Consider this a general guide to being savvy in the kitchen.
By Sarah-Jane Bedwell
(Photo: Con Poulos)
For some people cooking can be relaxing and even therapeutic, but if you’re just getting home from work and trying to get dinner on the table in a flash, spending time in the kitchen can feel like a chore. Learning a little bit of efficiency can cut down on the prep time and save money. But more importantly, you’ll have more time for other things you’d rather do (enjoying the meal, perhaps?). These time-saving tips will make your life a whole lot easier.
1. Prep First
Read through the recipe and gather all ingredients before you begin to cook so you aren’t running back to your cupboard for a bay leaf later when your hands are covered in sauce. Gather measuring cups, knives, pots, cutting boards and ingredients so they’re ready to go. Also, take a look at the recipe and make sure your ingredients are properly prepped. Chop everything that needs to be chopped at once, rather than trying to chop each item as you go. Not only will prepping your ingredients first save you time, it will also prevent you from missing an important step in the recipe or burning something in the pan because you didn’t have the next ingredient ready.
2. Befriend the Freezer
Ice cube trays aren’t just for ice! Use the perfectly portioned spaces to store extra pesto, veggie purees, tomato paste and fresh herbs frozen with a bit of water. They can be used directly out of the freezer. Pop out a cube any time you need a small portion, to avoid waste and speed up your meal prep.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to efficiency in the kitchen is multitasking—or simply getting a head start. It’s easy to underestimate how long it’ll take to say, boil water or preheat the oven, only to have it eat up time later. Why chop carrots, sauté onions, then boil water when you can do all three at once? Chop your veggies while the water is heating up or check to see if the recipe calls for the oven and get that going while you prep.
4. Set a Timer
You might think you have a good sense of how long 5, 10 or 15 minutes might be, but guesstimating isn’t going to work to your advantage in the kitchen. Timers keep your multitasking on track because they help you to remember one task as you are working on another one. Between the timer on your phone, fridge and the one on your kitchen stove, you have plenty options to keep track of what’s cooking.
5. Stick to One Recipe
Ever come across so many recipes on Pinterest that you want to try them all? Sounds great—but just don’t try them all at once! Stick to cooking two or three recipes per meal, and even fewer for beginners. When you’re following a recipe (unless you have it memorized) you have to concentrate on it closely and read steps multiple times to make sure you are prepping correctly. You’ll set yourself up for disaster if you try to take on more than two or three recipes at a time. Instead, pick a recipe for your main course or for one side item, and then round out your meal with simple sides like microwavable whole-grain brown rice, a simple salad or sliced fruit. And only cook one new recipe at once. This strategy will keep your efficiency up and your stress level down.
6. Cook for a Crowd
Cooking in large batches is another great way to save yourself cooking time and energy later. Multiply your meals by making double the amount of stuffed peppers or quinoa casserole, and dinner next week is all ready to go. Simply place leftovers in freezer-safe baggies or Tupperware and label food with the name of the recipe and the date. Labeling is an important time-saver—that way you won’t have to fish through every baggie in the freezer looking for your leftovers!
7. Keep an Organized Kitchen
Organizing your kitchen consistently can save you loads of time. Have a specific spot for each type of food: cheeses in one drawer of the fridge, veggies in another, meats on the bottom shelf and yogurts and milk on the top shelf. Then you can skip the whole scavenger hunt—or avoid buying duplicates of food you already own. Keep items that you use in nearly every recipe, like oil or salt and pepper, out on the counter beside the stove for extra-easy access.
8. Clean as You Go
It’s the oldest tip in the book, but totally worth repeating. Keep out a scrap bowl out so you don’t end up with onion peels and pepper seeds all over the counter. You’ll keep your cooking area clean, giving you more space to work without wasting time on multiple trips to the trash can. Avoid a stressful mound of dishes in the sink by putting them in the dishwasher as you go. When you’re done with the milk or the cinnamon, put it back in the fridge or the spice cabinet! You’ll thank yourself later.
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