With the holidays coming up, it’s going to be pretty hectic around here for the next couple of months. So I’m trying out an idea to make it easier to stick with home-cooked meals, even when we’re in a hurry and want something quick.
There’s a movement starting to catch on with the tag line, “Cook for a day, eat for a month.” They get super-organized for one day and stock the freezer with a month’s worth of dinners. I’m not that organized. So what I’m trying is for the next couple of weeks, each time I cook I’ll multiply the recipe as much as I can and still make it in one batch. Then I’ll shrink wrap meal-size portions and freeze them. Call it “Cook for a day, eat for a week.”
I actually got the idea when I was thinking back to the dinners I used to eat when I was 10 and 11, and I had to cook for myself before football practice: Boil-in-bag meals. They were really popular before microwaves became commonplace. They’re a bit more limited in what you can make, but they’re nearly impossible to screw up.
A couple more days like this and I’ll have enough quick meals to carry us through the end of the year.
4 pounds Russet potatoes (fill a large casserole a little below the top)
1 large sweet onion
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese (not pictured, because I’m a moron)
8 tablespoons butter
2 cups heavy cream
salt and pepper
If I were doing a single meal’s worth of this, I’d probably have peeled the potatoes instead of just washing them really well.
There were a couple of bad spots, eyes (sprouts) and discoloration, so I did peel just the trouble spots.
Grease a large casserole dish with some butter or bacon fat.
Slice the potatoes a quarter-inch thick. The exact thickness isn’t as important as getting all the slices the same thickness. Shred the onion.
Put a layer of potatoes in the casserole dish, then a layer of onion and a layer of cheese.
Season with salt and pepper, then repeat the layers until you run out of potatoes.
Since I forgot the salt and pepper — just like I forgot the cheese in the ingredients photo — I added it to the cream and shook it up before pouring it in.
Then cut the butter into thin pats and distribute across the top layer of potatoes.
Cover and bake at 350° for an hour. You can see that it hadn’t started to thicken up at all yet.
Some recipes call for a couple of tablespoons of flour or cornstarch. Mix it into the cream before adding it. If you didn’t use a thickener, give it a good stir and return it to the oven, uncovered, to reduce until it’s thick enough.
If you’re doing a smaller batch for a single meal, you’re done at this point.
For my “make my own boil-in-bag meals” project, I let it cool and vacuum-sealed it all in four portions. I could have done six from this amount.
Two days later … [imagine you're seeing a shimmery fade-out here, to represent the passage of time]
Put the bag, straight from the freezer, in a pot with enough water to completely cover the bag. Place over high heat until the water is boiling, then reduce to a simmer. This moment represents the magic of boil-in-bag meals: You can leave it in the pot as long as you like and the food will never dry out or over-cook. You can turn the heat off and it will hold at serving temperature for a long time.
When it’s time to serve, carefully remove the bag from the hot water.
Cut the end of the bag off and pour the potatoes out into a serving dish.
And that’s it.
I’ve got three more helpings of this in the freezer for emergencies. Add a rice dish or two, another potato and some pasta and I’ll be set.
Want more like this? For more recipes like this, that you can hold right in your hands, and write on, take notes, tear pages out if you want (Gosh, you're tough on books, aren't you?) you might be interested in How To Cook Like Your Grandmother, 2nd edition, Illustrated. Or to learn your way around the kitchen, check out Starting From Scratch: The Owner's Manual for Your Kitchen.