PART 2-COOKING AHEAD TO SURVIVE BUSY DAYS

I hope you had a nice week. Did you look at your favorite recipes and gather them up to use for your first menu? Let’s continue where we left off. When cooking anything, anytime, it is imperative to remember basic food safety rules.
1- Cold food must be kept below 40 degrees and hot food must be kept above 140 degrees. Clean any countertops and food mats before you begin preparing anything. Keep your work are uncluttered. Clutter leads to accidents. Do not cross contaminate, keep meats on a tray on the lowest shelves of your refrigerator, with vegetables and other items above the meat.
2- Never thaw food on the countertop. Thaw it in the refrigerator, which helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.  That means you will need to plan ahead and allow adequate time for thawing.
3 -Putting food in the microwave to thaw it does a serious “no no” to the quality to most meals.
4- Go through all the recipes and make a grocery list from each item from each recipe.
You will see after you list all the items you will have some of these items in your home pantry. Those items you want to highlight, so you don’t accidently purchase something you don’t need. But make sure you pantry items are fresh. Check those spices to ensure their freshness, and look at that flour if it hasn’t been purchased recently and/or kept in the refrigerator.  And the same thing for OILS.  Left out of the refrigerator at room temperature, any oil will go rancid.  Smell them to determine if they are useable.  (And while your at it, the same goes for your perfume.  It will also go rancid because most perfumes have some type oil in them..)
Before you go to the store to do your shopping, make sure you have adequate room in your refrigerator and freezer to store the amount of food you will be bringing home. And be sure you have some sort of shallow tub and a large bag of ice to keep prep’d items cold as you need them.

Another important trick to notice and note while making your grocery list is — if you are buying (example) 5 onions, note it this way:

5 onions —
2 minced –  example  recipe #1
1 sliced into rings   #3
1 chopped  #4
1 large dice  #5

The reason you are doing that is you will know when you start doing your prep that you need to mince 2 onions, slice one into rings, chop 1 and cut one into large dice. It will save you time later and you won’t have to re-read each of your recipes to figure out how to process the vegetables you are buying. You can even go as far as numbering each recipe and writing a number to coincide with the recipe on the container that holds the ingredients for that recipe. Remember you will be doing all your prep before you begin to cook.

If you shop at the same grocery store all the time, you will have some idea of the layout of the store. Try to list your items to coincide with the isles of the store. That way you are not bouncing from one side of the store to the other. List all the produce together, all the meat together, and as close as possible, list canned goods etc., by isle starting at the door you enter in finishing nearest the checkout stand. Put all the frozen food together, all the dairy together. These two will be the last two sections you will stop at.
If it is a really hot day (as it has been where I live, it just seems to melt me right down to my shoes everytime I go outside) I suggest taking one or two coolers and buying a small extra bag of ice and putting some in the two coolers for the frozen items and dairy  and  a cooler for the meat. Remember to keep meats and produce/dairy separate.

Salisbury Steak with Mushrooms and Madeira Sauce
Serves 4

4 Slices bacon, cooked, drained, chopped
2 Slices white bread, crusts removed
1/4 Cup milk
1 3/4 # Ground beef
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce – low sodium
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 # Mushrooms, brushed clean, sliced thinly
5 tsp Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour (or other fine rice flour)
1 cup beef broth, low sodium
5 Tbsp Madeira wine
1/4 Cup Chives, minced, set aside for garnish

Dice bacon, cook, drain and set aside. Reserve bacon fat. Add butter to the skillet and heat to medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute about 4 minutes. Add half the beef stock to the flour (add the stock to the flour, not the flour to the stock or you will have lumps) and make a slurry.
After the mushrooms have browned and released their liquid, add the stock/rice flour slurry and whisk to thicken and also release the “fond” from the bottom of the skillet. Add the Worcestershire sauce, the remaining stock and the Madeira and cook until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning.

Add meat to a mixing bowl. Remove crusts from bread, soak in milk until soft. Squeeze out excess milk, crumble with hands, add to the meat along with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and mix until thoroughly combined. Shape into 4 oblong patties about 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick. Remove them and cool them down in the refrigerator.

