Cooking From Every Angle

Make-Ahead Meals

By • April 24, 2012 • 39 Comments

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Roast Chicken

Last week I wrote about finding a new rhythm for weeknight meals now that my husband and I have our first child. In response, a few people (who may or may not be psychic) wrote in the comments section that they like to whip up big batches of things like rice, beans and simply cooked vegetables each weekend, and then incorporate these staples into various different dishes throughout the week. Little did they know that was the very topic I'd planned to tackle for my next column.

I’ve always loved the idea of cooking ahead for the week, although I haven't necessarily been great at it in practice. Having a baby has now made it a vital part of the eating well equation. I’ve found that by making just two or three simple things over the weekend, I’m able to coast through much of the week, dipping into our pantry and freezer here and there and supplementing with produce from the farmers market.

Here’s what I made two weekends ago, and how it carried us through last week:

Saturday: I roasted two small chickens using just salt, pepper and olive oil. I also cooked a pound of semi-pearled farro and made this lemon vinaigrette, which has been my default salad dressing lately -- the whole thing took me about an hour, and we had a delicious dinner of roast chicken, farro sautéed with shallots and olive oil, and a big green salad.

Sunday: In the morning, I plucked the leftover chicken from the bones and threw the carcasses into a big pot with a few carrots and half an onion; I simmered this for most of the day, adding more water as it cooked, to make a simple, rich stock. I cooled the stock, put it in the fridge, and we met Jonathan's aunt for an early dinner at our favorite Argentinian steak place in Jackson Heights.

Monday: For dinner, we had leftover steak with chimichurri (you can make your own using this great recipe), farro moistened with some of the chicken stock, and steamed haricots verts drizzled with a little more chimichurri.

Tuesday: Dinner this evening was defrosted sweet and sour brisket, with a side of farro risotto that I prepared using some of the homemade chicken stock and made extra creamy by folding in a dollop mascarpone.

Wednesday: Jonathan worked late, so I had a solo dinner of salad and cheese with a cool, crisp glass of rosé. (Jonathan doesn't like cheese, but this meal is pretty much my idea of heaven.)

Thursday: After I had drinks with Amanda and our friend Sarah Shatz, Jonathan and I had a late dinner of leftover chicken and this simple farro salad: 2 cups of cooked farro tossed with 2 tablespoons chopped scallions, 1 tablespoon chopped green olives, 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped preserved lemon and lemon vinaigrette to taste (watch the video below to see how it's made).

Friday: After a long week and a sudden drop in temperature, I was ready for comfort food in the form of chicken soup: I added sliced carrot and celery to the chicken stock and then cut what was left of the chicken into chunks, adding it to the pot along with the few remaining spoonfuls of farro. A little lemon juice and a few grinds of ground black pepper finished it off. We ate the soup with a baguette retrieved from the freezer and crisped in the oven, slathered with good salted butter.

Farro Salad with Scallions, Green Olives and Preserved Lemon

Farro Salad with Scallions, Green Olives and Preserved Lemon

Now that I've shared my dinner diary for the week, it's your turn! What are your favorite make-ahead staples, and how do you stretch them to last throughout the week?

Brought to you by the new AT&T Nokia Lumia 900. Tasks. Joys. Simply Faster.

All photos and video were taken with the new Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone.

Jump to Comments (39)

Tags: make-ahead, organization

Comments (39)

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Birthday_2012

about 2 years ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

My kids are much older than yours, but I have only recently started cooking on weekends for the week, because of a chronic illness in our family, it is important that we eat balanced meals and minimize junk food/takeout/delivery.
I have a nice three bunches of beets from the farmer's market recipe. Roast the beets and make a dinner/lunch salad with one bunch, topped with cheese (feta or other crumbly). Cook the greens and make a side salad with a carpet of greens topped with chopped beets. Then make a pasta dish with the rest of the greens, stir in half a pound of fresh ricotta and top with salted roasted chopped walnuts. The oven is only on for one hour!

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over 2 years ago Ecuacan

Washing and chopping veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and other 'dippables' always makes dinner prep easier. They get thrown in the steamer, in the lunch box, or chopped up and mixed with vinaigrette (plus chopped cheese or nuts/seeds) in a second. Also, I've finally got a core set of healthy baking recipes and my short cut is to make my own 'mixes'. For granola bars, muffins or loaves, I mix up the dry ingredients and store them in quart jars or zip-locs. When I want to bake, I mix with the liquids. For scones and biscuits, you can make a large batch, bake them for half the time that the recipe calls for and freeze them. When you want piping hot biscuits, finish baking from frozen.

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over 2 years ago Eleo

I often prep my weekday lunch on the weekend. This is both to save money and to avoid lunch time temptations and ensure portion control even when i'm stressed. Like many of you, grains are also a staple for me. Mainly farro, quinoa and bulgar. I make something like tabbouleh and will add left overs (chicken, fish) to it to make it more hearty or if I have no leftovers, i'll add a handful of sunflower seeds or walnuts and maybe some dried fruit and a shot of vinegar.

