Saturday, May 5, 2012

Meal Prep and Planning

Now, I've been doing the bulk of the cooking in every house I've lived in since moving out of my mom's. She always says that I never cooked this good at home and it's true. Sorry mom, haha! Many people ask me how I manage to make a delicious, homecooked meal most every night for dinner. The answer is simple: I plan ahead and shop smart. When I look at prices at the grocery store I check not only the price per pound or ounce, but also how many servings I will get out of an item. This is especially helpful for meat. Take for example chicken breast at my local Wal-Mart. They are normally $1.99/lb and I tend to get a pack that cost $5-$6. There's enough in that pack to make enough meat for at least two different meals. If I am shredding the chicken I can stretch that pack even further.

I work outside the home and my schedule is never the same, so I need things ready to go with minimal preparation the day I want to cook it. My best advice for this is to buy meats on sale and season before you freeze them. If you came to my house on grocery day you would find me dividing meat into meal sized portions and seasoning it in ziploc bags. All you have to do then is squeeze the air out of the bag and place it into the freezer. I will write the name on the bag if I'm doing two preparations that look the same, but the flavor is totally different (say taco seasoning and a chile based bbq seasoning). I am the shopper and cook in this house though, so I don't feel the need to label the bags since I always know what I have. By marinating before you freeze you give your meats even more time to get delicious. They will marinade as they freeze and as they defrost in addition to as they cook. When you are deciding what to eat for dinner you can just put the bag in the fridge before work so it's defrosted when you get home. My favorite though is to just open the bag and dump the still frozen meat into the crock pot. Even from a totally frozen state the meat will be cooked to a safe temperature by dinner time.

When looking for inspiration for what to cook I look at many different sources. The best of which is friends and family. That's where Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest come in especially handy. Pinterest is my favorite of them all because it gives you access to so many more people and websites than you might have found on your own. Back in the day when I had cable I used to watch a lot of the Food Network. I've always enjoyed reading, so cookbooks and magazines are especially good resources. The Joy of Cooking cookbook has pretty much every recipe you could ever want. Food Network Magazine, Rachel Ray Magazine, Self, and Women's Health are just a few resources to subscribe to for recipe ideas. The second best source would be restaurants because they give you a chance to try different styles of cooking without having to do all the work yourself. Lastly, EXPERIMENT! Start with a base that you know works. One of the things I cook that many people still talk about it candied bacon (bacon that is sprinkled with brown sugar as it bakes in the oven). I know that bacon taste delicious  and I've always loved a play on different taste sensations. I tried it once and I was hooked! Many times I build upon that flavor profile by adding a sprinkle of something spicy like chipotle chile powder. The point is you shouldn't be afraid to just get in the kitchen and start cooking. You might discover a flavor combination that your loved ones will always remember

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