Here is the promised post about the massive cook off we had back in early June The cooking has been made necessary by the fact that I’ll be consistently finishing work some time after 6.30pm every night for the next couple of weeks and then every second week thereafter. With our household currently containing 7 mouths to feed, I didn’t like the idea of needing to prepare dinner most nights once I finished work. We’d be eating at midnight.
I decided that the most economical use of money and time was to do a big “once a month” cook-off. For those of you who don’t know what it is, or are considering starting to do it yourself, I suggest googling it as there are several helpful articles written by other bloggers that can help you. This has been my first attempt at large scale cooking and I can understand how the process would seem daunting and completely overwhelming to many. I chose to do so many recipes and meals because I have a basic hospitality certification and have worked, in the past, for a children’s cooking school/cooking birthday party company. The amount of cooking that I did today is nothing compared to what I would cook working for that company, where I often had 11 hours shifts followed by having to cook a meal for myself. My advice to you is to only do what you are comfortable with. It will be better to cook a recipe or two, well, than trying too many recipes and then having to bin them because you got overwhelmed.
The steps involved in the cook off started way before the actual cook off. I have been collecting the meat and other grocery items that form the recipes for almost a month. We decided after dedicated observation and recording, that meat is only worth buying if it costs less than $9 per kg. For those of you who measure using lbs, that’s approx 2.2 lbs for around $8.33 US dollars. In Western Australia, the meat prices are pretty high so you can get basic beef mince, lamb mince and pork mince, sausages, lamb shanks for that price consistently. You occasionally get most types of roast or the odd cut of beef when they are on special for the price too. I have been buying meats at this price over the weeks and storing them in the freezer. For this cook off I accumulated a lamb roast for $8.99/kg, two chicken roasts for $3.50/kg, two lamb shanks for $8.99/kg, about 4.5kg of beef mince for $6/kg, 1kg pork mince for $9/kg, a 500g pack of bacon for $9/kg. Other grocery items, I usually pick up when they are on special.
When I started to plan what we would cook, I thought of recipes, using the meat I had, that we enjoy and have cooked many times. I wanted to use master recipes that could be used for multiple meals. I chose:
– Mexican beef mince, for tacos and nachos.
– Creamy chicken and leek mix, for pot pies, chicken pasta and chicken and rice.
– Tomato/Italian beef mix, for a lasagne and other pasta dishes.
– Cheesy bacon mix for pasta and pasta bake
– Lamb casserole for casserole and rice, shepherd’s pie and meat pie.
– Asian pork patties, for rice paper rolls, stir fry with noodles etc…
For each master recipe, I wrote the ingredients down in a list. I came up with the sub-meal options for each dish and then chose extra vegetables to add. This step serves the dual purpose of bulking out the meals to make more and making them more healthy. I wrote a massive list of all of the ingredients needed for all of the recipes (note: I scrapped the breast chicken because it didn’t fit into the strict price range at the supermarket).
Next I went through the cupboards to see what was already there and what was needed. I transferred the veg list to another page and put in an order with the greengrocer that lives in our house. When we went grocery shopping on Friday, I picked up the last few bits and pieces we needed (pasta sheets, cheese, few tins of beans). I swapped around the meat values a bit from the list because of scrapping the chicken breast. I bought less pork than I had planned and more beef mince.
I then went through and wrote up a massive prep list for the whole thing. I won’t post that because it changed on the actual day but I just thought about the logical order of preparation. I think I learnt this skill from my training in hospitality and my work at the cooking school. For example, I knew that I needed to roast the lamb and chickens first and cook the lamb shanks and that this would take the most time. I also knew that it would be easier to cut up ALL of the vegetables before putting the meals together so I wrote this into the plan. The recipes sometimes required different prep for the same vegetable. For example, I needed grated carrot for the mexican mix but chopped carrot for the lamb casserole. I also planned to mash the beans. I planned to cook up all of the onion and garlic then split it into 5 parts. Next I planned to cut up the cooked meats and begin assembling each recipe. I planned to put each recipe into containers for the freezer, which meant making sure that I had enough containers. I did have to buy some more larger sized ones. Once the plan was done, I double checked to make sure I had everything I needed. I also needed to pull out the meats from the freezer to defrost. The roasts and lamb shanks came out 2 days before and the mince meats came out 1 day before.
On the day itself, you need to be prepared. That means making sure the kitchen is clear, the knives are sharpened- my partner spent well over 30mins sharpening one knife- the oven works and the cooking can be done without a hitch. I made sure the dishwasher was empty and ready to be filled, the sink was full of hot soapy water and we had all of the utensils we needed. I will show you a bit of a photo sequence to show how the day went.
As you can see, there was a fair amount of food produced. In the end. Most of the meals easily fed 7 people with leftovers but a couple were a bit short, so I added extra veg. We ended up using the meals over a few months because we cooked from scratch when I finished work early. For my first attempt at once a month cooking, I’d say it went well.
See you soon,