Cooking once for the week
April 20, 2016 4:10 PM   Subscribe

I have one day a week in which I can spend some time cooking. Right now, I always cook up a big batch of spaghetti, mixed vegetables, and pork chops. None of it is flavoured or seasoned. It's what I eat all week, every week. What recipes would you recommend to make my life more interesting?

Requirements: 1) Not too difficult to cook. 2) Can be cooked in large batches. 3) Can be stored in the fridge and re-heated in the microwave. 4) Has vegetables, meat, and complex carbs in reasonably healthy balance. 5) You could stand to eat it all week.

Hot/spicy are not my thing.

posted by clawsoon to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
How about mac and cheese. I add sausage and veggies to mine.

For a huge batch I use a pound of pasta. Make a roux with 6 tablespoon melted butter and 6 tablespoons flour. Stir in 1 quart of milk. Let thicken (it'll take 5 minutes or so). Throw in a pound of cheese.

Tonight i made some with mild chorizo, Mexican blend cheese and sauteed peppers and onions.
posted by kathrynm at 4:14 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have recommended this cookbook numerous times in the past, I am doing so again:

The Moosewood Daily Special cookbook is nothing but soups and salads. The reason they call it the "daily special" is because they always have a couple of soups of the day and a couple of salads of the day, and their daily lunch special is a portion of one of each, of your choice.

So that means - all the soups and salads in the book are meant to be combined, paired or tripled, to make complete meals. You'll find a really big assortment of styles, ingredients, and methods, everything from really simple single-vegetable side salads to big hearty batches of soup stuffed with grains and beans and veggies, along with fish soups, seafood salads, and chilled soups as well. And there's a small chapter at the end with an assortment of salad dressings and croutons and bread-type accompaniments (the biscuit recipe is my go-to).

I do exactly what you do, where I do a lot of cooking once a week and live off it, but with this I make a couple batches of a couple different things, and then I can mix and match over the course of the week as the fancy strikes, so there's a variety ("let's see....I had the carrot salad with the the pasta salad last night, let me try the pasta salad with the soup tonight"). Or, I pick a soup and have a couple biscuits with it (the biscuit recipe is REALLY easy to scale down to just a couple biscuits, and is super-easy to throw together), or I roast a single chicken leg and have a salad and a soup as the sides with that. Having the salads in the fridge ready to go also makes it really easy to brown-bag it - "packing my lunch" is simply a matter of sleepily opening a couple of tupperware containers, dishing something into them, and throwing them in a bag.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:21 PM on April 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Whoops, hit "post" too soon -

Some of the soups and salads in the Moosewood book are "serve immediately", and a couple recipes are a little complicated or time-consuming (there's one recipe that involves making meatballs out of rice flour and seitan or something, and, just, no), but some of them come together super-easy and keep a long time. There's a pasta salad in particular that's just pasta with strips of roasted red pepper and green beans, with some chopped nuts and in a vinaigrette. And there's a bulgur salad with grapes and celery and chopped pepper and walnuts that I make every year because it is bloody delicious.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:23 PM on April 20, 2016

Do a google search for "sheet pan dinners". Boom.
posted by cleverevans at 4:24 PM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Lentils! Plus various other beans and grains -- cook a big batch and chop up some "accessories", then combine throughout the week.
posted by sonyaellenmann at 4:37 PM on April 20, 2016

I cook once a week, too, and I like to make a couple of stews and/or casserole-type meals each time. Then, I don't have to bother with a side dish, and I think a lot of them taste better as leftovers. Some of my favorites are:

Slow cooker taco chicken bowls (can be made in a pot on the stove, which is how I do it).
Hearty Turkey and Bean Chili
Turkey sausage and tomatoes over pasta
Stuffed pepper soup (but store the rice separately if you don't want it to absorb a lot of the soup)
Copycat Olive Garden Pasta e Fagioli Soup
Cauliflower Curry with Ground Beef
posted by capsizing at 4:44 PM on April 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

I was gonna save this for my future wife, but since we all know how that's going, I give you the cherished recipe for the least hot chili on the planet.

"Aunt Florence's Chili"

2 cans kidney beans, drained
2 cans stewed tomatoes
1 can tomato soup
1 green pepper, diced
1 large onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
The hot part - 1 tsp chili powder
Also optional, 1 lb of meat: either just ground beef, or mix it up with some sausage or veal. Chicken or Tofu also work surprisingly well.

Obviously you cook the celery and onions up in some butter or oil then add everything else and sit on it for an hour. Stir it up. Salt and pepper to taste.

I like my tiny bits of meat burnt, so I cook them separate. This was %40 of my diet for years.
posted by Sphinx at 6:55 PM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

We do this. We tend to do it slightly different than how you describe though. Instead of making "meals" once a week, we do all the parts of the meal in large batches and freeze them in individual portions. Most of this can be scaled down to avoid the freezer.

