Cook Once, Eat All Week–Round 2

When I sat down to meal plan this week, I realized it was going to be one of those weeks where Matt and I wouldn’t cross paths for dinner one single time night this week between our work schedules.  We’re also about to be traveling out of a town a bunch over the next couple weekends and I wanted to try and minimize eating out while we were actually at home, so I decided to fall back on the ol’ cook-once-eat-all-week plan.  I’ve only done it one other time, despite the fact that when I first switched to working 4-10 hour days I swore it was going to be my weekly ritual.  And actually like doing it – it really only takes about half a day to do and then you’re set for the whole week, but it seems to require a lot of prep and mental gearing myself up to do it so I just hadn’t returned to it again.

Here’s the recipes from the first time around I did – they are very chicken-centric but they worked out well as far as using a lot of the same ingredients together.  This time I was lazier – I didn’t want to brainstorm 5 overlapping recipes so I just did a google search to see who had already done this I could just copy.  There were so many options out there – not recreating the wheel was DEFINITELY the way to go and makes me more inclined to continue doing this.

I ended up using a link from Self Magazine.  Here’s the link to the recipes – I won’t retype them here but I’ll just add a few pointers from my experience today in case you {or future me} wants to recreate this.

Here’s what the meal plan includes {and note how little my food actually looks like the photos from the recipes.  Ha.)

Adobo Chipotle Mini Meatloaves – to be served w/ a side green salad or quick bag of steamer veggies

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Spicy Thai Soup with Lime Shrimp

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Cheesy Beans & Shrimp Enchiladas

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Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie (Definitely looks nothing like the photo…in fact, I really hope this one tastes better than it looks.)

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Vegetable & Chickpea Ragout w/ Penne*

*I purposefully made this one more saucy because I knew Matt would rather have a pasta-sauce type dish than a dish that looked more like pasta and veggies.  I didn’t combine them either b/c I didn’t know at one point during the week would eat them, but I did cook the noodles ahead of time.  (Also, I had to google “ragout” – apparently it is french for stew.  Who knew!)

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I can’t speak to how anything tastes yet except the shrimp soup which was very yummy.  My fingers are crossed that the rest turned out as good!  But either way, it beats Lean Cuisines or pick up.

Some pointers:

Start with a clean kitchen and an empty dishwasher.  Get everything out on the counter to start with, including the bowls you’ll need and dishes you’ll put the final dish in.  Clean as you go.  I cannot highlight that step strongly enough!

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I know it’s not green but I print the recipes out before hand – it’s just easier for me to have physical pieces of paper when my hands get messy instead of using my iPad to look at the recipes.  I also read through each of them before I started cooking so I had an idea in my mind what I was going to be doing at each step.

I love listening to an audiobook when I’ve got a long task to do like any housework or long cooking prep.  Right now I’m listening to Steve Job’s biography which could seriously last me through cooking about 6 weeks worth of dishes.  Listening seems to make the time go faster and tasks feel less chore-like.  (Oh and the dog treat was to keep Buddy out of my way while I cooked.  It only lasted for about 5 minutes.)

(And in case it’s not obvious, that is water in my wine glass.)

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The nice thing about these recipes was the included grocery list and the directions included what order to cook things in.  When I did this the last time I was using my own recipes, so a pre-cooking step was (obviously) to write down all the groceries ahead of time and also to write down the order to cook things in.  There are lots of times when a sauce is simmering or a dish is the oven that you can start it on the next dish.

These dishes also had directions for how to freeze if you weren’t going to use right away.  I just cooked them all and put them in the fridge, because Matt’s more likely to microwave something than put it in the oven when he gets off a shift at midnight.  (Understandably so.)

The whole thing from start to finish only took me three hours.  Really!  And because I forced myself to stick to the clean-as-you-go rule, it was three hours from start to really and truly finished.  This is what my kitchen looked like when the last timer went off.

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Hurrah!  And now we have meals for the week.  I’ll try to remember to update as we taste test just in case something doesn’t make the cut – but considering these were published in a magazine, I’m guessing if anything goes wrong it’s operator error.

I must admit though – even though it only took half the morning, it’s still a tiring process.  Even my assistant was wiped out!

