SO I GUESS I’M LIKE…A FOOD BLOGGER NOW? A SPUR-OF-THE-MOMENT CULINARY ADVENTURE
Originally published August 9, 2015
Everything smells like garlic.
That was my first thought opening my bedroom door this morning. After yesterday’s escapades in the kitchen, it’s not surprising, but still…maybe not the first thing you want to think about your house in the morning? Maybe it is, I don’t know your life. Actually, I do like the smell of garlic cloves, it’s just a bit overpowering when you’ve just woken up.
WHY does my house smell like garlic, you ask? Aliens.
No, not really. It’s because we used a ton of it yesterday. We also used a ton of onions yesterday. And chicken. And, well, basically everything.
Yesterday, we were looking at our mostly empty fridge and knowing we had a grocery trip to make – so I sat down to do meal planning for the week (meal planning is my #1 way to save money grocery shopping – it also saves time in the evenings because you don’t have to think about what you’re going to make, you just look at the list and go). But first, I browsed on Facebook, as you do, to put off meal planning for a few minutes. I stumbled across this article: 31 Crockpot Freezer Meals for Back-to-School and my initial reaction was what it usually is when I see these kinds of posts (they’re everywhere): to keep scrolling because 1.) Ain’t nobody got time for that, and 2.) Who the hell wants to eat Crockpot meals for an entire month? I mean, I know people DO, but I get bored of things really quickly. But, something must have made me scroll back up and click on the article this time because five minutes later I was convincing Ryan that since we needed ALL THE FOOD anyway, this would be a great time to see if these ideas had any merit. I had glanced over the grocery list, and it seemed reasonable – a lot of produce, which I like, and plenty of canned stuff, which is cheap…the meat would be the most expensive part, and we were going to have to buy meat ANYWAY so…
So we went to the store with this grocery list on my phone and my Saturday activity scheduled.
Now, tip #1: Check the prices of the meat in the butcher’s case (and the fish case) – because while you may think it’s going to be more expensive, in a lot of cases, it isn’t. I discovered on our last shopping trip that the boneless, skinless chicken breasts are $3.49/lb packaged up in the meat section, but they’re only $1.99/lb in the butcher’s case and I was SO MAD AT MYSELF for spending that extra $1.50 on every pound of chicken I’d been buying for God knows how long. Some of you know this tip, fine. Some of us are clearly slow learners. Actually, I keep meaning to go to the ACTUAL butcher’s shop in town – and in Yoder, which is like 5 minutes away – to check prices there, but I don’t because I’m lazy, and also because I’m secretly worried I’ll find out I’ve lost thousands of dollars to Big Meat (that’s what she said?).
Tip #2: Have something REALLY clever to say when you ask the guy behind the butcher’s counter for 18 lbs of chicken and he laughs and says, “What on Earth are you going to do with 18 lbs of chicken?” Because I didn’t have anything clever to say until 10 minutes later, and instead I made this face:
Also, he kept apologizing for how long it was taking, and I was like, “Dude, it’s ok, I asked for EIGHTEEN POUNDS OF CHICKEN, I understand it’s going to take a minute.”
Tip #3: Double check this list (I could do it for you, but we’ve established that I’m lazy) before you shop. I don’t think it’s wildly inaccurate, but I do know we were short a green pepper, had an extra red pepper (so…yes…we used that instead) and needed another bag of carrots. So some of the recipes that need carrots don’t have them, but whatever. Also, because a lot of the recipes have you add the broth when you cook them, and don’t have you put it directly in the bag, I don’t know if we actually have enough (and I won’t until I go to add broth and I’m like, whoa, we’re out of broth. KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!) What I’m saying is, if you want to make absolutely sure you get the right amount of everything, do your own math. I will next time.
Tip #4: I don’t know if this is really a tip since I only got it to work on one bag, but for weirdly shaped items like, say, stuffed peppers, it’s really hard to get all the air out of the bag. SO, if you close the bag ALMOST all the way and stick a drinking straw in there, you can SUCK THE REST OF THE AIR OUT before you close it. I felt like SUCH A GENIUS when I remembered this trick from OITNB, and I imagine my experience with it was MUCH more pleasant than Piper’s.
Tip #5: Make sure you have enough room in your freezer for 31 meals, because somebody didn’t do this and we were having trouble figuring out where the hell everything was going to go toward the end. I made it work. (Whose job was it to make sure we had enough room in the freezer? Look, I plan the activities, I don’t prepare for them.)
Tip #6: You don’t want to do this by yourself. You really, really don’t. So do what I did two hours into it and enlist your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, teenage child, neighbor, best pal, etc to HELP you. Other people are capable of chopping, dicing, mincing, peeling, pouring, etc etc etc and even though they won’t do it
right the way you would do it, when you’ve been standing on the unforgiving tile floor for 8 hours, you won’t give a SINGLE DAMN whether the onions are diced the right your way.
