Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snowed In? Time to Cook.

This past weekend, the Washington, DC, area was clobbered by a major snow storm. The local news stations had been shouting about it for days and days, and I knew I was going to be snowed in this weekend. What should I do?

Now, my local writers' group had a writing challenge this weekend, and I could have done that, but I didn't know about that until Friday. I also have to balance my goals at times. I plan to devote this upcoming weekend to a writing challenge and needed to give more emphasis to my healthy lifestyle goals this past weekend, so I'd already decided that this would be a perfect time for a cooking marathon.

I've fallen in love with cooking one day for the month or quarter, and my freezer and refrigerator were almost empty. I spent some time Wednesday and Thursday figuring out what I would cook and made a shopping list. I braved the frenzy at the local grocery store Thursday and waited nearly an hour to pay for my items, but I started the weekend well-stocked to cook and cook.

I made my Turkey Burgers Friday night (this time with oatmeal instead of bread crumbs to try a "healthier" option) and French chicken in a pot Sunday night, but I did the bulk of my cooking on Saturday when I made:

Ropa Vieja (cuban meat dish) with quinoa
Caldo Verde (portuguese greens soup - WW recipe toward the end in comments)
Picadillo (mexican ground beef stew) with quinoa
Beef Enchilada Casserole
Marinara Sauce
Filomena's inspired turkey sausage and veggie pasta sauce with whole wheat pasta
Bella Braised Chicken with quinoa or pasta

I fell into bed exhausted and even sore Saturday night from all the cooking, but I loved the sight of my beautiful freezer full of individual frozen meals. I plan to use some of the extra chicken from Sunday's roast in a mexican casserole and in a king ranch casserole, and I have the fixings for a very simple but satisfying meal of light or turkey kielbasa with zuchinni, yellow squash, italian stewed tomatoes and quinoa that I will make later this week - just as soon as I figure out how I can freeze these additional meals.

This cooking one day for the month is one of my favorite healthier habits I've picked up in the past year or so. It saves time, it increases the variety of my diet day-to-day, and it ensures that I am often prepared to eat delicious, healthy and appropriately portioned meals that will help me continue to lose weight. It also saves money and reduces waste. The last time I did a cooking marathon, I was craving lentils, barley and beans, so my grocery bill was a very inexpensive $122.31. This time, I was craving meat, so the grocery tab was a much more expensive $274.88. But, I am getting more than 100 individual meals for that, so I still say it's saving me money.

I highly recommend trying a marathon cooking session if you never have. Sunday, I alternated looking at the pretty snow out my window and feeling darn good about how much I had achieved on Saturday.

Have you ever tried a marathon cooking session? Do you have any tips or great recipes to share?


Dee Davis on February 8, 2010 at 10:05 AM said...

Wow! I've got to say all that food sounded fabulous! And although I'm not sure I have the energy or the ability to cook it all and not eat it, I do think it's a wonderful idea. But you must have a huge freezer? Are all your recipes weight watchers? Or are some adapted from regular recipes?

Michelle Butler on February 8, 2010 at 11:03 AM said...

Thanks, Dee! I don't have a huge freezer. I live in a one-bedroom condo with a smaller kitchen. I have one of those old freezer on top and refrigerator on bottom appliances.

My recipes are Weight Watchers, cooking light, adapted or ones that are "naturally" low in points/calories. I "made up" the pasta sauce based on a favorite dish of mine at Filomena's, a famous DC Italian restaurant. The ones above that came from WW were ropa vieja, caldo verde, turkey burgers, enchilada casserole, lasagna and bella braised chicken. Most came from old WW cookbooks, but the first two were from WW online.

I did do a little grazing while cooking, but there does come a time about halfway through the day when you are almost sick of food and nothing tempts you. My total point/calorie count for the day was not bad.

Anyway, I'm a big fan of this now. You might want to try it.

Dee Davis on February 8, 2010 at 2:11 PM said...

Love love love Filomena's (thanks to you) Copied one of their recipes myself. The ricotta gnocchi. YUM! Well with three of us -- we truly don't have the freezer space. But I'm doing mini version for them by cooking a lot on one day and then mixing and matching for the rest of the week for them. That way I'm not as tempted to eat thier food but they still have good dinners. Anyway, love the idea!

Michelle Butler on February 8, 2010 at 4:44 PM said...

I introduced Trish to Filomena's too. :)

There's a weight watchers cookbook that they sell at meeting locations called Now & Later full of paired recipes. You make the first and then take part of it to make the second. For example, you make chicken with olives and artichokes and then you make chicken croquettes with marinara sauce. I loved the concept so much that I bought the book, but I have to admit I haven't made any of them yet. I'll have to do that during my next cooking marathon.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on February 8, 2010 at 9:05 PM said...

Yes, Filomena's was quite yummy. And a wonderful atmosphere.

I'm always fascinated when you talk about this process, Michelle. I do have a question though -- how do you know what will freeze well and what won't? Or is that even a concern? I really would love to get a small deep freeze so I could do this. Our freezer is smallish. I routinely max it out just going to the store for frozen veggies, meats, and low-cal frozen meals that I eat for lunch.

Michelle Butler on February 9, 2010 at 6:52 PM said...

There is a concern about what will freeze well and what won't. Some of it I learn through trial and error. In my experience, soups, stews, and casseroles freeze well. I'll also use cooked quinoa, barley, lentils or wholewheat pasta as a cover over the sauce/stew/meal that I'll mix it with when eating. Some recipes will say that this item freezes well, and I make note of that. There's a NY Times food columnist who as written a lot about what freezes well. You could do some google searches and find information, I'm sure.

Some people have buy kitchen tools that takes the air out of containers you want to freeze, and those items will freeze better. I don't have something like that.

I also try to empty my freezer before I do one of these cooking marathons. Sometimes I even have to defrost it too. I want to be able to fill the freezer with my home-cooked individual meals. I don't tend to buy low-cal frozen meals anymore. I find what I make tastier, healthier and cheaper.

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