To freeze, place the cool patties in your container, pour the mushroom sauce over the top. Garnish with the chives. Lay plastic wrap directly on top of the entire meal. Then either wrap in foil, or if you have a lid, place the lid on. Add the label.

Heating directions: Thaw in refrigerator. Remove lid and plastic wrap. Heat in preheated oven at 350 for 45 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes covered with foil.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
SERVES 4

4             White baking potatoes, peeled, washed, cut into medium dice
3             Cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp      Sea salt
1/4         Cup fresh parsley, washed, leaves minced
5 Tbsp.  Butter
5 Tbsp.  Herb and garlic flavored cream cheese spread (such as Rondelle)
Place a stock pot with water on to boil.  Make sure you have enough water to double the amount of potatoes you are going to fix.  Add salt.  Add the potatoes and the garlic to the cold water.  Bring to a medium boil and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes.  Check at 12 minutes.  Do not boil the potatoes rapidly as it will cause them to fall apart and become waterlogged.  You want them to be cooked but not dissolve in the water.  Drain them when they are done, return them to the hot stock pot, and return to the burner which you have turned off.  Let them dry out for about 10 minutes.   If you have a food mill or ricer, rice them into a large bowl, including the garlic.  If not, a hand masher or electric mixer can be used.  But take care not to over-process the potatoes, as it will cause the potatoes to become gummy.  Add all the other ingredients ad one time.  Gently stir in the cheese, butter, salt, pepper and parsley.  Let the potatoes cool, place in container.  Put plastic wrap on top of the potatoes, then add lid or foil,  and label.

Reheat:  Remove plastic, recover with foil.  Preheat oven to 350.  Heat in oven on baking sheet at 350 for 30 – 45 minutes, depending on how many servings you have fix and if you have brought the potatoes to room temp. before you put them into the oven.

When you reheat the potatoes, fluff them by raking a fork back and forth across them, don’t over mix them with a spoon.  It will make them gummy.  If they seem dry,  at this point, it is fine to add cream, milk or reduced stock.

If you choose to add a couple of your recipes and pick a day to cook before next week, let’s briefly discuss a game plan.  Let’s just do a quick once over…

Make your grocery list by isle, and include each recipe.  That will save time.
Purchase or designate freezer containers with lids, square is best.
Plan your menu so multiple heat sources can be used at the same time.
Do all your preparation first before you start to cook.
Keep cold food items cold.
Start items that take the longest cooking time first.  Save items that don’t have to be cooked, just some sort of prep., for last.
Undercook – if it is completely cooked when you freeze it, it will be over cooked at dinner time.
Make sure everything gets labeled.
If there is an additional item you will need to purchase before the meal can be served  NOTE it in large writing beside the item on your menu.

Next week I will finish the recipes and then we will talk about shortcut to getting this all cooked in one day.

Until then, happy cooking.  And remember if you are cooking something your family really likes, make 2,  just undercook one.  And freeze  one.  Label it.

COOKING AHEAD TO SURVIVE BUSY DAYS

I think of all the classes I have taught over the years the one’s that have been the most popular and the most well attended have been the ones that were themed on cooking ahead or bulk cooking. With school starting and everyone with busy schedules, it gets difficult sometimes to find time to prepare dinner and then get everyone around the dinner table to share a meal. But we all know that those precious times of sharing the family meal provides an avenue of communication that can’t be replaced. So for those of you having a difficult time scheduling the shopping, preparation and meals, I hope these next few weeks will help you find a way to spend that irreplaceable quality time with your family and not go through drive thru to do it.

The first step is to decide what you actually need to accomplish. Do you need help at breakfast, with lunch, with dinner, or with all of these. What does an average meal consist of for your family? A protein, a vegetable, a salad and a desert? What types of protein will your family eat? Most families have favorites. Whether it’s casseroles, BBQ, your favorite recipe that you’ve fixed a million times and they eat every last bite of it every time. Those are the recipes you want to pull out first, and start to build your menu around. From those base recipes, I will try to help you find some others that have been popular over the years and are family friendly.  In future blogs, we will talk about recipes that more palate specific to individual likes rather than across the board.

