The new buzz word in the kitchen is ‘Batch Cooking’. Quite simply, it means cooking double or triple the recipe each time so meals can be planned ahead, mixed and matched and frozen in handy, easy to defrost size portions. Typically, the big batch cooking session is done at the weekend, often on a Sunday.
It not only saves time during the week but also helps your budget
and reduces food waste. Here’s where the freezer, the magical kitchen appliance that almost everyone owns, can really transform busy people’s lives and you’ll also have more special time to enjoy and spend with your family. But you’ll need to use it ‘smartly’ so here are a few tips.
Most foods freeze brilliantly, including sausage rolls, meat balls, breads, soups, stocks, beans, stews, casseroles, tagines, muffins, fishcakes, burgers, cooked rice, cookie dough, cakes …..food will freeze for ever but as a general rule it’s best to use up within a few weeks rather than months. Of course it will keep frozen but both flavour and texture gradually deteriorate as does the nutrient value. Some foods like lettuce and mayo don’t freeze well – they will wilt and split.
For maximum convenience, freeze food in smaller rather than larger portions unless you plan to serve a whole dish for 4 – 6 people. If not, freeze individual or a two portion serving instead – they defrost so much faster and cut down on waste. Recycled yoghurt pots or muffin tins are perfect for freezing individual portions. Tray freeze whenever possible, meat balls, sausage rolls, homemade fish fingers and chicken nuggets… Then pop them into a reusable plastic box, interleaved with parchment paper or bag them in reusable bags, defrosting what you want when you fancy it.
Save tetra packs and litre milk cartons for soups. Allow some space for expansion during freezing. Cook the favourite dishes that your family love but more of them. Here are a few favourite standbys…
Tomato fondue, we are never without this ‘great convertible’ serve as a vegetable, a sauce for pasta, topping for pizza, filling for an omelette, base for a bean stew, sauce for grilled fish or a chicken breast…Peperonata and mushroom a la crème are two other indispensable standbys.
All soup…. I’d never be without a stock of soup both thin and chunky. Cook up a couple of batches of bean stew also and of course some veg and meat stews, gratins and lasagnes.
When you manage to source some really fresh fish, an increasing challenge, tray freeze a few portions and also cook up a batch of fish cakes and a few fish pies with some creamy mash on top. Mash potato or champ and potato cakes are also brilliant to batch cook, freeze both in dishes and individual portions. So here are a few dishes to get started on….
Tomato Fondue x 3
This is triple the recipe that serves 6 so enough to serve 18 portions.
You’ll never be short of a quick meal if you have some tomato fondue in the freezer, Use it as an accompanying vegetable, a base for a bean or fish stew, sauce for pasta, topping for pizza or frittata, filling for an omelette . . . .
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
350g (12oz) onions, sliced
3 garlic clove, crushed
2.7kgs (6lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled or 6 x 14oz tins chopped tomatoes
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste
6 tablespoons of any or a combination of the following: freshly chopped mint, thyme, parsley, lemon balm, marjoram or torn basil
a few drops of balsamic vinegar (optional)
Heat the oil in a casserole or stainless-steel saucepan. Add the onions and garlic and toss until coated. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat until the onions and garlic are soft but not coloured. Slice the tomatoes and add with all the juice to the onions. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Add a generous sprinkling of herbs.
Cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes soften.
A few drops of balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking greatly enhance the flavour.
Homemade Fish Cakes x 3
Fish cakes are absolutely scrummy when they are carefully made and freeze perfectly.
3-3.5 lbs (1.3kg -1.5kg) cold leftover fish, e.g. salmon, cod, haddock, hake (a proportion of smoked fish such as haddock or mackerel is good)
3oz (75g) butter
12oz (350g) onion, finely chopped
3lb (1.3kg) mashed potato
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoon parsley, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 beaten eggs
fresh white breadcrumbs
clarified butter or a mixture of butter and oil for frying
To make the fish cakes, melt the butter in a saucepan, toss in the chopped onion, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 4 or 5 minutes until soft but not coloured.
