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Posts Tagged ‘sophie gray’

Batch Cooking

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Over the last few months I’ve been trying a new approach to cooking – one which involves spending two to three hours in the kitchen during the weekend (sometimes on Saturday, sometimes on Sunday, sometimes spread across the two days) – and doing a big cook-up. Sometimes I’ll make three, or even four, meals for the week ahead, other times I’ll only do one or two, but I’ll prepare a few bits and pieces that can go towards making meals for the following week easier and often a lot yummier.

I started “batch-cooking” because I was keen on the idea of having one or two nights a week – particularly the first couple of nights of the week – where I didn’t have to drag myself into the kitchen and come up with a meal out of thin air after a day already full to the brim of running around – and driving around – in circles.   And there’s no doubt about it – it is very, very nice indeed to pull a big pot of soup out of the fridge on a Monday night and to have to do nothing more than heat it up and toast a few rounds of pita bread. It is even nicer to go to the fridge on Tuesday night and find a chicken casserole waiting there. All I need to do is prepare some potatoes or rice and some steamed veggies and voila – a meal.  It definitely makes a nice change from my previous routine of me suddenly lifting my head up from whatever it was I happened to be doing around 5.30 every afternoon and going “Oh my God!!! What the hell am I going to make for dinner?”

I realise I’m probably sounding annoyingly smug, I really don’t mean to. I’m writing about this because I’m wanting to share the honey about just how marvellous this batch cooking thing is.  And if I can do it – truly – anyone can. Because I really am one of the world’s least organised people. To be honest I never actually thought I’d be capable of continuing with this. I imagined it would be yet another one of those great ideas that other people do but that – because I am me – I just couldn’t seem to manage. I thought I’d do it for a few weeks and then life would get in the way and I’d fall back into my old habits.  Surprisingly though that hasn’t happened . . . well not yet anyway! I started my batch-cooking expdriment in late July of this year – and four months later I’m still doing it. And reason I am still doing it is because I enjoy it.  And enjoyment is absolutely key to being able to maintain any kind of routine I reckon. At least it is for me!

As well as having the intense pleasure of pulling a meal out of the fridge or freezer at the end of a busy day batch cooking has also reignited my joy of cooking. Believe me, spending a couple of hours in the kitchen on a Saturday or a Sunday preparing meals – and parts of meals – for the week ahead is a very different game from my usual harried and grumpy efforts on weeknights.  Because it’s the weekend and I have time to just moodle I try new recipes – either from my own embarrassingly extensive library of recipe books or from books discovered at the local library. I have the time to get a bit creative, to tweak recipes, or even to make stuff up. And while I cook I listen to music – usually it’s Baroque opera but sometimes it’s schmoozy jazz or even a bit of country music to remind me of my Dad.  Sometimes I sing along – no doubt annoying the hell out of the neighbours because I have a Very Loud Voice. And sometimes, if it’s getting on towards late afternoon (or mid-afternoon even!), I might have a glass or wine or a beer. And at the end of it all I have lots of yummy food and I feel extremely efficient and effective and yes, just the tiniest bit smug.

As well as really enjoying cooking in this way it also forces me to be more organised with the grocery shopping. Previously I’d tended to go into the supermarket with very little in the way of a list.  Often I just scribbled down a few essentials that I’d noticed were running out – if I was lucky! Then with this ‘list’ in hand I’d wander listlessly through the aisles picking up anything that caught my eye. This meant I came home with a bunch of random bits and pieces that more often than not ended up collecting dust at the back of my pantry because every night I’d end up making the same old meals I always made because it was getting close to six o’clock and people needed to be fed and I didn’t have the time to do anything more adventurous than tuna pasta – again.  Now I arrive home with food I’m actually going to use and – ironically enough – I often spend less than I used because I know exactly what I need and I don’t impulse buy as much.  There are also now also a lot less dusty cans and out-of-date spices lurking at the back of the cupboard, and a lot fewer wilted vegetables slowly mouldering away in the bottom of my vegetable drawer. Yay.

