Home cook sharing her secrets

Peterborough: Woman saving time, money in bulk food prep gives class at River Center

Seven years ago, Laura Mahoney of Peterborough opened up her big upright freezer to take out some meat, and discovered that the freezer had died and all of her food was thawing. It was a big freezer, and a lot of food. She had a choice to make – throw it all away, or cook it . Not one to waste food, Mahoney decided on the latter, and spent the next three days over the stove, making casseroles, chicken meals, meatloaf, meat pies and more. When the new freezer came in, the meals were popped in and taken out to be heated up for dinner.

Suddenly, Mahoney’s life got a whole lot easier. Instead of coming home and having to cook, she could just put a pre-made meal in the oven for an hour to heat, and dinner was served.

“It was just heat and eat, and it was so convenient,” said Mahoney in an interview earlier this month . But when the meals ran out months later, and Mahoney had to go back to cooking dinner every day, she decided that she would rather cook once or twice a year in huge batches than have to put in the work every night.

She waited until she and her husband received their income tax return, then sat down and took two days to plan out 106 meals, determining what she would need to make them. Then, she went out and bought all the ingredients for her big cook. It’s been the model she’s followed ever since.

And Mahoney has learned plenty of things along the way. She tries out at least one new recipe every time she cooks. Some, like a Mexican casserole, have become such family favorites that she now has several different varieties. Other attempts, such as a cheeseburger spaghetti casserole, were less successful.

“The dog wouldn’t eat it,” she said with a laugh. “It was the most horrible thing I’d ever tasted.” And disappointingly, she’d made enough for eight meals. Now, she says, new items are not made in large portions until after they’ve proven they freeze well.

She’s also picked up a lot of practical tips. For instance, Monday mornings are the cheapest time to shop for meat, as grocers are clearing space to make room for the coming weekend batch. And purchasing aluminum pans for 20 cents each eliminates the need to wash dishes or transfer frozen food into baking dish when it comes out of the freezer. Even just arranging your meals so that you cook all your beef recipes at the same time are things that Mahoney had to learn the hard way. Now that she’s got the process down pat, though, she’s decided to take on a challenge her friends have been pushing her toward for years: teaching her method to others.

Mahoney will be teaching a class on her bulk-cooking and freezing method, complete with five starter recipes, a full grocery list and tips for how to organize the cooking and shopping experience for the best results. It won’t actually involve cooking, said Mahoney, but will provide everything that a novice to the idea will need to start precooking and freezing all their meals. And since not everyone has a large freezer or the means to purchase half a year’s worth of ingredients, Mahoney will show how to make a total of 10 meals for a family of four, for a cost of just over $100.

Mahoney doesn’t claim to be a nutritionist or a high-profile chef. “I mean, things like pepperoni casserole aren’t the healthiest,” she said. “Although it tastes good.” But her meals are those that any family would eat on a day-to-day basis. And for those that want a wider variety, she said, there are dozens of cookbooks and recipes online that are specifically built to freeze well, so once the basics of the method are down, individuals can adjust their cooking to their nutritional needs.

“There’s something to say about comfort food. And everything I cook is food a typical family would eat,” said Mahoney.

Mahoney will hold her class at the River Center on two dates: Feb. 19, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., and Feb. 22, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. The class is free.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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