Create Your Own Menu (Part 8): Creating Instructions
This is actually one of the more difficult tasks in the process. This step alone is why many choose to not make their own once a month cooking (oamc) menus. It is hard to explain too. But I am going to give it my best shot.
This process takes a lot of organizing and reorganizing. I spend a lot of my time shuffling recipes into categories and then reshuffling to figure out what is left. Here is how I proceed:
As you place the recipes into the OAMM Instructions Template, make sure that you then take that recipe and set it aside. You want to make sure that you aren’t including that recipe in the instructions multiple times.
1. Print the OAMM Instructions Template
I have created an OAMM Instructions Template for you to utilize when writing out your personal instructions for creating a once a month cooking menu. This template will not “fit” with every menu plan but it is definitely a great starting point for building your menu.
2. Separate recipes by meat product
I start out separating my printed recipes into the different meat types. I do this because one of the first things that I need to do is figure out which meats can be pre-frozen, which meats need to be cooked the night before our cooking day, and which items need to be thawed for our cooking day.
Once I have them separated by meat I fill in the number of pounds of each meat that can be pre-frozen. What I mean by this is that you can purchase it earlier in the month, freeze it, thaw it and then use it on your cooking day. The rule of thumb here is that if it is going to be cooked on your cooking day then it can be pre-frozen. If it is not being cooked on your cooking day you can not pre-freeze it, it must be fresh.
The exception to the above rule would be if you can freeze the meat in needed portions. For example if you are doing pork roasts and it is a “dump” recipe where you will need 4 1.5 pound portions of pork loin. You can place the 1.5 pound portions in zippered freezer bags and simply add the remaining ingredients on your cooking day without thawing the meat.
Fill in the upper part of the OAMM Instructions Template with these items. Chicken and ground beef can be cooked overnight in the slow cooker to save time and resources on your cooking day.
3. Separate out baking recipes
After I have decided what needs to happen to meats I start by looking at the tasks for Person B. On my menus I always have person B doing all of the baking items. The reason I do this is so that one person is utilizing the oven. I have found on my own cooking days when both people are trying to use the oven it is a bit of a catastrophe. It just gets too confusing. I also find that there is usually a partner that prefers baking tasks to cooking task. Maybe you can weigh in on that, do you find that to be true with your cooking partner?
So Person B is stuck with the baking. After I have separated my baking recipes out (remember, I don’t do more than three) I then put them in order by what temperature they need to bake. I usually begin with the lowest temperature first and then proceed upwards. The reasons for this are that it is easier and more energy efficient to increase the temperature as the day progresses than to cool the oven off for lower temperature items later. So an example would be that I would start with recipes that are baked at 350 degrees and end with the recipe that bake at 400 degrees.
I fill in the directions utilizing the slots for Person B on my OAMM Instructions Template. Here are a few of the steps I find it important to include:
- Mix and ready for oven the Recipe. Bake for X minutes.
- When Recipe are done, place them on wire rack for cooling or transfer to a cool cookie sheet for flash freezing. Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees.
- While Recipe are baking, prepare Recipe and ready for oven.
As you place the recipes into the OAMM Instructions Template, make sure that you then take that recipe and set it aside.
4. Separate out slow cooker recipes
Now I go through and find which recipes need to be cooked in the slow cooker on your cooking day. Once you find those, place those under person A, right after the chopping instructions. (I keep the chopping instructions for person A in case the partners don’t do them until that day. However, it is HIGHLY recommended to do them the night before. At least those that are able to be done.) Person A will be doing mostly cooking. Again, this is to keep both partners from overlapping kitchen space and duties.
Person A then assembles and gets any slow cookers recipes going.
5. Separate recipes by meat type, again!
The first time we separated the recipes by meat we did it for the purpose of knowing which ones to cook, thaw or pre-freeze. This time we are looking at them to determine the best cooking plan. Note: some of your meat recipes may be in the baking or slow cooker category and might be on your OAMM Instructions Template. These recipes should be in the “done” pile and not worried about.
