This is a VERY LONG post about cooking. The only thing it has to do with autism is this: when your child is self-entertaining, it’s easier to cook while he’s around, because you don’t have to worry about him being all on top of you – because he can entertain himself (although there was a point Saturday night when I was in bed trying to figure out what the song running through my head was, and realized it was from the keyboard that played in the background all day).
Luckily, Tim realized it was ‘The Big Cook’ weekend, and planned his work accordingly so he could spend extra time with the J-Man. Oh, and that sometimes we run out of time to make a ‘fresh’ dinner because we’re running around with therapies and whatnot, and that’s when it’s great to be able to pull out something frozen and quickly reheat it. I love the microwave for that.
This past weekend, I did what we call ‘The Big Cook.’ It’s the reason we have two cabinets full of Gladware individual serving containers. Here’s how it works:
* The week before: sit down with a yellow note pad and come up with a list of foods you want to make. These should all be easily divisible into portion sizes and freeze and thaw well. Write down ingredients needed for each recipe, then add like together. For example, I ended up needing NINE POUNDS of ground beef total!
* Thursday night: make lists – we made the Costco list, the Super Target list, and the Harris Teeter list. We knew we could get meats and some larger sizes of canned goods at Costco, but didn’t want to buy a flat of 12 cans of diced tomatoes for example. That’s what the Super Target list was for. The Harris Teeter list was for the things we couldn’t get at the other two stores. HT is much more expensive, so I go there last.
* Friday immediately after work: load up into the car and go to Costco, list in hand. Buy most meats, that 105 oz can of crushed tomatoes, a new monitor for me, laundry and dishwasher detergents, and the best thing ever found at Costco: a red stapler.
* Friday night after putting J-man down: go to Super Target and get that list’s worth of stuff.
* Friday night after Super Target: Divide hamburger into portions needed for recipes, freezing the other 3 lbs in bags for later use, using your new digital kitchen scale. Rhapsodize about how much you like your new scale.
* Chop onions and garlic, and fry with 4 lbs of hamburger; drain. Add to giant stock pot, along with 105 oz can of crushed tomatoes, plus another 28 oz can, and lots of Italian spices (oregano, basil, parsley). Taste. Add more salt. Have Tim taste. Add a few cubes of frozen homemade pesto. Portion into many containers, label, and have Tim take out to the deep freeze in the garage, because the garage is also home to the giant cockroach, and seeing it skitter makes me shivery. WASH THE POTS.
* Saturday morning: instead of sleeping in, get up and start cooking again! Take one of the two chickens, and put into the giant stock pot. Cover with water. Put on the back burner, and let it boil for an hour or so.
- While that’s cooking, chop onions, garlic, and green peppers for sloppy joes, hotdog chili, chicken chili, and penne bake.
- Put onions, garlic, chicken broth, spices, hot sauce, and frozen chicken thighs into crock pot for chicken chili. Turn on and forget about it.
- Brown hamburger, onions, garlic, and green peppers for sloppy joes; transfer to other stock pot, and add tomato sauce ingredients to it.
- Brown hamburger, onions, and garlic for penne bake; drain. Put that into a container and into the fridge.
- Brown hamburger and onions for hotdog chili; drain. Make hotdog chili while sloppy joes mix is simmering.
- Remove chicken from stock pot, and refrigerate. Pour off chicken stock into big containers. Repeat process with the second chicken!
- SHOWER, you stinky person!
- Containerize (OK, seriously, Word thinks ‘containerize’ is an actual word,) both the sloppy joe mix, and the hotdog chili, and place in garage freezer. Clean out garage freezer so more can fit. Make SURE you label everything – we just use masking tape and a pen.
- Make the first batch of chicken and dumplings. This is a long and arduous process that I hate, but we love chicken and dumplings, so I make them, but only on The Big Cook weekends.
- Wash the pot, so you can use it for chicken chili: dump everything from the crock pot into it, shred the chicken, then add 4 assorted cans of beans, 2 cans of corn, and lots of cilantro. Stir and containerize.
- Eat PB&J for dinner. Never want to look at cooked food again.
- Put J-man down for the night – and have Tim separate the meats you bought at Costco into individual servings – freeze those as well.
- Make the other batch of chicken and dumplings. Force Tim to come downstairs and help with the dumplings. Containerize everything and make Tim take them out to the garage. Realize we are now out of individual-size containers. Put one giant container in the fridge. Cram pots into dishwasher and run it.
- Moan about feet hurting until Tim rubs them. Sleep like death.
* Sunday morning: up to make the 3 pans of penne bake. Reheat container of hamburger mix you refrigerated yesterday – add mushrooms you just chopped, and diced tomatoes and spices and let simmer.
- Fire up the giant stock pot to make 8 cups of penne. While that’s cooking, go ahead and chop the onions, celery, and green peppers for gumbo, and the onions and garlic for spinach/onion quiche.
- Freeze the gumbo veggies in freezer bags since you don’t have any more individual containers, so the gumbo will have to wait, but now you’ve done the hard part.
- Make cheese sauce for penne bake. Put 3 pans of penne bake in the oven.
- SHOWER, stinky!
- Containerize the penne bake in bigger containers, consoling yourself that you’ll probably have that for dinners, so won’t need the individual-size containers.
- Chop up the ‘meat for stew’ into smaller pieces, and freeze in bags for later. We throw a couple pounds into a crock pot with some soups, cook all day, and serve over rice. It doesn’t have to be cooked beforehand since it’s so easy.
- Make spinach/onion quiche and bake. Cool, slice, and freeze 2 slices each in freezer bags for quick lunches. (I was going to make a ‘quickie/quiche’ joke, but figured you had already thought of it.)
- Marvel at the state of the freezer. It’s FULL!
- Take a couple containers of food over to a friend’s house – three of the four of them (including both adults) are sick, or have wrist issues that preclude cooking.
- Make marinade for ham, and put it together with the ham in the fridge for overnight.
* Collapse on couch. Fold four loads of laundry done during the cooking ‘downtime.’
* Get J-man ready for bed.
* Soak feet. Even though you knew to wear shoes all day, your feet are still killing you.
Today I still need to bake the ham, and I truly would have made gumbo if we weren’t out of containers. I thought about going to buy some more, but just couldn’t do it. At least ham is easily freezable in freezer bags. I was also going to make 10 lbs worth of garlic/onion mashed potatoes, but again, no containers. I actually MAY go buy some, since potatoes will go bad. What? You didn’t think you could freeze potatoes? The only issue people have with that is the texture, and since in this case they are mashed, the texture isn’t affected.
That, my friend, is ‘The Big Cook.’ It will be a LONG TIME before I cook anything complicated again, and that’s the beauty of it.
Hints for your own big cook:
- WEAR SHOES. Your feet will hurt less.
- Clear the counters and make sure all the pots are clean the night before. You will need the room!
- Double, even triple, recipes. (Or in the case of spaghetti sauce, quadruple) It doesn’t take much longer to chop two onions instead of one, and saves you from having to do a big cook that much longer.
- Be able to multi-task.
- Label everything. Trust me: hotdog chili looks like spaghetti sauce, which looks like chili with beans, and they all sort of look like veggie soup.
- Use pockets of time where something is cooking to accomplish other things, like doing laundry, or chopping onions/garlic/green peppers for other recipes. Or, use a chopper/food processor. I didn’t use my mini chopper this time, because I knew I would only have room on the counters for a few things at a time, and anyway, I kind of like chopping,
- Wash as you go.
- Have someone available to rub your feet at the end of the day.