Time Saving Tips in the Kitchen
After celebrating a year of blogging in the past week, I started thinking about the things that I've learned and how so many of you have reached out over this time to share how helpful and easy so many of my recipes are. The more people I've talked to, the more I've realized, that I am absolutely not the norm (never have been, ha!) in terms of spending time in the kitchen. I clearly love it - but I think there's a lot of people out there that don't feel that way. They feel that its a chore, that they're uninspired or bored with eating the same things week to week, or they don't know how to effectively use their time to make it more fun and exciting.
I've tried to keep this blog easy to follow - there's nothing that makes me more bonkers than going to look at a recipe, and it takes you 10 minutes to even find the ingredient list and steps because the author has written their entire week out leading up to that. Don't get me wrong, I love a little back story, but not when it takes forever to load a page. I also have aimed to keep my ingredients to be pretty normal and easy to find. And on the same page, keeping what you need to create a meal to be less than 45 minutes of cooking time, and a minimal list of ingredients.
But what about what I haven't talked about? Some tips and tricks to make it easier for those times that you're in the kitchen - from food prep, to the tools at your finger tips, to shortcuts and more. So that, is what I thought might be useful to you. Check out below for how I get cooking and organized.
Have a stocked spice cabinet
This one I'm pretty sure I get from my dad - growing up, he ALWAYS had every single spice you could imagine in his spice cabinet. Even if its a weird obscure one he only used for one particular meal, it was there. Know what flavor profiles you love and always have them on hand because its those spices you can mix with anything to create a meal quickly. For me I always have salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried minced garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, chili powder, smoked paprika, and cumin. I of course have way more than that, but these are the ones that I tend to use on a daily basis.
Another tip for spices? Keep them in glass containers to keep them fresher for longer. If I happen to buy a brand that's in a plastic container, I will pour it into a glass one at home (reuse and recycle!)
What's your default meal?
We joke in our house about default meals. It doesn't sound like something that would be that fun or delicious, but a default meal, is that one meal you can make in a pinch with little ingredients. For me - its a garlicky and parm pasta with veggies. I always have a few varieties of pasta in my pantry, and I also always have some type of veggie, either fresh or frozen. So in the least, I can throw together some veggies either in the oven to roast, or microwave to quickly steam, and then saute them all together with cooked pasta. Top with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic and you've got a meal in less than 15 minutes.
This might sound silly - but having tools in the kitchen that you love to work with and are of good quality really do make a difference. I'm not saying to run out and buy the most expensive set of knives that money can buy, but investing in some quality pieces (or better yet, asking for them as a gift) are great ways to build up your kitchen supplies.
Of course a great set of knives is a must - no one wants to cut up a tomato with a dull knife, leaving it sad and shmooshy. But in the same token, having a knife sharpener is almost just as important. Because even the best of knives get dull - so having a sharpener on hand to keep that blade crisp will make prep time that much faster. I got this 15 piece Cuisinart Set off my wedding registry and I love it - not only do I love the style of it, it comes with a sharpener, scissors and a great other selection of knives.
In a similar fashion - having some quality pots and pants are just as important. I rotate mine out as they start to become not as great. I personally use 2 saucepans and maybe 2 saute pans in my rotation - I honestly can't tell you the exact set since I've had it for years, but it's similar to this one. I personally prefer calphalon to copper or nonstick - I've always just had better luck and they've always lasted longer.
I didn't think buying a Blendtec (or Vitamix) would have changed my cooking game as much as it did. After splurging on myself last summer, I literally use this blender on a daily basis. It allows me to make soup, smoothies, flours, nut butters, juice, and so much more. I waited for a sale and was well worth the money. After years of using hand me down blenders, I will never go back.
One last piece I'd highly recommend is a cast iron pan. This steps up your game for cooking. You cant get a good sear without one - and you can get them ANYWHERE. Mine was $10 from some random store in Maine, and its lasted me for almost 10 years. Word to the wise: never wash it with soap, just a scrub pad to get the grease off.