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Cook Once, Eat All Week–Round 2

When I sat down to meal plan this week, I realized it was going to be one of those weeks where Matt and I wouldn’t cross paths for dinner one single time night this week between our work schedules.  We’re also about to be traveling out of a town a bunch over the next couple weekends and I didn’t really want to fall back on doing a lot of pick up or out to eat this week, so I decided to fall back on the ol’ cook-once-eat-all-week plan.  I’ve only done it one other time, despite the fact that when I first switched to working 4-10 hour days I swore it was going to be my weekly ritual.  I actually quite like doing it – it really only takes about half a day to do and then you’re set for the whole week, but it seems to require a lot of prep and mental gearing myself up to do it so I just had returned to it again.

Here’s the recipes from the first time around I did – they are very chicken-centric but they worked out well as far as using a lot of the same ingredients together.  This time I was lazier – I didn’t want to brainstorm 5 overlapping recipes so I just did a google search to see who had already done this I could just copy.  There were so many options out there – not recreating the wheel was DEFINITELY the way to go and makes more inclined to continue doing this.

I ended up using a link from Self Magazine that I’m pretty sure I either pinned or physically tore out of the magazine once upon a time because the recipes looked really familiar.  Here’s the link to the recipes – I won’t retype them here but I’ll just add a few pointers from my experience today in case you {or future me} wants to recreate this.

Here’s what the meal plan includes {and note how little my food actually looks like the photos from the recipes.  Ha.)

Adobo Chipotle Mini Meatloaves – to be served w/ a side green salad or quick bag of steamer veggies

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Spicy Thai Soup with Lime Shrimp

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Cheesy Beans & Shrimp Enchiladas

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Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie (Definitely looks nothing like the photo…in fact, I really hope this one tastes better than it looks.)

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Vegetable & Chickpea Ragout w/ Penne*

*I purposefully made this one more saucy because I knew Matt would rather have a pasta-sauce type dish than a dish that looked more like pasta and veggies.  I didn’t combine them either b/c I didn’t know at one point during the week would eat them, but I did cook the noodles ahead of time.

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I can’t speak to how anything tastes yet except the shrimp soup which was yummy.  My fingers are crossed that the rest turned out as good!  But either way, it beats Lean Cuisines or pick up.

Some notes from my prep:

Start with a clean kitchen and an empty dishwasher.  Get everything out on the counter to start with, including the bowls you’ll need and dishes you’ll put the final dish in.  Clean as you go.  I cannot highlight that step strongly enough!

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I know it’s not green but I print the recipes out before hand – it’s just easier for me to have physical pieces of paper when my hands get messy instead of using my iPad to look at the recipes.  I also read through each of them before I started cooking so I had an idea in my mind what I was going to be doing at each step.

I love listening to a book on tape when I’ve got a long task to do like any housework or long cooking prep.  I’m listening to Steve Job’s biography which could seriously last me through cooking about 6 weeks worth of dishes.  Listening seems to make the time go faster and tasks feel less chore-like.  (Oh and the dog treat was to keep Buddy out of my way while I cooked.  It only lasted for about 5 minutes.)

(And in case it’s not obvious, that is water in my wine glass.)

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The nice thing about these recipes were that it told you the groceries you needed and the order you would prep things in.  When I did this the last time I was using my own recipes, so a pre-cooking step was (obviously) to write down all your groceries ahead of time and make sure you have everything before you begin but also to write down the order you are going to cook things in.  There are lots of times when a sauce is simmering or a dish is the oven that you can start it on the next dish.

These dishes also had directions for how to freeze if you weren’t going to use right away.  I just cooked them all and put them in the fridge, because Matt’s more likely to microwave something than put it in the oven when he gets off a shift at midnight.  (Understandably so.)

The whole thing from start to finish only took me three hours.  Really!  And because I forced myself to stick to the clean-as-you-go rule, it was three hours from start to really and truly finished.  This is what my kitchen looked like when the last timer went off.

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Hurrah!  And now we have meals for the week.  I’ll try to remember to update as we taste test just in case something doesn’t make the cut – but considering these were published in a magazine, I’m guessing if anything goes wrong it’s operator error.

I must admit though – even though it only took half the morning, it’s still a tiring process.  Even my assistant was wiped out!

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5 Onions, 8 Pounds of Chicken and 2 Dishwasher Loads.

Just your typical Sunday afternoon, right?