Regular things:
--Cook a ham. Cut it into as many slices as possible, and cut the rest into chunks. Slices can be used for delicious sandwiches, as well as with starch+vegetable. Chunks can go in omelettes, pasta, soups, etc.

--Slice pieces of steak and cook them to rare/medium-rare. Can be used in tacos, burritos, nachos, beef and broccoli, fried rice, etc. All of those can be assembled from pre-cooked parts and very briefly cooked together. I would not do fried rice or beef/broccoli in the microwave, but the rest would be fine.

--Put chicken thighs (we prefer bone-in) in the crockpot with a bunch of oregano, some garlic cloves, a few bay leaves, and fresh thyme. If you are lazy, like us, you may stop at oregano. Add a bit of chicken stock or water and let them cook until they are falling apart. This can be used for almost anything - Mexican, Chinese, etc. - but is best with rice, beans, and a nice salad.

--Using the ham bone, cook a bunch of white beans. Rancho Gordo yellow eye beans, if you can get them. These freeze well and can really fill out a meal. Use them in burritos, or as a side with a nice piece of ham or a pork chop, and some vegetables.

--Rice and quinoa are both easy to cook and freeze well. Couscous is something that doesn't even require pre-cooking. You can make it in under 10 minutes, with the only active thing being boiling water and pouring.

--Vegetables (pretty much any of them!) and potatoes/yams/sweet potatoes can be cooked in the oven (375-425) with salt/pepper/garlic. Lemon is good with most vegetables too. You literally just move them around a bit and take them out when they are done. For potatoes of all varieties, you can make them into coins/circles and just flip them halfway. Works great.

--How about soup? I used to make a big batch and then take it for lunch all week. Potato leek soup is dead easy - sauté some chopped leeks with garlic. Cut potatoes into pieces. Add potatoes, and cover with stock. Cook until potatoes are done. Season, blend, add some milk/cream. Done in 15 minutes. Butternut squash is the same process, only with roasted squash instead of potatoes. Carrot is pretty similar too.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:04 PM on April 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

When I cook for a whole week, I typically do the same as you - carbs, and a veggie/protein stirfry, but I also leave the flavourings pretty basic (salt and pepper) and add sauces on top. I have a lot of sauces that are easy to use in a pinch - tomato-based pasta sauce, pesto, teriyaki, oyster sauce, black bean sauce, sweet and sour, mild curry, etc. I just pour a little on top and toss it together when I microwave it.

Quinoa is pretty darn versatile, I like it much more than rice. Cook a cup or two of the dried grains and I have enough for the whole week. Good complex carb that's high in protein. It can also be eaten for breakfast like oatmeal - i like it with cinnamon and a bit of honey in milk, add in raisins and walnuts to make it extra nice.
posted by lizbunny at 7:32 PM on April 20, 2016

Quinoa tabobouleh. Grill or poach some chicken breasts as a side and you're good to go. You can also add a can of chickpeas to this recipe to bulk it up. And, if you don't want to mess with the quinoa, you can sub in couscous.
posted by missmobtown at 7:35 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I make big pots of stew and big pots of rice and combine them all week for lunch. One of my favorites is Ethiopian berbere stew. I have zero tolerance for hot/spicy, but I use a third of the spice the recipe calls for, and it's fine. I use this recipe, which is vegan, but I don't see any reason you couldn't just use meat instead of lentils. Berbere is a spice mixture. The recipe tells you how to make it, but I just buy it from the Teeny Tiny Spice Company. They have lots of other interesting spices too, and they come with recipes. (I do not get any money from them - I just really love their products.)
posted by FencingGal at 7:48 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

This kale and quinoa salad is my go-to "cook up a big batch on Monday and eat it all week" recipe. It's delicious, healthy, and super cheap, since it only uses a small amount of walnuts and feta. You should put at least twice as much kale in as she suggests - I usually toss in an entire bag from Trader Joe's - and if this is going to be both lunches and dinners for the week, double the recipe.
posted by capricorn at 7:55 PM on April 20, 2016

Beans and rice, with a little meat for flavoring. Lots of onions and whatever other vegetables you like. You may want to freeze half of the beans. In my refrigerator, they start getting a little iffy after about five days. You could reheat the whole pot every other day or so, but that seems wasteful of energy to me, and they freeze well.

