Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tetris isn't as much fun with frozen blocks.

I don't like to cook. I'm not bad at it, I just don't enjoy the prep, the cooking, or the clean up afterwards. So I don't do it very often. What I do is bulk cooking.

I'll spend a couple of days or so once every few months and cook a ton of our favorite recipes and freeze them to reheat later on. I've been doing it long enough I have my own little binder of freezer tested recipes (and a few that I haven't personally tested but found online). So I go through every time, pick out a few (or way more than a few) and hit the store. It's several long days where we typically eat out because I'm so exhausted I don't want to do anything, but at the end, we have a freezer full of food. If you've got the stamina and the means to do so, I definitely recommend bulk cooking.

This past week, my laptop got broken to the point I couldn't really use it. I was already planning on doing some bulk cooking for the fall and hopefully into the winter after the baby is born, this just took away any reason not to. I like to watch Hulu on my laptop while I'm cooking or cleaning, but luckily my kindle will stream Hulu, so I was all set.

I started off by picking my recipes. I picked:

Pesto Sauce
Alfredo Sauce
Spaghetti Sauce (has meat)
Marinara Sauce
Tomato Basil Sauce
Daddy's Favorite Meatloaf
Parmesan Meatloaf
Meatballs (PM recipe, just balled)
Meatballs in Sour Cream Sauce
Baked Chicken Bacon Alfredo
Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
Crock-Pot Beef Stroganoff
Beef Chili
Cinnamon Rolls
Baked Lemon Garlic Pepper Chicken
Garlic Rosemary Chicken
Kick'n Chicken
Roasted Garlic and Herb Chicken

Yes. That's a lot of recipes. WAY more than I typically would do, I said, I want it to last us a while. We have a few premade frozen entrees (lasagna, ziti with meatballs, etc). We eat lots of pasta around here, so homemade sauce is great. Plus, I personally think it tastes better than jarred stuff. Since I've been cooking for myself, I've not actually found a good jarred sauce that I like the taste of.

I use spreadsheets for tons of stuff because I'm weird, and bulk cooking is no exception. I created a matrix to calculate how much of each ingredient I needed to buy and to see what I had on hand that I didn't need to buy. Then I created my grocery list by checking prices what I could online at Sam's and did some pre-prep work. That involves pulling everything out of the pantry that I'll be using and putting it somewhere in some kind of organized manner. I also go ahead and put what I've got together. So, for all the seasoned chicken dishes, I put the oil and herbs into bags and put them aside or in the fridge. I did most of this on Wednesday evening, since we had the house cleaned Wednesday morning.

Most of the time, buying in bulk is the best way to go. Sam's has the best prices on meat and produce that I have found, especially when you're buying 20 pounds of meat and 10 pounds of onions. So Wednesday, I headed to HEB. I haven't been to HEB alone with the boys since getting pregnant, so this was an experience. It was crowded but not horrible. We managed to be in and out with just about everything we needed from HEB in about an hour and a half. Considering we spent nearly $200, that's pretty good. That's amazing with two "helpful" little boys. We got compliments on their behavior, and it was good, so I was pleased. Tired when we got home, but pleased. That night, I made pesto and while I intended to make a double batch, I overbought on the fresh basil and ended up with a sextuple batch. Which is fine because it's good and we like it. I should have realized this was an omen for how the rest of my week was going to be.

Thursday morning, I loaded the boys up and we hit Sam's. Since we have a business membership, we can shop early, which is great. Not many other shoppers to contend with, just workers cleaning and setting up. I wasn't feeling great when we left the house, so by the time I had a cart full of 25 pounds of ground beef, 6 pounds of stew meat, 4 rotisserie chickens, and 20 pounds of chicken, plus sundry other items, I was exhausted. I was a little unsure of whether or not I could even get it in the car, let alone home and into the house. I did luck out in that most of the beef was short sale, so I got it at an even greater reduced rate than if I'd bought it at HEB. In and out in about an hour and a half and spent just over $300, though at least half of it wasn't bulk cooking related, but replacement of items we used up and/or needed. Buying in bulk CAN be expensive. Ish. It evens out in the end.

I managed to drag in all the fresh stuff that needed refrigeration and shoved it in the fridge. It was so full I knew I had to start cooking immediately, but I also needed to rest. I accidentally locked Asher on the front porch while taking a little rest and Elijah was trying valiantly to let him in. Neither seemed upset, just more "well, ok. This is our life now. Mom locks us out." In my defense, I didn't realize he'd run outside.

After a rest, I started on the spaghetti sauce and marinara. The marinara cooks in the crock pot, so that was easy. The hard task of the day was chopping the onion. We have an "EZ Onion Chopper" that is not easy. I literally sat on it to get it to chop. Frustrating. But, I got it done and had two large stock pots of spaghetti bubbling away on the stove, filling the house with delicious aromas. While that was going on, I assembled the beef stroganoffs using the pre-prepped bags. Same with some of the Sour Cream Meatballs. I had some meatballs left over from the last time so I threw them into a bag of sour cream sauce and got it ready to go into the freezer.