I’ve known a couple people who do the “cook all your meals on Sunday” thing and I’ve always had a mixture of apprehension and hesitation about it.  It seems like a tremendous amount of work (is it really a time saving?) and that it would be difficult to make healthy meals, as I’ve always pictured casseroles and other dense heavy meals sitting in the freezer.

But lo and behold, here I find myself with 4 recipes on the counter, along with 5 onions, 8 pounds of chicken, and just about pot and pan in my cupboard out, ready to be put to work.  I genuinely love cooking, and furthermore, believe that most of the time, home cooked meals are healthier than restaurants meals.  (They are, certainly, exceptions to this.  Especially in the South.)  BUT, as of March, I’m going to be switching to a 4-day work week and the 10 hour days, combined with a 40 minute commute both ways means I’ll be getting home pretty late most nights.  Add a trip to the gym or an errand after work, and I could already forsee it was going to become quite tricky to assume I’d be cooking on a regular basis at night.  Lest we become on first name basis with the folks at Jersey Mike’s down the street, I decided to tackle the Sunday cook-a-thon – since I will now have a 3rd day off every week (woohoo!), I figure it could very well be a good time investment. 

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I gave it a test run this weekend, and while it didn’t go perfectly, it was overall pretty successful.  I cooked for 7 hours, used every pot and pan I own, chopped enough onions to give watching Stepmom a run for the cryfest title, and had to run the dishwasher twice.  I didn’t quite pick out enough variety in my meals (all chicken, oops) and they weren’t the healthiest things in my repertoire BUT….

When all is said and done, I had 5 meals with 4 servings (10 meals for 2) PLUS I was able to take 3 2 servings meals to my next door neighbors, who just had a baby.  So, 16 meals in 7 hours?  Not bad.

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Kitchen: After…. Oh dear.

It’s going to take me a while to perfect this strategy, but overall I think it’s going to work and I’m pleased with the solution instead of subjecting us to takeout or quick heat meals because “we’re busy.” 

Here’s what I made:

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Since it was the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, part of my prep was also making our Valentine’s Day dinner: seared steaks, roasted asparagus with proscuitto, twice baked potatoes and this delicious chocolate espresso cheesecake that was made mostly of cottage cheese.  Not kidding.  And I’m telling you that now, because my hubby has already eaten it and now he can know.  Hi, honey! 

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All in all, this actually ended up being about 2 week’s worth of food, because we’re starting the 2nd week and we still haven’t finished it all up.  I’ve even taking it for a lunch a few times, and it’s been a nice change of pace from my usual winter meal, turkey sandwiches. 

The key to being able to do this, I think, is to be okay with eating the same thing a few times during the week.  (Or making smaller portions, or freezing 1/2 of each dish.)  I have no problem eating the same meal a few days in a row, but I’ve definitely talked to a few people about this strategy who were horrified at the idea of having chicken tetrazzini more than once in a week.  *Shrugs*.  If you’ve got the time to cook every night and have that variety, then there’s probably no need to attempt this.  I never did, until I was faced with the alternative of not having time to cook and knowing that we would get into the habit of picking up meals or relying on quick and easy, more processed foods. 

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Some tips if you attempt this:

  • Plan ahead: Pick your recipes ahead of time, and look for things that have overlapping ingredients.  I definitely took this one a bit too far with all chicken recipes, but besides that the ones I picked out also all had green peppers, chicken broth and onion in them.  This allowed me to use up ingredients among the recipes easier. 
  • Start with an empty dishwasher: Keep it open and load as you go.  This helps keep clutter off the counter and it will make clean up less daunting.
  • Batch task: I learned this skill when I worked at GapKids and it has helped me in so many situations!  Group like tasks together.  For example, pull out all ingredients first.  Measure out dry ingredients.  Chop all vegetables at once.  Then prep all meat.  When you have a break (when something is cooking or simmering) wash dishes as you go. 
  • Prep snacks and other meals too.  You’ve already got the kitchen duty.  Now is a perfect time to pre-chop veggies or salad mix.  I bought a 3 pack of a peppers and only needed the green pepper and half the red pepper for my meals.  The yellow and other half of the red ended up in strips to go with hummus for snacks later.
  • Listen to music!  Whenever I have a long task to do, like cleaning the house or walking the dog or cooking, my iPod has been my saving grace.  A little music, or even a book on tape can distract me enough that the hours fly by and the job gets done.  I spent the first hour of my cooking bonanza listening to a church sermon, the middle 3 listening to Pandora radio (“Club Can’t Handle Me Right Now” station – hello, dancing in the kitchen) and the last 3 listening to the book “The Help.”  I also like to download (free!) lectures from iTunes University or interesting podcasts.  But that’s just me.  But whatever you do: dont watch TV and cook.  I have learned this over and over again.  Well, again, maybe this is just me – but I get so distracted by the show, I end up working slower and it takes me twice as long to do everything.
  • Have an assistant.  Even a furry one.

