The Best Food to Batch Cook

As a mother of five in a family of seven, it will probably come as no surprise to you that things can get hectic around the house! Between extracurricular activities, homework, housework, bonding time and everything else in between, sometimes it is oh so tempting to delve into the freezer for quick meals or to order a takeaway or even just go out for food. Another way to easily store and make soup is to buy a soup maker. This is probably the best solution.

However, I pride myself on being a cook; it’s what this blog is all about! A solution for those jam-packed days is to cook something in batch that will keep for the rest of the week, is suitable for freezing and is an all-round life saver! Any of these dishes can be frozen and thawed, or kept for at least three days in an airtight container. They can be popped into lunchboxes or heated up for family dinner, they really are so versatile.

Chilli con Carne

Chilli con Carne is an old favourite of the family and is perfect for cold nights, summer BBQs and everything else in between. Fry up some onions in olive oil and, once they’re soft, throw in 1kg of lean minced beef. Cook the beef until brown then stir in two cans of chopped tomato, stir in some red and yellow peppers, kidney beans and chilli and paprika and there you have it! Serve with rice when you’re ready to eat it and add some cheese for extra flavour. This makes a huge batch so you might want to separate it into more friendly portions before freezing.

Pumpkin and Bacon Soup

Yes, you can even freeze soup! The bacon in this gives it a great smoky edge and adds that all-important protein. Heat oil and a knob of butter in a pan and add chopped onion and salt, cook this for 10 minutes. Add the bacon, pumpkin and some vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the pumpkin is soft. Pour in some single cream and boil again. Remove from the heat and blend everything up, adding more vegetable stock if you want it thinner. The best way to freeze soup is by pouring it into bags, when it’s time to defrost just cut the bag and peel it away from the frozen soup – it’s much easy to add to a pan this way.

Chicken Cacciatore

Place chicken breasts with salt and pepper in a baking tray and cook them on the hob on high heat until they are cooked nicely and place them to one side. Put red peppers and a chilli pepper in the same tray until they’re soft then pour in a generous amount of red wine, add chopped tomatoes and stir everything up. Grab the chicken from before and place it in the sauce before covering in foil and baking for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take the tray out, uncover and cook again for 15 minutes. When you come to eating this, it goes amazing with pretty much anything! Mashed potato, rice, chips, anything you can dream up!

Flavours of the World on a Budget

Well I definitely wanted to travel a lot more than I did a lot sooner in my life, but either way, I can honestly say that I was rather privileged growing up under the tutelage of a parents who made it happen in terms of exploring the length and breadth of this beautiful world of ours. One of the most outstanding features which define any destination however is its food, particularly that food which is unique to the place or which is prepared in a way that is unique to that location.

I’m talking here from your basic fries on which some people add vinegar in addition to salt, while others don’t and perhaps even eat them with rice, right up to dishes such as koshary, which is rather unique to North Africa.

A few short years ago however it was a bit of struggle to try and recreate many of these delicious flavours of the different parts of the world. I mean even if the restaurant owner was kind enough to write down the recipe for their favourite foreign customers who will perhaps never return to their establishment, some of the ingredients proved hard to find and still prove hard to find to this day. Shipping them across the world works out to be quite expensive and by the time they arrive they’re either not as fresh as you’d like or you’re not even in the mood for that specific dish you were previously craving anymore.

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Some of these unique flavours of the world one experiences are just too hearty to put away on the “once-in-a-lifetime-culinary-experience” shelf, so a plan needs to be made in order for one to keep enjoying them. Fortunately there is a plan and it’s called ingredient substitution.

Ingredient substitution involves a whole lot of experimentation, but it takes you through a journey of culinary delight along which you learn so much about your own cooking skills and about what can be achieved with a little creativity and ingredient chopping and changing.

Many people in this part of the world find apple pie revolting, for example, but I reckon that’s just because they don’t quite have the proper ingredients to make something like that come out the way it was originally intended to come out. You’d want to use original apple pie spice for example in order to get the authentic taste of this good old American favourite, but since this dessert isn’t that popular round here, you’d have a hard time finding apple spice.

That’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about however, that being ingredient substitution used to recreate the flavour almost as is, if not all the way as it is. If you don’t have apple pie spice for example, a tablespoon of it can be recreated with a mixture of two teaspoons of ground cinnamon, one teaspoon of ground nutmeg and just a pinch of ground allspice.

In many instances you even come up with a richer and more delicious flavour than the original, but as mentioned, there will be a lot of experimentation involved to recreate the various flavours of the world on a budget.

Saving Burnt Food from Going to Complete Waste

When you’re cooking for yourself and perhaps when you’re experimenting as well it really isn’t too much of an issue, but when you’ve somehow conspired to burn some food when you’re cooking for an entire family of seven, it’s that much more painful to have to throw it all away and let it go to complete waste. I’m not saying I force-feed my babies burnt food, but depending on the degree to which you’ve burnt the food you can iterate through some steps to try and save it from going to complete waste.

As careful as you may be and as experienced a cook as you likely are, it happens to the best of us and could just be a matter of getting distracted, putting the heat up too high or perhaps just trying to do too many things at once in the kitchen and elsewhere in the house. Perhaps you’ve left the shell of your pie to bake a bit too long, some of the food you’re pan-frying has burnt and stuck to the bottom of the pan or maybe the steak you’re cooking isn’t cooking evenly all the way through and is burnt on the outside while remaining raw on the inside. Either way, here are a couple effective ways to save it all from going to complete waste:

Stopping the burning dead in its tracks

Well I never went all the way to become the professional chef that I had ambitions of becoming, but I did get some good exposure to that world of professional food preparation. One of the many lessons I learned from the restaurant industry is that of stopping the burning of food dead its tracks. There’s a specific point — almost a single instant when you can smell the food just starting to burn, but it hasn’t quite burnt all the way through. In this case take it off the heat source, out of the pot or pan you’re cooking it in, transfer it to different container and pop it right into the freezer.

