In this guest post from Liz Kraus learn how a little bit of organization and preplanning saves time and headaches in the kitchen.
For many, the kitchen is the most important room in the house. It is where we chat with friends, eat with family, and naturally where we spend a considerable amount of time cooking up recipes from Italian pasta dishes to Chinese stir fry’s to late night ice cream sundaes. As much as we enjoy cooking however, we are always interested in learning new ways to make life in the kitchen easier.
This article will give 10 time saving tips for the hurried, or not so hurried cook.
1. Reduce clutter.
This may sound like simple advice, but it is amazing how reducing clutter can help you think clearer when cooking and find what you need faster. To remove excess clutter, take notice of everything on the counter or in drawers where you are working. Can anything be put away? For example, are there empty cups or jars, or pot holders laying around? What about pieces of paper or pens and paper? If you don’t use it, get rid of it.
2. Keep constant inventory of commonly used cooking ingredients.
If you cook a lot of Italian or Mediterranean recipes, you know that olive oil is an essential ingredient which should always be on hand. What are your“essential” ingredients for your cooking? Is it tofu? Peanut oil? And do not forget your herbs and vegetables such as parsley or onions. It is a good idea to always have 2 of each essential item on hand if you go through them quickly – such as olive oil. When you toss one out, you will have the spare one ready when you need it. Now you just need to replace the spare one, and so the cycle continues. You will never be left in a jam if you follow this rule.
3. Keep a “favorites” recipe box.
Sometimes it can seem it takes just as long, if not longer, to figure out what to eat than it does to make the actual meal. Save yourself time and keep a recipe box which only contains recipes which everyone in the family likes. This way, you can instantly have a list of recipe ideas at your fingertips which everyone will enjoy – and you aren’t left cooking a meal which won’t satisfy your picky eaters!
4. Prewash and chop your carrots or other similar vegetables.
When returning from grocery shopping, take the extra time to give vegetables, like carrots, a good scrubbing and trim the ends. This step may seem tedious at the time of unloading your groceries, but when it comes time to grab a few carrots for a snack or part of a meal, they will be ready to go.
5. Chop everything at the same time.
When preparing a recipe which calls for chopping a lot of vegetables, for example a stir fry, pull out all the items you plan on using and chop them together. If the recipe instructs you to add them in at different intervals, simply place each ingredient in a separate bowl and set aside.
6. Use a bowl for scraps.
Keeping a bowl off to the side for the specific purpose of collecting scraps from chopping or other prep work will help you keep moving without having to pull out the trash can, dump the scraps in, then wash your hands and so forth and so forth. In addition, if you use your food scraps for composting, this provides an easy one step method for gathering those left over food pieces.
7. Keep a hand cloth on hand.
This sounds almost too simplistic to mention, but it is more handy than one would realize. Watch what the chefs do on the food channels as they prepare their meals. Unless they are dealing with raw meat, they do not take the time to rinse or wash their hands after they finish preparing various ingredients. Instead, they keep a dish towel or hand towel nearby and wipe their hands on that. This keeps you moving without having to pause time and time again as you work your way through a recipe.
8. Store plastic containers and lids separately.
This tip is surprisingly useful in that it makes it much easier to locate the type of container or lid you need quickly. When placed in a drawer or cabinet all together, the containers will not stack neatly, lids will get bent, and the whole setup becomes an annoying mess. By storing the containers by themselves, they are easier to stack and organize. The same rule applies with the lids.
9. A watched pot never boils.
Utilize the times which are “waiting periods”. Such times would be when boiling water, simmering, baking or thawing ingredients.
A perfect example is when preparing a pasta recipe – such as a simple tomato and basil pasta dish. For example, while your water is heating to a boil, you can get the sauce started by heating some olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add in two or three cloves of crushed garlic, and let simmer for 2 minutes. While the garlic is simmering, chop your tomatoes. Then add in the tomatoes along with a dash of salt, cover and simmer until the pasta is cooked in the water. While the pasta is cooking and the sauce is simmering, clean the counters and get your dishes ready for serving. By the time the pasta is done, you are ready to serve the food and you will have your bowls of pasta ready in a flash.
10. Use electricity.
Ok, so this isn’t exactly a “going green” piece of advice, but it sure saves time when it comes to basic tasks. If you have a food processor, use it for time consuming tasks like chopping and slicing. Especially if a recipe calls for blending a number of ingredients at once, such as creating a pesto. Some processors can also be used as bread or pizza dough mixers, which allows you to mix the dough in a fraction of the time it takes to do so by hand.
Cooking can either make a person cringe or make them happy. No matter which end of the spectrum you find yourself, time is always part of the equation. If you could shave off even 15 minutes from your cooking time in order to get to the table faster – wouldn’t you at least try? These 10 tips will not only save you time, but also make your prep work and clean up easier and more efficient. Of course, it can also be said that if time is truly of the essence, you may just want to order carry out!
Liz Krause is the publisher of simpleitaliancooking.com a website which offers free Italian recipes, many of which come from her family’s own recipe boxes. Liz enjoys cooking with her husband and is passionate about Italian food which is simple to make and yet delicious. Her website also features reviews on various Italian products such as the Gelato makers, or the Alessi stove top espresso maker.