Posted By: chubbyalaskagriz 
Sep 16  # 1 of 8
I have SO many friends who are busy working mothers & fathers who ask me for food advice. It pains me to constantly hear just how GUILTY most of them feel for not being able to make time for home cooked meals. I understand the trickiness and difficulty. The hen-scratch below is an e-mail I have sent in reply to SOS's sent out by no fewer than 5 different friends just since school started back up in August. Since there's been SUCH a need for this type of advice for those just in my own life- I thought it might be useful to someone if I were to also post it here. Many folks come here and don't participate or join-in conversations at all. This is likely more for some of them- those who simply come for quick EZ ideas and have l'il or no time for online socializing. To those who fit this bill- read on- and good luck... I definitely feel your pain! But- I know YOU CAN DO IT! winks- kevin :)

Know what helps a lot? Multi-tasking and cooking in bulk ONCE to create leftovers from which to quick-prepare other meals next day, two days later, etc.

For instance- meatloaf? It takes no more time or effort to make a HUGE meatloaf- or even TWO. What this does is: gives you 1.) the initial meatloaf dinner. 2.) leftover meatloaf for microwave reheats or cold meatloaf sandiches next day. 3.) Meatloaf to crumble-up and make into taco-meat or sloppy joes. 4.) Meat to crumble into a spaghetti sauce or rich tomato-y marinara for a gooey baked ziti/mozzarella casserole.

Similarly- roasted chicken? Why not roast TWO? This gives you: 1.) a yummy roast chicken dinner. 2.) plenty of leftover meat to whip-up a yummy pot of rich chicken & noodles/dumplings next day. 3.) More leftover meat for chciken stir-fry or fried-rice. 4.) and still yet perhaps enough left for chicken fajitas or quesadillas, or a great bowl of chicken salad (add chopped celery, a green onion, grapes, walnuts- maybe crumbled bleu cheese if you like it- voila! You've cooked TWO chickens on Monday and they've given you the basis for 2, 3 or even 4 days worth of meals while multi-purposing one simple action and maximizing your efforts.

If these meatloaf and chicken ideas interest you, there are countless others you can explore too: why cook ONE pot-roast... why not cook TWO while you've already got the oven going anyway? Why ONE pork-loin... why not 2? Why meat-sauce for only a medium-sized pot of spaghetti- why not double or triple and also have enough for a lasagna and a casserole of canneloni?

Do you have a deep-freeze? Putting together TWO lasagnas instead of just one (which really doesn't require much extra time or effort)- baking ONE for tonight- wrapping and freezing the other, gives you another E-Z thaw & bake meal for 2 or 3 weeks down the road. Same with a chicken/rice casserole, a meatball/rigatoni bake, or scalloped potatoes w/ ham, etc.

This method of cooking keeps really busy, working people in the kitchen cooking basically ONE meal, ONE night, but gives them prepared ingredients from which to quick assemble other meals down the road in the time it takes to make toast or put together a sandwich! (a cook's very best friend is a zip-lock bag and a freezer!)

It's kind of that whole "Work SMART- not HARD" mentality... and it takes a while to develop this habit of cooking- but it's truly what makes commercial kitchens work smoothly- it's the SECRET- if you will. Home cooks can perfectly, easily utilize a alot (granted- not all) of these plan-ahead/double-up work practices to free-up A LOT of time for work, family, etc. It's really, really effective- but until you "re-learn" how to do it- it's a foreign concept.

And trust me- when the alarm goes off at 5:30AM and the baby is crying, and you're trying to remember if you put your jeans in the drier last night, and whether or not there's gas in the car- and you're wondering what you're gonna have for supper later that night? Having a homemade lasagna or a cheesy ham & pasta alfredo casserole already made and in the freezer to pull-out and thaw and throw into the oven when you get home from work 8-9 hours later is a LIFESAVER that gives much peace of mind! smiles- k.
 Posted By: chubbyalaskagriz 
Sep 16  # 2 of 8
My niece has a classmate who was recently diagnosed with cancer... The working parents (w/ 6 kids!) have to travel a great distance frequently for treatments, and the family is stressed and over-extended in every way, so a group of neighbors has been taking turns making complete meals to take to the family each night.

I've assisted my sister a couple of times w/ making her meal to contribute, and recently we've heard thru the grapevine that this family hopes Karla only ever makes this meal to take- 'cause they love it! (we've taken this casserole along with a tossed salad, a baguette, and a small apple or cherry crisp for the family) It's simple and uses all store-bought convenience products- but we still enjoy it. Here's how it's made just in case it's something you think your family might enjoy too.

Cheesy Three-Meat Tortelini Bake

(this makes THREE 9"X13" casseroles- freeze one for another day- give the 3rd to a busy neighbor...)