In short, this way of cooking has been a bit of a revelation to me. It’s so marvellous in fact that I’d really like to record my experiences with it here on this blog – for my own record-keeping pleasure, and also for anyone else who might like to try it themselves.  What I’d like to do – reasonably regularly – is to share my weekly cook-up notes here.  Ideally I’d like to do it every week but whether that will actually happen I don’t know.  To be honest – I doubt it but dreams are entirely free.  I’d also like to share a few past batch-cooks that I’ve done – there’ve been a few really lovely ones and I’d like to record them here – even if just for myself 🙂

So – without further ado – here is an example of a weekly batch cook.  It was the first one I ever did and the reason I remember it so well is that I actually kept a record of it at the back of a scrubby old notebook because I was so impressed with myself for doing it. And I’ve kept a record of all the batch-cooking sessions I’ve done ever since. Not at all like me but it’s proof that you actually can teach yourself new tricks even if you are getting a little long in the tooth  🙂

My batch-cooking notebook

 

 

Menu for the Week 

Saturday: Grilled Monkfish with Black Olive Salsa & Lemon Mash

Sunday: Vegetarian Nachos

Monday : Mediterranean Vegetable Soup

Tuesday: Roast Chicken with Roast Vegetables (I always keep the bones for stock – more on that in a future blog post)

Wednesday: Lentil Bolognese with WholeWheat Spaghetti Pasta

Thursday: Fish Tacos with Lettuce, Cheese, Refried Beans & Pickled Onions

Friday: Penne Pasta with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

 

To Make Ahead – Saturday Afternoon 

Black Olive Salsa for Saturday night’s fish

Boil Potatoes for Potato Mash

Mediterranean Vegetable Soup (for Monday night)

Lentil Bolognese Sauce (for Wednesday pasta)

Bean Topping for Nachos

Pickled Onions (for Thursday’s Fish Tacos)

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes (For Friday night’s pasta)

 

How the afternoon unfolded

  1. First I sliced the tomatoes in half and put them in on a tray in the oven at about 150 degrees Celsius with oil and herbs.  I left them to slowly roast into a sweet delicious mess while I did everything else
  2. Then I prepared the soup and left it to quietly simmer (recipe below)
  3. While I prepared the Lentil Bolognese Sauce (recipe below) & left it to quietly bubble & plop like a small mud pool . . .
  4. While I chopped up potatoes for Saturday night’s Mash & put them on to steam.
  5.  As the potatoes steamed I made the Black Olive Salsa to go with the Monkfish (I’ll share recipe for the salsa below) . . .
  6.  Then I chopped and simmered the onions (recipe below)  . . .
  7. Then I took the Lentil Bolognese sauce off the heat and left it to cool. I popped it in a freezer container for Wednesday night.
  8. Finally I took the tomatoes out of oven and left them to cool in their oil. I popped them in a jar – covered in their oil & a little red wine vinegar – until Friday night when I mixed them into our Penne Pasta with some fried garlic and fresh herbs.

A FEW RECIPES

Mediterranean Vegetable Soup

This was adapted from a recipe by New Zealand’s National Treasure Alison Holst. It was in her book Meals Without Red Meat.  I’ve tweaked it a fair bit but I reckon Alison deserves a nod for having given me the inspiration 🙂

  • 3 cloves garlic – chopped
  • 2 large onions – chopped into fine half-rings
  • 2 carrots – diced
  • 3 stalks celery – finely sliced
  • 1 capsicum – diced
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes in juice
  • 1 tin cannellini beans
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Coarsely ground pepper – a sprinkle
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsely
  • 1 tsp brown sugar (optional)
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or water

Fry onions in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until they become slightly coloured and start to wilt & sweeten.

Add the carrots and the celery, capsicum and garlic and fry for 10 minutes or so until the veggies start to soften.

Add the tinned t0matoes, with their juice, stir until mixture starts to simmer and the veggies are well coated in the oily  tomatoey juices

Add the 4 cups of water or stock.

