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Once-a-month cooking saves cash

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Plan ahead
Plan your once-a-month cooking around what is on sale. Let's say you're going to make several chicken recipes with boneless chicken breast, it helps to buy those 100 breasts on sale at $1.99 a pound instead of $4.99 a pound.

Slagle chooses her recipes on Monday according to what sales come out in the weekend supermarket circulars, then she shops on Wednesday. Before a marathon cooking session on Friday or Saturday with Wohlenhaus, she does as much preparation work as possible. This includes chopping and grating vegetables, and browning ground beef.

"What you don't want to do is make 30 (different] meals because it takes way too long and you'll go crazy," she stresses. But if you're just starting out, the idea of cooking a month's worth of food can be overwhelming. Taylor-Hough suggests beginning with a mini-session to prepare food for the next week or two. Instead of making one tray of lasagna, make three, and freeze two. When you take your cooking to the monthly level, try taking 15 recipes and doubling them so you'll only be eating the same meal twice.

Preparing for the marathon cooking day:
Wear supportive walking shoes.
Wear comfortable clothes.
Go to bed early the night before.
Eat a good breakfast.
Stop and sit down for lunch.
Take frequent mini breaks.
Do preparation sitting at the kitchen table.
Sit at counter whenever you can.

From oven to freezer
Freezing can be tricky if you don't properly prepare your food or package it well. Taylor-Hough says you should freeze a single-serving-sized item to test how well it keeps.

Items such as cream-based sauces, potatoes and fried foods don't freeze well. Taylor-Hough says they need to be mixed with a liquid, slightly undercooked and frozen quickly. Reheating the potato will complete the cooking. Slagle prepares mashed potatoes with cream cheese or eggs to pull it together for the freezer. She says sour cream and cheese freeze well if they're mixed with other things.

You probably won't need to buy a separate freezer for your food stock if you use freezer bags, which are flexible and save space. Don't cut corners on the quality of the freezer containers you use because the food will only taste as good as the thing it was frozen in. Taylor-Hough recommends wrapping items well in quality heavy-duty foil and bags.

"It's important to cool things quickly. You don't want to put warm things in the freezer because they take longer to freeze and quality suffers and large ice crystals form," Taylor-Hough says.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Updated: March 23, 2004
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