Batch cooking

One of the things I wanted to do towards the end of the Summer holidays was to have a go at batch cooking some meals for the freezer, ready for my return to work in the September and ultimately, my return from having our baby (which at this point I still thought would be halfway through October!)

I’ve been saying for months, – years – that I need to have a go at batch cooking meals for the fridge and freezer, having seen so many others have such success when it came to saving both time and money.  I knew that when I returned to school in the Autumn term, I would be hitting the ground running in terms of my workload and would need to save as much time as I was able, especially as by this point in my pregnancy I was getting increasingly tired in the evenings.  Towards the end of the Summer holidays, I knew that there was a good chance I would be going in for a Caesarean as well, leaving me useless for several weeks following the birth of the baby.

A few weeks before the end of the Summer I headed to B&M and picked up a set of 15 plastic chinese-food style containers to add to the collection I already had back at home.  I’m gutted I didn’t get more at the time, as they seem to have been out of stock ever since, and are so much more expensive in the supermarkets!  I also picked up a few aluminium foil trays that would be able to go in the oven.

One Saturday I sat down with a notepad and my laptop, and sent out a tweet…

I got several responses, and then leading on from this I sat down to write out a list of meals I would create the following afternoon, drawing up the shopping list I would need to follow in order to make the planned meals. Shopping list for batch meal prepIn total, my shop came to just over £100.  Not bad for what I was hoping would potentially last for several weeks of meals. At the beginning of the Summer, Dan had purchased a slightly larger car, (preparing for the practicalities of being a parent!) and I think that this shot makes it look like there is hardly anything in the boot of his car.  When, in actual fact this little lot completely filled a trolley by the time I made it to the checkout!Food shopping in the back of Dan's carI had set aside all of the following day to cook the freezer meals.  So, the next morning I laid out all of the ingredients on our kitchen worktop.  Please excuse the fact that there are no tiles on the walls in the kitchen here.  (There still isn’t on half the kitchen wall!)  And that brown worktop you see the ingredients on?  That is just a loose piece of worktop resting on top of some of the old units!Batch cooking freezer meals - ingredients

My kitchen is looking much more complete now than it was at this point, but it’s still missing plenty of the finishing touches.

On my list to cook that day was cottage pie, lasagne, thai red curry, chicken casserole, chorizo pilaf, fajita mix, lentil and sweet potato curry and chicken cheesy tomato bake.

First on the list of to-dos was to place two chickens on the top shelf of the hot oven, as I would be using chicken as the base for quite a lot of the meals I planned on creating.  Cooking two chickens at the same time meant that I was only using the electricity for half the time it would have taken me to cook them both normally, and the two of them were cooked much quicker than if I had cooked them separately.  Whilst the chickens were cooking I set to work with prepping the veg I intended on using.  I peeled, cut and sliced potatoes, carrots, runner beans, peppers and mushrooms, leaving them all in bowls on the side.  As Dan isn’t a fan of many vegetables, the ends of packs that I buy from the supermarkets often get thrown away as I either a) never get through all the veg before it goes bad or b) get fed up of eating the same veg over and over before it goes bad so go off it completely!  With cooking so many meals at one time, it also meant that I was able to include vegetables I like in half the pots, and just the ones which Dan liked in the other half.  So, for example, Dan doesn’t like sweetcorn (along with every other veg apart from runner beans, peas and carrots!) so I made sure to cook a separate batch of meals which included sweetcorn.

Although the majority of the meals would be cooked, so just need heating up in the microwave before consuming later in the year, I planned to leave the lasagnes uncooked.  Therefore I layered the ingredients straight into the aluminium trays which would enable me to put them into the oven if I wanted to have them for dinner.

The smell of the chorizo pilaf (a dish new to me, and one suggested by Stephanie) was so good that there were several forkfuls that never made it into the containers!

Chorizo pilaf

In total, across that Sunday afternoon, and also one Wednesday evening, I made enough meals to have one every single day across a fortnight for both Dan and I, and still I ended up putting uncooked meat back into the freezer that I hadn’t gotten round to cooking up to add to a meal.

We haven’t been having meals from the freezer every evening, but they have been great to turn to when Oscar has kept us up late the night before or when a trip out takes much longer than expected, leaving us starving by the time we arrive home!  Most of the meals are ready to be consumed within 8 minutes of a blast in the microwave – other than the lasagne, which requires cooking still (about 40 minutes in the oven).

