Top 5 Habits for Time-pressured Cooks
1. Wash and bag your greens the day you bring them home
It takes time to save time. Might be counter intuitive, but spending
20 minutes putting away your groceries properly will help you in the
long run. As soon as I get home from the grocery store (or later that
evening if I’m strapped for time), I wash and bag any greens – just
rinse in the colander, and stick them in separate Ziploc bags with a dry
paper towel. The benefit is that it extends the life of your produce,
and makes your greens readily available for a quick meal. No chopping
wet herbs, no limp greens in your cooler. With a few minutes of effort,
you’ve saved yourself a whole host of headaches.
Good for: Herbs, lettuces, and any dark, leafy greens such as Kale or Chard.
2. Cook longer cooking ingredients when you have time
This happens more in the fall, when we gravitate towards the root
vegetables, winter squashes, and other slow cooking vegetables. And
they’re often the last thing you want to cook (or have time to cook) at
the end of the day. The trick is to do the cooking the night before. Or
even 2 days before. I often prep and cook these types of vegetables
without any plan for how I’m going to use them. I just throw them in the
oven at a time that’s convenient for me, and they’re cooked and ready
to go whenever I need them.
Ideas: Cube and roast butternut squash for salads and side
dishes, roast whole sweet potatoes for soups or purees, trim, halve and
roast Brussels sprouts, roast a bunch of chopped carrots, roast whole
beets in foil, throw beans in the slow cooker for a day. Many of these
prepped ingredients can be used cold, and if you want them hot, just
sautee them for a minute or two or warm them in the microwave.
3. Make double the amount
If you’re cooking a specific ingredient that could have multiple
uses, just double it. And I don’t mean double the recipe – I hate eating
the same dish three nights in a row. But double the ingredients that
are easy to repurpose. This week I made a stuffing with kale and shitake
mushrooms. I doubled the kale so that I’d have extra on hand for future
dishes. The remainder is now in my fridge, bagged and ready to use for
an omlette, pasta, fried rice or just about anything that calls for
Good for: Double cook your pasta and rice – toss leftovers
with a few vegetables and cheese and bake them in the oven for a quick
weeknight meal; leftover rice is perfect for fried rice; extra
vegetables like sautéed onions, kale, and mushrooms can be added to
salads, soups, casseroles; and cooked meats like ground beef, or
shredded chicken make the perfect filling for stuffed vegetables
(peppers and zucchini are my favorite), or play a starring role in quick
fix foods like tacos and burritos.
4. Say no to recipes
Up until recently, and I’ll be totally honest here, I felt that my
food wouldn’t taste as good if I cooked it without a recipe. Recipes can
be great if you’re learning to cook, but cooking intuitively also its
benefits, even for those who are novices. For one, cooking is faster
without having to keep checking the ingredients and directions. Even as
an accomplished home cook, when I follow a recipe, I’ll check it upwards
of 10-15 times as I’m cooking the dish. That is a HUGE time sink.
But the other important benefit to cooking without a recipe is that
it forces you to use your cooking instinct, your gut feel. It becomes a
creative process rather than a mechanical process and you’ll actually
become a more intuitive cook along the way. So save yourself time, and
become a smarter cook by ditching the recipes, at least once a week. My
only regret is that I didn’t try this earlier in my cooking career.
5. Use your scraps
I hate to waste food. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I spend good money
on high quality, mostly organic ingredients, and it pains me to see
anything go into the garbage. Food that’s been in the fridge, past its
prime, is another story. But there is plenty of good food that people
regularly throw away that could have a useful second life.
Take for instance the lowly baguette. We buy them fresh, forget to
use them (or don’t use the whole amount) and the next day they’re hard.
Time to throw them into the trash? Not in our home. Day old – even 2-day
old baguettes are cubed, drizzled with olive oil, salt and black pepper
and tossed into the oven. They make great salad croutons or toppers for
soups. You can likewise use them in anything bread-based, like
stuffing, bread pudding, or panzanella. I also like to throw leftover
bread in the food processor, bag the crumbs, and keep it in my freezer
for topping a mac ‘n cheese or making things like meatballs. Prepping
stale bread like this can be done in just a few minutes after the kids
go down, and you have a high quality ingredient ready and waiting for
its next use.
And don’t limit it to bread. So many scraps are usable: chicken bones
make a great stock; leftover mushy risotto can be made into crispy
risotto balls, roasted vegetables are made soup.
See your forlorn throwaways as opportunities. Not only does it save
you time – fewer trips to the grocery store, and give you a host of
ready-to-go ingredients – but it also makes for a happier cooking
experience when you’re not constantly throwing good food away.
The fallacy about cooking is that everything needs to be made from
scratch for every meal. If you’re smart about your work in the kitchen –
doing little tasks consistently over time, you’re less likely to face
the huge hurdle of making the entire meal at 6PM when you get home from a
busy day of work and activities. So yes, you too, can make some great
looking meals on weeknights.
If there are tips for fast and efficient cooking that you use on a
regular basis, let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from
Happy cooking everyone!