I originally wrote this for The Mouthful but sadly the Russians hacked the site and it was lost to the digital ages. Luckily, Google Docs is brilliant.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. You’re tired, you’ve been at work all day, you finally roll in the door, a shopping bag clutched in your hand filled with a host of hastily grabbed food from the shop on the way home. Lucky you, it’s a microwave lasagna again.
I get it, it’s hard to dig up the enthusiasm to cook after you’ve spent all your energy at work and then suffered a crap commute. The temptation to just dive into the supermarket is real, rows of ready meals you can sling into the oven for twenty minutes is a boon. I lived that life, I adore cooking but a lot of the time I just can’t be bothered to drag down the pots and pans and rely on overpriced convenience food, or if I am being honest, fish finger sandwiches.
Which is why over the Christmas break I went a bit mad with batch cooking.
Batch cooking is something I had done a little bit before, mostly after the odd big supermarket shop where I would grab anything with a yellow sticker on it and worry about what I would do with it later. I knew I had hit peak adulthood when swiping the good stuff out from under the noses of sharp-elbowed OAPs got me giddy.
Batch cooking stew
With my tried and tested method of having no plan at all, I managed to make oxtail ragu, cottage pies and the odd curry. I got hooked. As I love to cook, spending a day making 5 or so different meals for the weeks ahead is something I really enjoy, plus, the money we have saved is not to be sniffed at. I could easily spend the best part of a tenner in Co-op each evening “picking something up for dinner” and that adds up. By keeping the batch meals veggie heavy you can very easily eke out the meat (if you are using it) for extra portions.
Over the Christmas break, I took advantage of the postseason stickering and spent maybe £11 on £25 worth of food. I was also the lucky recipient of a free venison leg, gifted by a friend which I butchered down and created stock with. I also had over the last few months made a ridiculous amount of chicken stock which I’d been hoarding in the deep freeze. Over three days I made 60 individually portioned meals including chicken pie, two types of curry, moussaka, lasagne and tagine. By the end my back was aching, my kitchen looked like a food bomb had hit it and I was having to play freezer Tetris. The upside, however, is since then I haven’t had to once worry about what the hell to have for dinner.
So, my top tips for cooking en mass.
Make the freezer space first
You’re going to need the space and you don’t want to find out you don’t have it when you’re knee deep in food. We have two freezers, the spare sits in the dining room and was a freebie from a friend. Depending on what your space situation is like, don’t make more than you can store.
Boxing it up
Plastic is great if you have a microwave (we don’t), the packs of metal takeaway boxes are what I use as they can be put in the oven and cooked that way, they’re also cheap. I am also a fan of using high-quality freezer bags, they can be stored flat if you are short of space. Remember to mark clearly what it is and how many portions they contain. Nothing quite as disappointing as defrosting one thing and realising it’s another.
What to make?
Anything! But what I really like to do is anything that needs slow cooking, something you wouldn’t often get on a weekday. Beef ragu is a house favourite, stews, chillies and even pies are possible. Think of the sort of food you want to eat more of but you’re too time poor to make and go to town.
Don’t be afraid to change things up
I am very lucky to have a Kitchen Aid with attachments including a mincer. With my venison and lamb, I took half and minced it to create new dishes. If you don’t have a mincer you can use a food processor for a similar effect. From that, you can try burgers, meatballs, kofta….anything!
Enjoy your new found freedom
Often my boyfriend and I have totally different meals for tea and it’s refreshing! No waste, no fuss, no “what do you want for dinner?” “ I dunno, anything”, conversations. You don’t have to go mad like I did with two months worth of food but try a fortnight and see how much better life can be.