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over 2 years ago tastelifetwice

I'm reading a retro book on French cooking style (that promises to be 'an urbane and witty primer to French cookery") that just mentioned a way of preparing hard boiled eggs with anchovies, calling it tapenade... there are some things that would fit right in with our American style of adapting and reusing, but others that just don't translate! Love seeing other times', other societies' views of problems we still face every day.

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over 2 years ago LNorman

I envy those who can cook ahead. I like most everything except overcooked spinach. However, my
husband won't eat many dairy products (sour cream, yogurt, etc) , nuts, fruit (thus no PB&J), most vegetables, lamb, fish, shellfish (including lobster), eggs, mayonaise, and stuff I can't keep track of. Our meals consist of decisions made at 8 PM at night. I'm sick of bland chicken. I've found a pasta and bean soup, and a Martha Stewart recipe for soba noodles, pork, and spinach soup that we can eat together. Count your blessings...

Wwrake_lrcrpd

over 2 years ago fuhsi


Throughout the fall, winter, and spring, I've made a pot of stew on the weekend that holds up for two meals, usually Tuesday and Thursday. Beans or lentils, a melange of vegetables, and more often that not, bones- yesterday I used some lamb. Also, lots of warming spices that blends everything together. A crusty bread can't hurt.
Wednesday is the burrito-night, made from slow cooker (batched and frozen), jarred red, or home-made green salsa (easiest recipe in the world), a little frozen corn and spinach, sans shells, over rice.

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over 2 years ago Margit Van Schaick

I just re-read all the comments, and Merrill, I recommend that you continue this topic indefinitely because it's so important to use these concepts in order to succeed in feeding ourselves and our loved ones healthy, delicious meals in as stress-free manner as possible, also saving money and having fun, as well.

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over 2 years ago belfman

I too cook for the week on Sunday. One thing I regularly do is line two baking sheets with foil or parchment and spray with olive oil. I then cut up all my in season veggies such as asparagus, squashes, Brussels sprouts, peppers, onions, broccoli and cauliflower, etc. I put the vegetables with similar cooking times on the sheets and drizzle with oil, S and P and pop them in a 450 oven to roast. I turn the pans after about 10-15 mins and turn down the heat if the veggies are getting overly browned. Most are done in 30-45 minutes. Sometimes I throw in a pan of baby potatoes to roast as well. I then have veggies to use in salads, pastas, risottos or on the side of a protein for a week. I also write out a menu for the week on Sunday. Even though my kids are grown and flown, I remember them checking out the weekly menu posted and hoping for favorite meals. It is a memory that brings me a smile. One last tip, always have pasta, canned tomatoes and parmesan cheese available. I often stretched many a meal for friends to join in at the table by using those 3 ingredients.

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over 2 years ago tastelifetwice

I love this- especially I generally get most of my produce from the farmer's market on Sunday, so this could be done Sunday night. nice memory of the kids. :)

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over 2 years ago belfman

Thank you "tastelifetwice" for letting me know that you liked my tip. I live in New England so no farmers market until June but it is so nice when it arrives. Lucky you that you already can shop your market.:)

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over 2 years ago Cookwithwhatyouhave

Love all of these comments and the original post. I do much of the same but I also have various kinds of home-cooked beans (pinto, black, garbanzo, white. ..) in the freezer and/or fridge that are kept in their cooking liquid (that i flavor with bay, garlic and onion). I always thaw a quart or two at teh beginning o the week to add to salads, quesadillas, make a quick soup or stew, salsa, spread. Or we we use them in a Nicoise kind of sense with hardboiled eggs, good-quality canned Albacore, whatever greens we have, etc. . One you get in the habit of cooking the beans regularly, and not for a meal in the moment but while you're in the kitchen cooking something else, and you can let them cool in their flavorful cooking liquid and then store, you have such a treasure trove of delicious, versatile, inexpensive nutrition on your hand.

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over 2 years ago onioncloute

This is what I do too! Roasting chicken has become the official scent of our household, which I can't argue with. I have a 5-month-old, and doing a few things ahead saves me so much time for bathtime/reading/bedtime. I like to make a big batch of lentils and use them for everything from tacos to lentil salads to burgers.

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over 2 years ago denverdawn

I've been doing this for years - through little kids, teens, empty nest & now retiree always having things handy for last minute entertaining or sharing a meal with the kids/grands: Shop my fridge, freezer & cupboard first so nothing goes to waste. (This often inspires me when I find something I forgot I had on hand.) For super busy months, we have the same categories every week just changing out the variety; such as, a main dish salad, hot or cold sandwiches, a soup, a pasta, a stir fry, pizza, etc. Any protein, veg, grain, bread that I have already cooked gets used for them. Saves my weary brain & tastes yummy, too :)

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over 2 years ago and_she_cooks

Amen! This is the only way I can feed my four little people, a fabulous sitter, and one hungry husband and still keep my job and my sanity. I just picked up a batch of whole chickens from a local farmer - roasting a chicken (or two) on a Sunday is basically a weekly ritual over here. It's so important to have a food plan because it can be too easy to fall into a takeout slump if you are not careful. Great post!

