I spent Saturday cooking. If you want to get technical, I spent Friday shopping and Saturday and Sunday cooking and cleaning like a mad woman. I decided that it would be a good idea to stock the freezer with some go to meals that I could put into play if I needed something on the fly. I visited Once a Month Mom, browsed through the January recipes, thought buffalo chicken pasta was something I'd like to try and jumped right into making 16 servings. In for a penny, in for a pound, I also decided to make mandarin orange chicken rice. I've been wanting to try Erin's Enchilada recipe for a while now, so I figured I'd triple it and freeze those bad boys, even though that's not a freezer recipe. I had about 2.5 pounds to ground turkey in the freezer and thought that needed to be made into chili. Finally, I wanted to put together and freeze three meat loaves.
I would love to tell you that things went great and I have a freezer full of nutritious, yummy meals for my family, but I'm not sure that's the case. We tried the rice dish and it was not exactly everything I hoped it would be. This is due, at least in part, to poor execution of what might be a perfectly fine recipe. After I spent all of Saturday afternoon cooking, washing, freezing, mixing and WORKING REALLY HARD, then eating a disappointing first freezer dish, I was feeling a little down, especially since we had two more dinners worth of that dish hanging out in our freezer and four servings going home with my mom. It was at this point that my husband asked me why I had bothered with all that, he would gladly just eat burgers and pasta three nights a week. I'm actually pretty proud that I didn't completely loose it at this point. But I didn't. And the real verdict is still out on the whole experience since we haven't eaten all of the foods yet. So we'll see...
Here's what I wish that I would have done differently before attempting this whole process:
I would have made each of the recipes once prior to trying to cook enough of said recipe to feed a small army, or one family four times over. Although the recipes looked good one the sites, I don't really have any idea if we like buffalo chicken pasta or mandarin orange chicken. Trying one meal's worth would have been a lot better than experimenting with four meals worth. Also knowing what a normal version of the recipe looked like would have made a quadrupled version seem less strange. A lot of my difficulty came from not trusting the recipe. For example, the buffalo chicken recipe calls for one cup of hot sauce. This seemed all well and good until I realized that hot sauce, i.e. Tabasco sauce comes in 2 oz containers. Surely I was not supposed to add FOUR containers of hot sauce to my recipe??? Plus THREE bottles of ranch dressing??? It all seemed perfectly normal there on the page, but in my kitchen, it seemed a lot stranger.
I would have begged, borrowed or stole some seriously BIG pots. I had to boil my pasta in two batches because it didn't all fit in my biggest pot. I also had to delay cooking some of the other items because they didn't fit in my smaller pots. When you're cooking a bag and a half of rice in about 11 cups of liquid, you need a big pot. If someone else is helping you with your cooking day, ask to borrow their biggest pots. If you're going it alone, borrow what you can from friends or neighbors.
Finally, I would NOT have tried to do so many recipes in one day. I completely blame Once a Month Mom for making it look SO easy! It seems so organized in the excel spreadsheets and step by step instructions, but it's a lot of work, especially if you're used to cooking for a few people. I would have gone for one or two recipes, not FIVE!
Here's what went well:
My grocery store had bone-in, skin-on split breasts for $1.69 per pound. This is a decent price around here, so I bought a ton. Not enough, it turns out, to finish all my recipes, resulting in a frantic run to the grocery store and a second round of chicken cooking. But this is about what went RIGHT. I took the skin off the chicken on Friday night and put the chicken in my 4 quart slow cooker insert, then put the whole thing in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I turned it on as soon as I got up and my chicken was waiting for me at nap time (1 pm), ready to be picked from the bones and shredded. I did things exactly like Stephanie explains in this post from A Year of Slow Cooking. It was a great way to cook a lot of chicken with very little effort. I wasn't even home while the chicken was cooking.
The chili... it was yummy... I borrowed a bit from the enchilada spices and used the same combination in the chili. It came together very nicely and my husband didn't realize that it was turkey, not beef. SCORE!
The best part of the day was frantically tweeting "Help! @onceamonth mom, does hot sauce = tabasco?? 1 cup?? I'm halfway though the buffalo chicken pasta recipe!" and then actually getting a reply, yes, that's right. Very cool technology!
So that's it. Don't do what I did with the whole freezer cooking thing. Get your feet a little wet before diving right on in... and then let me know what went well for you, because it turns out I need a little help!