Unfortunately Oscar hasn’t been gaining the weight that is expected of him, and at four weeks old today, still weighs just 7lbs 3oz.  The Health Visitor has been round every three days and is monitoring his progress but he dipped right under the 2nd percentile line at one point the other day which was a concern.  He is gaining weight (O’s birth weight was 6lbs 13oz, and all newborn babies are expected to lose a little at birth), but is doing so very slowly, so they are just keeping an eye on him at the moment.

Oscar growth chart

My Dad is convinced that part of the reason O isn’t gaining as much as he should is because I’m not eating properly.  (Other than the fact that I seem to no longer be capable of finishing a meal in one sitting, and that I rarely get a chance to eat the food whilst it’s hot anymore, which I’m sure are both standard new-Mum problems, I AM still eating!)  For this reason, my Dad decided that when we popped by for a visit on Sunday he was going to present me with ten cottage pies to add to my ever-diminishing freezer stash!  They definitely weren’t turned away!  :)

Do you ever ‘batch cook’ your meals?
What are your ‘go to’ meals that you always make during the working week?   Mine are calzones and chicken/sausage casserole with dumplings.

Growing your own vegetables

Having grown up in the countryside, I come from a family with a keen interest in gardening and a large portion of that garden has always been dedicated to supplying fresh fruit and veggies for family meals.

I love prancing around my Mum’s large vegetable patch when I’m back in North Norfolk for a visit and picking redcurrants and raspberries straight from the bushes.  Even though I’m not a massive fan of runner beans, there’s something satisfying about picking a fresh batch from the garden and bringing them in to be prepared for dinner.

Runner bean plants

At my first house, we were lucky enough to have a large garden, although mainly laid to grass, meaning that vegetables had to be grown in pots on the patio. We did hire someone from http://treesurgeonsnortheast.co.uk/ to help us take care of our garden he also gave us some usefull tips. The house we bought last Summer (and live in now) has a much smaller garden, but it came with a large temperature-controlled greenhouse (to the far right in the below photo)…one of the selling factors of the house for me! If you want a beautiful colossal garden space like ours, then I would suggest you schedule a 10023 tree cutting with Manhattan Tree Services as their professional can help you to get rid of the unwanted trees quickly without leaving behind any debris.

Finished garden

New house garden

As we didn’t move until mid-July last year, it was too late to grow much of my own produce for last season.  But, this year, with the greenhouse and a very eager gardener for a Mother there has been much more time to organise pots and plants to fill the new garden!

My favourite of all is the strawberry planter my Mum sent with me to my first house.  Although it requires lots of watering during the warmer months, it has always given me a good crop each year.  (Bit of a beast to move when full though.  It’s surprising just how heavy this thing gets!)

Strawberry planterMy strawberry plants were a little late getting going this year – probably due to the random weather we’ve been having over the past few months.  They’re just at the stage now though where they’re giving me enough fruit to top my cereal with each morning!Strawberry planter

I love salads, especially at this time of year.  Dan, however, is not a fan, and is very much a salad-dodger (and fruit and vegetable dodger too!)  In fact, the only vegetables he would touch when we first got together were peas and carrots!
He has extended his palate slightly since those days – he will now eat green beans (if not too hard) and the occasional sweet potato.  It does make meal planning rather difficult sometimes.  His friends like to share the story with me about how they went to order fajitas when on holiday – which Dan ordered as plain, – just chicken in a wrap then!  Meals like pasta or calzones are fairly easy to tweak and throw extra veg in for me, but I never seem to get through a whole shop-bought portion before the item starts to go bad and ends up going to waste.

Growing my own vegetables is fantastic from this point of view as I can literally just pick what I want, when I want it, straight from the garden, leaving nothing to go to waste.  If I want a couple of cherry tomatoes on the side of my dish, I can just pick a handful, rather than having to buy an entire pack and living on them solidly for a few days, or leaving the last few to get squishy.

Tomato plantMy tomatoes aren’t quite ready for picking yet, but I have several small green ones that have started to appear on my plants in the greenhouse just lately.  By the time we break up from school for the Summer I shall have plenty to help me with my caprese salad addiction!

Homegrown mixed lettuce leavesA very poor picture, but these mixed leaves are great to add to salads without having to dig up and use an entire lettuce each time.

