Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Twenty Dinners, One Day- The Prep Work

When I saw this plan in my Rachael Ray magazine this month, the butterflies of excitement started welling up.  20 meals, all cooked in 1 day?  That's a month of weekday dinners!  Both insanity and thrilling at the same time.  Well, about as insane and thrilling as cooking can be. 

It's not technically 20 dinners exactly, but in one day you do the major prep work for 20 meals to be made later.  It's simple.... you make the "building blocks" in one day, freeze them in small servings and then use them in various recipes that month.  Sort of like the articles in Cosmo where the headline is "20 Outfits from 5 pieces!" and they show you how you can put Shirt A with Top E, add a belt and it looks completely different than Skirt A with Top C.

Do people even still read Cosmo anymore?  You get my point, though.....

Today I did the prep work and I will tell you, plan on having an entire Saturday or Sunday available.  You won't be working the entire time, but you need to be near the kitchen to monitor stuff.  It does take a bit of organization and doing one thing on the stove top while another thing is cooking in the oven.  But overall, the process was pretty easy.

I won't list the entire group of recipes, but they include many different cultural flavors... including Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean and Asian.  Each recipe is a simple combination of the Building Blocks you made in that one day, pulled from the freezer that morning, with some extras from your pantry (or, as in my house, the shelves by the dryer) or from the store.  Most recipes are supposed to take around 20 minutes to make.

Now, wouldn't 1 month's worth of dinners done in around 20 minutes (some even less!) make that one Sunday where you cooked all day, while listening to your favorite tunes and drinking your favorite wine (or again, in my house, listening to your toddler ask what you're doing and if they can have yet another snack and drinking cold coffee that you put down somewhere and forgot about it)?

How I'm going to do this is this entry will be the Building Block recipes and tips on how to do it efficiently.  Then I will blog each of the 20 recipes, unless they are horrendous and don't deserve mention on this blog.  Each Building Block recipe will be labeled with a number, for easier reference when cooking later.

Here is a list of the recipes that will be created with the building blocks:

Spanish Rice with Shrimp (#2, 3 & 5)
Mango, Pork and Watercress Salad (#1)
Fusilli with Chicken and Tomato Sauce (#2 & 4)
Pork and Avocado Tacos (#1)
Butternut Squash and Spinach Strata (#3)
Easy Brunswick Stew (#1 & 2)
Veggie Flatbreads with Hummus (#3)
Lemon Chicken Frittata (#4 & 5)
Pulled Pork and Slaw Sandwiches (#1)
Creamy Chicken with Soft Polenta (#3 & 4)
Pork and Ginger Noodle Soup (#1)
Cheesy Spinach and Pepper Calzones (#2 & 3)
Pork Fried Rice (#1 & 5)
Swiss Chard with Bacon and Eggs (#3)
Roast Pork with Veggie Burritos (#1, 3 & 5)
Warm Chicken Salad (#4)
Pork Chilaquiles (#1 & 2)
Mediterranean Chicken Salad Pitas (#3 & 4)
Rigatoni with Apple and Squash (#3)
Mexican Chicken and Rice Soup(#4 & 5)

For each Building Block, you will need plenty of resealable sandwich bags and 2-gallon freezer bags.

Building Block #1- Pulled Pork
Makes about 15 cups
Prep- 15 minutes (plus standing)   Roast- 2 1/2 hours

2 boneless pork shoulder roasts (about 5 lbs each), cut into 2-to-3 inch chunks and excessive fat discarded (I used pork shoulder blade roast and just pulled bone out at end)

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 lemons, zested

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup white wine (optional)

1. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.  Place all of the pork in a large roasting pan.  Sprinkle with the garlic, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Toss well, massaging the garlic and zest into the meat.  Transfer half of the pork to a large rimmed baking sheet and place both the roasting pan and baking sheet in the oven.  Roast until the meat is browned on top, about 30 minutes.  Turn the pork chunks over and roast to brown the other side, 15 minutes.  Remove both pans from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

2. Using tongs, transfer the pork from the baking sheet to the pork in the roasting pan.  Pour the pan juices from the baking sheet over the pork and add the wine (if using).  Tightly cover the pan with foil.  Continue roasting the pork until nicely tender, about 1 hour, 45 minutes.  Meanwhile, wash and dry the baking sheet and set aside.

3. Let the pork cool for at least 15 minutes, then, using 2 forks, shred it a few pieces at at time.  As you work, transfer the shredded pork to the clean baking sheet and let cook completely.  Pour the juices into a bowl to cool.  Skim and discard the fat.

Freeze it!  Divide the pork into 1-cup portions and transfer to resealable sandwich bags.  Pour a bit of the pork juices into each, squeeze out the air and flatten.  Seal and store flat in 2-gallon freezer bags.