Scrape the contents of the pan into a bowl, add the mashed potato and the flaked cooked fish, egg yolk and chopped parsley or a mixture of fresh herbs. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste. Form the mixture into fish cakes about 2oz (50g) each. Coat them first in seasoned flour, then in beaten egg and finally in crumbs. Refrigerate until needed, then cook on a medium heat in clarified butter until golden on both sides. Serve piping hot with pats or slices of garlic butter, tomato fondue and a good green salad.
Serves 4-6 but will easily double up for batch cooking.
Freeze in portion sizes that suit your situation.
A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions with a blob of butter melting in the centre, add the butter just before serving so it melts into the centre. ‘Comfort’ food at its best.
1.5kg (3lb) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g
350ml (10-12fl oz/1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups) milk
50-110g (2-4oz/1/2 – 1 stick) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.
Chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chopped chives. Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre. Scallion mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Cover with parchment paper while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.
Scallion and Potato Cakes
A great use for any leftover mash and easily frozen prior to cooking and defrosted as needed. Shape leftover scallion mash into potato cakes, cook until golden on both sides in clarified butter or butter and oil. Serve piping hot.
Basic Vegetable Soup
Well over half the soups we make at Ballymaloe are made on this simple formula. 18.104.22.168. When following this formula you can easily double or triple your recipe and freeze in batches.
1 part diced onion
1 part diced potato
3 parts any diced vegetable of your choice, or a mixture
5 parts stock or stock and milk mixed
One can use water, chicken or vegetable stock and season simply with salt and freshly ground pepper. Complementary fresh herbs or spices may also be added.
So one can make a myriad of different soups depending on what’s fresh, in season and available.
If potatoes and onions are the only option, one can still make two delicious soups by increasing one or the other and then adding one or several herbs. We have even used broad bean tops, radish leaves and nettles in season but kale, cabbage or leek tops would work excellently now.
50g (2oz) butter
150g (5oz) chopped potatoes, one-third inch dice
110g (4oz) peeled diced onions, one-third inch dice
340g (12oz) chopped vegetables of your choice, one-third inch dice
1.2L (2 pints) homemade chicken stock or 1L (1 3/4 pints) stock and 150ml (5fl oz) creamy milk
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the vegetables and stock. Boil until soft, liquidise, sieve or put through a mouli. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavour. Adjust seasoning.
Shanagarry Chicken Casserole
Another great recipe to double up and freeze for a busy day when you want something nourishing and comforting to eat.
A good chicken casserole even though it may sound ‘old hat’ always gets a hearty welcome from my family and friends, sometimes I make an entire meal in a pot by covering the top with whole peeled potatoes just before it goes into the oven.
1 x 3 1/2 lbs (1.57kg) chicken (free range if possible)
a little butter or oil for sauteeing
12oz (350g) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)
1lb (450g) onions, (baby onions are nicest)
12oz (350g) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced (if the carrots are small, leave whole, if large cut in chunks)
homemade chicken stock – 1 1/4 pints (750ml) approx.
sprig of thyme
Roux – optional
2 tablespoons parsley, freshly chopped
Preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.
Cut the rind off the bacon and cut into approx. 1 inch (2 cm) cubes, (blanch if salty). Dry in kitchen paper. Joint the chicken into 8 pieces. Season the chicken pieces well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon until crisp, remove and transfer to the casserole. Add chicken pieces a few at a time to the pan and sauté until golden, add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn’t burn yet it must be hot enough to sauté the chicken. If it is too cool, the chicken pieces will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Then toss the onion and carrot in the pan adding a little butter if necessary, add to the casserole. Degrease the pan and deglaze with stock, bring to the boil and pour over the chicken etc. Season well, add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, then put into the oven for 30-45 minutes, 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4.
Cooking time depends on how long the chicken pieces were sautéed for.
When the chicken is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease, return the degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary (see below). Add the meat, carrots and onions back into the casserole and bring to the boil. Taste and correct the seasoning. The casserole is very good served at this point, but it’s even more delicious if some mushroom a la creme is stirred in as an enrichment. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley and bubbling hot.