Sunday, June 12, 2011

Batch Baking Attempt #1

I'm at home now. It's kind of a scary thought really. I'm not sure if my kids will survive but I hear they can flourish on macaroni and cheese and kisses. Well, they will get a lot of kisses but not so much macaroni and cheese. I don't like the stuff.

I was turned on to Money Saving Mom by my awesome friend Lea. Money Saving Mom did a post last week on freezer meals. In essence, you spend half a day baking up bulk amounts of meals or meal makings then freezing it all. The goal is quick, nutritious meals for the busy family and a big money savings by buying large amounts of food. Well, busy family is us with my oldest in baseball and sticking to a budget is now my mantra.

Today I decided to give it a shot. I shopped last night for ingredient to several meals so I pulled some of the supplies out and started cooking. First I grabbed the potatoes. I bought the 10 pound bag of russets. I don't know that there's a difference between Betty Crocker and Idaho potatoes but this is what the local store had.

I wanted to try two experiments with the potatoes. I wanted to get chicken legs and potatoes in barbecue sauce as the base for one meal and on Money Saving Mom there was a suggestion for twice baked potatoes.

I split the bag and put 15 potatoes in the oven to bake at 375 for 1 hour. In hindsight, I should have pulled out the largest potatoes from the bag and used those to bake. My intensive selection process consisted of grabbing the potatoes on the top of the bag and washing them. Not bad for conserving time, but horrible for getting great results. Next time, I will know better and sort by size.

The rest of the bag I chopped up and divided into five -gallon-sized ziplock bags. I then divvied up the drumsticks into each bag. I poured barbecue sauce into each bag, squished the contents around to spread the sauce and sealed them. I chose Sweet Baby Ray's because it was the best deal at the store. I'll let you know if it's good or not in a later post.

Do you notice the bags aren't labeled? Yeah. Don't do that. The contents of the bag caused condensation to form. My Sharpie didn't mark well and writing on an uneven surface was inconvenient at best. Mark your bags BEFORE placing food inside.

I had five bags filled and ready for freezing in about 30 minutes. Since it would have taken me about that long to make one meal, I figure this project was a definite baking success.

When I'm ready to cook these dinners, I'll take the dinner out of the freezer the night before and put it in the fridge to thaw. We usually eat around 5 PM so at 4PM I'll put it in the oven at 400 degrees for 1 hour.

During all of this, I had 4 1/2 cup sticks of butter on the oven softening. I went for the gold and make a quadruple batch of cookies. I mixed the liquids/sugars and realized that I didn't have a big enough bowl. I pulled out the huge metal mixing bowl and stirred the flour in two cups at a time. Did you know that a triple batch takes almost 10 cups of flour? I'm sure you seasoned cookie makers out there are snickering at me. I will not attempt to hand mix a quadruple batch of cookie dough ever again. First, it's not like mixing liquids. There is no smooth movement. It's like trying to stir mud with a stick. Yummy flavored mud of course, but thick and unyielding nonetheless. My hand and arm are rather numb and I'm not looking forward to the ache that will come tomorrow morning.

I didn't add the mix-ins until after I had the dough finished. I split the batter and put 1 bag of Andes mint chips in one half and chocolate toffee chunks into the other. Since I'm not a proponent of cooking dozens of cookies (because I will eat most of them), I divided the dough into four quart bags of each kind. I then made cookies out of one bag to see how many I would get. I made the cookies about golf ball sized (then squished) and I baked two dozen.

I used unsalted real butter and I'm not thrilled with the results. The cookies are more crumbly than I prefer. I'm normally lazy and use vegetable spread like Country Crock and the cookies come out more moist but don't hold their shape well. I will experiment with this more. If anyone knows the perfect butter/spread to try, please let me know!

Once all this was done, the oven was beeping for the baking potatoes. I pulled those out and let them cool while we ate dinner. After dinner was done and we had cleaned up, I cut all the potatoes in half and scooped out the middles. This is where I figure out I should have used the larger potatoes. First, most of the small ones were over cooked. Second, they didn't have much middles to scoop out and third, the skins didn't hold together well. Out of the 15 potatoes I put in the oven, I threw away about 2. I ended up with 25 twice baked potatoes. I'm not sure how these will be consumed yet. They might be a meal but I can see my husband grabbing them individually and zapping them in the microwave for snacks and lunches. I don't consider this experiment as a bomb but I definitely will make sure I get larger potatoes to bake next time.

On the blog post about freezer meals the gal said to use grated carrots in hamburger and to throw in different recipes. She said it bulked up the meat, added nutrients that kids sometimes don't want to consume and I think it can add color to a dull looking meal.

After grating 5 bars of Fels-Naptha for washing machine detergent, I was not in the mood for grating anything else. The geek/gadget lover in me wondered what my juicer would do. I took a bag of carrots and sent them through. At the end of the bag I had a full cup of carrot juice and half a catch container full of pulp.

You probably noticed the orange ice cubes already. (My husband thinks it's weird.) I poured enough juice into the ice cube tray so I could freeze the juice into cubes. My husband and I make a lot of smoothies and I'll use these cubes to add more nutrients to a drink. I scooped the pulp into a quart sized bag and poured the rest of the carrot juice back into the pulp. The pulp sucked it up quickly and the quart bag does not have moisture in the bottom. I will use the pulp in the meatloaves I will make in the next batch baking attempt as well as other dishes I decide to try.

I wanted to get more meals done but I am trying to pace myself so I don't get burned out. At the end of today, I have 5 bags of barbecue chicken and potatoes, 25 twice baked potatoes and 7 bags of cookie dough. I cleaned the crock pot from dinner tonight and put in a pork roast. Following the directions I found on a website, I am going to let it cook over night. Then I'll drain the juices, pull the pork apart, add barbecue sauce then leave it on low for another four hours. I'll let it cool then separate it into quart sized containers. I'm excited to see how many bags I'll get from 9 lbs.

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