I’ve learned to read your minds. You were kinda hoping it was another recipe. I know, I get it, but equally as important as good recipes is learning to tackle cooking like a champ.
Succos is around the corner, and along with it comes a whole lot of food preparation. Cooking such a large quantity of food in a short duration of time can be daunting, to say the least.
Implementing strategies to manage and maximize your time in the kitchen and taking stock of inventory will have you feeling less overwhelmed, and more like a pro.
Perhaps attempting to implement all this new information at once may not work for you. Pick and choose strategies that will be the most effective.
The basis of this strategy is to organize and categorize large chores into a bunch of smaller tasks. Suddenly, cooking food for the whole holiday is manageable!
A Guide To Cooking Like A Champ
Menu planning is the first step in the right direction. It gives you a plan of action, a starting point and gets your brain in motion. It will give you answers to some common questions:
How much time will I need to allot to cook the food?
How much time will you need to designate for cooking. Will I need 2 days, 3 days, more or less?
How many guests will I be hosting over the holidays? For how many meals, and which meals?
This forces you to get your act together in advance. Who says it’s a bad thing?!
How much food needs to be cooked, baked or prepared?
Which foods require cooking, baking, or just preparation (like salad dressings)?
What type of work should I prepare to do? Is it time consuming or quick and easy?
Balance your work load by choosing one time consuming dish per meal.
TIP: On the main menu only, write down things that must get done. Leave additional space for food, desserts or extras such as dips that would be nice to tackle time permitting. This can act as an incentive. Once you finish your “must do list” you can tackle the extra projects.
A created menu gives you many answers, and list designating will give you some more.
List designating organizes dishes into categories.
Example of categories:
Category A) cooking, baking, preparing.
Category B) appetizer, soups, meat/poultry, sides, vegetables, desserts, sauces and marinades.
List designating utilizes your time in the kitchen most effectively, and prevents your sanity from entering “freak zone.”
You may be quite organized with many great intentions, but if you overlook scheduling your cooking time, half your efforts have gone out the window.
My definition of “scheduling cooking time” is scheduling each category (or additional categories) into different days of the week that allow more or less time.
- Example: All foods under the category of “sides” are scheduled to be cooked on Wednesday, September 27, in the morning/noon/night.
Specific categories like soups, appetizers, and desserts generally require lots of prep work: chopping, dicing, time, technique, etc. Be sure to schedule them in on days when your schedule affords you more time. Categories like sides, vegetables, marinades and sauces that take less time can be grouped into 2 or 3 categories in one day.
TIP: always leave a day/half a day for dishes you did not get to previously. This will give you leeway to fall back on some time without falling behind on schedule.
Writing up shopping lists
When all categories have been assigned a day of cooking, write up a shopping list divided into categories. For example, produce, groceries, wine, meat and chicken, fish, etc. Writing up a categorized shopping list allows you to reference back quickly to what you did or did not get, and what still needs to be purchased. Cross items off with a pen as you go along.
If you’re cooking sporadically a few weeks in advance, each category may need its own shopping list written up and purchased at different times.
Grocery orders/ grocery shopping
Schedule grocery, produce, fish and meat orders to arrive the afternoon before cooking. This will give you time to shop around for any missing items, and avoid wasting time waiting on orders. If you’re doing the shopping yourself, shop a day in advance to give you time to shop around for items you need (it may end up being more than one store).
Any chicken or meat you are using from the freezer should be thawed the night before in the fridge on a sheet pan or garbage bag or both (to prevent cross contamination) and taken out from the fridge early morning, before you start your day, and thawed until completely defrosted.
This may be the most important information of the day. If you walk away with one thing from this post, this should be it! Print this excerpt and store it near your cookbooks; you’ll thank me forever. (You’re welcome!)
Your sequence of cooking should start with foods that can tolerate being frozen or prepped and frozen raw. Then tackle the foods that need to be made fresh.
The sequence of cooking food in advance:
Soups > Dessert > Meats that can be frozen (generally braised meat dishes) > Sides that can be frozen> Refrigerated sauces and marinades > Sides that can be refrigerated a few days in advance > Vegetables that can be refrigerated a day or two in advance > Meats/ fish that can be refrigerated a day or two in advance > Vegetables made fresh, Meats/fish made fresh
Foods that can tolerate being frozen:
Soups, braised meats, sides binded (held together) by eggs, mayo etc., foods prepped raw.
Example: kugels, some sauces, food prepped raw like egg rolls, wontons, potato knishes, etc.
Foods that can be made in advance to refrigerate:
Sauces and marinades, fish, non-braised meat dishes, sides that cannot be frozen like pasta, Couscous, rice, etc.
Foods made fresh/day of:
Non-braised meat, fish, vegetables. All sauces and marinades for meats, fish, sides, and vegetables should be prepped in advance*.
- Super-fresh food
Right before serving: vegetables, sides, meat and fish. All sauces and marinades for meats, fish, sides, and vegetables should be prepped in advance.
Cooking and prepping in advance
- Foods cooked in advance to be frozen or refrigerated should always be under cooked slightly, and finish cooking when taken out of fridge/freezer. This will help frozen food come back to life and taste fresh.
- In general, appetizers and sides usually require lots of prep work and need to be cooked/baked right before serving. To cut down on prep work during the holiday, prep food raw and freeze. Cook/fry frozen right before serving. This way, most of the work is done in advance, but you still have fresh food.
TIP: Food prepped raw that will then be deep fried/baked should be baked/fried frozen to prevent sogginess and food explosions in the fryer.
- According to the safety guidelines of the USDA, cooked meat, poultry and fish can be stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 days or frozen for 3 to 4 months. Although safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored for longer times in the freezer.
- Meats/fish that cannot be frozen should be prepped no more than a day or two before serving. This way, you have leeway to serve it again in the next day or two.
- Ideally, cut up fruit, precooked dishes like pasta, grains, and legumes, and non-beef or poultry based soups should be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days. After 7 days, raid your fridge and discard all leftovers.
- To prevent discarding leftovers, freeze them after 3 to 4 days of refrigeration for up to 2 months in the freezer. Although safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored for longer times in the freezer.
- *Sauces, and marinades that are vinegar/acid based can last in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Preparing food to freeze
- Label all food as fridge or freezer ready. Write down any food or sauces that are paired/served with it; this way you’ll remember, and anyone helping in kitchen will know, too.
- Label pans, containers, etc. on the side of pan/container so you can easily identify what’s in the freezer. On a sticky note or an additional label, write any further cooking instructions so you don’t forget. As much as we’re all superwomen, you won’t remember it all!
- You can even designate different shelves in the freezer for the different categories. Ex: meats all on one shelf, soups all on another shelf, etc.
I wish you an enjoyable time spent in the kitchen. Turn up the music and set out to work!
→ Sharing is caring, be sure to send feedback on the most effective strategies you implemented, and what worked best for you, so others can learn and gain as well.