Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Batch and Make Ahead Cooking

This post is going to be a little bit different than my usual recipe alongside some banter. Today I am sharing tips for batch and make ahead cooking because I think that some of you may find my strategies helpful for when a busier than normal time is approaching. For me, it is the beginning of the school term. I don't like busy schedules to get in the way of having healthy home cooked meals every single day. I like to go out to eat by choice, not because I have no food in the house and no time. This upcoming term is a little different than last year for a few reasons. Both my fiancé and I are taking more courses than last year, we are both working part-time from the get-go, and my class schedule doesn't allow me to get home until 6 or 7 most nights. The last thing I will want to be doing when I come home from class starving is to cook for an hour before dinner is ready. This is ideally what weekends are for. Meal planning, shopping, prepping ingredients, cooking some things in advanced, etc. Well, most of my weekends will be spent working and going to the library. So in anticipation of this hectic next 3 months, I have spent the last few days that I have had free cooking up a storm and freezing. I have not cooked 3 months worth of meals (that would be crazy), but I have stocked the freezer sufficiently so that a few times a week there is a quick meal at hand. Both my tiny refrigerator freezer and my 1.5 cu ft. chest freezer are packed to the brim.

I have been lucky to have the last few days free enough that I have spent a great deal of time in the kitchen. This post will go over what I have accomplished along with some tips and tricks that make stocking the freezer easy, safe, and inexpensive. Over the next couple weeks I hope to share some related recipes.

Here is what I have accomplished over the last few days:

1. Blanching and freezing greens:
The kale was bountiful this summer in my parent't garden as usual. Instead of trying to eat more kale than I can handle, I decided to blanch and freeze the kale for the winter. This way if I run out of fresh greens I can easily grab a bunch to saute, throw into a smoothie, or add to a stew.

2. Cooking and freezing legumes:
When I make legumes I like to prepare them properly from dried beans in order to make them as digestible as possible, as well as to save money. This means soaking in an acidic medium for 12-24 hours and then simmering in water for another 1-2 hours. This isn't always convenient. So, in order to prevent us from resorting to more expensive canned varieties, I have soaked and cooked some legumes ahead of time. I had dried black beans and chickpeas on hand. I also got my hands on some fresh Romano beans this summer, so I cooked those to freeze as well.

3. Coconut milk ice cubes:
I can never get through a full can of coconut milk so instead of trying to find ways to use it up, I froze it in an ice cube tray. This will provide me with easy smoothie ingredients, and the perfect portion of milk to add to my occasional coffee.

4. Frozen bananas:
Speaking of smoothies, having a bag of frozen bananas on hand makes a delicious smoothie almost always available. The last few weeks I have been buying extra bananas. When some get too ripe, I peel, cut in half, and freeze them on a tray before storing in a large ziploc bag.

5. Tomato sauce:
We aren't big pasta eaters but there are many other uses for tomato sauce. With it being prime tomato season I had to make some fresh homemade sauce. I made a batch of this sauce from Simple Bites using 3.5 kg of plum tomatoes. I froze half of the sauce in 1.5 cup portions, and used the rest to make a meat sauce. Again, I froze this is 1.5 cup portions.

6. Casseroles: Enchilada Lasagna
I love this recipe dearly. However, it takes quite a while to put together and then more time to bake. So, I assembled the lasagna in a pyrex baking dish with a lid and froze. Now all that needs to be done is thaw and bake! Many casseroles are great for freezing so choose your favourites.

7. Ready to cook stews:
The idea here is to put all the ingredients into a ziploc so you can just thaw and cook either in the oven or in a slow cooker. I made a couple batches of one of our favourites, Jerk Chickpeas.

8. Slow cooker meats:
So technically all I did was buy the meat and freeze it but this is an important one! We know my stance on meat (first this, than this). After sourcing a fantastic chicken farmer, I also found a source of beef and lamb that I feel good about supporting and consuming. They are at the Guelph Farmer's Market every Saturday morning, but I can't always make it there because of work so I stocked up this weekend. Since the meats are relatively expensive we reduce the cost by only cooking meat 1-2 times a week and by purchasing cheaper cuts. We buy lamb shanks and neck as well as stewing beef and blade steaks. All these cuts in addition to our pastured chicken make excellent crock pot meals. Throw in some root vegetables, liquid, and spices into the crock pot in the morning with the thawed meat, and you come home to a very comforting and nourishing meal. These meats are also ideal for stove top braising recipes which are relatively hands off. Having these meats on hand makes throwing together a quick crock pot meal in the morning a breeze.

