Of things Italian

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How i wish I had known about batch cooking back when my two older boys were teenagers. One night I arrived home from work to be asked by the second–oldest son what was on tap  for dinner. I replied: “Boiled chicken.” You can imagine his reaction.

They’re grown men now, so that’s been many a year ago. But it would have helped when I was working countless hours and raising three children on my own to have known there were better ways to cook.

Consider this dish. I’m talking Italian sausage, tonight, only this time I’m headed for my crock pot rather than my oven.

Crock pot dinners are so easy. I’m cutting my sausages in half and dumping them in the crock pot. Into this I add  two green peppers and one yellow onion, both sliced into generous ships. Then I toss in a in a 15 oz. can of tomato sauce. The whole of which I cook on high for 4 hours. You could also opt to cook it on low for 8 hrs. That’s beauty of crock pot cooing: It’s flexible.

Either way the end result may be dished up on buns or served over mashed potatoes or even spaghetti noodles. Take you choice. My grocer sells the sausages in sets of five, so I divided the remainders into four packets to add to the freezer. When I want to eat one of these, I let it defrost in the freezer overnight and reheat it in a pat with sauce.But don’t forget the simple stuff.

Or an Italian pasta salad

Last night, I cooked bow-tie pasta in a pot of boiling water. About four minutes before it finished cooking, I tossed in a few broccoli florets. When the pasta was done in at total of  11 minutes, I drained it and the broccoli, cooled it under running water. Then, I dumped it in a bowl, added a few rounds of pepperoni, and dumped some Ranch dressing over all. The exact measurements will depend on  how hungry you are.

It was epic… and as easy as sin.

Remember: Cooking dinner doesn’t have to be an all day or even an everyday chore. Plan ahead, use your freezer, and enjoy an amazing array of meals.

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Of Chicken Thighs and Breakfast Burritos

That’s right. I’m back to chicken again. I found myself buying five chicken thighs in a packet at my grocery store this week. Before batch cooking took hold of me, I would have brought them home, cooked one or two, and have frozen the rest. But NO MORE!

This time I cooked all five thighs the day I bought them. I ate one and then froze the rest. Two or three days later, I removed one of those thighs from the freezer to defrost in the fridge. The next day,  I removed the skin, shredded the meat, added some canned chicken gravy, and a few vegetables, and made an impromptu chicken pot pie. I could have added a crust. A section of Crescent rolls draped across the top of a bowl and popped into the oven for a bit, makes a very nice top crust on anything, savory or sweet.  But I didn’t have Crescent rolls on hand so I made some toast to have with the dish. In all, my meal that night was quick, easy, and delicious. God bless batch cooking.

And moving on to burritos:

Now, I’m expanding my focus. Lunch is a particular bugaboo for me. I’m tired of salads. Sometimes it seems they are all I ever have for lunch. So my mind, being the kind that tends to fixate on certain ideas, turned to batch cooking.

And what did I find? A McDonald’s breakfast burritos wannabe. And the recipe makes 10 burritos! Yay, a batch cooker’s dream come true. Seriously, I’m just as happy having this for lunch as for breakfast. I haven’t made them yet, but when I do, I will let you know what I think. View the recipe here. Wrap these in foil and warm in the oven.

Also, for those of you who don’t know how to roll burritos, here’s a link to help you with that, too.

Cooking Small Tonight

I’m back to individual meal prep tonight with an imitation crab meat dish. Okay, I confess, when it comes to seafood, I’m a dunce. But I’m a Midwesterner, I’ve seen the sea, maybe, all of three or four times in my life. So if you live nearer to those wonderous oceans, good for you!. In rhe meantime, imitation crab meat is okay with me, especially for a quick, inexpensive meal.

Actually even imitation crab meat is not cheap when you look at the cost per pound, but for a quick, light supper, it takes so little “meat” that the cost isn’t all that awful.

When I was younger, ages upon ages ago, I used to cook this meal differently. I used to heat my “crab” and broccoli separately. Now, I kinda cheat and combine the broccoli with the pasta, Plus, I’ve added pasta, ‘cause I’m not as noble as I once was.

So what am I cooking tonight, you ask? The answer is: quick, tasty crab pasta.

So I begin with filling a pan with water in which I boil bow tie pasta. Why bow tie? Because it’s cute and has more interesting lines than spaghetti or linguine, and I like it. It has some pretty good “tooth” as well.

When my pasta is about five minutes away from being cooked, I toss in some fresh broccoli florets and let them cook away, shamelessly entangled with the pasta.

Meanwhile, in a saute pan, I melt half a stick of butter, Into this heavenly goodness, I toss my imitation crab meat, letting  it bask in that wonderful buttery goodness on low heat. (I’m not attempting to saute it here,).