In an x-large bowl toss together three meats:

-picked meat from one store-bought rotisserie chicken

-1 large bag frozen (thawed) pre-cooked meatballs

-ONE 2-lb. package Hilshire Farms Smoked Sausage cut into 1" chunks

(we do not like Eckrich- gotta be HS Farms!)

Using a large spoon- or your hands, add:

3-4 packages cooked, rinsed/slightly-cooled cheese tortelini

1-2 bags any frozen (thawwed is good- but no need to thaw) veggie

(I use either chopped spinach or colorful stir-fry blend, but my sister's kids are super-finicky so she omits the veggies all together)

2 x-large cans Campbell's cream of chicken soup

2-3 large jars store-bought Alfredo Sauce

4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese (reserve a hand-full to sprinkle on top)

Mix all well. Spoon into three buttered 9"X13" glass pyrex casserole dishes. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. For final 10 minutes sprinkle some shredded mozzaralla on top and

bake 'til goldlen & bubbly!

(To freeze- wrap tightly first in PLASTIC WRAP, then wrap tightly in ALUMINUM FOIL. Lable, date and freeze for no more than 3 weeks. Bake thawwed, uncovered at 350 for 30 minutes- or from frozen, covered for 50 minutes at 325.
 Posted By: mrsjimmyp 
Sep 16  # 3 of 8
Great advice Kev. When I worked full time and my kids were small I cooked extra meals and put in the freezer. It is such a time saver.Everyone needs a freezer if you can afford one. It is a Godsend.
 Posted By: KYHeirloomer 
Sep 16  # 4 of 8
Let me add one thought: There's been such a bugaboo made about freezing that many people don't do it. For shame!

Sure, if you wrap thing improperly, or leave something out there for a year or so, there will be a loss of quality. But if properly wrapped, and used in a reasonable time frame, probably 90% of what most of us make can be frozen, and enjoyed again with no loss of quality.

Take, for instance, what Friend Wife and I jokingly call MREs. When preparing dinner I always make full recipes, even though there are just the two of us. Typically that means six to eight servings.

We have one that night. Then I lay out the same meals on foam plates. These are double wrapped, first in plastic film (I like the Press & Seal), then in foil. And into the freezer they go.

In any particular week we are likely to have three or four nights where one of these frozen dinners is on the menu.

Feeding a crowd? No big deal. As Kevin points out, it's hardly any more effort to double or triple recipes, and thereby get several meals. For instance, let's say you're serving a roast pork loin, sauteed squash medly, and steamed broccoli. There's plenty of room in the oven for two or three loins; a bigger skillet works fine for mutliples of the squash, and steaming broccoli is a snap in any sized pot.

There you go. You can either pre-assemble the meals, as we do, or freeze the pork, squash, and broccoli separately, to be served when you want it.

But the fact is, rather than being an enemy, a freezer can be the best friend a busy person has.
 Posted By: chubbyalaskagriz 
Sep 16  # 5 of 8
Great Advice, Brook.

My restaurant and resort kitchen experience was more fine dining working with menu service and such, so it don't really apply here.

But when I was in the work-camps up north and we served complete multiple meals (always 3-4 entree choices w/ starches and sides) buffet-style from huge water-welled steam-tables, at the end of the night we would look over what was left and make a determination of what could be saved in the kitchen and "encored" as leftovers- or made into soup and casseroles and such.

That which remained we plated-up and cooled, then wrapped and labled and next day we placed it in the "Spike Line Kitchen". (Just as you described- on a plate might go a slice or two of meatloaf, a mound of spuds, a spoon-full of green beans and a corn muffin)

By the way, for those who don't know, a Spike Line is a kitchen area at a work-camp containing reach-in coolers and salad-bar style chill tables full of sliced meats/cold-cuts, cheese, breads, rolls, sliced 'maters, lettuce, etc. with a variety of box-lunch meal-makin's. The workers at the camp could visit the Spike-Line any time day or night to grab snacks- OR they normally would assemble their huge Dagwood-style sandwiches, and leftovers, and snacky piece-meals foods to pack their lunches with for their next shift at the mine-site or the oil field.

The foods we stocked the Spike Line area with ranged among: chips, raw crudite veggies & dip, canned spam, corned beef, sardines, Slim Jim's, beef jerky, snack-pack puddings, jellos, yogurts, packaged cookies, Hostess pies, cupcakes, twinkies, L'il Debbies treats and such- just like what we all stock at home for making our box or sack lunchs with for work and school.

The remote work-camps lifestyle is so common in Alaska that even folks who don't work in camps know the term "Spike Line". Up there, there are sandwich joints called "The Spike Line" and most diners have a "Spike Line Special" or a certain l'il blocked-off area on their menu called "The Spike-Line" where mix-n'-match cold-cut sandwiches and such are offered.