I also like to have a set of herbs in pots in the kitchen.  Herbs are something I throw in occasionally, – when I remember and if I have any to hand (rarely, unless I have a Hello Fresh box or have been growing my own.)  Earlier in the year my Mum noticed some wild chives growing outside in our garden so they can be cut as and when required too.

Pot of basilSome of my Mum’s large onion batch from a previous year…OnionsNot only is growing your own fruit and veg fantastic for not over-purchasing items, but the cost in general is so much less.  Most packs of seeds can be purchased for less than £1.50 and provide enough seeds to enable you to harvest a lot of produce, much more than a shop-bought portion.  There’s something satisfying about growing your own food as well, and it obviously means that you know that no harmful chemicals have been sprayed over your dish.

Growing my own fruit and vegetables is something I shall continue to do, and look to do more of next year as well as I shall be off work on maternity leave when the bulk of the planting will be taking place.

Even if your garden is on the smaller side, or you don’t have one at all, there are still plenty of options such as herbs that you can grow on your kitchen windowsill.  When I lived in a flat in Stafford back in my uni days, there was always a pot of herbs on the window that I could snip from every time I cooked a meal.

If you are super busy and unable to get to a shop most of the time like me, Dobies of Devon enable you to place orders online for seeds, plants and equipment.  And if, unlike me, you don’t have a super-gardening-fanatic parent, (so nobody there telling you what to plant and when) there is also lots of great advice on their website for starting out with your own little garden.  The Dobies of Devon website informs me that July is the month for planting carrots, beetroot, lettuce and cabbage – some great options to accompany Summer into Autumn meals.

Do you grow your own fruit and veg?
Do you come from a gardening background?

** Disclosure: I received compensation for this post but all opinions and content is my own.

Cook your way to a healthy smile :)

A few weeks back, I was contacted to see if I would be willing to take part in a campaign run by SimplyHealth called ‘Cook Your Way to a Healthy Smile’.  Having been told off by my dentist earlier in the year for eating all things bad for my teeth and for pulling my wisdom teeth out finally, I eagerly responded, saying that I would be happy to take part in the campaign.

I was sent a box of organic produce from Abel & Cole and asked to come up with a meal from the contents.  The items I received in my box are known for being superfoods for teeth and I was keen to whip up a dish using them.

Firstly, the delivery from Abel & Cole was fantastic.  When ordering, I commented that I would not be available to take deliveries between the hours of 6:20am-6pm on weekdays due to work, so would leave a large plastic container along the side of my house which the delivery could be placed inside for safe keeping until I returned in the evening.  The delivery rocked up a few minutes before 6:20am one morning, so I was able to take it inside before work!
Cook your way to a healthy smile - chicken saladIn the box I received a large bag of spinach, a pack of celery, some strong cheese, a carton of milk, a pack of sausages, one of chicken legs, walnuts, brazil nuts, some potatoes and dozens of good-to-eat apples.

For me, there is no better meal than a salad when it comes to eating healthily (or, not so healthily – I like to throw lots of items into my dish!) and quite often when I go out for a meal, it is a salad I choose.  Dan doesn’t eat any salad items, so I tend to save eating them for lunches or when we go out for a meal at a restaurant.  Or, like in this occasion, when Dan has swanned off to football for the afternoon and I’m just cooking for one!

Ingredients:
* 1 chicken leg
* 1 large handful of spinach
* 1/2 stick of celery
* 1 small handful of walnuts
* 1 small block of cheese
* 1/2 an apple
* 1 potato
* a pinch of salt
* a sprinkling of pepper
* a blob of olive oil << is a ‘blob’ an official measurement?!

Cook your way to a healthy smile - chicken saladI rubbed the chicken leg in a little olive oil mixed with salt and pepper, before placing it in the oven on 200° for an hour.  Whilst the chicken was cooking, I scrubbed the potato, which I then cut into small, bite-sized chunks, ready to boil.  I left the skin on, as I like lots of texture in my meals.  I removed the stems from the spinach and cut the leaves into several pieces, throwing them into a large mixing bowl.  Once the potatoes were fully cooked I tossed them whilst still warm, along with the spinach in a little oil and salt, to taste.  At this time of year, I feel all salads should contain some warm elements!

The spinach and potato mixture lined the bottom of my dish, whilst I chopped the apples, celery and cheese into small cubes.  The walnuts were chopped into slightly smaller cubes, and then scattered over the top of my dish.  I removed the chicken from the bone once cooked and laid out over the top of my cheese, so that the cheese could get slightly melted.Cook your way to a healthy smile - chicken saladTa-da!  Salad as I like it best – with lots of different items and lots of different textures!