Then the next thing to work on is make a menu based on how many nights (days, lunch’s, breakfasts,) you will be trying to prepare food for. This is all going to have to be based on freezer space but also on how much time you realistically have to cook the items.  So plan accordingly. If you only have a small overhead freezer on your refrigerator, clean it out, get rid of the things you have in bags that are “surprise” leftovers, (yes, we all have them-the things we are sure we will remember what they are, and that we don’t need to label, and after a month get pushed to the back and forgotten, only to be discovered, and they become the “OH MY GOSH, WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?” surprise leftovers. We are all guilty of it.

I am going to show you a sample 5 day menu. I say 5 days because most families have activities at least 2 nights, or just enjoy eating away from home a couple nights a week or will clean up leftovers.
Notice that there are numbers and notes after each main item, we will discuss this below.

 MONDAY –            CHICKEN TENDERS —–#1-Bread, freeze, but will not cook until dinner

                                   HASH BROWN CASSEROLE —–#2-Combine, will not cook until dinner

TUESDAY               BAR-B-QUE PORK SANDWICHES ——#3-Pressure cooker, crockpot or oven
                                  BAKED BEANS——#4-Partially prepare (onions) and finish at dinner
WEDNESDAY       SALISBURY STEAKS——#5-Stovetop
                                  MASHED POTATOES—–#6–Stovetop
THURSDAY           FISH FINGERS——#7-Bread, freeze, but will not cook until dinner
                                  BROCCOLI RICE CASSEROLE—–#8-Stovetop, oven at dinner

