Secrets to speed cooking
By Aviva Patz
"Time is not the only thing you'll save -- you'll also improve your health, save money and nurture your family," says clinical psychologist and blogger Alma Schneider, who helps people overcome obstacles to cooking at takebackthekitchen.blogspot.com. Schneider's four-pronged approach can help you crank out great meals in no time.
1. Shop smart and fast.
Speed cooking begins with speed food shopping: Take the guesswork out of nightly dinners by spending only 20 minutes devising a menu for the whole week. Then shop for all the ingredients at once. Schneider has streamlined the shopping process by typing up a list of items she frequently buys. Before she hits the supermarket, she simply prints the list and circles the items she wants. Planning meals in advance also allows you to defrost foods in plenty of time or marinate them overnight as needed.
2. Streamline prep time.
"You don't need to do your prep right before dinner -- that's a rookie mistake," says Schneider. Instead, look for little pockets of time in your day. For example, while the kids eat breakfast, wash and chop vegetables, or rinse fish or meat and put them in a container. Or take out all the ingredients (spices, flour, canned goods) and tools (zester, cutting board) you'll need for later.
"Imagine you're the sous-chef of your own cooking show," says Schneider. "By the time you're ready to make dinner, you'll have everything laid out before you."
Cut back prep time further by buying pre-washed and chopped fruits and vegetables -- fresh or frozen -- and asking the butcher at the meat counter to chop or slice your meats.
3. Get the right tools.
Schneider swears by the time-saving power of a slow cooker. "You can throw ingredients into it and let it cook all day," she says. "I make great chilies, soups, stews -- even lasagna." Use a rice cooker to cook rice and other healthy grains to perfection and have them ready at the same time as your other dishes. Last, a food processor can do the hard work of slicing, grating and heavy mixing for you -- and in a fraction of the time. "None of these items are a huge investment," says Schneider, "but they'll save you tons of time."
4. Recycle ingredients.
Repurpose your dinner ingredients so you can cook once and eat twice -- or even three times. You might grill meat or fish one night and then use the leftovers in a soup, salad, sandwich or pilaf the next day. Shred last night's grilled chicken for tacos tonight. Use yesterday's meatballs to make gyro sandwiches today. The same strategy works for sauces, marinades, salad dressings and spice rubs. Simply prepare double the amount the first time so you can enjoy it again without any extra work.
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Aviva Patz has written for many national publications, including Parents, Parenting, Health, Self, Redbook and Cooking Light.