Grocery Shop - once a week (okay, maybe twice)
Try try try to get into a habit of grocery shopping on a regular basis. I go every Saturday or Sunday a.m. and occasionally will run midweek if I'm inspired to make something specific that I already have in my pantry. Going on a more regular schedule will allow you the time to be at home cooking rather than spending time in the store.
I did a full blog post about effective grocery shopping - and similarly, getting your staple items is important too. I can go without a list and get almost the same stuff every week. Of course, I do bring a list for the weird items that I need, like coffee creamer or toilet paper, but we eat mostly the same fruits, veggies and proteins, just cooked in very different ways. I know that if I get my staple list that I can make almost any of my default (see above) meals.
Pack your freezer
Did you know that there is literally no difference in nutritional value for fresh versus frozen fruits and veggies? Literally they are the same. So pack your freezer. Did you also know that frozen veggies are SO much cheaper than fresh? Odds are good that by the end of the week you've probably eaten a good amount of what fresh stuff you have - and you maybe just need something different. I always have a full drawer or two in my freezer of just different fruits and veggies. I love keeping on hand things like, peas, broccoli, corn, spouts, spinach, mixed berries, pineapple, veggie noodles and cauliflower. Sometimes I'll rotate in different veggies if some are on sale. And often too, if I find that a bag of fresh kale is starting to get a little sad by the end of the week, I'll pop it into the freezer for use later.
Not only are having frozen items great on hand for dinner, but also for smoothies, soups or breakfast. I can whip up an omelette with just frozen veggies if I have to - so be creative and use that freezer.
Similarly, load up on various proteins - if chicken goes on sale, buy a bunch. I always keep extra on hand for that rare night that I have no idea to make, I'm not stressing that I have no food to work with - thus resulting in making some more unhealthy choices. If I have back up options, I'll pick the healthier option every time.
Leftovers are a chef's best friend
If you're not someone who loves to eat leftovers - hear me out. There are two types of leftovers in my book: the first, being an entire meal. You made a chicken pot pie, there's a few servings left. That's amazing - because there's your lunch or dinner for the next day. The second kind of leftovers though, are my favorite. Maybe you make too much rice, or grill up a ton of veggies. That rice is going to be perfect in a totally different recipe the next day a.k.a. fried rice. Or a leftover cooked chicken breast, shred it the next day to make tacos. Either way, don't necessarily throw it away, or make the exact amount for you need for the recipe. There is almost always a second use for a leftover item, and it saves you time the next night.
Should you meal prep?
To be honest - this is super personal. I go through phases where I'm into it, and then most of the time, I'm not. And here's why: I get bored. While yes, I love overnight oats, I personally don't love them everyday for breakfast. I want eggs one day, PB toast the next, and overnight oats on the third day. So for me, prepping a bunch of food for the week doesn't work. Frank on the other hand, eats almost the exact same food every day and that works for him. If you find that prepping food for the week works for you, then I would say have at it. In the times that I do meal prep, I am prepping usually two or three options, or varieties of things (i.e. roasting a ton of veggies and using them in a variety of ways) I will say, that it does save a ton of time: prepping things in the matter of one day saves you time in the long end.
Have three GREAT dishes you can make without a recipe
I cant stress this enough. I know without a doubt that I can make pad thai, chicken pot pie, shepherd's pie and vegan mac & cheese with my eyes closed. I don't even need to look at the recipe. Those aren't the only ones that I've put to memory of course, since I love to cook, but if you're someone who doesn't love it, knowing how to make three great dishes allows you to whip it up on the fly. You know the ingredients, you know how long it'll take, you don't need to look up how long it needs to bake for - you've got it down. That saves you time in the long end, AND (and most important in my book) BUILDS CONFIDENCE.
Sometimes I think cooking can be super intimidating - what if it tastes terrible? What if I forget something? What if I don't know when its done? There's all of these variables that could result in it being horrible. I still to this day get nervous cooking for people, because eating together is an experience, something that I want my guests to enjoy. But, most of the time it comes out great and I was nervous for no reason. The more you play in the kitchen, the more confident you grow - in mastering those three recipes or trying something new. So learn how to make that pad thai, and learn how to make it great every, single, time.