FRIDAY                   STUFFED SHELLS—–#9-Stovetop, finish in oven at dinner                                    
                                  BREAD STICKS—–#10-Prep.only, no cooking until dinner
BREAKFAST BURRITOS – #11-Stovetop— 
Let’s take a minute and look at the above menu.  Let’s assume starting from the top to the bottom these are numbered one through 10  and the Burritos are a stand alone but numbered  recipe 11.  One thing to try to accomplish when you plan a menu is taking advantage of more than one heat source, meaning something cooking on the  stove top, items that can be fixed partially and not cooked at all but are prepared so that you have a very quick preparation on the day you set aside for your cooking, and that you will  finish the item with minimal effort at the selected dinner time.  We need items that will be cooking in oven, items that can cook in the crockpot, items that can cook in the pressure cooker.  That way you can have more than one entrée being prepared at a time.
Look at which items take the longest to cook.  Which items have multiple steps, such as #9, the shells have to be par-boiled before
you can begin to stuff them.  The pot must be put on to boil the water, which will take some time.  Each recipe has steps, and by analyzing these steps, you can make the cooking day go much faster.  Each week for the next 5 weeks, I will put up a couple  recipes from the above menu and we will discuss how to prepare it, how to analyze it, what steps to take to execute the recipe in as short a length of time as possible.  Then on the last week, we will discuss how to put it all together, making a grocery list, and then hopefully you will have substituted some of the above with your favorite recipes, and you will be ready to spend a day in the kitchen that will give you many free nights in the future. You will have to convert them to the number of servings appropriate for your family.
Italian Style Breaded Chicken Tenderloins   #1
Serves 4
1# Chicken Tenderloins, rinsed, patted dry
2 Cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 Cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, fine ground
1 Cup Regular Flour
3 Eggs, beaten 3 tbsp. water
Other items you will need, parchment paper, baking sheet, freezer bags, plastic wrap, 4 shallow pans, 1 fork
Rinse and pat dry the chicken tenderloins.  If they have a tendon on one end, cut it off.  Combine the grated cheese and the flavored bread crumbs in one of the shallow pans (if you cannot find flavored bread crumbs, make your own by adding your favorite Italian Seasoning mix to plain bread crumbs).  Place the regular all purpose flour in one of the pans.  Crack the eggs and place them in one of the pans, then beat them with 3 tbsp. water.  Place the pans in a line with the all purpose flour closest to you, then egg wash, then bread crumb mix.  Then have a prepared baking sheet lined with parchment paper at the end.  Dip each chicken tender first in the flour, spanking any excess flour off with your hand, then into the egg,coating well, lift up and let it drain, then into the bread crumbs.  Press down to help the crumbs adhere to the chicken tenders.  Lay them out on the baking sheet, and continue until you are finished.  Cover lightly with a top layer of parchment.  Wrap all around with plastic wrap, and freeze overnight until firm.  Once firm, remove from baking sheet and carefully place in a plastic bag separating layers by parchment paper or put in a square container with a tight fitting lid, and also separate with layers of parchment paper.  Label.
Hash Brown Casserole  #2
Serves 4-6
Bake in preheated oven on 375 for 45 minutes, cover last 30
1 Package Frozen Shredded Hash Brown Potatoes
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 onion finely chopped
1/4 cup parsley, fresh, washed, minced
5 3/8 oz. can Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
1/4 Cheddar Cheese, grated
1/2 Cup Sour cream
1/2 tsp. salt
Topping: 3/4 corn flakes, 2 tbsp butter melted,  2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
non-stick spray
4×8 casserole dish
Mix hash browns, sour cream, 4 tbsp. melted butter, shredded cheddar cheese, minced parsley, soup and onions together.  Spray a 4×8 casserole dish with non-stick spray.  Pour mixture into casserole dish.
Melt remaining 2 tbsp. butter,  add cornflakes and remaining 2 tbsp parsley.  Mix well, remove from pan and cool.  Place topping in a plastic bag to cool.
Place plastic wrap directly on top of the casserole so no air can penetrate it.  Add bag of topping.  Cover with foil or a lid. Label.
Barbecue Pork or Beef  #3
Serves 4
Reheat oven or microwave on low heat cycle
2 Pounds Beef Chuck Roast or Pork Roast
Salt and pepper to taste.
Dry BBQ rub is desired.
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 Onion, cubed
16 oz. Your favorite BarBQue Sauce
1 Pressure Cooker
or 1 Roaster and your oven
Trim the roast and cut into 4 inch cubes if using a pressure cooker.  If using a roaster, cut the meat into 2 inch cubes.    Heat the olive oil in a skillet and brown he meat cubes, taking care not to crown the pan.  Do as many as your skillet will hold but leave ample room for the meat to fry.  If you over crowd it the meat will steam, not brown.  Remove the browned meat as you go and add them to the roaster or pressure cooker.  If using a roaster, preheat the oven to 300.  Add enough stock to come about half way up on the meat.  This will prevent the meat from drying out during cooking.  Add the cubed onion.  Lay a piece of parchment paper that has been cut to fit the inside diameter of the roaster right down on top of the meat.  Cover and bake in the oven until meat is very tender, about 60 minutes.  Check for tenderness.  Remove the meat and the onion (discard the onion) and from the stock at the end of the cooking time.  Put the stock on the stovetop, bring it to a boil, and reduce it down to about a 1/2 cup or less.  Shred the meat with two forks, cool.  Add the BBQ sauce to the reduced stock and cool.  Mix the stock and meat together. Containerize, placing plastic wrap directly down on the meat so there will be not air contact.  Label.
If you are using a pressure cooker, follow the manufacturers directions, mine on high pressure, will cook in about 20 minutes.  The process for reducing the stock is the same,  And from there on it is the same.
BAKED BEANS #4
Serves 4
Bake on 400 when serving until hot
2 16 oz. cans baked beans
1 Onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 sliced bacon, diced
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 cup your favorite Barbecue Sauce
1 tsp. yellow mustard
Add all ingredients together.  Place in container.  Cover with plastic wrap directly on the beans.  Then either place a lid on the beans, or cover with foil.  Label.
There are two of the five days to look at.  If you find recipes of yours for any of the five days and want to replace or change something, feel free to do so.  Next week we will finish the other three days recipes and then start working on the grocery list and the best way to tackle preparation of these this in one day.  In the mean time, if you are cooking something for an evening meal that you think will freeze well, why not make two.  Don’t completely cook it.  And be sure to add the layer of plastic wrap to help prevent freezer burn.  AND LABEL IT.
Talk to you next week.  Happy cooking.  By the way, had a wonderful lunch at Jasper’s Restaurant this week.  What a great host and Chef Jasper is.  He treated myself and my guest Francesca Scilla from Italy to a wonderful lunch.  He and his staff and food are simply the best.  If you haven’t treated yourself to Jasper’s yet you just don’t know what you are missing.