I also make big batches of potato salad that last me almost a week. My recipe is a cold potato salad with eggs, so I feel pretty good about the protein. Sadly, five days is about the limit on this, and it doesn't freeze well. (Actually, it still tasted fine after thawing, but the potato bits had turned to slime.)
posted by Bruce H. at 8:27 PM on April 20, 2016

Melsky's Awesome Bean Soup

4 cloves garlic
4 ribs of celery
4 carrots
1 onion
1 bell pepper
2 tablesppons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cans of black beans

(all amounts are approximate, I just eyeball it)

Crush or dice the garlic and chop the vegetables.
Add olive oil to a crock pot and turn it on high until it heats up
Add garlic, then the rest of the vegetables, and sprinkle the cumin on top.
Let them cook for an hour or so, until this amazing smell fills your house.
Then stir them up and cook for another hour or so.
Then add two cans of beans, but reserve about 1/3 of one of the cans
Let them heat up on high for 15 minutes to half an hour
Then turn to low and let them cook for a couple hours at least.
You can add water or broth if you like
Use an immersion blender to blend the soup right in the crock pot until it's a smooth texture
Then add those beans that you saved to give it a good texture

This soup is vegan (unless you put meat broth in of course) It's a great dish to serve for a mixed group where you don't know people's dietary preferences.

It keeps well in the fridge and actually tastes better the next day. It may freeze well too, but I don't think I've ever had leftovers.

Add hot sauce/hot peppers
Add canned tomatoes in addition to the beans
Add canned tomatoes instead of beans, subtract cumin, add oregano and/or basil to make a great pasta sauce
To make it more chili like, add a can of tomato paste and a can of tomatoes, don't blend it
Instead of olive oil, chop up several pieces of bacon, cook those, then add veggies
Add ham, chicken or ground beef
To make into a dip for chips, don't add liquids and cook with top off until the right texture
I like to eat it with some swiss cheese or sharp cheddar on top

I have also made this on the stovetop and with a pressure cooker
posted by Melsky at 2:06 AM on April 21, 2016

I use my Kitchen Aid Mixer to make multiple batches of fresh pizza dough. Then I throw a few in the freezer, a few in the fridge (in freezer bags of course). The dough can keep in the fridge for 2 weeks. When I get home from work, I pull it out of the fridge and let it warm up and expand in a covered bowl on the counter.

When I grate the cheese and chop veggies, I do multiple batches and store in the fridge.

Then when I'm ready to throw down the pizza: Roll out the dough, bake for 10 min, throw on sauce and toppings, bake for another 10. freshest, most delicious pizza evar and I can eat it all week. Homemade pizza is also KILLER the next day as leftovers.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:04 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a side veg for this sort of thing, I like marinated salads. I find that stuff like this — cold, crunchy and tangy — really goes a long way towards balancing out the hot savory stew-y stuff that cooking ahead tends to get you.

My go-to one right now is cucumbers, onions, feta and white beans tossed with oil, tasty vinegar (balsamic, or ersatz "balsamic," is nice), and salt and pepper to taste. You can add other vegetables or herbs if you have them. The flavor improves for the first day or two that it sits in the fridge, and then stays good for another few days.

Also good: Texas caviar. The basic recipe is black-eyed peas tossed with minced peppers, onions, and maybe other stuff, and dressed with vinegar or lime juice or some combination. I like the recipe I linked to, which has scallions and parsley and worcestershire. Other people add corn kernels. Anyway, same deal — improves for a day or two in the fridge, and then stays good for another few days.

Both of these have enough protein from the beans that you could eat them as a meal if you were so inclined.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:47 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

All winter, I made various version of stew for work lunches. Beans, meat, veggies, chicken(or any other, esp. homemade) broth, with rice, pasta or potatoes.

Black beans, leftover ham and ham bone broth, carrots, rice.
Chili - kidney beans, tomatoes, hamburg, rice.
Unstuffed cabbage - Ground beef, tomatoes, cabbage, rice.
Stew - beef, carrots, onions, cabbage, potatoes.
White beans, Italian sausage, kale, pasta.
Lentils, turkey kielbasa, carrots, onions, kale.
Chicken soup - Leftover turkey or chicken, broth, broccoli, pasta.
Stirfry - chicken, cabbage, yellow squash, onions, peas, pasta. Sauce of ginger, soy, cornstarch, a little sherry, sesame oil.
Leftover roast pork, pinto beans, cauliflower, rice.

I use chili powder, pepper, Italian seasoning, curry, salt, and try to vary things a bit.
posted by theora55 at 8:08 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I do this sometimes. Here are my go-tos:

- Nicaguan-ish Black rice and beans: cook some medium-grain rice. While that's going, sautee a chopped onion and bell pepper on medium-high. After about a minute or so, add half a packet of Goya Sazon and a clove of minced garlic. Make sure the onions and peppers are coated in the sazon, then add two cans of black beans. Cook on medium until the rice is done, then mix. To make it proper Nica black beans and rice, you can then stir fry the beans and rice together in a pan on high for a few minutes. This goes well with a roasted or slow-cooked pork shoulder.

