Tips and Tricks for Cutting Large Amounts of Produce

I typically do most of my mass freezer prep in August. The reason-fresh produce is easy to come by here in the Midwest and it supports our local economy. It’s also more cost efficient for me to buy most of it from a local farm. Winning all around!

With 10-13 onions that I need to chop alone cutting all of this takes a lot of time. My method may not work for everyone, but I have found some ways to cut down on time. I highly recommend using glass containers for overnight storage to avoid plastic discoloration and permanent smell.

Onions I have a small food processor that I use for the onions. I simply cut them into large chunks, then pulse them until they are roughly the size I want. It takes less than 2 minutes. I don’t do these too far ahead of time because they don’t take as much time. I still like to slice up my green onions because I’m a bit OCD on how I like those cut. I typically don’t use many so it doesn’t take much time.

Bell Peppers These can be cut the day before. I don’t worry too much about uniform shapes, it doesn’t matter much when they are getting mixed into soups and casseroles. I just make sure that they are small enough to fit on my spoon with other ingredients when I eat the finished product. I cut off the bottom and top, pull out the center, then slice in half, then slice in strips and chop those up. I could run them through the food processor, but I’ve found it makes them a bit smaller than what I like. I then store them in prep containers in the refrigerator and labeled with what they will go in.

Tip: When storing your prep containers for multiple recipes try to group the containers by recipe to save time trying to find the one that you need.

Kale, Spinach, Collard Greens I don’t cut these ahead of time unless I am freezing some of them. They don’t stay fresh long and tend to wilt a bit once cut and stored. When I plan for cooking multiple days I tend to put the recipes that have these veggies first in line so that they stay nice and fresh.

Potatoes These do not fare well overnight if you cut them ahead of time. I typically cut these while I’m waiting for my water to boil.

Carrots and Celery Carrots definitely last longer in the refrigerator than celery, but both can be cut early if stored correctly. Diced tends to do better than sliced, but I’ve done both a day ahead. I’ve found that if I don’t have much air space in the container they are fine to do a day ahead of time. Especially if they are just going into soup or a pot pie mixture. If using on a salad you may want to add in some water to keep their crispness.

Tip: Organize your recipes not only by what pots and pans you will need, but also by ingredients. This saves time when you aren’t able to cut produce more than a day ahead.

Tomatoes I definitely cut these ahead of time and use a special slicer for softer veggies to save time, especially when making tomato soup. Fresh garden tomatoes tend to be a bit too juicy for the food processor, so the slicer comes in handy. You can use a food processor with these to save time. However, slicing and roasting in the oven before adding to the dish gives them a better flavor. You can store these roasted or raw overnight.

Mushrooms Mushrooms do not do well once sliced, so these I don’t do ahead of time. The special slicer I have for tomatoes I also use for the mushrooms. I can typically slice 4-5 at once so cutting them goes quickly. I prefer mine sliced to chopped, but a food chopper would also work.

Cabbage I actually never have cut this ahead of time to see how it would store in the refrigerator. I typically prep my cabbage while I have one soup simmering on the stove and onion and garlic started for the one with the cabbage. I treat it more like kale/spinach/collard greens.

For me organization and a couple of kitchen tools helps me to save time. If you have any tips you’d like to share on how you save time feel free to leave them in the comments. Even though I’ve large prepped numerous times I’m still finding ways to save time!

Before You Search…

We’ve all done it in trying to decide what to make for dinner that night, we go to Pinterest in hopes of finding the perfect recipe. Hours later and hundreds of pins relating to cinnamon rolls, puppies, nostalgia, and the perfect cookies we still don’t have a recipe for dinner. Then we ask ourselves, where did I go wrong?

The same especially is true for me when I’m attempting to meal plan for my next mass making week. Starting with a “I think I’ll see what looks good” attitude just doesn’t play out the way we want it to.

To avoid another Pinterest pitfall, here are some tips and tricks that I use myself before I begin searching for recipes:

  1. Calculate how many recipes I’m going to need. Am I stocking the freezer or am I looking for meals for that week? Do I want to include breakfasts, or just lunch and dinners?
  2. Determine how you want to cook. If it’s a busy week your best bet is to stick to crockpot recipes or one pan quick dinners with little to no prep. When stocking the freezer determine if it’s more thaw, heat, and eat or if you’re just interested in saving a bit of prep time.
  3. Stick to your plan. The easiest way for me to do this is to sort and save all of those recipes into categories that I frequently use to meal prep. The beauty of Pinterest is that you can create categories in each board for more organization. For instance, when I want to make soups I already have them categorized by type of meat so that if I want to make a lot of soups with chicken I have recipes ready to look at. Bypassing the search when I’m planning helps me save lots of time, that I’ve more than likely wasted when I’ve pinned out of boredom 🙂

Christmas Baking

The past few years I dived into holiday baking. I’ve found that a small tin of goodies makes excellent gifts for coworkers without breaking the bank. They also appreciate random baked treats individually packaged that they can grab and take home. However, deciding what to make has always been difficult, I want to try everything! To help you organize your last minute holiday baking and make a plan for next year here are some tips.

