I admit, I am a bit of a stubborn sort. When it comes to all things Simple Savings I am more than happy to give most things a go but there are a few things I still haven't quite managed to get my head around even after all these years. Buying in bulk has never been my forte; to me that always looks as though it requires far too much organisation and thinking ahead and somehow I never manage to think ahead too much further than a few hours, let alone a few weeks! Once A Month Cooking just SOUNDS too darn massive a mission for me to investigate, let alone contemplate and I am ashamed to confess that even though it has been a Simple Savings calendar challenge for several years now, I have yet to give Double Dinners a go.
Not so Fiona. She LOVES to shop in bulk. Her pantry is insane. I don't know if anyone has ever envied a pantry before but I do. Maybe one day she will give in to my nagging and share a picture of it because you have to see it to believe it. Fi also loves to cook in bulk. Double Dinners is one of her favourite challenges and for some time now she's been trying to convince me to get excited about this new project that's been under wraps she calls Power Cooking. While I liked the name from the start, she has really had her work cut out getting me to give it a go. You see, Power Cooking not only involves cooking meals in bulk; it asks you to churn them all out in the space of an hour! Whilst Fiona insisted this was a total breeze, my instincts all immediately screamed 'Eek! Too hard, too hard!' I mean honestly, my kitchen is the epitomy of chaos most of the time as it is, without trying to cook up a week's worth of meals as well!
Fi wasn't about to give up on me though. She even sent me through my very own power cooking planner to try, with three perfectly delicious sounding recipes - but being the stubborn sort I am, I don't like being told what to eat. You see, menu planning is fine with me because even though you have to plan your meals in advance, I get to choose what I want to eat. Not that I'm a control freak or anything. I tried several thinly veiled excuses - I couldn't go food shopping, I'd already been food shopping for the week and couldn't go again, I didn't have any dishes big enough, blah blah blah. But something kept nagging at the back of my mind (not to mention Fiona!) - what if this power cooking lark was actually any good? And there was another major draw card - Kate's recipes. Kate is one of these people who just 'gets' food. She contributed several to the $21 Challenge book and I've lost count of how many times I've made them. Her recipes are always amazing and in the end curiosity got the better of me and I had to try some more of them out.
So, even though I had been given three recipes not of my own choosing and was grumbling inwardly about HAVING to make Beef Bourguinnone, Apricot Chicken and Asian Chicken and Corn Soup, I duly trundled off to the supermarket with my list of supplies to get, including all the meat and red wine needed for the beef recipe. The total came to $78 and I grumbled inwardly about that too - until I realised that I was getting 24 meals for my $78. And we're talking complete meals here, with vegies and rice/pasta - even bread rolls for the soup. Even so, I was struggling to get enthusiastic about cooking Apricot Chicken. I've never liked that dish in my whole life. And how was I going to go with the Asian Chicken and Corn Soup when I don't like corn and there were two whole cans of the stuff in it?! But I had decided if I was going to give this thing a go I was going to do it properly, so there was nothing else for it - I had the food and now I was going to have to cook it.
I had all my instructions and recipes set out on the bench. First I had to make the Beef Bourguinonne as it had the longest cooking time, then the Apricot Chicken and finally the soup. I stood there for all of five minutes throwing onions, mushrooms, bacon and so on into a big pot and then covered it in foil and put it in the oven. Was that really it? That couldn't be right - it seemed too easy! Did I really have to just chuck everything in like that and then forget about it? Apparently so. And then I spied a problem. At the end of the recipe it said to thicken the sauce. But I didn't have any sauce! Well, kind of but you could hardly call a cup of wine much of a sauce in a massive pot full of beef! I was a bit worried - something must have been left out, surely? I told Fiona my concerns but she seemed unfazed and assured me Kate would have known what she was doing. I had no choice but to stew for a couple of hours along with my beef.
