Saturday, 5 February 2011

Feeding your freezer

Well, after yesterday's post I thought it might be a good idea to give you some follow-up on how to add all those lovely things to mince in order to make some yummy meals. I'm a great believer in saving myself time and effort so I will make up batches of food and freeze them in advance, in portion-sized containers and have them as ready-meals that I can defrost any old time that I can't be bothered.

Weekdays we tend to have something from this list on at least a couple of nights a week so that we can take it out of the freezer in the morning, stick it in the oven at night and, 30 minutes later, there's dinner!  So bear in mind that these instructions are for a household with two people who are trying to eat healthily. If one of you is a roadmender or hod carrier or any other kind of heavy work you might need to increase your portions a bit. Use your imagination and a bit of common sense.
Anyhow. You will need a bit of time (no more than an hour though) and the following ingredients. This will make three different meals for two people.
Three freezer-proof food containers. (If you want to microwave them you'll need plastic ones but I find that metallic ones like you get from a Chinese takeaway are perfect. They sell them in supermarkets.)
Three medium sized saucepans
A cooker with at least three rings on it
Three wooden spoons (or any other kind of large stirring implement)
500g turkey mince
2 tins of tomatoes
At least 6 onions
Tomato puree
A couple of carrots
Half a dozen sliced mushrooms
A tin of red kidney beans or any other kind of ready-cooked pulses
A red chilli
Worcester Sauce
Salt and pepper
Basil and oregano
Thyme and sage
A bit of cooking oil
Some water or if you really want to be posh - chicken stock

The first bit is called "mise en place" by fancy chefs. It's French for put in place.  It means that if you do all your preparation first it saves a lot of time and hassle later. Some people like to have dishes for each ingredient but you'll find you can get away with keeping most of them on the chopping board if you're a tidy worker.  (I'm not - I use lots of dishes!)

Start by peeling your onions and chopping four of them up fairly finely. The other two can be chunky.
Peel and dice your carrot (cut it into small chunks, or cross-wise slices, doesn't really matter)
Peel six cloves of garlic (for those of you who don't cook regularly a clove of garlic is one of the bits that go to make up the "head of garlic" that you buy in the shops. I really did know someone who thought they needed three heads of garlic in a recipe. It was awful!) and chop them finely or splat them under a wide bladed knife.
Chop up the chilli.

Now put three pans on the stove with about two teaspoons of oil in each one. Put a low heat under each one. I'm going to call them Pan One, Pan Two and Pan Three. Novel, huh? Pan One is going to turn into bolognese sauce. Pan Two will be chilli and Pan Three will be the base for a cottage pie. (or just good old savoury mince!)

Put half of the finely chopped onions in Pan One, half in Pan Two and the chunky bits in Pan Three.  Add two splatted garlic cloves to each one. Add the chopped chilli to Pan Two and the diced carrot and sliced mushrooms to Pan Three.  Give each one a stir and listen for the sizzle. If they aren't sounding like they're hissing gently at you, turn the heat up a bit.

Now add basil and oregano to Pan One and thyme and sage to Pan Three. How much is a matter of taste really. For your first go just imagine that you're sprinkling salt on some chips. Give them another stir. 
The onions will start to look slightly translucent as they cook. Try not to let them brown. If they start to turn brown at the edges take the pans off the heat and let them cool down a bit. Turn down the gas/electricity.
Once they start to look a bit like they're blending together divide the mince into three and put a section into each pan. This is about the only busy bit. Give them all a good stir to break up the "strings" of mince.  Keep stirring until it starts to look like the mince is mixing in.  You don't have to stir all three at once (You've only got two hands). One at once, in turn, will be fine. When the mince has gone grey, rather than pink, you can stop stirring.

Add a tin of tomatoes to Pan One. Add a tin of tomatoes to Pan Two. Give Pan Three a good squidge of tomato puree.  Now add a good dash of Worcester Sauce to Pan Three.  They might all look slightly dry at this stage, depending on how juicy the tinned tomatoes were. If they do, give them some water (or stock) - just enough to cover the meat.

Now adjust the heat until they all start to bubble gently. Put lids on them and walk away for 10 minutes.  Come back and give them another stir . Check they're still bubbling nicely and they aren't drying out, then put the lids back and leave them for another 10 minutes.

When you come back, how do they look?  Do they look like food? Taste them. Add salt and pepper if necessary. If the chilli's a bit bland add some chilli powder. When you're happy with them turn off the heat. Stir the tin of kidney beans into Pan Two and leave them all to cool down.

When they're cooled lower than body temperature you can put them into the freezer containers, label them and stash them away for later.  If you like, you can layer the bolognese between sheets of lasagne. End with mince or it'll be very dry!  Make some mashed potatoes and cover the top of the cottage pie, or it's quite tasty if you sprinkle grated cheese on it too.

Happy eating!

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