Cooking With Friends
I love to cook but we all have those nights when there just doesn’t seem to be enough time. Personally, I’ll slave in the kitchen until 9:00 PM before I’ll settle for fast food for dinner, but that’s just not always practical and I might have a revolt in my house if they had to wait that long. (Where “they” equals my husband and a “revolt” equals whining incessantly and empty threats of no longer being hungry and heading to bed.)
What to do, what to do? Well, one option is to make up some meals ahead of time on the weekend and freeze them, which I have occasionally found the motivation to do, especially in winter when casseroles are most inviting. But occasionally is the key word there and it can be overwhelming to lose a whole precious weekend day to slaving over the stove. But what if you could share the peeling, chopping, sautéing, simmering, boiling and especially the cleaning chores with friends? Food prep chains like Dream Dinners (warning – annoying musical pop-up on that site!) have been popping up around the country, and in this area we have Atkins Farms’ Savory Suppers. Friends get together and pick from pre-planned menus and assemble dishes to their families’ liking to take home and freeze.
I had discussed trying this option with friends and we never got to it. Either the menu items weren’t what we were hoping for, or the price seemed high for what you were getting, or we just couldn’t find the time when everyone was available and they had a spot. So, my friend Sandi took action. We don’t need no stinkin’ store to tell us what to prep and freeze, was her rallying cry! We can do this ourselves. She bought this book to help: 30 Day Gourmet’s Big Book of Freezer Cooking. In addition to recipes that specify what to freeze and what to add fresh when ready to eat, the book features great planning tools, like spreadsheets for calculating how much of everything you’ll need and shopping lists. Each dish is already presented with multiple measurements for making as many recipes at once of each as you would like and with tips for the type of container to freeze it in and complete instructions for cooking and/or reheating.
We took turns with the book and another friend, Hope, ahead of time, picking meals we thought we’d be interested in and then compared lists to see what we picked in common. We settled on four recipes and Sandi did all the calculations to figure out how much of everything we’d need. We all checked to see what we might already have and then assembled a shopping list. On Thursday night I hit Costco for the supplies, which was perfect. Costco is one place where you can fill up your cart with 18 pounds of broccoli florets, 12 pounds of chicken, 20 pounds of potatoes, 4 pounds of butter and 5 pounds of mozzarella cheese and not look weird!
We were doing our cooking on Friday night at my house and on Friday morning, Hope and Sandi handed over their largest stockpots to me so I could get water boiling and penne pasta cooking before they arrived at 6:00 PM. By midnight we had made six Chicken Florentine Lasagnas, mass quantities of Garlic Smashed Potatoes, at least six family-sized portions of Chicken & Broccoli Lo Mein (just add fresh cooked linguini when serving), and as much of a side dish called Broccoli Pesto Penne, which would make a great full meal, just add a protein. We made the pesto from scratch and chopped the broccoli and onions and chicken and potatoes ourselves, and even made the ridiculously cheesy sauce for the lasagna in that time. We mashed the potatoes by hand and I have the blister on my pinkie to prove it. (It’s a rock star’s life doing this freezer cooking – maybe get a blister on your little finger, maybe get a blister on your thumb…)
It was hard work and by the end of the night, we were tired. But you know what? It was fun. The camaraderie kept our spirits high (okay, we had a couple of cocktails too) and kept us motivated. That whole division of labor thing is a godsend, especially the cleaning part – glory hallelujah, the cleaning. My friend Hope is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to a sink full of dirty dishes. (Although by the fourth time she was washing the same four stockpots over again, she was slightly less amused.)
Of course, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case in the Chicken Florentine Lasagna. Sandi was the first to cook up one of her frozen lasagnas on Sunday night and it was a hit in her house with the “three big people” – herself, her husband and her 14-year-old son. The 7-year-old and 3-year-old were less impressed but a 3/5ths majority vote isn’t bad!
The next time we decide to attack the kitchen in this manner, we will have learned a few lessons we can apply. We will prepare a little further ahead of time so we can each buy a few items ahead of time and prep them as needed. We will bring, find, borrow, beg or steal more, bigger, gigantical mixing bowls and stockpots. And, we’ll even branch out and use some of our own favorite recipes and scale them ourselves because hey, we don’t need no stinkin’ rules! We’re kitchen rock stars now and some dancing may even occur during assembly.
Have you ever tried this type of large-scale cooking-to-freeze operation? Did you do it with friends at a store or at home? Do you have any favorite dishes for this type of cooking? Please share in the comments and let’s help each other out. It’s so much more fun that way!