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Keep your eyes on the prize.  Even though I wasn’t working later yet this week, it was still so nice to do things after work and know that there was still a home cooked meal to be had that night.  On Monday and Thursday, I went for a run.  On Tuesday, I did my last Christmas return and went to dance class with Jamie and Anne.  On Wednesday, I worked til 8 and on Friday, I crashed with a DVRed How I Met Your Mother and some crafting.  Tonight, we’ll probably go out for dinner… because we want to.  Not because we have to.  And that’s exactly how I’d hope it would be.

White Bean Chicken Chili

This is another recipe from my Aunt Jennifer’s recipe book.  I really like white chilis, and this one looked like it packed a little heat.  It actually made a ton of soup, too.  We had about 4 servings that I put in the fridge, 3 servings in the freezer and 3 to give to my neighbor.  (I’m approximating a 1 cup serving.)

Here’s the how to.  I don’t have any funny inside jokes about chili yet… so feel free to share yours if you’ve got one.  No “beans, beans, they’re good for your heart” please.

I think you probably could use the pre-cooked shredded chicken for this, but I ended up dicing and cooking the chicken so it would get the flavor of the onions and garlic while it cooked.

The recipe also called for cumin, which I left out because, eww.  That’s how I feel about cumin.  If you like it, add a shake in.  I think it was 1/2 tsp. 

Aunt Jennifer’s White Chicken Chili
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 med onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 14 oz can chicken broth
2 15 oz cans cannellini beans
1 4.5 oz can green chile peppers
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp pepper
1 dash cloves
1 dash ground pepper

1. Saute onions and garlic in olive oil. 
2. Add chicken to brown and season.
3. Add all ingredients to a large pot.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Serve w/ sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese. 
If you’re going to freeze, allow it to cool first.  Pour into glass jars or tupperware and leave room for it to expand.

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Diced chicken to cook.  (Sometimes I use scissors to dice.  It’s faster and I’m lazy.)

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Chicken, onion and garlic cooking in the back – the pot I cooked it all in front.

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Cooling before it goes into the plastic tupperware.

I would serve this with a small side salad, or maybe a nice crusty whole grain roll.  Between the chicken and the beans, it’s got protein and fiber galore so it should be super filling.   Everything seems to settle a bit, so it will need a good stir before serving if you’re reheating.

Chicken Tetrazzini

I dun no whud she do wit her chicken tetrazzini….

I’m gonna go ahead and apologize, because I have yet another recipe that triggers an immediate inside joke… ‘cept this one is between me and anyone who watched the soup in 2010.  If you’re one of those people, I’m willing to guess you couldn’t help but hear this in your head when you read this title:

I’m not going to link the longer clip (just look up “chicken tetrazzini” on youtube if you’d like), but be warned it’s NSFW.  Or children.  Or your sanity.

chick-en-tet-ra-zzini.

So, where were we?  Oh yes, chicken… chicken tetrazzini.  Despite the fact that The Soup has pretty much made this dish a joke in our household, it is DELICIOUS.  And it’s easy to make ahead of time, freezes nicely and travels well.  The recipe came from Wino Emily and she’s made it for us on many occasions.  When I was getting married, I had a kitchen/recipe shower and this was the recipe she gave me. 

It makes a lot – you could do either one big lasagna dish or 2 small 9×9 dishes.  I did 2 small ones, so we could eat one and give one away.  I again used my big serving of pre-cooked shredded chicken for this one.

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4 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
16 oz sour cream
chopped pimientos, drained and rinsed
small container of fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 small box of spaghetti noodles
2 c shredded cheddar cheese
1 onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped

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1. Cook and shred chicken.
2. Cook noodles according to box’s directions.
3. Mix soups, sour cream, and salt and pepper.
4. Saute onion and green peppers.  Add mushrooms. 
5. Add noodles to soup mixture.  Stir/toss (it will be very thick.)  Add sauteed veggies and chicken.  Pimientos are added last so they don’t color the sauce.
6. Place in a greased dish.  Top with cheese.
7. Bake uncovered at 350 for 1 hour or freeze uncooked to be baked later.

