Sunday, April 22, 2012

Creating a Time Plan.... this is your new insanity too?

You should have seen the look on my husbands face the very first time he came home from work to find his normally quite sane wife, adorned with flour head to toe, and breadmaker, Easiyo, oven, slow cooker, sandwich press, kettle, microwave and hotplates all a-go-go. He just shook his head and said 'what on earth are you doing?'

He didn't get it. He didn't get it for a very long time. He used to say things like 'Why don't you just buy potato wedges/muffins/bread rolls/jam drops?'. It was probably after about 4 years, when he was forced to eat the store bought version of those things for a short time because The Diva's busy Dance Eisteddfod season forced it upon us, that the penny dropped. Our grocery bill tripled, The Diva had an upset tummy and so did he, and he missed his favourite home baked goodies.

Now, he just leaves me to it, knowing that it's better for our budget, our bank account and our health.

So how to enjoy your new found insanity?

A time plan is the answer. You don't want to just randomly go hell for leather, creating havoc in the kitchen, which you then have to clean up.

You need a well contructed to-do list, to make the best use of your time.

I constantly get comments suggesting that I must be 'on something' to achieve what I do in a Cooking! But it's not's just having a plan.

So let's say this is your list for your Cook-Up...

Make cookie dough
Bake muffins
Hard boil eggs for lunchboxes
Make Egg Spread
Make Beef Spread
Make meatloaf/rissole mixture
Butterfly and marinate chicken
Poach chicken breasts
Make slow cooker refried beans
Roast veges for lasagna
Make potato wedges
Make mashed potato
Make steamed rice
Make week long salad
Decant tinned goods into containers

This list will give you baked goods for lunch boxes and snacks including cookies to bake all week long so they're fresh, healthy spreads for sandwiches, dinner for the next seven days, salad and spuds or rice to serve all week long, and quick access to things like beetroot, tinned pineapple, tinned corn, and tinned fruit for instant serving.

It looks like a lot, doesn't it. I can already hear you saying, 'That's a days worth of work there!'. But I can achieve that in under 2 1/2 hours. Here are a few key points:

Do not attempt this if you are going to be interrupted. If you have small children, try and buddy up with someone else whose kidlets are little as well. That way you can take turns in cooking or looking after the kids and share the spoils. Maybe you have a grandparent or other doting relative who can come and keep the children occupied for a couple of hours, or maybe they already attend casual day care, so that would be a good time too. If your children are at school and you're a Home Based Warrior like me, then it's a do this while they're at school. I have, when times are frantic, also risen at 5am to get my food prep done, knowing that my life will much easier for having done so. It's really up to you. But you need a block of at least 3 hours the first few times, and as you get quicker, that time will reduce to the 2 1/4 hours that it now takes me, no matter what I'm cooking.

The next thing you need to do, is to ensure you have all of the necessary equipment. Honestly, I don't have anything flash. But I do have what I need, and as you go along you'll be able to assess what works for you too. Things like simply wearing a comfy pair of shoes and an apron, and using a Mandolin slicer to make quick work of slicing salad items and vegetables, make the whole process a breeze.

It's overkill to mention this I guess, but you need all of your ingredients. Make sure you've purchased the extras you need, such as oil, spices, flours, and herbs. They don't need to be extravagant, and I can now even buy dried coriander leaves to use instead of fresh coriander, cutting my costs considerably.

Make sure that your pantry, refrigerator and freezer have space to store your prepped items.

Now, the next part is tricky the first few times you do it, but eventually it will become second nature.

You have to decide in what order you'll tackle your list to maximise your time. I usually prefer to tackle all of the quick things first, whilst also utilizing the hotplates while the oven preheats for baking.

So here we go:
Missing recipes will follow later today and throughout the week...stay tuned. These are marked with an asterisk.

Start off by decanting any of your tinned fruit or veg like corn, beetroot, fruit or chickpeas and four bean mix into transparent containers. Tupperware, IKEA and all chain stores and discount stores sell a version of these now for a small investment. I like to be able to see what's in mine, so I avoid the milky or coloured ones, and try to source transparent ones. Even recycled glass jars are good. I just prefer to not have to grapple with a tin and an opener when I'm in the middle of baking or serving.

Doing this first serves two purposes. You immediately see results and feel a sense of achievement, and that flows on to motivating you to tackle the rest of the list. And you now have easy access for anything you need to prep other items. Such as fruit for muffins, or veg for salads and meals.