9. Burgers or Patties: Tuna Cakes
Having some kind of protein packed burger ready in the freezer for when you need to round out a veggie packed meal can be really helpful. After making these tuna cakes I knew that it would make the perfect item to stock the freezer with. Check out Greenpeace's 2013 Canned Tuna Ranking.

10. Broth:
I have been using my crock pot to make a rich gelatinous bone broth for the last 72 hours. This has yielded three separate batches of broth (about 4 L in total) which will go into the freezer. I still have a few litres from my last batch so we will have lots of broth available to us over the next while for soups and stews. I also have a bag of frozen vegetable scraps (collected over the last few months) than can be easily turned into vegetable broth when the freezer space allows.

11. Single serving meals:
This is something I have been doing for the last month or so. After making a stew or other freezer friendly meal, I packed away a single serving for the freezer. These are great for taking to work or school, as they thaw throughout the day and you don't have to worry about refrigeration.

Overall Tips for Freezing:

1. Freeze in usable realistic portions: I like to freeze most items in 1 cup portions. That includes greens, and beans. Sauces and broths I may freeze in 1 cup portions as well as 3 cup portions, common requirements in the recipes I made. Stews and other ready made one-pot meals are best frozen in individual portions of ~2 cups. Ice cubes also make a good sized portion for milks, pestos, stock and sauces.

2. Use appropriate storage containers: I try and reduce my plastic usage but I still find ziplocs and other plastic bags are best for greens, beans, vegetables, and other loose items. Assembled casseroles work best in glass dishes. Everything else I freeze in jars or plastic containers if that is all I have available.

3. Glass is best, but be careful: I saw a lot of horror stories of glass jars breaking in the freezer before freezing and creating an utter mess. I would cry if this happened so I took extra precautions. I filled the jars 3/4 full once the sauce had cooled a bit and left them on the counter uncovered to cool a bit more. Once they were just warm, I covered and put into the fridge to cool right down. From here, I put them into the freezer UNCOVERED. Once they were frozen I capped them. The most important thing to prevent breakage is to leave lots of headspace in the glass and don't allow for sudden temperature changes.

4. Label everything: You may not think you should label that kale since it is obviously kale, but maybe 2 months from now you can't remember and think it's spinach. The HOROR! But seriously, label. Name, date, and any relevant instructions. I find masking tape is good for most glass and plastic containers, but for ziploc you can write with a sharpie directly on the bag.

5. Keep records. You may not want to list all the ingredients that went into the recipe on the container. For this reason I keep notes on the recipes I used. I date the page and write down the recipe. That way I can look back when I take out that casserole and know exactly what I put in it. It also helps to have a list of the stuff you have frozen for yourself. If you have a chest freezer like me it is really easy to loose things. I have kept it organized as best as you can, but it is still a big frozen abyss.

This was a long post, but if you managed to read it all, I hope you have found this information helpful. Being prepared is the key to having a stress free and nourishing dinner time during a busy time in your life. Whether it's a new job, a new school term, a planned surgery, a new baby, or whatever else, stocking your freezer up can help make your life a lot easier and healthier.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Apple Crumble

This recipe was born because I had too many apples in the house that I just didn't feel like eating. I had purchased some "translucent" sour apples at the market, and while I love my apples on the sour side, I couldn't handle more than a few of these. After coming across a blueberry crumble recipe by balanced bites, I thought I'd try out something similar with apples. I made a few modifications based on what I had on hand and it turned out fantastic. This apple crumble makes a good breakfast, snack, and dessert.