Annoyingly I’m never home in the daylight anymore, and I cannot take very good pictures in artificial light, but you get the jist of my meal.  There was enough left for snacking later on that evening too…!

Apples and cheese snackApples with cheese used to be one of my favourite snacks when I was younger and it’s one I hadn’t had for a while.

The infographic below explains why the six foods are ‘superfoods’ when it comes to a healthy smile and why it can be a good idea to incorporate them into your meals.

Superfoods for your smile

 

**(Infographic from https://www.simplyhealth.co.uk/sh/pages/healthy-you/six-superfoods-for-your-smile)  I received a box of organic goodies from Abel & Cole in return for this post.

What are your favourite items to include in a salad?
What are your favourite healthy snacks?

Busy teaching times

This week seems to have rushed by so quickly.  I can’t believe a fortnight has already passed since I ran Mablethorpe Marathon.

The biggest and most depressing thing about this week is that it seems the Winter darkness has quickly started settling in.  Runs always happen by the light of a headtorch now, unless I can squeeze a run in at the weekend.  This is because when I get up for work, it is dark.  Within an hour of being home from work, it is also dark.  Depressing times!

First night out in a headtorchI’m actually on the hunt for a new headtorch at the moment, – ready for Dusk ’til Dawn at the end of October.  Although mine is usable, and I did indeed use it last year at the same event, I would like something with a stronger beam so that I can place more trust into where I am putting my feet whilst out on the course.

I do love the Winter though – there is something comforting about getting home from a walk in an oversized knitted jumper and sitting in front of a fire with a cup of hot chocolate to warm up.  Shame we no longer have a woodburner in our front room. :(

The darker mornings have meant that I have lost 45 minutes of potential marking time on my way in to school each day, which is my biggest annoyance of the Winter months.

Too dark to mark on the commute to workThat is the view I now get in the mornings on the way to work.  So, for the time being I’ve turned my attention to Twitter in the morning and for another week at least I can still mark on the way home.  That will change at the end of next week though once the clocks go back.

Too dark to mark on the commute to workYou can see how dark it is on arrival at school now.  This was taken at 7am in the week.

I don’t always spend every morning marking, but I’m currently at the point in the year when marking is rather high.  This year I have six sets of year eleven students and two sets of year tens.  (Approx 230 kids)  All who are working on coursework this year.  The year elevens will each have ten pieces to be marked and returned before Christmas, and the year tens probably four or five.  They will be given a chance to improve and then I shall have every piece back to remark again over the Christmas holidays.  I’m trying to stay on top of things!

As well as my GCSE core students and a handful of younger classes (which thankfully involve much less marking!) I also have three classes of sixth form students this year, although they are much smaller in number, and a class of year 10 Optional GCSE students who I adore.  I’ve built up a really good relationship with the group and they are so excited to check their coursework marks when I put them online.
I’m knackered each evening at the moment though, and other areas of my life seem to have slipped by the wayside right now and I am so looking forward to catching up with things over the half term holidays again.

Today, in between tidying, cleaning, marking and hopefully a bit of blog reading, I shall mainly be refreshing the live results page for the Autumn 100 and following the Twitter hashtag.  Two members of our club are out there, with a third planning on helping them run through miles 50-75 in the early hours of tomorrow morning.  There are also several lovely bloggers working their way around the 100 miles, including Sarah and Louise.  I would love to tick a 100 mile race off my bucket list, although I need to improve my speed first, as I would never make the cutoffs at the moment.
One day…

Dan is off at football this afternoon so I knocked up something at lunchtime for just me.  I realised that I had enough ingredients in to make a similar take on the ‘Oven baked chicken with an orange and sesame quinoa salad’ I had made from my Hello Fresh box a few weeks back.  I had no chicken, but I did have a ball of mozzarella.  I had no pepper, but I did have a pack of fresh mushrooms.  I didn’t have the rice vinegar or spice paste, but I lived without those, and was brave enough to throw my kale and veggies in with the quinoa, soy sauce and orange juice to create this beauty…  A concoction I would never have thought of before my Hello Fresh meal arrived.

Mozzarella and quinoa kale saladSuper tasty, and I made two portions, so I will have enough for my lunchbox on Monday as well.

Have the darker mornings made a difference to you lately?
Do you have any headtorch recommendations for me?