That night, Mom and Caleb came over for dinner and Mom and Austin ended up prepping all the chicken for me. I hate touching raw chicken so that was nice. Plus it made Friday a lot easier.

Friday through Tuesday I did something every day, not so much that I completely wiped myself out, but enough that I was extremely tired every day. Another trip to HEB was needed when I realized a couple things I thought I had enough of I actually didn't. The dishwasher was running almost constantly and the stove was on for hours every day. Not many big messes were made and my boys were super helpful when they could be: by staying out of the kitchen and only coming in for drinks and when I called them to lunch. Slowly my fridge emptied and my freezer filled. And then my freezer was full and I still had about 3 more recipes to go. So I had to do some freezer tetris.

I also had to do some tweaking in my chili recipe. Got rid of the beer, added some tomato paste, etc. And apparently I put enough chili powder in it that it's spicy enough for Austin, which means it'll blow the top off anyone else in our family. I'll figure that out later. I haven't done the cinnamon rolls in the freezer before, so that's an experiment, too. One pan I par-baked and one I froze before the final rise. Labor Day morning, we'll get them out and finish both off and see if either method worked out to result in delicious home made cinnamon rolls or if it's a bust.

At the end of everything, I've got a massive amount of food. Like, holy cow, it's unfortunate I'm not in the mood for any of it because I've been dealing with it for so long. My cost is a little skewed per entree because I didn't put in costs for items I had on hand (staples for us include olive oil, flour, seasonings, sugars, cheddar cheese, etc). I buy reusable pans and containers to help cut down on the cost a little and while I did have to buy several this time around, they cost about a dollar a piece but those were not included in the cost, either.

My final totals came out to:

6 cups of Pesto Sauce - $2.97/cup
13 pints of Alfredo Sauce - $2.65/pint (4 went into the Chicken Bacon Alfredo Casseroles)
6 quarts of Spaghetti Sauce - $5.43/quart (2 went into the lasagna)
4 quarts of Marinara Sauce - $1.22/quart
5 quarts of Tomato Basil Sauce - $5.76/quart
7 mini tins of Daddy's Favorite Meatloaf - $1.71 each tin
5 mini tins of Parmesan Meatloaf - $3.19 each tin
3 bags of Meatballs - $5.31/bag (1 went into the meatballs in sour cream sauce)
4 bags of Meatballs in Sour Cream Sauce - $1.19/bag (1 bag of meatballs went into 3 bags of sauce)
5 pans of Baked Chicken Bacon Alfredo - $9.57/pan
2 pans of Lasagna - $8.61/pan
5 pans of Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas - $3.20/pan
6 bags of Crock-Pot Beef Stroganoff - $5.35/bag
4 quarts of Beef Chili - $2.93/quart
2 pans of Cinnamon Rolls - $.76/pan (I had everything but eggs and cream cheese for the frosting)
2 bags of Baked Lemon Garlic Pepper Chicken - $3.76/bag
2 bags of Garlic Rosemary Chicken - $3.76/bag
2 bags of Kick'n Chicken - $3.76/bag
2 bags of Roasted Garlic and Herb Chicken - $3.76/bag

Some of this is going to my sister, who will reimburse me plus a little for the time and energy I put into everything. But, my total cost was just under $300 for the ingredients I bought specifcially for cooking and I ended up with something like 73 entrees/sauces. Not bad for a weeks' work and exhaustion like none other.  I feel much better about the coming fall and winter and for after the baby's born. I'll have to replace some of the stuff, I know, before he/she is born in January, but I won't be dumb enough to try another week long cooking spree like this. Unless someone wants to come work with me.

Dry goods I already had plus stuff I got at HEB. 

Different angle

Fresh stuff purchased at HEB plus on hand. 

Meat and miscellaneous purchased at Sam's plus some I already had. 

The only "in process" picture. This is what 12 pounds of tomatoes looks like chopped up. That bowl is massive. It was 8 quarts of tomatoes. 

Frozen dinners and sauces! The white blocks on the right center pile are cream cheese for the beef stroganoff. In my experience, cream cheese freezes and thaws just fine when you're planning on melting it in the crock pot. I've seen on websites not to do it, but since we don't notice a taste or texture difference, I buy the giant block at Sam's, portion it out, and freeze chunks like this for throwing in the crock pot. 

Another angle. Please ignore my dirty kitchen. 

Jammed into the freezer. The top shelf and bottom drawer are older stuff and staples like cheese (also freezes fine. If shredded, thaws just perfectly), butter, frozen fruits and veggies (make sure to lay fruits flat and to par boil veggies that need it. I researched how to freeze certain veggies and have had good experiences so far), etc. 

The door of sauces. It took long enough to get everything in and out and photographed they got frosty. 

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