A few more onions chopped, this time along with some apricots, sweet potato and other goodies and just like that, my Apricot Chicken was done and in the oven in a matter of minutes. This time I didn't have to worry about the sauce, there was heaps! I just had to worry about how on earth I was going to get the kids to eat sweet potato where I had failed miserably for the last decade and a half. Still, by now I was two dishes down, just the soup to go! As I had now done twice before, I threw everything into a big pot, including the two tins of dreaded corn and then sat down and read a magazine while I waited for everything to do its thing. This alone is worth a mention because I never have time to sit down and read a magazine, let alone when I'm cooking dinner, but here I was! And as an extra bonus I still had a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir left over from the Beef Bourguinonne, what decadence!
After a while I popped back into the kitchen and there was no denying, the smells wafting out of the oven were spectacular! Before I knew it, the Asian Chicken and Corn soup was done and I tested it nervously. I was particularly curious about this recipe as Fiona had told me how wonderful it was but I had never had this type of soup before - and it had CORN in it - did I mention I hate corn? Still, I took a sip - and then handed Ali a spoon. 'You HAVE to try this soup, it's amazing!' He agreed - and the two of us scoffed a whole bowl each just like that. Well who would have thunk it!
Thirty minutes later the Apricot Chicken was ready and I had to admit, it looked and smelled divine. The recipe made eight generous servings, as did the beef and the soup. I was planning to serve the chicken up for dinner and in hindsight I should have probably stashed the extra portions safely away in the freezer first because I hadn't counted on Liam to like it quite so much. As it was, I just put the whole enormous dish on the table and let everyone help themselves. Which Liam certainly did - he helped himself to three enormous platefuls! I'd never seen anything like it! This is the kid who does not 'do' apricots or sweet potatoes. But this dish totally won him over and by the end of the meal I only had enough left to fill one container for freezing!
By the time the Beef Bourguinnone was finished we were all way too full to try it but Fiona was right, a tonne of rich, dark sauce had magically appeared for me to thicken. And we were done! My very first Power Cooking experiment was complete - and you know what? It felt really, really good. It felt good that night to open the fridge and the freezer and see all this glorious, really good food stacked in it. It felt really good the next morning to know that I had delicious soup waiting for me for lunch that day and any other day I wanted. It felt really good to go away for the night and be able to tell the boys they had Beef Bourguinnone and pasta already cooked for their dinner, not crummy takeaways or a frozen pie. And it still feels good to know I have all this yummy food ready to scoff whenever we feel like it!
At first, I thought to myself that while my Power Cooking experiment had definitely been a resounding success, I probably wouldn't do it again. One thing WAS for sure, I was going to keep making the recipes as we enjoyed them so much there was no doubt that we would make them a part of our regular family dishes. But as for the whole shopping/cooking/freezing in bulk thing? I still wasn't sure how much I would realistically do that. I'm the sort of cook who wakes up in the morning and thinks 'Right, I want to eat THAT today', and goes and does it. But in the days that have followed I think this Power Cooking lark might just have won me over! For starters, the boys and I all have such different schedules. Ali works several nights a week and gets fed there. This is technically a good money saver for us but isn't so good in the way that Liam and I usually end up eating rubbish because we think 'oh stuff it, it's only the two of us tonight, we can't be bothered going to too much trouble!' From that perspective, Power Cooking would actually be a better, healthier option for us. Liam also gets home late from rugby training two nights a week and this is about to increase even more as he has just been selected to represent Thames Valley U18's. Having Power Cooking meals easily available to him means he will always have good food available to him fast when he comes home starving! It also means that on the rare occasion that I DO go out or are away from home, I know that my boys are very well provided for and I will no longer come home to 'MUUUUM! There's no food in the house!' It could just be that Power Cooking suits our household perfectly!
So there you have it. Fiona's nagging worked (as she knew it would) and her biggest Power Cooking sceptic has been converted. But I had to try it myself to see, taste and understand why it is so good. Maybe you will too, but the great thing about it is that there is something in Power Cooking for everyone. If you are already a super organised shopper and cook, try it out for the recipes if nothing else; they really are awesome! And if you're hopelessly disorganised like me and have previously put all thoughts of bulk cooking in the too hard basket, give it a go. Because it's actually very, very easy and can really help make your life easier. Which is what Fiona's been trying to tell me the whole time, funny that! Did I mention I was stubborn?