Monday, May 07, 2012

Once a Month Cooking Again

Last Friday I did my second round of Once a Month Cooking.  It was a lot easier this time around.  Here are some of the things I did differently this time:

1.  I did all my grocery shopping at Winco.  Okay, this part wasn't physically easier than ordering from but it was much easier on our wallet.  I did plug this month's shopping list into but my total had passed $250 before I had even added in all the meat!  I was a little stressed out about it because earlier in the month I hadn't been paying very careful attention to our budget and I overspent in some areas.  I only had about $200 for this venture.  So Wednesday evening I drove out to Winco praying all the time that God would stretch those dollars.  I found everything I needed there and my total was $159.  Yes, my jaw dropped and the cashier gave me a strange look before I recovered enough to pay her.  God is so good to us!

2.  However, my total was also lower this month because I decided to not make any of the breakfast items. They were super yummy last month but they aren't our main need.  Plus, they took up a lot of time on cooking day, and a lot of the ingredients were kind of expensive (gluten free flours and such).  I'm glad I made the decision I did.

3.  I borrowed a big food processor and did Chopping Day.  It took me about three hours to chop 26.5 cups of asparagus, four pounds of spinach, 12 yellow onions, two red onions, 30 green onions, a couple carrots, a lemon, some cilantro and basil.  I also, zested lemons and oranges, and minced fresh ginger.  Carolyn's tip for freezing the ginger beforehand worked like a charm.  And I didn't even buy a micro-plane--just used my super fine cheese grater and it worked great!  The food processor made a HUGE difference in how fast I was able to get it done.  Plus, I didn't cry my eyeballs out over those onions--although I still need to get some onion goggles!

4.  I did use one little shortcut and opted not to mince a bunch of garlic.  Instead I bought a giant jar of minced garlic from Winco for about $4.  I used about 1/3 of the jar on Cooking Day so it was a worthwhile investment.  I also completely skipped ingredients that I knew my family wouldn't like.  For example: mushrooms.  A bunch of the recipes called for mushrooms but I just left them out.  So far, the world has not crumbled.

5.  This time I wore sturdy shoes and an apron with a towel tied at my waist.  I also had a measuring cup/spoon station (a  medium sized tupperware container) which really helped.  And I every time I used a measuring item I rinsed it off right away and tossed it back in the station so it would be clean and ready for it's next use.

6.  Not doing any of the breakfast baking meant that I finished Cooking Day in seven hours, including cleanup!  In that time I made:

Updated on 6/26/12 with comments on how we liked each meal on a scale of 1 (blech!) to 5 (uh.may.zing).
All the recipes can be found here:  OAMM April 2012 Gluten Free Menu.  Keep in mind that I followed the altered, gluten free/dairy free recipes which can be found on the downloadable OAMM recipe cards.
  • Asparagus & Spinach Risotto with Chicken (4 batches--I'll explain later)
Rating: 4.  It was very tasty but since we had so much of it we got tired of it quickly.  In fact, we still have one bag of it in the freezer.
  • Panda Orange Chicken (2 batches)
Rating: 5.  Everyone loved this meal.  I sampled it on cooking day and it's incredible after it's just been cooked.  After being frozen, thawed, and cooked again, it's still delicious but didn't have that great crispiness of coming straight from the pan.  But we still gave it a 5--it's that good.
  • Lemon, Tomato, & Olive Chicken Pilaf (2 batches)
Rating: 4.  The kids weren't fans of the olives and tomatoes but they were easy enough to pick out.   
  • BBQ Chicken Pizza with Balsamic Onions (2 pies)
Rating: 2 (adults), 1 (kids):  This just didn't do it for us.  Fake cheese, meh. And the BBQ/balsamic vinegar taste wan't our favorite.  
  • Chicken & Rice Casserole (2 batches)
Rating: 4.5.  This meal was simple and basic and the kids gobbled it down.  It was flavorful and comfort-foodish.  I'd definitely make it again.
  • Cardamom Honey Chicken (2 batches)
Rating: 5.  This was my personal favorite meal.  Super delicious!  The kids didn't like the peppercorns but again, they were easy enough to pick out.
  • Baked Turkey & Spinach Meatballs (2 batches)
Rating: 4.5.  The kids really loved these.  Geary was a big fan, too.
  • Slow Cooker Cube Steak (2 batches)
Rating: 4.5.  This steak was so tasty! And super easy in the crock-pot.
  • Pork Roast with Brown Sugar Apricot Pomegranate Sauce (2 batches)
Rating: 4.  I'm not usually a fan of pork but this was really nice.  The sauce would be delicious on chicken, too.
  • Sweet & Garlicky Pork Chops (2 batches)
Rating: 4.  These were really good but too spicy for my kids.  If I make them again I'll cut back on the amount of garlic.

