Today’s strategy….Cook Big (and stay home)!

So this weekend I used one of my favorite strategies to make weeknight’s easier. Cook BIG~ or prepare way more than you need for a meal and freeze it!

If you don’t have a second freezer, I highly recommend it. You can find great deals on meats when they are on sale and freeze them for later use, buy bulk (for example a half a pig, or lamb which I did this year!) and also to freeze meals for future use!

Today was Sunday Sauce day. Sunday Sauce simmers for several hours on the stove and makes the house smell like heaven!

This is my 12 quart stockpot full of tomato sauce. As you can see, it’s almost full and this one big pot will make several meals. Today I breaded and fried up some chicken breast cutlets and made two pans of chicken Parmesan.
Chicken Parm!
Again, if I am making the mess of breading and pan frying, why make just one meal? We ate one pan tonight for dinner with a side of Barilla-Plus spaghetti and some greens and beans. The other pan will go in the freezer for a dinner in December. (It was on the master list so I can check that off!)

The rest of the sauce is packaged in freezer containers, some large for spaghetti dinners, and a couple of smaller ones for homemade pizza night.

Another tip, when we are in the thick of sports season and rarely eat at the same time, I will package individual servings in small gratin dishes. Everyone can then pick what they want from what’s in the freezer, heat and eat when they are available and clean up is a breeze since it is in one dish. I often do this for my clients!

I am planning a couple of “Cook Big” nights this week with some quick cooking soups and by using my crockpot. By next weekend I will have a nice selection of things in my freezer and there is nothing I love more than knowing I have something ready to go to feed the family!

Crispy Chicken Parmesan (Serves 8-10)
8-10 chicken breast cutlets
3 eggs
2 c. flour
2 c. Panko bread crumbs
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tb. Italian herb seasoning
salt and pepper
Canola or Peanut oil for pan frying
8 c. Marinara sauce (homemade or an all natural variety)
2 c. shredded Italian cheese
1/2 lb. Spaghetti, cooked

Set up a standard breading station. First tray: flour seasoned with 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper. Second tray: beat the eggs until smooth. Third tray: Panko, cheese, herb seasoning and 1 tsp. salt.
Heat oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until it ripples. There should be about 1/4″ of oil in the pan. Dip each of the cutlets into the flour, shake off excess. Dip in egg and completely coat it and then dip in the Panko. Place cutlets into the pan, 2-3 at a time, don’t crowd them, and cook 3 minutes or until nicely browned, and then flip for another 2 minutes. Remove cutlets to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Once all the cutlets are done assemble in the pan.
Spray the bottom of two 9×13 Pyrex dishes with cooking spray. Add about 2 cups of sauce to each, place 4-5 cutlets in each pan, overlapping slightly if needed. Top with cheese.
Preheat oven to 350ยบ and bake chicken for 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.
(If freezing, don’t bake. Freeze once assembled and then thaw in the fridge overnight and bake as directed.)

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How to avoid the hypnotic draw of the neon Drive Thru signs or the Tale of a Busy Mom!

In addition to being a mom and a personal chef, for the past 25 years of my life I have also been a speech pathologist. I worked in schools for several years before having children and once our second daughter was born 14 years ago, I found a position with a small agency where I remained until this past August. It was a perfect job that allowed me great flexibility to be home with my kids most of the time, and as they got older, it gave me time to start my chef business. In August I parted ways with my employer and for the first time in a long time was looking for another job. As most of you know, the job market is tough, even for teachers and therapists, and so I am still looking, but meanwhile I am filling a two month maternity leave in a local school district. It is a full time job 8-3:30, Monday through Friday.

I realize that a great majority of people do this and more each and every week, and I will go on record as saying that I have always had a great respect for working parents, and even more now as I am experiencing the crazy, hectic schedule and the physical exhaustion that accompanies working full time and managing a busy family of five!

After a couple of weeks on this new gig, I completely understand the hypnotic draw of neon signs saying “Drive thru” and “Pick Up Window” that seem to get brighter and more intense at say…5 pm while driving home to figure out what to feed the family! I get it! I really do! BUT…. I also know how important good nutritious food is for me and for my family. I know how much better it tastes to eat a home cooked meal AND I know that even with this new chaos in our lives, there IS a way to make it happen without collapsing on the floor in exhaustion or being chained to the kitchen after arriving home!

Tonight I ran into one of my neighbors, also a teacher and busy mom, in the grocery store on the way home from work. She jokingly asked what WE were having for dinner as she was trying to figure out what THEY were having for dinner. And it got me to thinking that maybe I should share some of my techniques for those of you struggling to “do it all!” Do we still order a pizza once in a while, you bet! And yes, even at the chef’s house, we have breakfast for dinner on occasion when the best laid plans fly out the window, but with some planning ahead, a couple of great kitchen tools and strategies, we can all eat better at home! So for the next few weeks I’ll share whatever tips I can along with some simple recipes that my family loves, and hopefully yours will too!

Tonight’s strategy? Ask for everyone’s input! I started this tradition many years ago when I got in a rut or got bored with what my palate was thinking of for dinner. I ask each family member to think of 5-7 dishes that they would like to eat at dinner time. Not only does that give me a nice selection of approximately 20 dishes (there are always overlaps between the kids), but it really cuts down on the upturned noses at the table. I asked them all for there lists this week and so far here is my working list in no particular order:
*Pasta Fagiole
*Cider Braised Chicken
*Salmon Burgers with Ginger
*Steak Fajitas
*Turkey Lettuce Wraps
*Fried Chicken
*Grilled Steaks
*Lamb Chops
*Homemade Pizza
*Tacos
*Chicken Noodle Soup
*Chicken Pot Pie
*Tilapia with Chile Lime Butter
*Beef Stew
*Pulled Pork
*Spaghetti
*Linguine with White Clam Sauce
*Shrimp Scampi
*Turkey Burgers with Wasabi Mayo
*Chicken Parmesan
*Mexican Tortilla Soup
*Pizza Supreme Soup

That made my life much easier already! With Thanksgiving and Christmas looming, we might not make it through them all, but it really helps me to organize a monthly menu. That’s right, I said MONTHLY!

When I make a monthly menu I always leave a few days blank for leftovers, to use up some things that we have, to try a new recipe that sounds delicious or if we have a crazy night and the plan becomes a joke…

And tonight our dinner utilized another of my favorite tips that I’ll talk about later….stocking the freezer! I had ground turkey ready to go and I was able to whip up a batch of our favorite Asian turkey lettuce cups!
Happy weekend!