Building Block #2-  Tomato Sauce
Makes about 10 cups
Prep- 10 minutes  Cook- 2 1/2 hours

1/4 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
6 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped (optional)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup red wine (2 cups for a more intense sauce)
4 cans (28 oz. each) or 3 cans (35 oz. each) crushed tomatoes (the recipe called for san marzano tomatoes, but I couldn't stomach paying the extra price.  If you can, go for it)

1.  In a 5-to-6 qt. heavy dutch oven (or pot), combine the olive oil, garlic, anchovies (if using) and crushed red pepper.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the garlic is golden and the anchovies fall apart, 3 to 4 minutes.  Pour in the wine, then add the tomatoes.  Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

2. Lower the heat, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and reduced by one-third, about 2 hours, 15 minutes.  Season with salt (and with a pinch of sugar if it needs some sweetness).  Let the sauce cool completely.

Freeze it!  Store in 1-and 2- cup containers. (You'll need at least two 1-cup containers)

Building Block #3- Roasted Vegetables
Makes about 16 cups
Prep- 25 minutes  Roast- 30 minutes

4 lbs. bell peppers (10-12 medium, in mixed colors), cut into 1-inch strips
2 large onions, halved and sliced 1/2 inch thick
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
5 tablespoon olive oil
1 large butternut squash (4 to 4 1/2 lbs.)- peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 8 cups)

1.  Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.  Combine the bell peppers and onions on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Sprinkle the garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper on top.  Toss with 3 tablespoon olive oil and spread evenly on the sheet.  Place in the lower third of the oven and cook for 10 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, place the butternut squash on another baking sheet.  Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; toss and spread evenly in the pan.  Once the peppers and onions have cooked for 10 minutes, add the squash to the upper third of the oven and roast, along with the peppers and onions, until fork-tender, 15 minutes.  Let the vegetables cool completely on their pans.

Freeze it!  Divide into 1-cup portions, keeping the peppers-onion mixture and the squash separate.  Transfer to resealable plastic sandwich bags.  Squeeze out the air and flatten the bags.  Seal and store flat in 2-gallon freezer bags.

Building Block #4:  Pulled Chicken
Makes about 12 cups
Prep-  15 minutes   Roast- 50 minutes

4 lbs. skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts
4 lbs. skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 lemons, cut into wedges
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper

1. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment.  Place the chicken breasts on 1 sheet and the thighs on another.  Drizzle with the olive oil and squeeze the lemons on top (put squeezed lemons on sheet with chicken).  Sprinkle with the paprika and thyme and season with salt and pepper.  Roast until the skin is crisp and the juices run clear when the pieces are pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 45 to 50 minutes.  Let cool for 15 minutes.

2. Remove the chicken skin, then pull and cut the meat off of the bones.  Tear the meat into shreds.  (Save the bones, skin and juices to make a broth, if you want to.  My Rosemary Chicken recipe talks about how to make broth).

Freeze it!  Divide into 1 1/2 cup portions and transfer to resealable plastic sandwich bags.  Squeeze out the air and flatten the bags.  Seal and store flat in 2-gallon freezer bags.

Building Block #5Rice Pilaf
Makes 15 cups
Prep- 20 minutes  Cook- 50 minutes

3 tablespoon olive oil
3 onions, cut int 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 1/2 cups)
3 1/4 cups long-grain rice
2 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 bay leaves
16 ounce frozen peas

1.  In a 7- qt. pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring often, until golden and translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.

2.  Add the rice and cook, stirring for 1 minute.  Add 2 1/4 cups water, the broth, bay leaves, 2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil.  Stir, cover, lower the heat and simmer, undisturbed (really, don't peek!  You get sticky rice that way), until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork.  Quickly scatter the peas on top, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Uncover and let cool completely, tossing once or twice.  Discard the bay leaves.

Freeze it!-  Divide into 1-cup portions and transfer to resealable plastic sandwich bag.  Squeeze out the air and flatten the bags.  Seal and store flat in 2-gallon bags.

Timeline for Prep Day

Pork- Preheat the oven and get the meat going.

Tomato Sauce- While the pork is in the oven, start the sauce so it can simmer at the same time.

Veggies-   Next up, vegetable prep.  Arrange the cut veggies on the baking sheets and as soon as the pork is out of the oven, increase the oven temp and pop them in.

Chicken-  Have all the ingredients ready.  If you need the baking sheets the vegetables are on, scrap the veggies onto a platter or cutting board to cool.  Simply line the sheets with parchment and get roasting.

Rice-  While the chicken cooks, make the pilaf.

And now you're all ready to make a whole month's worth of dinners!  Phew!  Reward yourself with a bowl of ice cream and the left over wine. 

Stay tuned for the first recipe of the menu-  Spanish Rice with Shrimp, using Building Blocks #2, 3 and 5.


  1. Can I ask how much the grocery bill was for all the stuff?

  2. For the prep day, I'd say $28 for the meat, $5 for the sauce (used wine I had at home) and $10 or so for the veggies. I purchase the extras tat I don't already have in the pantry for one week at a time.