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over 2 years ago Fairmount_market

Merrill, I love your resourcefulness of making chicken and stock. One good end of the week meal that I find comes in handy is kimchi fried rice. If I make rice for a meal earlier in the week, I'll be sure to make extra. Then for the kids I'll make breakfast for dinner (eggs and bacon, and lots of fresh fruit) and my husband and I will have kimchi fried rice (made with bacon and a fried egg on top). I just made a batch of homemade kimchi that's really delicious for this.

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over 2 years ago MarthaP

Your kimchi fried rice sounds amazing - do you have a recipe?

Merrill

over 2 years ago Merrill Stubbs

Merrill is a co-founder of Food52.

Yes, I'd love to try it too!

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over 2 years ago nice rice

I love your site and esp. love the many choices of recipes to choose from , the make ahead meals
suit me to a T.
Did I say I love your Feed 52 thank you

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over 2 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

If I ever created a blog, this would probably be the easiest focus for content for me, because my cooking for the last 30 years has demanded this kind of planning. I recommend these simple principles:

(1) This method works infinitely better if you plan for a month at a time rather than a week, thinking through especially what's going into the freezer. For me, it's almost always a portion of a double or triple batch of a recipe such as meatballs or soups, or of a large braised roast. it's easiest for me to work through it in pencil on a printed out single page printed with a blank calendar month. I work out my shopping and advance prep activities on a weekly basis, usually before heading out to my favorite weekly farmers' market.

(2) Notwithstanding #1, remain flexible so you can respond to inspiration, whether that is in the form of a new FOOD52 or other recipe, or drop-dead gorgeous produce coming into season early or otherwise unexpectedly available, etc. Building one or two meals per week around a freezer component facilitates this.

(3) Maintain a strict inventory-in/inventory-out practice with respect to your freezer (or plan periodic catch-up cooking sessions).

(4) Advance prep on the weekends can/should go beyond just double batches of soups, stews, main dishes, etc. Think about what you can do on a smaller scale. E.g., when roasting a chicken, I will often (in winter) also roast a butternut squash, or, throughout the year, put in a baking sheet or two of sliced eggplant, tossed with a touch of olive oil and generously sprinkled with salt. on the lower shelves. (I use Japanese or Indian eggplant, which don't need to be salted.) These I use for eggplant parm (easily assembled in a covered pyrex baking dish and saved for three or four days), and on roti wraps (typically involving leftover meat or meat + sauce removed from the freezer). One of my favorite time savers is to cook up extra onions and garlic and put them in a pint sized Mason jar, to use for starting soups, saag paneer, stroganov-style dishes and similar "over toast" entrees made with leftover meat, etc. Not having to peel and chop onions and garlic on a busy weeknight can make such a difference. I typically do this in conjunction with a dish I'm preparing over the weekend that starts out by sweating onions and garlic. I don't clean out the skillet between projects.

I could go on and on. The key here is to develop a system, be on the lookout for cooked items that can easily be adapted and re-purposed (especially ones that freeze well), and then use the system, religiously. I believe there are some great resources out there, including books published in recent years, on how to do this. These are just a few ideas. ;o)

Sausage2

over 2 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Thanks for sharing Merrill! Even for those of us who don't have wee ones yet, this is a such a useful guide for thinking about planning. I'm saving it my files right now. I am just the worst offender about never planning meals ahead. And, while a quick trip to the market virtually every day is doable right now, I know it won't be forever.

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over 2 years ago CookingMomTR

Have to say, I live my life by this philosophy. The best I have ever found is a Rachel Ray plan that lets you cook 1 day and the end result is 30 days of suppers. It was great...I made roasted peppers and onions, rice, roast chicken, pulled pork and an amazing tomato sauce. These were then combined in various ways to make a series of soups, salads, sandwiches etc. I never spent more than 15 minutes cooking for a whole month. And my kids loved the majority of the dishes.

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over 2 years ago piggledy

Was this Rachel Ray plan in one of her cookbooks? Do you recall which? Thank you!

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over 2 years ago nlgeiger

Anytime I cook faro, quinoa or barley I double what I need and freeze half. That way, on any given night (before or after driving 3 kids to practices/games) I can defrost, add any leftover vegetables, meat and/or a sprinkle of cheese. It's also a great way to use up any leftover CSA veggies hanging out before my next share!

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over 2 years ago tastelifetwice

Way to be economical! I am often saddened by the loss of produce bought that didn't find its calling...

Me

over 2 years ago wssmom

Yipee! What a great week of food! The days of small children are gone, but this shows with a bit of imagination every meal can be thoughtful and delicious!

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over 2 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I have been passing on these tips to my daughter who has two little ones and barely time to breathe. The only way she can get through the week is to prepare food ahead. I love the way everything is re-purposed and used to make each meal delicious and varied. Great tips Merrill, thank you.