Cooking is how I relax, and I legit love it. But some days are so exhausting I just want to eat. Yet, I usually have to feed people. My trick to saving dinner when I’m just wiped out (while resisting the allure of expensive takeout) is cooking extra on nights I have more energy.
I don’t mean making entire extra meals and freezing them – though I fully endorse that option. I like to make extra staples from scratch of certain recipes, that I know I can use to make weeknight meals easier the rest of the week.
Here are the 9 foods I always prepare in bulk, so that my own weeknight meals get so much easier.
Above: My pulled chicken tacos. Family favorite!
1. Pulled chicken
My Pilates teacher gave me this recipe for slow-cooker lemon herb pulled chicken from Real Food Whole Life (OMG I know, that sentence, ha) and I adapted it to make it even easier. It freezes well and goes with absolutely anything, making it perfect for preparing in large batches to save for later. I make it once then eat it for several days — in tacos, with rice and a side of vegetables, in casserole, as a sandwich, in pasta, and on salads.
It’s so good, one of my friends called it “Crack Chicken” because she swears it all but cured her of the flu.
Whenever we have rice, I make at least twice as much as I need and freeze family-sized servings in zippered bags. (Yes, rice freezes just fine!) The flattened bags also stack nicely in the freezer. On any given night, I can put together “rice dish,” a family favorite, in just 10 minutes. Sure, it only takes about 20 minutes to make rice from scratch, but sometimes even that 10 minutes makes a huge different — not to mention, it’s one less pot to clean up afterwards.
3. White beans. Or really, any beans.
Navy beans are my favorite, but this trick works with all beans: When I soak them for one recipe, I soak extra and freeze them in zippered bags, like I do with rice. And if I’m cooking them completely, I freeze some cooked beans, but I make sure to mark the bags so I know which ones are fully cooked and which ones are just soaked.
I use the quick-soaking bean method from Bon Appétit, because who can remember to soak beans overnight?
4. Eggplant mush pizza
The name! Gross! I know! But my family loves this Eggplant Mush Pizza that I shared in South Carolina’s Free Times in 2008, which means we’ve been enjoying it for a decade. Making four or five servings of it is as easy as making one, and summer is a great time to make it because of the abundance of eggplants and bell peppers in so many areas.
5. Pie (or tart or quiche) crust
A tart topped with random bits and pieces of goodies from the fridge makes an excellent, easy weeknight dinner. Once again, I like to store the extra dough in a zippered bag and flatten it because it’s so easy to roll into a rectangle when I’m ready. And now that I’ve perfected my pâté brisée, this is an easy favorite.
I only roast a chicken when we’ve run out of chicken stock and I need to make more. Having a ready supply of homemade stock is a great money and time saver. It’s easy to make chicken stock in the slow cooker too. We then can use it for making risotto (check this summery sweet corn and cherry tomato risotto recipe we found), soups of all kinds, and any other dish that can benefit from a little extra flavor.
7. Tomato sauce
Especially in the summer, we often seem to have spare, over-ripe tomatoes in the fridge. And I’m not complaining. I just blend them with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Maybe a little basil. That’s it! Now I’ve got a simple marinara that’s just perfect. Sometimes I change it up, adding anchovies or sardines, and olives and capers for a perfect puttanesca.
8. Caramelized onions
When you need to use up some onions, caramelizing them in a big batch is a terrific option They’re easy to make and they freeze well too. Afterwards, you can use them in pasta, on pizza or burgers, in casseroles or omelets, or in an onion pie. I make mine on the stove, but you can also make caramelized onions in an Instant Pot.
9. Fake canned soup
Let me start by saying I think it’s totally okay to use canned soup and I absolutely do not judge. But if you want to make your own from scratch, I have an easy enough recipe for cream of mushroom. Even easier: You can double or triple that recipe and freeze it in jars in can-sized portions to use in any recipe that calls for a can of soup. You can also serve it as a light meal all on its own with a side of crusty bread. (Bread not required, but… yum. Bread!)
Photos © Anne Wolfe Postic