Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bulk Cooking

Although I haven't done it in a systematic way, I've been interested in the concept of "bulk cooking" (also known as "freezer cooking").

Bulk cooking is the practice of cooking huge amounts of food that are suitable to freezing, as infrequently as once a month (hence, it's other name, "once a month cooking"). All that food is stocked in the freezer, and the family simply warms up food as they go along. The result is that the family (or whoever does the cooking in the family) is able to save time and energy by having to cook less frequently.

There are other variations of bulk cooking as well, such as preparing ingredients for freezing, but not doing the actual cooking until the meal itself. The most basic form of bulk cooking, and the kind I'm inclined to, is simply doubling or tripling dinner recipes that are suitable to freezing, so that there are at least enough leftovers for lunch and maybe one additional dinner. (More tips for a less radical form of bulk cooking.)

I'd like to do this simplified form of bulk cooking a little more systematically, so I did some research about the tools required. The most obvious, of course, is some extra freezer space, which our freezer has a lot of, since we have a separate freezer. Having an oven is also helpful, because then you can bake more than one meal at a time. A microwave makes defrosting and reheating a cinch (and minimizes the softening of reheated veggies, or the overthickening of reheated reheated sauces). Depending on the amounts you intend to cook, you might eventually feel the need for bigger mixing bowls. You'll need a storage system, such as Tupperware, freezer bags (though they are more environmentally-harmful), or aluminum pans. Finally, bulk cooking advocates recommend that you have a marking pen on hand so that you can label and write the date that you prepared each dish.

Another thing to learn is which recipes are suitable for freezing, and which aren't. This article lists food items that don't freeze well. There list includes:
  • fried food

  • cake icings made with egg whites

  • custard and cream fillings

  • soft cheese

  • mayonnaise

  • sour cream

  • potatoes, when cooked in soups and stews

I'd also add mashed potatoes to the list.

On the other hand, stews and casseroles generally keep for up to three months, and sauces, for even longer, so that's a good place to start. (Personally I find that most stews taste better when reheated.)

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