Tip #7: Mise en place. This was our biggest failure, but it was also our first time so… Seriously, before you start putting 31 goddamned meals together, just PREP ALL THE FOOD. Then all you have to do is measure and dump. Do you want to dice 21 onions all at once? No, but you’re going to be dicing them ANYWAY, so WHY NOT just do it once??? Would have sped up our process. Big time. Plus, then you don’t have to clean the $% cutting board 45938745894739574 times. Prep all the veggies, cut up all the meat that needs cutting up, put them in some kind of easy-to-scoop-out-of containers, and you could PROBABLY do this in half the time it took our stupidly inefficient selves. When we sat down at the end of this very long process, every inch of our bodies aching, and I said to Ryan, “You know what would have helped this go quicker?” he gave me this face:
He also gave me that face when I asked him to start helping me two hours into the process, because he loves it when I plan an activity for me and it becomes his activity as well. But since HE’S GOING TO BE EATING THE FOOD, TOO, he didn’t complain too much.
Tip #8: Someone needs to buy me one of those squishy mats for standing in the kitchen.
The cost of the groceries we purchased specifically for these meals was $303.68 before taxes, coming out to roughly $9.80 per meal. The meals we made are just the entree, in some cases, so we’ll have to put a side dish together for those (likely rice, salad, potatoes, frozen veggies…something we usually have on hand anyway). There are some things we didn’t have to buy because I knew we had them on hand (spices mostly), but it’s likely there were some things we didn’t have on hand that you would – so I think it’s a pretty good across-the-board estimate. There’s certainly room for cost cutting, largely in the meat area, but I wouldn’t have made any changes on that front.
So, $303.68 (plus tax) later, we had this to work with:
Tip #9: Spend the $7 (or whatever it is) on the pineapple corer/slicer thing. It’s worth every penny.
Tip #10: It didn’t occur to me that some of these recipes are made to serve 6-8, and some are meant to serve 3 (like, the ones using chicken thighs), so go through them and make sure you’re making enough food for your whole family. I guess whoever came up with these recipes has kids who go missing once a month?
Not pictured: Anything else that was on the list that I didn’t name. It was either already in our house and I hadn’t gotten it out of the cupboard/fridge yet, or I had already put it in the freezer so I didn’t have mushy stuff to work with.
So, then I was like, “Hey, so I’m kind of a food blogger now?” and I started to take pictures of each meal’s ingredients as I went, but then I forgot on LITERALLY the second one, did a few more, and decided I was already sick of the whole process and gave up on that little dream. Here’s the ones I did take (and I haven’t messed with the levels or anything, so if they’re overly yellow it’s because every surface in my kitchen is yellow, our lights are yellow, and I can’t be bothered to make the pictures pretty right now):
Tip #11: Just put all the stupid ingredients straight into the ziploc bag. This ^^^ was my first meal to prep, and I put everything into a bowl to make sure it was all mixed well, then I tried to dump the contents of the bowl into the ziploc and I made a huge damned mess and I’m ANGRY JUST THINKING ABOUT IT. It doesn’t matter. Mix it up in the Crockpot before you cook it. Or mix the liquid/honey/brown sugar/whatever IN THE BAG before you add the big solid stuff.
There were several like this, where you literally just take the ingredients and dump them in the bag and you’re done. I love whoever came up with those. Someone buy them a puppy.
Tip #12: Use a sharpie to label your bags with the name of the recipe AND any instructions for cooking (like “Add 8 cups of chicken broth” or “add 8 oz cream cheese 1/2 hour before you eat”) before you put food in them (yes, we did this, I’m not a COMPLETE idiot). It’s a really good idea. Do it.
Also, every recipe that called for the canned beans or corn requested they be drained and rinsed. I don’t know why. I never usually do that (rinse them), because FLAVOR. But I don’t experiment with other people’s recipes until I’ve made them once, so I begrudgingly drained AND rinsed them.
ANYWAY, 8 very long hours later, this is what we had to show for our efforts.
31 dinners. All I have to do is pick one the night before, put it in the fridge, then throw it in the Crockpot the next morning (occasionally adding broth or water as required), and maybe make some rice or veggies that evening. 31 days that I DON’T have to spend 1/2 an hour prepping food and then another 1/2 hour-45 minutes cooking it. I can handle one LONG day every month for that kind of time savings. And we don’t have to have another “big” shopping trip this month, which is CRAZY RIDICULOUS $$$ savings for us. We just have to replenish things like bread, milk, sandwich meat and cheese…easy stuff.
The jury’s still out on how these all taste, but I’m still pretty thrilled. Plus, most of them make enough for leftovers…so we can probably stretch this several more days. I think I’m in love.
And don’t get discouraged by how much work this is. I’m not going to lie, it’s a LOT of work. But if I can do it, you can do it. AND don’t get discouraged because you don’t think your kids will eat some of these things. If I can battle Logan over meals for 5 1/2 years and still get him to eat whatever I make – albeit begrudgingly – you can get your kids to eat whatever you make, too. You just have to, you know, make them. Or not. You do you. This post is not about telling you how to parent. I have plenty of other posts about that.