Then, shortly before the pasta and broccoli are done, I toss in a splash of lemon juice into the crab meat. That’s how much of a lowlife I am.

Afterwords, when the pasta and broccoli are done cooking, I drain the wonderful stuff and add it to the crab and butter combination, I end it off with a healthy pinch or two of dill weed before tossing the combination onto me plate and wolfing it down.

But this is not my only use of imitation crab meat this week. Earlier, I made a crab salad from the meat combined with chilled pasta, some Ranch dressing, Miracle Whip, peas, green onions, and celery salt. Have I mentioned celery salt? It is on the list of main ingredients in recipes for making you own Old Bay seasoning,

So maybe someday, my platter might look like this.

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But don’t hold your breath.

Now, when it comes to crab cakes, I don’t mess around. I use the real thing, albeit, canned.

Happy eating, my fellow solo diners.

Big Batching Chicken

Untitled design (9)Yes, rotisserie chicken is nice. It’s also convenient, but it doesn’t arrive with a complete meal attached. That’s where roasting chicken pieces with vegetables rules. It’s also easy. Toss chicken pieces into a baking dish, mix in your favorite vegetables, slide the dish into the oven, and an hour later dinner is done. The chicken can be a combination of pieces or it can be restricted to just breasts or thighs or drumsticks. An overview of how this dish is assembled is available here.

Bam: Dinner Done

With the chicken already cut into pieces, bagging it for the freezer is a breeze. Simply put in the chicken and chuck in a handful of the vegetables and mission accomplished, As I say, my goal is to cook once and eat several times from the dish.

I make the same kind of dish with Italian sausage. I place quartered potatoes and onions and carrots and green pepper slices on a roasting tray and cook the dish at 400 degrees for around 50 minutes. When finished I eat one serving and bag the rest for the freezer. When I want to eat it, I remove a bag the day before, place it in the refrigerator to defrost. Then, I wrap the defrosted meat and vegetables in a piece of aluminum foil, seal it shut and heat it up in my toaster oven.  Dead easy. The same method will work with the frozen packets of chicken and veggies, too.

I like variety, so I space me servings out over several days or even weeks. But there is another method of batch cooking that repeats the dish daily for the entire week. Instructions for this method are available hereWarning: This kind of cooking can be intense.

But with either cooking method, no special equipment is needed. What I do in a toaster oven could as easily be accomplished in the stove’s oven.  The only freezer I have is a small one that came with my fridge. It manages to hold enough freezer meals to give me both ease and variety.

 

 

 

Why I Cook Large Batches for One Person

Thanks for joining me!

Let me begin by giving credit where it is due. In order to learn how to simplify cooking my nightly meal for one person, I had to discover the cooking strategies of women who cook for large families.

I’d been making nightly meals for a long time, and I’d grown tired of cooking every night. I was one person! Why should I be spending this much time in the kitchen? Nightly meal prep took a lot of energy, and I’m no longer young. This started me searching for ways to lessen my nightly load.

In my search, I discovered women making freezer meals in big batches. At first, I just sat there watching the videos with my mouth hanging open. These admirable young women were assembling raw or cooked ingredients and dumping them into in freezer bags or casserole pans to finish cooking later. It was amazing.

(Their’s can be a monumental effort. If you don’t believe me, watch this video which you’ll find here.)

As large a tribe as they needed to feed,  I was convinced I could make a similar system work for me, so I set about trying to figure out how to adapt their strategy to my  problem of cooking for one.

Boom

spaghetti

 

Where they were putting raw ingredients into bags to cook later.  I decided I couldn’t walk away from my life-long habit of cooking first, freezing later. So… my first go at this thing was to make a large batch of spaghetti sauce with meat in the crock pot and freeze it in quart-sized freezer bags. That way, all I had to do when I wanted to eat was to cook the noodles, dump a bag of defrosted sauce on top, and heat it all. It was dead simple. I still do it. I still love the dish and the ease of it. And of course, it’s such a no brainer that I don’t know why I didn’t start doing this years ago.

I even got fancy and took some of the sauce, cooked a few spaghetti noodles, added a bit of cheese, and baked it off in a toaster-size casserole dish. What I like about this size casserole is that it divides easily into four lovely servings. I simply eat one, wrap the remaining portions in aluminium foil, tuck them into a small freezer bag and there ya go. Needless to say, I use the same method for other casserole dishes as well.

These are such easy ideas, I’m sure you’ve all already thought of using them, but for me, this was life changing. My kitchen stays cleaner. I spend less time cooking, and I seem to have more variety in my nightly meals than I had before I began this journey.

So, please, follow along as I expand my efforts at lightening my cooking load. And if you have any ideas to share or opinions to state, be sure to leave a message in the comment section.

Thanks for reading and may we all learn to be happy and well fed while Cooking for One.