- Pasta with tomato sauce, veggies, and italian sausage. To make this easier, I usually just use jarred sauce and pre-cooked chicken sausage, but it's better with home-made sauce and uncooked sausage if you have the time. I mix up the veggies but I like to use sauteed mushrooms and some sort of green, and maybe sauteed zucchini.

- One other thing I like to do is prepare a mix of veggies that I can use throughout the week. Usually sauteed mushrooms and greens (kale, spinach, chard, whatever) or grilled zucchini/mushrooms/eggplant. For both of these, I season them pretty lightly (just salt and pepper, and maybe some paprika, plus the oil I used to sautee or grill) so that I can use them in different dishes. That way I can throw them in a quesadilla, mix with leftover grains and rice, put them on a salad, mix with pasta and parmesan, put in an omelet, etc etc etc.
posted by lunasol at 10:38 AM on April 21, 2016

A traditional couscous royale is not very spicy, more aromatic.
At a time in my life I cooked this very often - but my recipe, which I had from a Moroccan neighbor, was much more simple than the linked one: just cut up all the vegetables and meat in bite-sized chunks (keep chicken thighs and drums whole), throw them all together into some hot olive oil (or whatever fat you prefer), stir, sauté. Add liquids to cover the meat and veg, garlic, herbs and spice mixture adjusted to your taste (bland, for me, and most times I've had it in Morocco, it was very bland - spiciness came from the extras).
Slow cook for 1-2 hours, up to 3 hours is OK, or just 30 mins in a pressure cooker.
Serve with grilled merquez sausages and couscous.
Make a small bowl of sauce which is a mixture of some of the liquids from the pot with a spoonful of harissa. Anyone can then add the preferred spiciness from this bowl.
For variation, a taboulleh salad instead of the plain couscous.
The stew freezes well, the sausage is not necessary but takes only a few minutes to grill, the couscous is also simple (follow instructions on the box).

The key is to mix more than one meat: lamb and chicken, or veal and duck, or whatever you like, and also different types of vegs and legumes: root vegetables, greens, tomatoes, egg-plant, some sort of squash and of course alliums + chickpeas, lentils or beans. The liquid can be water, broth, crushed tomatoes or a mix of all of these. This gives the complexity and richness of taste which is delicious, even with almost no spices or herbs added. Thyme is good in the dish - parsley is good sprinkled on. You can make the spice mixture from the linked recipe or just add salt and pepper to taste, and a teaspoon each of cumin and cinnamon before you add liquids.

For several years, this basic recipe was our main source of food. We'd vary the selection of meats and vegs every time we cooked it, according to availability. Then we got bored with the concept and took a long break, but recently we have returned to it: it's healthy, super simple and everyone likes it.
posted by mumimor at 4:01 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Some of mine, which you can Google:

Salads in mason jars (Domestic Geek has good ones)

Thai curry and rice (just chop vegetables and meat, get it started, and let it boil)

Mashed root vegetables with kale or spinach (let them boil while you do other things, then mash with sour cream, butter, milk, etc; add sauteed, chopped greens and other vegetables at the end)

Taco or burrito fillings, ready to assemble at work or in the morning (prep beans, bell peppers, greens, guacamole or simply avocado, tomatoes, carrots, quinoa, cheese, or really any other combo of ingredients, on your free day; you can make a lot of different ones and grab what sounds good each day, or vary it from week to week)

Quiche, egg muffins, egg bake, stuffed peppers, and other dishes you can dump a bunch of veggies and some grain into

Fried rice (easy to modify with meat, veggies, and types of rice)

Chicken and vegetables in a cream sauce, started on the stovetop and then baked, all in a cast iron pan

Enchilada bake in a sheetpan

Happy to share recipes; just PM me.
posted by ramenopres at 9:50 PM on April 23, 2016

I've been making semi-random stews for the past few weeks thanks to all your suggestions. For me, they work great. I bought a big pot. I throw a bunch of stuff in (fry some of the meat in the bottom first) and do the laundry and dishes while it cooks. It freezes great, so when it's done cooking I scoop the stew into meal-sized freezer/microwave containers and put them in the freezer. Take one out, put it in the backpack, pop it into the microwave at work. Done. Easy. Thanks!
posted by clawsoon at 9:07 AM on June 5, 2016

And if I'm feeling especially lazy (which is often), I'm not above dumping in pre-cut frozen vegetables, pre-cut mushrooms, and beans from a can.
posted by clawsoon at 9:14 AM on June 5, 2016

Oh, and cleanup is easy because nothing gets baked on or burnt on. Everything is in water all the time (I got a pot big enough that there's no risk of boiling over), so the pot just needs a quick scrub when I'm done.
posted by clawsoon at 10:45 AM on June 5, 2016

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