Finally, drain the beans and add them to the soup and let everything come to a boil before turning down the heat and letting the soup simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

For best flavour allow to stand for a few hours and then reheat – but don’t worry, this soup is still delicious if you eat it straight away.

Before serving taste and if you think it needs it add the teaspoon of brown sugar. Then drizzle the rest of the olive oil over the soup, and sprinkle it with salt, freshly ground pepper and chopped parsley.

Take the table and serve with crusty bread and a block of parmesan cheese for grating over the top.

Lentil Bolognese Sauce

This is adapted from a recipe I found in a book called Destitute Gourmet: Stunning Food from Small Change by Sophie Gray. Again, I’ve tweaked it a fair bit but Sophie definitely deserves to be credited because I would never have thought about making something like this otherwise. This meal has turned into a real family favourite and it’s a fabulous sauce to make ahead.

  • 1 heaped cup of red lentils – uncooked
  • 1 large carrot – grated
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 onion – finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic – chopped
  • 2 x 400g can tomatoes
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 TB basil pesto or fresh chopped herbs
  • salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups water

Fry the onions and garlic in olive oil until onion softens and sweetens and garlic is smelling aromatic. Add grated carrot and stir around until carrot coated with oil and starting to wilt a little. Add lentils, tomatoes, and their juice, tomato paste, sugar, herbs and 2 cups of water.  Bring the sauce to the boil and then turn the heat to low, pop the lid on the pot and let the it all simmer until the lentils soften and thicken into a delicious gloopy sauce. Check the sauce part-way through to make sure there is enough liquid in there – add more water if it’s starting to get a bit dry.

If you’re making this ahead let it cool in the pot and then transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze until you need it.  It re-heats really nicely after freezing and then you just need to boil some pasta (penne or spaghetti – wholemeal is particularly nice) to go with it.  It’s lovely with grated parmesan, a sprinkling of Basil (fresh or dried) and & freshly ground pepper.

Black Olive Salsa

This salsa is from a recipe by Jamie Oliver from his book Cook With Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook and it really is quite delicious – as well as being a great way to use up the end of a bunch of celery!  He calls it ‘Black Olive Sauce’ – but it’s a really more of a salsa I reckon.

  • 2 large handfuls of black kalakaua olives, stoned & roughly chopped
  • 1/2 a fresh red chilli (de-seeded if you would prefer not too much heat – otherwise, leave the seeds in!)
  • Small handful of fresh herbs (e.g., basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, mint)
  • 1 celery heart, yellow leaves chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • A couple of glugs of extra-virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar

Mix everything except the Balsamic Vinegar together and then carefully balance the flavours with the vinegar to taste. This essentially means pouring a little vinegar in, stirring it around, tasting it – and adding more if you think you need it. I like mine with quite a hit of Balsamic but you might prefer yours a little milder.  Other vinegars can work well in this salsa too – I’ve tried it with red wine vinegar and sherry vinegar. Yum.

Quick Pickled Onions

This recipe has been adapted from a fabulous cook-book devoted to batch-cooking called A New Way to Dinner: A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs – the founders of online kitchen and home destination Food52 .  I’ll do a blog post on the book another time – suffice to say it’s a marvellous resource if you’re at all interested in taking the batch-cooking approach to your meals.

  • 1 red onion
  • 1 TB salt
  • 2 TB sugar
  • 3 TB water
  • 6 TB cider vinegar

Slice the onions very thinly and pop them in a small saucepan with the salt, sugar, water and vinegar.  Set it over the element until it boils then turn down the heat and simmer very gently for 10 minutes – stirring occasionally. Cool and then refrigerate. These get nicer the longer they sit but they’re still yummy straight after you’ve made them 🙂

These are great with fish tacos but they’re also fabulous on sandwiches and in salads – or just eaten straight from the jar.

 

So – there you go Batch Cooking for Beginners. And like I say – if I can do it anyone can 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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