Apple Crumble adapted from Balanced Bites

4 sour apples apples, sliced thinly(you can use other apple varieties)
juice of 1 small lemon
cinnamon to taste
1/2 cup almond meal (I make this my self and some almond pieces are left behind, which works here)
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Toss apple slices with lemon juice and sprinkle with desired amount of cinnamon. Arrange in a 9x9 inch pyrex dish so they are lying flat. They will reduce in volume during cooking.
3. Combine almond meal, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, coconut oil, maple syrup, and cinnamon and spread over the apples.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the fruit is well cooked.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Healthier Party Mix

I love making this snack mix when having people over or going away for the weekend because it is hearty, delicious, and relatively healthy. It is quick to put together and keeps well for a few days. Since I found the recipe on Meghan Telpner's website last year, I have made this numerous times with whatever nuts and seeds I have on hand. I also like the addition of a nut butter for flavour and to help hold the mixture together. A few weeks ago now I brought along this snack mix to a cottage. Those who tried it loved it and requested that I post the recipe so that they could make it too. Better late then never!

Healthier Party Mix slightly adapted from Meghan Telpner

1 "tube" package of rice cakes
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
1/2 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup maple syrup, honey, or rice syrup (the thicker the liquid sweetener, the better it will all hold together)
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup peanut butter or almond butter
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Break rice cakes into bite sized pieces. Add the rest of the dry ingredients, pumpkin seeds through to coconut flakes.
3. Melt the coconut oil, maple syrup, and nut butter together.
4. In three batches, mix the liquid with the dry ingredients, tossing to coat well.
5. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 8-10 minutes. This recipe fills about 3 baking sheets
6. After removing baking sheet, allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before topping with chocolate chips while the mixture is still warm, allowing them to melt slightly. Move sheet to a cooler area to cool completely.
7. Once the mixture os cooled, mix all together in a bowl. Refrigerate in a sealed container if you'd like the chocolate to set more, or if your apartment is 85 degrees F like mine.

I can also see this recipe working as individual servings, where each rice cake is topped with the liquid mixture, followed by nuts and needs and then drizzled with chocolate.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Chocolate Banana Breakfast Cake

This is an amalgamation of two fantastic grain free recipes. I had been making a breakfast bake by the Wannabe Chef for quite some time and have made many variations, including a reduced egg and a banana free version. I always loved the recipe and saw it as a good base for a cupcake. Recently, I came across this paleo chocolate cupckae recipe by Elana's Pantry which turned out fantastic! They tasted like a more rich and decadent version of the breakfast bake. I wanted to bring the two recipes together to make another go-to variation of my favourite breakfast bake. By simply adding cocoa powder and some coconut oil to the original breakfast bake recipe, mission was accomplished.

Chocolate Banana Breakfast Cake adapted from the Wannabe Chef

1 medium banana
2 eggs
2 tbsp coconut flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted

1. Mash banana in a bowl and beat in eggs.
2. Add coconut flour and cocoa powder and mix until fully combined.
3. Add coconut oil and mix well
4. Scrape into a microwave safe glass dish (the shallower the better) and microwave for 3-4 minutes until the top is set. Turn out onto a plate. If your dish is a bit deep, the bottom may be a bit moist/mushy, and you can microwave it on the plate for another 30-60 seconds.

The cake can be eaten on it's own, topped with nut butter and other goodies, or sliced in half to make a sandwich out of it. I prefer a bit of nut butter but often just eat it on it's own. Now you can feel good about eating cake for breakfast!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Is it May already?

Winter was so long and drawn out this year that it took a couple weeks of warm weather for me to believe that spring has actually arrived. It has been quite some time since my last post, and a lot has happened in that time. The last few weeks of school were quite busy with assignments alongside my work schedule, which was followed by two weeks of exams. In between classes ending and exams, Easter celebrations with Family took place which were much needed. Easter of 2013 will always be special to me, as it was just days after my boyfriend of 6 years asked me to be his wife. The proposal came as quite a surprise and I couldn't be happier. The euphoria was my fuel for studying during exams. Along with this amazing carrot soup from smitten kitchen.

During exams the kitchen saw lots of activity, but I stuck to mostly tried and true recipes. Once exams were over however, I was trying new recipes left right and centre. It has been great! While my kitchen has had lots of activity, I just did not have the motivation to write about it. I hope to get back into the blogging groove soon, but until then I thought I'd share some snippits from my instagram feed to highlight what has been happening in the kitchen over the last couple months.

