In a previous life, aka a life before Cecilia (daughter person), my mother-in-law and I would plan a single food prep day every 3 months or so. I was usually a very full day, we would meet up at 9am, do our grocery shop, and by 11am we were back at her house and chopping, processing, cooking, and processing. Our days would end around 11pm with the canning pot still processing the last of our bounty, and I would head home. It was a very long, yet a very rewarding day where our freezers and pantries were filled with easy to eat meals.
Now, with Cecilia, these days aren’t so much the same. We now spend a minimum of two days, sleeping over with grandma and grandpa, and we don’t get much more done than we did when we did just one full day. Something about there being a kid around. But now, we have wider variety and yummier products of our big days. Previously all we would get done is some canned apple sauce and canned salsa, then a variety of freezer crockpot meals. It was pretty mono-toned. Now our prep days are full of variety and various preservation techniques. We’re not just freezing all our meals. With two days to produce, we can spend the first day taking care of the things that need longer to cook (like a giant vat of spaghetti sauce) and the second day assembling and preserving our goodies. We also have more time to pump out the harder things like making miles of rolled out lasagna noodles for our frozen casseroles or ensuring that the subtle flavours in our mango chutney are well developed. While dedicating two whole days to making food can be a hard pill to swallow, it is always – always – worth it.
Varietynoun: The spice of life
For our prep day this January, we didn’t put a lot of work into the pre-planning like we normally do because between school and work and kid, it just didn’t happen. So when we headed over to the in-law’s for Thursday evening (we stayed there so we could get an early start on day one/have someone to look after the kid while I worked and Jim went to his appointment) MIL and I sat down and planned out our menu and shopping list. Usually, as we plan this out I’m also mentally taking note of the progression everything needs to take to make the most of our time. This time, we were making:
|Burgers||Vegetable Pasta Sauce|
|Ginger Chili Meatballs||Crockpot Spicy Sausage Pasta Sauce|
|Crockpot Fajita Chicken|
In assembling this list there is a lot of information I can give you about timing:
- Burgers and meatballs need to be done on day one so we can freeze them overnight before packing them in vacuum bags; this is how we ensure they keep their shape
- The pasta sauce will be made on day one, and canned on day two. Because the longer it is cooked, the better the flavour, getting this assembled will be our priority
- We will be using the veg pasta sauce to assemble the spicy sausage pasta sauce, so we will wait to do that until day two
- It’ll be best if the filling for the perogies is cold when we stuff the ‘gies, so we’ll do the filling on day 1 and the assembly on day two.
Most of the recipes we used were found years ago on various websites and cookbooks then modified them to our tastes/needs. While I would love to share these all with you, for now, I’m sharing the spaghetti sauce recipe as that is entirely our own and is possibly our favourite thing to make. You can find it at the bottom of this blog post.
So over the two days we got an impressive amount of work done! This was the first time I made perogies (properly) from scratch and in the future we will have a whole day dedicated to perogies with at least 4 people working on them, because that dough is tricky.
Because I overworked the dough, we had a lot more filling that we could fill for the perogies, so we ended up making mashed potato balls which we have frozen and use as sides for steak dinners.
So let’s do the break down!
How much we ended up making
|25||Mashed Potato Balls||4||Crockpot Spicy Sausage Pasta Sauce|
|14||4 oz Burger Patties||12||6oz Burger Patties|
|4||Crockpot Chicken Fajita||20||Perogies|
|9||1L jars pasta sauce|
What we spent on each serving
So with this information in mind we spent just south of $210 at the grocery store, and we used 12 lbs of ground beef and 3 lbs of stew beef that we already had from our purchase of a cow over the summer (so approximately $70 of beef) and other random ingredients that we already had like garlic, spices, and packaging, all of which we won’t count. So we spent $280 total on all that food. We like to calculate everything on a “per-serving” rate, so we had 144 servings of food (WHAT!?).
Each serving cost us a mere $1.94! Obviously, to be really accurate, we would calculate the cost of each individual thing we made and the cost of it’s packaging, then do the serving math, and maybe add in labour, but we’re not a restaurant, this is easier, and frankly, more rewarding.
Bea’s Big Batch Pasta Sauce Recipe
|5||Onions (we use yellow, but white and red are also great options)|
|4||Heads of garlic (more if you’re inclined)|
|1||Head of Celery|
|1||cup Canola Oil/Olive Oil|
|4||Sweet peppers (I like green and yellow to add some colour variant in there)|
|26||oz canned Tomato Paste|
|112||oz canned Diced Tomatoes|
|56||oz canned Crushed Tomatoes|
|2||tbsp Dried Oregano|
|1||tbsp Red Pepper Flakes|
|1/4||cup Salt (or to taste)|
|2/3||cup Sugar (or to taste)|
|1||cup Lemon Juice|
Believe it or not, this recipe is pretty simple to make, as long as you have a big ass pot (and you’re going to need a big ass pot). When we make pasta sauce like this, our food processor is our best friend; most things that end up in the pot, go through the processer first. Hot tip; if you can get a food processor that also slices and grates, do that! It’s the easiest way to get all this food in one pot.
- peel and cut your onions into 1/8ths. This makes it so your peices of onion are small enough for the processor. Peel all your garlic while you’re at it. In small batches, add garlic and onion to the food processor and mill it down until the onions are at the size you prefer for your pasta sauce. Some people like to be able to pick out parts of their pasta sauce, some like to have it so small that the kids don’t know they’re eating that food they “don’t like”. Add the minced up garlic and onion to your pot with the canola oil; fry until the onion is transparent and hopefully, aromatic.
- Again with the celery and carrot, process it down to the size you like for your pasta sauce. We like little bits of both, so we cut celery sticks in 1/2 and carrots in 1/4 and put them through the processer’s slicer attachment. Add these to the pot once the onions and garlic are ready.
- Slice your leeks up. Leeks are easiest by hand. Add to the pot. Let the carrots, celery, and leeks cook in with your onions for 20-40 minutes. Just softening them up!
- Open up all those cans of tomatoe things and dump them into the pot. Use a little water in each to “rinse” the cans (about 1/2 each can worth of water), and dump that “rinsing” water directly into the pot.
- Chop up your tomatoes (hell, throw these in the food processor too if you want smaller tomato bits, but we like these a bit bigger, cutting them into 1/12 or so); then into the pot!
- De-seed your peppers and jalapenos, chop them a little then throw them in the processor too! Then into the pot (see how easy the food processor makes this whole cooking thing?). Here on out, everything else can be added to the pot in whichever order.
- The mushrooms go through the slicer attachment of the food processor; into the pot.
- Put your fresh herbs through the processor with a little bit of oil and salt, and, your guessed it, add it to the pot.
- Here’s where you add all your remaining ingredients; the oregano, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, sugar, salt, and lemon juice.
- Let your sauce cook ON LOW for 9-12 hours (the longer the better).
- If you’re canning, get your pasta sauce hot, and process in hot jars with hot lids and rings. If water bathing, they are processed for 30 minutes (though this is what I deem safe for my kitchen, I strongly recommend that you look up the canning rules you’re comfortable with and roll from there.)