Saturday, November 23, 2013

Slow Cooker Palooza - Prep Day

This past weekend myself and three lovely ladies got together for our Slow Cooker Palooza.  We prepped slow cooker meals and froze them for quick meals later.  Read more about the background in my first post about it

My Prep

Recipes

I researched what healthy recipes would work well for freezing (slow cooker recipes and those that could easily convert to a slow cooker) and listed them out.  As a group we voted for the recipes we wanted and I made the final call on what specific ones we were going to make. Two recipes came from online and three from some healthy slow cooker books books.

Our final recipe selections
  • Classic beef stew with beef roast, onions, celery, and carrots.
  • Char siu pork roast of pork shoulder with soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ketchup, and garlic.  
  • Fajita chicken of chicken breasts, lime juice, salsa, peppers and onions.
  • Indian-style chicken with pureed spinach and lots of spices.
  • sweet potato-chipotle soup - chicken stock along with sweet potatoes and a little chipotle pepper for kick. 
I photocopied the recipes so each guest could have their own version to keep for later in case they wanted it for reference or to make the recipe again. I wrote up a summary sheet of all the recipes with instructions on how to cook them, suggestions for things to serve with the dishes, and tips on other great things to freeze.

Groceries

  1. I wrote down all of the ingredients we needed for every recipe and attributed it to the recipe, like "2 onions for Fajita Chicken recipe (4 batches)".  
  2. And then I grouped and organized the ingredients by general section of the store -- Produce, Dry Goods, Meat and put all of the same product together so when you were buying onions you could see the amount and which recipes needed onions.  
  3. After that, I multiplied out the number of guests by the number of items to give a count of the total number needed, such as "8 onions for Fajita Chicken".
  4.  

That Day

The four of us met at Costco to do our shopping. We split into pairs and divided up the grocery list.  We couldn't find several things, so after we were done shopping at Costco, we unpacked our haul at Heather's house where we were doing all the prep work and Natalie ran to the local grocery store to buy the remaining ingredients.
Huge piles of ingredients as we start to get ready.
While she was gone, we set up stations for each dish so we could allocate the ingredients and the printed recipe.  Each gal was responsible for prepping the ingredients for four sets of the recipe and putting it in the gallon freezer bag.
Martha and Heather trying out the chopper!  Slap-chop!
We each grabbed a glass of wine and set ourselves up with some snacks of artichoke-jalapeno dip, quinoa tabbouleh, and tortilla chips to munch on while we worked.
Natalie in action with the Char Sui Pork.
We chatted and listened to music and sang along.
Heather at the Fajita Chicken station with her glass of wine and Martha peeling sweet potatoes for soup.
And chopped, sliced, prepped and worked our way through the five recipes. 
Natalie leaning in close while I open the outrageously huge can of diced tomatoes.
 As we were winding down one of the girls totaled up all our bills and divided them up.  I ended up with a slightly higher bill since I bought a few temping items for myself at Costco, crispy seaweed for Sonny D, yogurt-covered granola balls for Sonny D's daycare snacks, and some fabulous snacking dark chocolate with pumpkin seeds and sea salt. 

What I learned

  • Don't offer so many recipe options from the start.  I wanted to allow for each family's food preferences and tastes, but we didn't get any consensus on which recipes to make so I had to take everybody's votes into account and just make an executive decision. 
  • Don't expect to get many ingredients at Costco.  They either didn't have the products we were looking for or it was in such a absurdly large amount that it wasn't worth buying in bulk. The only things it truly worked out for was the meat and the stock for soup. Next time I might send someone on a shopping trip ahead of time to get the meat at Costco, but otherwise we'll do most of our shopping at a regular grocery store.
  • It takes a lot longer to grocery shop than you might think!  I had no idea where anything was at Costco, so I had to rely on my partner Heather to direct us. 
  • Everything in general takes a lot longer than you think.  When I prep things in the kitchen it's not like an episode of Rachael Ray's "30-Minute Meals", but I think I'm pretty decent at getting things set up efficiently since I've been doing it so long and so often.  I need to remember that when you're making four batches of a recipe at once, it's going to take a lot longer, even if it's just chopping up a bunch of onions and dumping all the ingredients in a bag.  I had figured that we would meet up at 1:30 and be done around 4, but I think we didn't leave until around 6 or 6:30.
  • Since everything takes so long, maybe buy more prepped ingredients like pre-chopped onions and take advantage of time-saving equipment like food processors.  
  • I highly recommend gathering up as many 2-quart pitchers as you can get.  You put a gallon freezer bag in them so they stand upright as you fill them.  We only had the two I brought and could have used four at each station.  
  • Ensure your freezer isn't full when you start this.  I kind of forgot this bit of advice even though I had told the girls ahead of time.  Both of the freezers in our house were so super full that there was barely room to add these five bags.  Oy! 
I have no idea how much we spent, but I'm guessing we spent maybe around $6-7 per recipe.  Cost wasn't important to me though.  But they certainly weren't expensive recipes. 

I had a great time and at least one of the girls mentioned that she was having fun during our prep time.  Someone asked when we'll be doing another one of these, but I need to find out how this one worked out before we plan any more.So as we cook up our dishes, it'll be nice to get some feedback on how it turned out and the rest of us can make adjustments if needed. 

I'm planning to dole out my dishes about one per week until the end of the year. It's nice to know you've got tasty, easy meals waiting for you in the freezer. 

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