Cold busting smoothies:

Carrot soup with roasted chickpeas from smitten kitchen. I also managed to pack in some roasted peppers and beets into this nutritional powerhouse of a soup.
A roasted potato nacho plate inspired by Oh She Glows:

Gluten-free banana pancakes by The Wannabe Chef. My new go-to grain free pancake recipe. So delicious! 

The cucumbers I bought to pickle went bad so I used carrots instead. I hope to post this recipe after some tweaks because it turns out pickled carrots are awesome!
Nepalese Dal (Dal Bhat) from Refresh cookbook:

I hope to be back soon with a delicious recipe :)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Black Bean Soup

All winter long, dinners consisted of hearty soups and stews packed with root veggies, dark greens, and lots of legumes. As March came around, fresh salads began to frequent my lunches, but dinners have still been warm comfort food. This probably also has something to do with the fact that they are easy to make, have mostly hands off cooking time, and make great leftovers or freezer meals. Today I spent the day making two different soups/stews and a quinoa salad. One of those soups was this Black Bean Soup. It was the first time I had made it but it won't be the last. I made some adjustments to the original recipe based on what I had on hand, and I quite liked it. The roasted red peppers are a very nice touch. This soup is quick to put together and just requires a little bit of planning, to soak the beans overnight.

Black Bean Soup adapted from Whole Foods

220 grams dried black beans
2 small onions, chopped
1 cup roasted red peppers
2 garlic cloves, grated
1/3 cup water
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
5 cups water
salt and pepper to taste

for serving:
nutritional yeast

1. Soak black beans in water overnight at room temperature. If they need to be left for more than 12 hours, I would usually refrigerate them.
2. In a large saucepan, add onion, roasted red peppers, garlic and 1/3 cup water. Bring to a simmer and heat until onions are soft and fragrant.
3. Add spices and simmer for 1-3 minutes.
4. Add drained and rinsed black beans and 5 cups water.
5. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 1.5 hours, or until the beans are cooked.
6. Allow to cool enough so that 2 cups can be portioned into a blender to be pureed. Add pureed soup back into the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Serve hot with desired toppings. I stirred in some nutritional yeast and avocado.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Blueberry Buckwheat Porridge

Buckwheat porridge sounds so homely and plain. Yet to me, it sounds warm, comforting, and delicious. Buckwheat porridge isn't something I would have been itching to try until I was forced to find a replacement for my beloved morning oats. I recently have had to eliminate some foods from my diet in order to determine potential food sensitivities. It has been more challenging than I thought it would be, and while I thought breakfast would be my biggest challenge, this buckwheat porridge has replaced my regular oatmeal without any hesitation. The flavour is much more earthy than oats, and has a texture that is reminiscent of cream of wheat, but heartier.

For this recipe, I use raw buckwheat groats that I grind myself in my food processor. I don't make it super fine and leave some half crushed groats. This gives a nice texture to the porridge. As a time saver, I grind a batch of buckwheat when I have some extra time and store it in the freezer.

Blueberry Buckwheat Porridge slightly adapted from Meghan Telpner
Serves 1

1/3 cup full fat coconut milk (I use the canned variety, which is very thick. If you are using a thinner milk, use more, substituting out some of the water)
1 cup water
1/4 cup ground raw buckwheat groats
1/4 cup frozen blueberries
2 tbsp ground flax
1 heaping tbsp almond butter

1. In a small sauce pan warm the coconut milk and water until dissolved. Do not let it get too hot at this point.
2. Whisk in the buckwheat groats, increase the heat to medium, and continue to whisk. Once the mixture is simmering, add blueberries, turn down to low and heat for 5-8 minute, stirring occasionally.
3. Transfer into a bowl, stir in ground flax, and top with almond butter.

This recipe provides a solid base from which you can add almost anything your heart desires. You could add fresh berries instead of frozen, preferably post-cooking. You could add maple syrup, shredded coconut, or dried fruit. The possibilities are endless. Since the stove top is required, this isn't the fastest breakfast out there but it is relatively quick. I have made this in the microwave to save time, but it doesn't achieve the same smooth consistency, since it is difficult to stir frequently using the microwave.

So the next time you have the 10 minutes in the morning to make a hot breakfast, I suggest you give this one a try.