I also took a page from my friend Alison's book and cooked up some chicken, ground beef, and ground turkey simply seasoned with a little salt and pepper.  Now I have some meat basically ready to go to throw on salads or pasta or to make tacos if I need to make something fast.

Here are some things that I hope to do differently next time.

1.  Even though I read through all the recipes I didn't read them as carefully as I should have or compare them to the shopping list.  Some of the numbers were really off.  For example, the Asparagus Risotto recipe was quadrupled from the original recipe so I made enough for four batches of the complete recipe rather than four servings.  Good thing it tastes great!  Also, I ran out of onions so I had to send Geary out for more. That was kind of frustrating.

2.  I started losing steam when I still had about six meals to go.  Thankfully a lot of the meals didn't require actual cooking, just sorting ingredients into bags for freezing.   It went pretty quickly.  But I think it would help mentally to just do those sorts of meals first rather than last.  That way, I could get six meals done and in the freezer right away before hardly any energy was expended at all.  I'll try it next month and see if it makes a difference.

3.  I have been buying all my spices from the bulk section because most of the time the recipe calls for 1 or 2 teaspoons and I would rather spend 10 cents on a tiny amount of fresh spices than $6 per bottle and have them expire before I can use it all up.  However, this means that I have about a million (okay a little less than that) plastic baggies of spices filling up my cupboard.  I need to get these organized into small containers so that they're easier to find and so that I can tell what I already have.  I bought a small bag of cornstarch only to find that I already had two other small bags and a whole box of it already waiting in my cupboard!  I don't want to waste money on things like that so it's time to get organized.

Some people have asked us how we've liked the meals so far.  You can go back to my original post about Once a Month Cooking to see an updated section on how we rated each meal.  Click HERE for that.  So far we've been really pleased!

Thanks again for reading.  And if you have any tips or questions feel free to add them to the comments section!


  1. Jeana- thanks for sharing your progress! I am going to try again and hopefully we will have better success with the recipes. I totally agree with you about the "sorting"/"no-cook" recipes, I think those would be much better to do first so you check them off before you really get started. I also need to find some better containers to freeze, last time I just made do with what I had on hand. I agree totally about the breakfast items, I only did a few of them and they are mostly still in the freezer. I just forget about them in the morning when we are rushing out the door for work!

  2. this is SO helpful!! your insights are invaluable, not to mention, fun to read :) i can almost see you cooking and prepping and shopping and eating from your descriptions. i am so impressed that you have chosen such a large undertaking and are doing it again with improvements. i try a recipe, craft, etc one time and if it's too "hard" i rarely try it again. silly me! of course these things take practice and refining and of course it will get easier, quicker, and better every time. thank you for taking the time to chronicle your journey. i really hope to hear about month three! (and your family's opinions of month two's dishes)

  3. Would you be so kind to share the cardamom chicken recipe?

    1. Sure thing! Here it is: I'd love to know if you try it and what you think.

  4. Hi Jeana! You've been awarded the One Lovely Blog award! See this post for details:

  5. Jeff said the same thing about packaging all the no-cook meals first. We're doing that, too. We also decided to just repeat April's menu. We were going to do last April, but the post was taken down. But Jeff is redoing all of the recipes to make them more to our liking, and we're replacing a few of them completely. We tried not to re-invent the wheel this time, but Jeff just doesn't like other people's wheels.


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