My Mammy is a great woman for dinners. She reared us all on good homecooked food and whatever the day’s events when we were small one thing was sure, there would always be a hot dinner in the evening, no matter what. Mam didn’t work outside the home when I was younger, the six of us kept her tied to the place, and she’d be planning dinner after breakfast, making a stew ready to put into the oven later or peeling the vegetables. Pasta and rice came later. Dinner sorted in her head, the baking could begin scones, buns, tarts, bakewell and more recently brownies. (She follows the blog so at this point I need to say “Mam, wipe that tear away you big softie!”).
As a parent you realise that you pass on a lot to your kids, not just in the genes but in your values and your outlook on life. My love of, or need for, dinners is definitely with me since childhood and now that I have my own kids, I want to nourish them, teach them, play and learn with them, have fun with them and feed them dinner.
Our lives are different though. My other half and I both work five days a week and commute 3 hours a day, so cooking time on workdays is short. Dinners must be speedy and easy. My coping strategy involves quick meals, batchcooking, some toasted sandwiches and occasional takeaway treats (with the obligatory bumble of rice).
Dinner is all about the planning. You need to think about what’s in the fridge and store cupboard, what kind of day have you in store, what have I defrosted, when will I be home.
The speedy dinners are what everyone does I think, I’ll post about them again. Toasted sandwiches need no further introduction, they are what they are.
The batchcooking seems to intrigue people, as if I belong to some cult or can do some magic and produce a pot that gives and gives, like in the fairytale.
The reality is that it’s doing a bit more prep and the same amount of cooking, which means that you can come home and have a hot meal on the table in under 15 minutes. Under 10 if it’s a onepot dish. Batchcooking doesn’t just save the working parent time, it’s great for everyone. We often use our freezer dinners at the weekend, if we know we’re off on a daytrip it’s great to think we’ll come home and don’t have to think about what to eat, it’s there.
So, to share what I have learned in nearly 4 years of batchcooking.
How to batchcook
It’s easy. Cook what you would cook normally but more of it. Double, treble or depending on the size of your family and your saucepans, quadruple. If you’re making a Sunday roast cook extra potatoes and extra veg and freeze them, mashed together as a side for a small person. Even better if there’s meat left over, that’s a full dinner.
If you’re chopping veg you might as well have two pots on the go, throw half the onions into the stew, the other half into the curry, that gives you a choice of meals in the freezer. It’s all very well making a mountain of Beef Stew, but how many nights a week would you like to eat it?
Any leftovers of “made from scratch meals” get frozen. It’s all about planning and thinking ahead.
What to freeze
Sauces, soups, stews and casseroles freeze well. Use extra liquid or sauce as it will defrost better, and make sure that any meat is submerged in sauce.
Our batchcook staples are: (recipes to follow)
Tomato and Vegetable Pasta Sauce
Moroccan Chicken Tagine
Chorizo and Tomato Sauce
Chicken and Broccoli Bake
Chili con Carne
Sausage, Butter Bean & Leek Casserole
Vegetable and Bean Bake
I freeze portions for the boys with rice and pasta stirred into the sauce and have recently experimented with freezing leftover rice in a ziploc bag too.
How to freeze
Again, planning and organisation is key. You have to get the balance right, you need your food to be easily locatable in the freezer but need to have a couple of weeks’ dinners in, so space conservation is very important. If you have a chest freezer then you need to keep the dinners together stacked neatly in one place, or you may end up head first in it trying to locate a Lasagne.
I freeze a number of different ways. For the boys, because their meat portions are fairly small I tend to freeze them individually in silicon muffin trays. I portion them out, cover in cling film or tinfoil and place in the freezer very very level. I leave them overnight to freeze and then when they are individually frozen I pop them out and pop them in to ziploc freezer bags, taking up much less freezer space and freeing the trays for the next batch, and sometimes even for muffins. I cook rice or pasta fresh and add the defrosted muffin cake for a quick homecooked fix.
Some meals just break up too much and aren’t suitable for the muffin method so I use plastic containers with lids. I usually am organised and tag them but if I am being honest, once the pot is clear I know what it is. I am a big fan of Babypotz and have used them since weaning the boys. I prefer the 12oz size as they fit the right amount to fill my small fella’s Tommee Tippee bowl with a lid so it’s a full dinner for a nearly 2 year old.
For adult or family portions, I generally use aluminium disposable containers, but have been known to get use out of old lunchboxes, icecream boxes and Chinese takeaway containers. There are a wide variety of the aluminium disposable containers out there now, and I tend to use different ones and freeze family sized portions as well as individual ones. These I always label with the dish and the date. The supermarkets are fairly limited on what they stock but I’ve found a great selection in a local discount shop and in Euro Stores, Kingfisher brand do every size imaginable.
Soup will work in a ziploc bag, so you can freeze individual portions, don’t decant into the bag until cold and write on the bag what it is before decanting.
Some Freezing tips
- Remember to leave room at the top of the container for expansion.
- Make sure the container is cold before putting into the freezer.
- For ease of reheating it is a good idea to add extra liquid to sauces being frozen or leave them on the runny side.
- Make a variety of dishes, Monday Chili, Tuesday Lasagne, Wednesday Shepherd’s Pie is a bit mince heavy!
If leaving out to defrost make sure it’s on a plate or in a bowl as it might drip.
I like to reheat stews and casseroles slowly in a saucepan on the hob rather than in the microwave.
Discard leftovers of defrosted dinners and don’t reheat them.
There are food safety tips here about storing and freezing food.
Updated: Here’s another Batchcooking post containing the all new Bumbles of Rice Batchcooking Commandments.