I actually made a double batch to have some more for our freezer, and it was so big I had to get out my giant salad bowl to mix it in.

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Unless you’re feeding a crowd, you don’t have to double it.  We’ve got chicken tetrazzini to spare.  (Luckily, it freezes beautifully!)

I forgot to take a finished product picture, but to be honest – it’s not the prettiest dish.  You’re just going to have to trust me that it’s a crowd pleaser and easy to boot.  It’s obviously a pretty calorie dense meal, but a small serving goes a long way.  Pair it with a simple side salad, and you’ve got dinner – for a few nights or for a big group.

Or, to seduce your best friend’s boyfriend.

The next few day’s posts will be featured in one post at the end of the week explaining how I cooked *all* these meals in one day.  Yea, I’m superwoman.  No big deal.

Aunt Jennifer’s Chicken Pot Pie

My Aunt Jennifer is one of the best cooks I know, so when a few years ago when she passed down her old recipe binder to me (I guess she was updating her recipes into a new one), I felt like I inherited a treasure book of secrets.  I always think of Chicken Pot Pie as the quintessential meal that people make to fill up someone’s freezer when they’re going through a rough time and so it was no surprise to me that Jennifer’s recipe was for 2 pies with the directions: “Make one and freeze one to give away.”

Yes ma’am.

This recipe is super easy, but I was really happy with how it tasted.  I put in a few more veggies than it called for, and it made for a very filling meal.

Side bar: I literally cannot eat or make CPP without singing a little diddy to myself of “chicken pot chicken pot chicken pot pie.”  My HS best friend (Hi, Kris!) and I had this as an inside joke, and like most good inside jokes, I had no clue where it originated from.  Enter google.  It took me about 3 minutes to find out it was from an episode of Just Shoot Me, where David Cross pretends to be Slow Donnie in order to get attention. 

It’s at 0:57.  And now, it can be stuck in your head too.  You’re welcome.

Anyways!  Cooking, right?  Yes, cooking.

For most of the recipes I made this week, I had boiled a lot of chicken and then shredded it.  This went into these pies, the tetrazini and the buffalo chicken sandwich. 

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Aunt Jennifer’s Chicken Pot Pie
14 oz frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, peas & green bean mix)
1/3 C butter
1/3 C flour
1/3 C chopped onion
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 3/4 c chicken broth
2/3 c milk
3 c cooked shredded chicken (approx 2-3 chicken breasts)
2 pie crusts*

1. Melt butter
2. Add flour onion, salt and pepper.  Stir quickly to dissolve flour lumps.
3. Add broth and milk, stirring constantly.  Bring to a boil for 1 minute.
4. Add chicken and veggies.  Stir for a minute to thicken.
5. Pour mixture into 2 pie shells.
7. Bake at 425 for 40 minutes.  After the first 15 minutes, put tin foil on the edge of the pie crust to keep it from burning.

*I buy the Pillsbury pie crusts that are in the fridge/dairy section.  Take them out of the fridge before you prep to come to room temp.  Directions are on the box.  You will need a pie dish to make this in, and if you’re giving one away you can usually find a disposable tin one with a lid in the plastics aisle.  You can also buy the frozen pie crusts already in a tin (buy 2) and 1 box of the Pillsbury dough as the top crusts for each of the pies.

I have also seen CPP recipes where, instead of using a top layer of pie crust, you use the Pillsburgy crescent rolls and lay it out in a lattice shape across the top.  This is intended to cut down on how much pastry dough is used in order to make the recipe a little healthier.  I’ve done this in the past, and it does turn out fine.  So if you wanted to healthify this a little bit, you could do that. 

I decided to make it the traditional way this time though.

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Before & After.  The after-after?  An empty pie plate.  Yum!

If you freeze or give-away, include the instructions to reheat in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes.  For a truly authentic experience, be sure to add a Well, bless your heart as you deliver it to a friend or neighbor in need.

The next few day’s posts will be featured in one post at the end of the week explaining how I cooked *all* these meals in one day.  Yea, I’m superwoman.  No big deal.