Here at Casual Kitchen, we're all about making cooking at home as easy and efficient as possible. My goal is to show that even the most time-pressed family can cook great meals at home and literally save a fortune over restaurant meals or takeout.
In today's post I'll share some of our most useful tips and techniques to save time in the kitchen--with some unintended bonus sarcasm thrown in for free. Which of these tips do you use, and what additional ones would you suggest?
1) Be Coarse.
If you're making a recipe that requires a lot of chopping, you can cut back on a ton of prep time if you don't worry so much about the beauty and elegance of your knifework.
An example: With my popular Groundnut Stew post, does it really matter if the tomato is cut carefully or not? (Nope.) Does it matter if the cabbage is in uniformly-small, bite-sized pieces? (Nuh-uh.) Skimping on steps like these can save as much as half of the prep time in a recipe, making a significant dent in the amount of time you're forced to spend cooking.
Now I know there are some kooks out there who consider the chopping of an onion to be a meaningful, zen-like experience. I, however, consider it an obstacle standing between me and my dinner. If you can get yourself into a zen state while chopping onions, have at it. But for my part, I'd rather hack that onion to shreds as quickly as possible, get a healthy meal on the table and start eating. Then I'll be in my zen state.
2) Eliminate prep steps.
Even better than doing your prep work more efficiently, how about leaving it out entirely? If you're making something containing peeled potatoes, seriously, do those potatoes really need to be peeled? No! In fact, skipping that step not only saves time, it yields a more healthy and nutritious meal. After all, the skin of a potato contains lots of nutrients and fiber.
What about painstakingly peeling ginger before grating or mincing it? Not necessary. Taking the papers off of garlic cloves before putting them through your garlic press? Skip it.
Skipping steps like these can change some recipes from marathons to sprints. What types of prep steps do you normally leave out?
3) Get everything out first.
One of the least considered timesinks in cooking is the wasted time, motion and mental energy spent when you have to fish around in your cupboards and drawers for the items you need to cook, especially when there's food smeared all over your hands.
A classic example that I've faced with my Chicken Mole recipe: I'd be (coarsely) cutting up the chicken and then suddenly realize that I didn't have any of my spices out to season it. Guess what? In order to avoid getting chicken goo all over my kitchen, I'd have to wash my hands, dry them off, open the cupboard, pull out the spices, open the jars, remove the inner lids and then have them handy when it comes time to season the meat. My life is growing shorter by the year, and I've just squandered several minutes of it, needlessly.
Now when I cook, I always have spices, tools and anything else I need out and ready to go. When I want to season chicken or other meats, for example, I use my (clean) knife hand to shake the spices onto the chicken as I manipulate it with my (chicken goo-covered) right hand.
Any time you're working with doughs, batters, meats or other messy (or potentially unsanitary) foods, you can waste a ton of time when the things you need aren't at hand. Having everything out and within easy reach will speed your cooking process enormously.
4) Clean up at the end.
Most tasks can be done far more efficiently en masse, and cleanup is a classic example. Save all the cleaning and dishwashing until the end, and you'll avoid interrupting your cooking process with wasteful and inefficient time and motion. This can translate into big time savings.
Note, however, that there's a big exception to this rule: if you're cooking a recipe that has a natural lull in the middle of the cooking process, you can get the cleanup done during that lull, and thus make good use of idle time that would otherwise be wasted.
5) Double, Double.
One of the key factors I think about whenever I consider making a recipe is this: Can it be easily doubled?
A recipe that can be easily doubled offers an enormous advantage to the busy cook: the advantage of scale. For example, you can make a double-batch of my laughably easy Black Beans and Rice in literally the same amount of time it takes to make a single batch. Think about it: measuring out double the spices takes no extra time (uh, especially if you've followed tip #3). Cutting up a whole green pepper takes the same time as cutting up half, since most of your time goes towards washing it and cutting out the seeds. And how much time does it take to open a second can of black beans?
Each of these steps takes at most a few incremental seconds, which means doubling this particular recipe might cost you at most a minute or two in total. And yet you get double the food. Better still, you'll have laughably easy-to-prepare extra leftovers for the next couple of days! Remember, there is no easier way to get a low-cost and low-effort meal on the table than to reheat a delicious meal you've already made. Go ahead and choose your next few recipes with an eye for doubling, and sit back and enjoy the benefits.
A few final words:
Look, I still have readers who make the ludicrous claim that cooking healthy food at home is either a) too time-consuming, or b) too expensive. Spend 15 minutes perusing the recipe index here at CK, and you'll find dozens of easy and ridiculously healthy recipes that can be made in under 30 minutes, cost $1.00 a serving or even less, and yield days and days' worth of laughably easy to prepare leftovers.
Readers, what are your favorite time-saving tips in the kitchen?
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