This stops the burning process which usually carries on even after you’ve removed the food from its heat source.

What if the food is burnt proper?

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If the food has actually burned then the degree to which it’s burnt is what determines just how much of it you can actually save and in fact if you can save it at all. For food which clearly tastes burnt but is only really burnt at the bottom of the pan, do not stir. Simply transfer it into another pan leaving the burnt bit behind and then add a peeled potato to reheat the food on low heat. 15 minutes or so is all it should take for the burnt taste to disappear, after which time you should remove the potato.

For a BBQ steak that’s scorched on the outside but raw on the inside, wrap it in foil and then grill it in the oven until it cooks in the middle, after which time you can cut off the burnt bits.

Safely Carrying Out a Food Allergy Elimination Test

If you or anyone in your family experiences symptoms such as itchy ears when taking the first bite of your food, chances are you might be carrying some food allergies. Food allergies are often detected very early on in one’s life, but they can be developed over time, mostly due to an unbalanced diet which is severely deficient in one form of nutrient or one which contains too much of a certain food which comes with an excess of a certain nutrient or a selection of nutrients.

A visit to the specialist to officially test for food allergies can be a bit expensive since it likely falls under “non-essential” medical care, but ultimately that should be the aim. You should go for an official allergy test so that you can be sure of which foods are causing your body to react.

That said, while you’re perhaps putting the money together to be able to go to a food allergy specialist, there’s a way to safely carry out a food allergy elimination test, but it’s something which should perhaps only be tried by those whose reactions to certain foods are of a milder nature.

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For months on end one of my cousins would feel really, really sick after enjoying a full English breakfast, but it took a while to realise that it was indeed something in the full breakfast which was causing this allergy. It was indeed the egg, which she had somehow developed an allergy to and the symptoms were rather severe at times, including painful heels, double-vision in one eye, vertigo and constantly having a feeling of wanting to throw-up whenever she woke up in the morning.

Eggs as the culprit were narrowed-down on when she’d eaten more than one egg on a particular occasion when she’d been really hungry over breakfast and that’s when the symptoms were aggravated. All she did was eliminate eggs from her diet completely and the symptoms disappeared.

So to do a safe food allergy elimination test one must focus on the most common food items which are known to cause allergies, even if they’d previously not caused any reactions. Eggs definitely form one of these food groups, so too the likes of peanut butter, anything with gluten (which is just about everything these days), different types of nuts like almonds and even peanuts, cow’s milk and even something like artificial flavourings.

It doesn’t end there however because even sugar can cause allergies, particularly white sugar, but mostly when you react to white sugar you’ll most definitely react to brown sugar as well, which sort of gets worse because you might react to sweetener as well.

So while you’re eliminating the potential allergy-causing foods you should proceed to replace them with more natural whole foods, like perhaps replacing white sugar with honey as a natural and healthier sweetener. While you’re at it, keep a box of anti-allergy tablets handy for possible breakouts caused by a food you’re sill eating that might be the cause of the allergy, but yeah, often just eliminating known allergy-causing foods one by one does the trick to find out just what it is you’re allergic to.

Navigating an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

As much as I actually enjoy the process of preparing meals for my family, particularly the daily dinner, sometimes the mood calls for the lot of us to go out and enjoy dinner prepared by someone else, with the favourite alternative being that of an all-you-can-eat-buffet. This is not because of the “all-you-can-eat” factor, but rather just because of the variety on offer, which means everyone can enjoy dinner together and yet we’re each helping ourselves to different foods — to each of our favourite foods.

It also makes for a nice change enjoying some food which was prepared by someone else, on more of a personal level, but what inevitably happens is that you tend to criticise the cooking a bit and iterate through the various considerations of just how you could have perhaps prepared a certain food better or in fact you find yourself wondering just what recipe they used to prepare a certain food in a certain way.

Some of the pitfalls of frequenting a buffet every now and again tend to show up along the way however, such as getting food which is not all that fresh, having to eat or leave on your plate some overcooked food or food which doesn’t quite taste the way your eyes suggested it would. There’s also the small matter of getting overwhelmed by all the choices and it happens even to those who regularly visit all-you-can-eat buffets. With all those choices you can find yourself overbalancing certain food types and ultimately not getting a healthy and nutritious helping of your dinner, or you might fill up a bit too much on a certain food type to find that you don’t have any space left to get a good chunk of that dessert you were keeping a keen eye on.

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The trick to navigating your way through an all-you-eat-buffet resides in exercising a little patience. Wait until the top-pickings have indeed been picked off by other diners as this normally means you can benefit from what a lot of buffets unfortunately do, which is put the older food at the top so that it can be consumed first, with the fresher food lying in wait underneath.

If it comes to it you can even just help yourself to the deeper-lying food in the case of self-serving buffets, but not all buffets implement this practice of serving older food first. It is however somewhat of an industry standard which permeates even the restaurant industry, so it’s very likely that it occurs.

In addition to playing the waiting game to get your fill, always fill your plate up with less food than you think you’ll be satisfied with. You can always go back for seconds if you want, otherwise you run the risk of falling “victim” to what buffets are all about — creating the illusion that you’re going to fill up on more food than you usually do whereas you end up walking away not having eaten much because you’re overwhelmed by so many different choices.

The three-bites rule must come into effect, which simply states that you should put on your plate a portion of a certain food which amounts to three bites max.