Nanna Nap. xx

  2. Mimi, I love hearing about your adventures in the kitchen, you never cease to amaze and inspire me. Now, if only I get myself into gear to do more in my kitchen! Fiona x

    1. Lol Fiona! Hardly adventures. I just love proving to my lot that we can eat well without spending the entire housekeeping budget ;-)

  3. Mimi I love the way you feed your family. And its not just budget its health. Packaged stuff is rarely healthy...
    I am trying to have some serious bake up and bulk cooking days to stock the freezer. I have been waiting for the weather to cool as it was 40 and thats too hot really. I want a full freezer of easy meals built back up as I am running low. My crockpot is a huge one so I can do soups, lamb shanks and things in large quantities and freeze in portions. What a relief on a busy day or when sickness strikes... (or other days when the wheels fall off)
    Thank you for the encouragement. xxx

    1. Annabel, that is the point isn't it. We can be healthier and wealthier by doing what our Mums and Nannas did when there was no other option. Having gone gluten free a few years ago now, I shudder to think what our grocery bill would look like if I didn't prepare many things that are usually marketed as 'convenience' foods. Wow....at 40C, I wouldn't be baking either! Melt and mix refrigerator style slices are a lifesaver in the heat. I will make a point of posting some of my favourites. I hope your week is busy and productive....Mimi xxx

  4. Dear Mimi, I'm with Nanna Chel! LOL after my nap however I'd like to tell you I learned a lot from this post. I love the bacon rolled up. Thank you I'll use that! After going gluten free myself less than 2 years ago I'm still on a huge learning curve. At first my goal was to just avoid gluten, eat whole foods, avoiding processed foods including the very expensive gluten-free prepared stuff. Now I am learning to bake, etc. gluten free. I'm convinced after this post (in addition to Annabel's pantry post) that I must reorganize my kitchen equipment for efficiency! You sound like you could do this with your eyes closed! I'm really encouraged by this!
    Many thanks, Colette xxx
    ps. I'm still playing with these cute stars

    1. I promise Colette, it's not that hard. It really is a case of not being distracted. Easier for me with no littlies now, harder if you're a Mum of a toddler, for sure. It's just another little way of finding those $$$ to save for something more memorable. You can do it! Mimi xxx

  5. phew another one here to have a lie down after reading that. you certainly pack a punch in the kitchen. well done. and even more well done remembering the order and not leaving anything out.

    1. Oh, I need a lie down after all that too Fiona! I'm no saint! It keeps the brain cells active too.

  6. This is what my best girlfriend and I would do when we were young moms. We would make the 60 mile drive for groceries and buy what we needed to make several meals ahead of time and we would take turns when it came to whose house we would do it at. Our families loved it because it made us much more creative as far as menus go. We were mad gardeners and canners too and saved tons of money doing it. I love that so many more women are getting back to it and doing less eating out and finding out the joy of meal preparation.

    1. June, how lovely that you had a buddy to help you with your canning, preserving and meal prep. That is such a bonus. And growing food? Well that's my next goal. A fig tree and a mulberry tree are on my wish list, but the man of the house remains unconvinced. He wonders what we'd do with the excess. Honestly....men! Hehehe! Thanks for stopping by again....Mimi xxx


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