So we have our recipes in piles by meats (or veggies). When possible I like to cook dishes in the following order:
- Cooked Meats
- Raw Beef
- Raw Pork
- Raw Chicken
The reasoning for this? This is the order of least contamination. Meaning that raw meats, especially chicken have the tendency to cause the most problems when it comes to contamination of food by bacteria. I want to make sure that my dishes are as healthy and “safe” as possible. Now this order doesn’t always work for me but I try to utilize it as often as possible.
As you are placing the recipes in the instructions sheet for Person A, make sure that you are also taking into consideration approximate time to assemble a meal in comparison to the task(s) that Person B will be doing at the same time. Just something to consider.
I like to keep like meats together when possible. For instance, on the February 2010 OAMM Menu there are two beef recipes that are being cooked, Easy Taco Bake and Sloppy Joes. I have Person A doing these at about the same time. That way they are only working with cooked beef and not with cooked beef and raw chicken at the same time.
Leave “dump” recipes until the end right now. “Dump” recipes are those that require no cooking at the stove, only assembly at this point. They are called “dump” because you mix them up or just dump them into a bag or casserole dish and freeze them.
6. Separate out dump recipes
At this point you should only have “dump” recipes left. I save these to the end because after 8+ hours in the kitchen I need some things that I can do off my feet and that don’t require much brain power. Whether Person A or Person B completes them is entirely up to who seems to have the heavier work load for the day and “should” be done by this time.
I assign them to a person based on meat type again. For instance, I usually have one person handling pork “dump” recipes while the other is handling chicken. Again, I am trying to not cause cross-contamination of foods.
7. Time to fill in the chopping order
Not sure if you have ever noticed it but at the top of the instructions for chopping it says, “In the indicated order for most efficiency.” Yes, I go through and figure out which chopped vegetables/meats/grains are going to be needed in which order. I do this so that if a partner team is not chopping until that day they are being the most efficient they can be by chopping the needed items first.
How do I figure this out? Well, I go through my instructions for the day and put the recipes in order by what comes first on the instructions. I proceed to the end putting recipes in their logical cooking order. Once I have completed this task, I go through them and see which items need to be chopped and I fill out the “Ingredients that need CHOPPED” section.
As for the conversions, you will have to wait until the next Create Your Own Menu post for how I figure those. And how do you know what works well in a food processor and what doesn’t? You look at my posts on using a food processor! And if you still need help answering that question do a Swagbucks search. If you still aren’t sure, email me.
Like I said, writing the instructions is one of the most complex parts of Creating Your Own Menu. It may take you some time. You may find that it doesn’t work as well as you wanted it to either. Give yourself some time to get into the rhythm of creating instructions. After a few menus you will start to recognize what works and what doesn’t.
If there are questions on writing instructions that you don’t think that I covered, please ask them in the comments section. I do find there are times that I try to explain something and I forget parts because I do it so often.
**And don’t forget the two great contests going on this month (February 2010) to celebrate the Once A Month Blogiversary. Put your “Create Your Own Menu” knowledge to work in the Once A Month Mom & DOLE Frozen Fruit Menu Contest or enter the Once A Month Mom Cook Off. Great prizes and cash can be won!
And as always, please feel free to direct questions in the comment section below. However, keep in mind that this is a multi-part series. Please review previous posts for answers before submitting questions and review upcoming topics to see if your question will be answered shortly. Thank you.
Previous “Create Your Own Menu” Posts:
- Part 1 – Overview & Assessing Needs
- Part 2 – Researching Sales Items
- Part 3 – Planning Recipes
- Part 4 – Finding Recipes
- Part 5 – Selecting Recipes
- Part 6 – Evaluating Quantity
- Part 7 - Creating a Grocery List
Future “Create Your Own Menu” Posts:
- Part 9 – Substitutions & Equivalents
- Part 10 – Creating Labels
- Part 11 – Bringing It All Together