Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Batch Cooking: The Great Time Saver

        Lisa's Dinnertime Dish has moved.  Please visit me at my new and improved blog site!  The new address is  I look forward to seeing you at the new site!!

      Today I want to talk some more about batch cooking.  If you're not familiar with what that is, it's basically making a large "batch" of something, packaging it up in either individual or family size portions and freezing it to use later.

      It does take some effort up front, but in the long run, there are a lot of benefits to batch cooking.  With your freezer full of food, you can whip up a meal in a short amount of time.  So on those nights that you get home from work late, or are running all over the place to get your kids to all of their activities, a homemade dinner is not going to take a lot of effort to get on the table.  In the long run, this will save you money and will help you avoid turning to fast food in desperation.

      My favorite things to make in quantity are marinara sauce, meatballs,  breaded chicken breasts, chicken noodle soup and roasted chicken.  I love having all of these things in my freezer because they are all pretty versatile.  The chicken noodle soup is not so much versatile as it is easy.  It is one of those things that is very fast.  All you have to do is put it in the microwave to defrost it and heat it up and dinner is ready.  Pair it up with a salad or some crusty bread, if you have any on hand, and dinner is done!

     There are a lot more things you can do with the rest of the items.  You can whip up spaghetti and sauce, chicken parmigiana, spaghetti and meatballs, meatball hoagies, roasted chicken quesadillas, chicken caesar salad, homemade pizza, chicken breasts with baked potatoes (in the microwave, of course) and a vegetable, chicken breast sandwiches.  You get the idea, the list goes on.

     If you want to give this a try, there is some kitchen equipment that can make this easier, but you can most likely make it work with whatever equipment you already have.  I have been doing this for a long time and have only recently added some of this equipment.  But this would be my wish list for your kitchen:
  1.  A good quality large chefs knife (the number one thing a cook needs, in my opinion)
  2. A super large stock pot, this one is 16qts. (I bought mine at Sam's Club in their commercial kitchen section and it was very inexpensive)
    1. Several large mixing bowls, these are 8qt, 5qt and 3qt (also bought at Sam's Club)
  3. A kitchen scale (very helpful for portioning the food)
  You also want to have lots of inexpensive plastic storage containers and quart and gallon size freezer bags.

 Marinara Sauce

This sauce is super simple to make, but it is delicious and extremely versatile.  This is a single batch, it will make about 1 1/2 quarts of sauce.  If you want more, double or triple the recipe (this is where the big stockpot comes in handy).  I then divide the sauce into quart size plastic containers (you could use freezer bags if you prefer) and put them into the freezer. 

2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more, if you like it spicy)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes
20 basil leaves, torn or chopped
¼ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped                                           
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium low heat.  Add red pepper flakes and garlic.  Cook until garlic starts to sizzle, about 3-5 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.  Add crushed tomatoes, increase heat to medium and bring to a simmer.  Add basil, parsley and salt and pepper.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover and let simmer for at least 15 minutes to let flavors develop.

Baked meatballs

This recipe makes about 12 to 16 medium to small meatballs.  If you want more, double or triple the recipe.  When you're done baking them, place them on a cookie sheet, sprayed with cooking spray.  Place the cookie sheet in the freezer.  Once they're frozen, portion off  meal size portions into quart size freezer bags.  Reheat in the microwave or in spaghetti sauce.

1 lb 93% lean ground beef
1 glove of garlic, minced
¼ onion, finely chopped and sautéed in 1 tsp olive oil (optional)
½  cup Italian bread crumbs
1//3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a large, rimmed cookie sheet with cooking spray.
Place all of the above ingredients in a large bowl and mix together until everything is incorporated together.  Your hands work best for this.  Form mixture into 1 1/2 to 2 inch balls and place on cookie sheet.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until meatballs are starting to brown.

Panko Crusted Chicken Breasts

If your chicken breasts are especially large, you can cut them up into 4-6 ounce portions before you pound them out (this is where the kitchen scale comes in handy).  After you've sauteed them, place them on a cookie sheet, coated with cooking spray and place in the freezer.  Once the chicken is frozen, package in gallon size freezer bags and return to the freezer.  You can easily double or triple this recipe, I usually make 12-16 pieces at a time.

To reheat chicken, place frozen  in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes.

1 cup panko bread crumbs (you can use plain or Italian style.  I like to use Progresso Italian style panko)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt and Pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup flour
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tbsp olive oil

Combine first 4 ingredients in a shallow dish (disposable, styrofome plates work great for this).  Put the flour and the eggs each in the same type of dish as the bread crumbs.  Put the chicken breasts, one at a time into a Ziploc plastic bag.  Then taking either the smooth end of meat mallet or a flat bottomed pan, gently beat each chicken breast until it is about 1 inch thick.  Then, take each piece of chicken and coat it with the flour, dip it into the egg and then coat it with bread crumb mixture.  Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium high heat (to speed things up, I heat up two pans when I'm making a big batch).  When oil is hot, add chicken to pan and cook 5 minutes on each side.

Chicken noodle soup

This is very easy to make, but tastes great, my whole family loves it!  This is enough to feed about 5 people, so double or triple the recipe.  I either package enough for the whole family in gallon size freezer bags, or I freeze it in individual portions in plastic storage containers.  Either way, it heats up pretty quickly in the microwave.

     2 tsp olive oil
     1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
     2 medium or large carrots,  peeled and chopped
     2 large stalks of celery, chopped
     ½ medium onion, chopped
     1 tsp poultry seasoning
     1 tsp salt
     ½ tsp pepper
     6 cups chicken stock
     1 cup multi-grain pasta, such as Barilla Plus

Heat olive oil in 5 quart dutch oven over medium heat.  Add carrots, celery, onion and poulty seasoning and sauté for about 5-7 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add chicken stock and increase heat to high and bring to a boil.  While waiting for soup to boil, cut chicken into one inch pieces.  Once soup comes to a boil, turn heat down to medium high and add the chicken and let it poach for about 5 minutes.  Then add pasta and let it cook for 8-10 minutes.  Remove from heat immediately or the pasta will continue to cook and will soak up the liquid and become over-done.  If you are not going to serve the soup immediately, you can let the soup simmer over low heat without the pasta.  10 minutes before you’re ready to eat, increase heat to medium high and add pasta and cook as directed above. 

Roasted chicken

It is so easy to roast chicken, you basically put it in the oven and let it do it's thing.  I usually do two chickens at a time.  When the chicken is done and has cooled off, I remove the skin and remove the meat from the bones, then I either chop or shred it.  I then package it in quart size freezer bags in 1 lb portions (another great use for the kitchen scale).

1-2 whole chickens (4-5 pounds each)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Remove the neck and giblets from inside the cavity of the chickens, pat chicken dry.  Rub olive oil over the skin and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place chickens in a large roasting pan if you have one, or in a cake pan.  Roast for between 1 hr and 15 min and 1 hr and 30 min, until the juices run clear.

I hope you try some of these recipes and work on filling up your freezer.  You'll be glad you did!

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