  1. Decide how many items you can actually make. Are you planning on making some every day or do you want to get it all done in one day? Will you have help?
  2. Determine a theme for the baking. When looking at recipes it can get overwhelming fast, especially on Pinterest. Deciding to only make candy or focus on gingerbread flavors will help narrow the search (along with your ingredient list).
  3. Stock up on the basics. Make sure you have plenty of flour, sugar, flavorings, etc. before diving into baking. There’s nothing worse than starting the next batch of dough while cookies are in the oven and running out of flour.
  4. Set a budget. Some recipes call for expensive ingredients or things that you will only use in that recipe. Setting a budget can help you avoid extra expenses on ingredients.
  5. Make sure to grab plenty of containers or treat bags to share goodies with friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

This year I focused on cookies because there were so many recipes I wanted to try last year and some that have become my favorites that I wanted to make again. I typically choose recipes from Taste of Home and get ideas on Pinterest. Though before they make the cut I make sure that I don’t need extra utensils (like a press for spritz cookies) and that they don’t have ingredients that are difficult to find. I have been saving quite the collection of fudge recipes so that might just have to be the theme for next year 🙂

Freezer Meals: Soup Round 4

I’m still fine tuning the process!  This round I had to plan during a pandemic where there are some shortages.  To minimize my trips to the store (typically I hit three in one day) and to account for some items being high in demand right now I first checked what I had on hand.  Seems basic, but I actually don’t do that very often.  Meat prices were starting to even out at the time of making, but with the spike in prices a couple of months prior I decided to go with a few more vegetarian options just in case.

I was a bit smarter this round and put some of the thicker soups into quart freezer bags to allow for more space in the freezer.  This is the first round of soup that I didn’t run out of space, so I’m guessing that’s the magical answer 🙂

Here’s the list:

Winter Country

Italian Lentil

Lentil Tortilla

Zuppa

Chicken Detox (pictured at the top of this post)

Couscous Chicken

Italian Sausage Tortellini

Pasta e Fagoli

Chicken Fajita

Stuffed Green Pepper

I also made a sausage lentil soup that I found in a cookbook.  I wasn’t able to find a duplicate recipe online for a link, but there are plenty of similar soups out there that resemble this recipe.  I discovered this past year that I like lentils if they are cooked right and that they go well in soup.  They were easy to find a more affordable than some of the meat options.  One small bag made three different soups!  It’s something I recommend as a cost saving option.  Lentils are full of protein and fill you up.  One cup of lentils will make 8-12 cups of soup, or 4-6 meals.  This lentil tortilla was easy to make in the crockpot and will be a great compliment to Mexican inspired meals or on its own.  It tastes better than it looks, trust me.

2020 lentil tortilla

This year I had about 2 pounds of deer summer sausage that my brother had given me.  I sliced it up and cooked it in a frying pan to get out some of the fat and used that in the winter country and sausage lentil soups.  The flavor was amazing!  The majority of the soups I make are hearty enough to eat as a meal and this one is no exception.  It’s packed with protein and the greens give it a healthy touch.

2020 taste of home winter country

Trying to plan during shortages and left me making a few substitutions and a bit of a different planning process for getting ingredients, but I was still able to make everything and since I used more vegetarian recipes and meat I already had on hand I spent less than $100 for this round!  The local farm didn’t have the greens I needed, so I substituted dinosaur kale.  I cooked it with some garlic and olive oil and it added a good flavor to the soup.  It’s not as bitter as regular kale and has just a hint of sweetness to it.  It makes a great substitute for spinach, greens, or regular curly kale.

2020 ingredients

I frequently get asked what my favorite soup is.  It’s difficult to pick one favorite, but the Italian sausage tortellini with kale is definitely in my top five picks.  It’s amazing in the fall when the weather starts getting crisp and warms you up on those cold winter nights.  I make mine pretty thick and there isn’t a lot of tortellini in the recipe so I typically pair it with garlic bread.

2020 italian sausage tortellini

Planning During Shortages

Limits, shortages, certain ingredients impossible to find.  This has been our new normal since the pandemic set in.  It may discourage most from huge batch cooking, but I embraced the new challenge.  I’m as determined as ever to continue my annual soup making with 12 soups this year.  However, the old plan didn’t exactly work the same so here are some things to keep in mind if you are planning on batch cooking with this year’s produce:

  • Plan way ahead.  I selected my recipes and made my list in May so that I could be ready for August.
  • When selecting recipes make sure they don’t require a lot of items that are difficult to find or in short supply.  With a potential meat shortage in our area I added additional vegetarian soup options this year and stuck with classic ingredients.
  • Buy the non perishable items as you go to the store regularly.  Typically I plan one big shopping trip, but this year requires me to grab items as they are available.  Luckily I use more fresh produce so limits on can items are not an issue.
  • Watch for sales and adjust as needed.  With meat prices skyrocketing I found myself substituting to save on cost.
  • Find out information about local growers.  Most of the growers in our area typically have tables at the farmer’s market.  This year the main one I use is doing a curbside model with online ordering and you can go out to the farm to pick up your items.  Another great reason to plan ahead and have a list ready!
  • Take an inventory of what you have on hand.  Since prices have gone up it’s good to save money where you can.  Buying unnecessary items can add to your cost, sometimes significantly.
  • Remember that you’ll still save money and time in the long run!  This year I expect costs to be more and I’ve planned for that.  However, I know in the coming months my food expense will be significantly lower due to having so many meals on hand.  I’ve planned accordingly for the increase in cost.  It’s worth it to have soup on hand when it starts getting cold again.
  • Take advantage of fresh produce and add extra to your recipes!  Our local growers need our support and they are offering something that we need.  No harm at all in purchasing and using some extra.  Adding extra veggies is also an inexpensive way to get more meals out of a batch and make them more filling.

So far I’m on track for August, it should be another great year of soup!