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Had a busy day working from home while juggling the kids’ schoolwork? Spent the afternoon queueing outside the supermarket and don’t want to face a big task of making dinner? Time to embrace the fine art of batch cooking. Read on to discover how you can spend less time prepping meals and more time enjoying life…
If you’ve yet to embrace batch cooking, the lockdown offers the perfect opportunity to practise this clever technique for whipping up large quantities of your favourite meals, snacks and treats, saving you time, money and effort so you can squirrel away a few extra hours for yourself.
Batch cooking is simply that – cooking in batches. Things like sauces and mains can be made up in double portions with half the amount stored in clearly labelled airtight containers (note, always leave space at the top of the container as liquids expand when frozen). Think your favourite curry, stocks, soups, lentil chilli, dahl, tomato sauce …
Batch cooking enthusiast Susan Jane White, author of the recently published Clever Batch (Gill Books, €24.99, available from easons.com), has been whipping up even more meals since the lockdown began. “For my sanity, for my wallet and for my precious free time, I was already slaying the batch cooking vibe BC (Before Corona). And then Covid-19 hit and I was suddenly batch cooking for parents, elderly friends, filling the bellies of anyone who needed nourishment. I was on overdrive.”
“Cooking for yourself reaches beyond physical nourishment. Cooking provides emotional nourishment too,” adds White. “It’s a form of self-respect. It’s how, for generations, we’ve shown love and adoration to the people around us. But let’s be honest – we don’t want to have to do it every single night! Batch cooking is the new age nirvana.”
Being home most of the day (outside of our now-5km daily stroll) and with fewer trips to the shops, what foods should we be stocking up on? White recommends freezing homemade salad dressings or sauces in ice cube moulds. “They work as flavour grenades at a later stage, when you’ve run out of interesting things to eat. Usually, I have half a dozen bags of ice cube dressings on the go in my freezer; chimichurri, pesto, miso butter, chilli sauce, peanut rayu and salsa verde. These will excite any meal, upgrade plain rice or psyche up a boring fried egg. And if you’re going to the trouble of making a curry or ragu, it’s worth doubling the recipe with the intention of freezing half.”
With kids at home, White also suggests stocking up on healthy snacks for the rest of the family (her healthy halva and family flapjacks on her website, susanjanewhite.com, and Instagram @susanjanekitchen are big hits). “You can make a healthy freezer fudge or creamy halva from tahini by mixing it with melted raw honey, coconut oil and pistachios. Tesco own brand tahini is really reasonable, outrageously healthy with all those plant lignans and vitamin E, plus bonkers delicious. My boys horse into halva all week long while we’re labouring over maths, and I find they don’t need much of it to feel full. I also find a tray of wholesome flapjacks stored in the fridge to be good for when kids get the munchies.”
3 reasons for mastering the art of batch cooking while on lockdown
Your freezer is your friend when it comes to reducing food waste. Use the bits of veg normally destined for the brown bin (celery and onion ends, cauliflower leaves, etc) to make a vegetable stock and your chicken bones and carcass from your Sunday roast plus onion and celery to make a chicken stock; strain and freeze in clearly labelled containers and use to make soups as needed. Made a smoothie for the kids but they didn’t finish every last drop? Pour into ice lolly moulds and freeze for a cold treat later. If there’s just a small amount left over from your soup or main meal, stick it in the freezer for a lunch later in the week – chances are, if you place it in the fridge it’s likely to be forgotten or simply not eaten if no one is in the mood for it and it’ll end up going off and therefore in the bin. Meat and fish aren’t the only things you should be freezing when you get home from the shops. Now in particular, as we try and stretch out our food shopping, freezing fresh fruit like peeled and chopped bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peeled and chopped kiwi and greens like spinach and kale will not only mean saving these items from going off, but your morning smoothies will be there ready and waiting to be blended up when your fresh produce is all used up.
Time and food saved for when you need it
Had a tough day homeschooling the kids or spent the afternoon on one Zoom meeting after another and just about got your daily workout in? Don’t have the energy to cook a full-on meal? The fridge is bare and you don’t want to head to the shops, or are trying to hold out ’til the day you planned on going for your big supermarket trip or you’re waiting on your weekly food delivery? This is where batch cooking really comes into its own – take a look at your freezer stock, and pull out the makings of a delicious dinner you can thaw and reheat in a flash.
Tip: Give yourself some extra time to batch cook by checking our guide to Shopping Smart during Lockdown.
Batch cooking can be social… and fun
We need to connect with others now more than ever. Susan Jane suggests you “find another batch boss”: “Say, you batch cook an Indian curry on Monday night, and swap half of it with a pal’s meatball recipe – you’ve not only filled your freezer with extra portions of your curry, but you also have some meatballs in there too. Better still, while we’re quarantining, maybe have two or three batch bosses on hand!” “Also, finding some great podcasts to listen to while you cook will help the time canter by without feeling like you’re chaining yourself to the cooker. Light some candles, clear the kitchen counter and get your mitts on Spotify. When you turn cooking into an enjoyable hobby, you’re more likely to prepare food that is good for your body, your mind and your soul. Then freeze half of it for another evening.”
I’m surviving on meals that rely on the combined forces of heat and time to do all the work. No fiddling around with spiralisers. No timer beside the frying pan. No last-minute dashes to the corner store for fresh veg. These days our pantry is the midwife for recipes, because who has the time to get fresh food every single evening? We’re going big on flavour with minimum effort. This bowl of chilli comes from superstar staples in the cupboard. You can switch out the aubergine for whatever veg you find loitering in your fridge. Serve with avocado sour cream for a delicious, wholesome, home-cooked meal.
Recipe extracted from Clever Batch by Susan Jane White (Gill Books, €24.99), available from easons.com. Photograph by Joanne Murphy.
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