1. Turn on oven to preheat for baking cookies and muffins.
2. Turn on three of your hotplates and put on eggs to boil, rice to steam, and chicken breasts to poach..
3. Peel your potatoes, and turning on your fourth hotplate, put them on to steam as well.
4. Your eggs should be ready now, so take them off, drain them and run cold water into the pot to cool them. Let them sit in the cool water for now.
5. Get the slow cooker going with your Refried Mexican Beans.
6. Now your rice and chicken breasts should be ready. So fluff the rice, and spread on a large platter to cool. Once cooled, refrigerate in a covered container or store in a ziplock bag, in the freezer, first flattening the rice out in the bag for quick defrosting. Store the chicken breasts in their cooking liquid, in another covered container in the refrigerator. Check your steamed potatoes. If they're cooked, turn the hotplate off and drain the potatoes. You'll come back to them to mash them shortly.
7. Cut up the veg for the roast veg lasagna. I don't even peel things for this. I just cut the ingredients (usually pumpkin, eggplant/aubergine, and zucchini) into large chunks, toss in oil and herbs and bung them in. I'll peel the pumpkin when it's cooked..much easier.
8. Mash the potato. I do this with an electric hand mixer. So quick and easy. Store in the refrigerator in a covered container.
9. Wash up pots used so far and dry them and put them away.
10. Now that you have pots and hotplates free, get your beef spread going.
11. Remove the eggs from the cool water and put smiley faces on the ones for lunchboxes and pop them in the fridge (this is simply to indicate that they are cooked), and peel the others, dropping them straight into your food processor for making the egg spread. Finish the Egg Spread which will take about one minute and decant into another covered container, and refrigerate.
12. Use an apple coring wheel (these are available at all kitchen shops, some supermarkets, and the best ones as pictured in the link, from IKEA for around $6AUD), to cut your potatoes into wedges. I got this idea from a friend who calls herself Mrs Bug, in a great money saving forum I participate in at Simple Savings. I can cut up a 5kg bag of washed potatoes in about 5 minutes this way. Pop the wedges into a big pot with water covering. Bring them to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes to blanch them so they don't go black. Then drain them and pat them dry on clean teatowels, before tossing them in oil and bagging into a large ziplock bag. I add Paprika at this stage as we love the flavour imparted to the wedges. You can use whatever spices you like, or leave spices out. It's up to you. Pop these into your freezer.
13. Check on your roasting veges, and remove them from the oven if done. Allow to cool, before storing in a covered container.
14. All that's left now is your baking, your Beef Spread, your Refried Beans, rissole mixture, marinated chicken, and week long salad. Believe it or not, this will take you less than one hour. The Beef Spread and Refried Beans are simmering away merrily, and the rest is easy-peasy.
15. Make up your Muffin batter and get your muffins in to the oven to bake. My most recent variation was dark choc chips, mashed banana, and frozen raspberries. They were the best yet!
16. Make up your cookie dough and refrigerate.
17. Using kitchen scissors, cut your whole chicken down the backbone, and flatten with your hands. Slide it into a large ziplock bag and add your preferred marinade. My marinade this week was just Sweet Chilli Sauce, coriander leaves and lime juice. 'Butterflying' the chicken this way, makes it easier to store in your freezer, and quicker to defrost and cook. The marinade also seems to penetrate the chicken better. You can then oven bake your chicken, or barbecue it on the day you want to eat it..yum!
18. Check on your muffins and remove from the oven to cool, if ready. Check on your Beef Spread. It will simmer for a while yet, so don't expect it to be ready, just give it a stir. Same with your Refried Beans.
19. Make up your mince mixture for rissoles, meatloaf or savoury mince.
20. Make your week long salad, and refrigerate, covered.

So, apart from storing your finished Beef Spread and Refried Beans which need to simmer for at least another hour, you're done. That will possibly take you a further ten minutes later on, when you'll decant the finished products into sealed containers and wash up your pot and slow cooker.

Wash up, tidy up, and pat yourself on the back. Job well done Guardians!

My intent with todays post, is not to tell you what to cook, but to show you how to multi-task. That is certainly part of the secret. This idea will not work, if you try to tackle each task in isolation, or in other words, do one thing, finish, do the next thing, finish and so on. So the idea is to get several things on the go, so that one or five things can be cooking while you prep another.

It'll be like having another pair of hands in the kitchen when you get it right...I promise!

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