Cooking can take time—a valuable asset that not everyone can spare. Fortunately, you need not surrender to processed convenience foods to save time and money in the kitchen. Even if spending time in the kitchen is one of your favorite pastimes, spending less of it on mundane chores will leave you more time for the pleasurable tasks at hand, like eating and drinking.
Here are six places to start:
1. Master Some Signature Sauces
Try one of Waters’ sauces, or learn a pesto by heart. Pesto is versatile way beyond pasta; it can be used on vegetables, sandwiches, soups, dips, spreads, marinades, eggs, you name it. And once you master pesto, you can play around with other herbs, nuts, and flavors in the mix as well; my go-to pesto is always spiked with jalapeno.
Quick and Simple Pesto: Place 2 large cloves of garlic in the bottom of a blender or food processor. Add 3 cups very firmly packed fresh basil leaves, 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, and 1 cup olive oil. Process for 10 seconds. Add 1⁄2 cup pine nuts, briefly process, and season to taste with salt and pepper. [Note: Pine nuts are currently exorbitant in price; almonds and cashews are great replacements, as are most nuts.]
2. Make the Freezer Your Friend
Frozen food has gotten a bum rap, but all frozen food need not be equated only with TV Dinners and petrified pizza. I know many a chef who secretly (and not so secretly) swear by frozen peas over fresh ones. I have found the freezer to be an invaluable tool in preserving local produce because me and canning, sadly, don’t get along very well.
The freezing process itself does not destroy nutrients, and although the texture of some items, like berries, might not translate exactly the same after thawing, the flavor alone of farm-stand strawberries in the middle of winter is a thing of sheer beauty. By preserving local products, you cut down on imported produce off-season, which means cutting down on your food miles and skipping the extra cost of imported produce. And it means having food prepped and ready to go when you need it.
3. Quicken Kitchen Clean Up
Clean as you go, even if that just means scraping and putting dirty items neatly in the sink (bonus points for getting them in the dishwasher). Also, look at your gameplan and figure out which pans, pots, and bowls you can use more than once without cleaning in-between (use the scrambled egg bowl for pancake batter; steam broccoli in the pasta pot, etc.) to reduce items requiring cleaning.
In terms of dishwashing, save time and water by skipping the rinse; simply scrape instead. Most people pre-rinse dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, yet modern dishwashers—certainly those purchased within the last 5 to 10 years—do a superb job of cleaning even heavily soiled dishes. Many manufacturers, in fact, recommend not rinsing.
Also to save time and water, wash only full loads. The dishwasher uses the same amount of water whether it’s half-full or completely full. Putting dishes in the dishwasher throughout the day and running it once in the evening will use less water and energy than washing dishes by hand throughout the day.
4. Pre-Prep Your Produce
After a big grocery or farmers market shop, wash and prepare all of your produce in one fell swoop. This sets you up for the week and means you only have one round of veggie-prepping clean-up rather than a bout after each meal–while saving you money on pre-packaged produce.
In terms of peeling, if you buy organic produce you don’t need to remove the peel from thin-skinned fruits and vegetables. Pass the peeling on apples, tomatoes, eggplant, pears, potatoes, cucumbers, and most fruits and vegetables where the skin is thin or edible. Much of the insoluble fiber and many of the antioxidants and vitamins are located in the skin.
If you have small children, prepare some of the produce with the aim of freezing it to use as a “cool-down tool.” Freeze rinsed blueberries, sliced bananas, or diced strawberries to add to piping hot oatmeal–they defrost and quickly bring the oatmeal to eating temperature. The same thing can be done to peas and other vegetables to be added to pasta, soups, etc.
5. Become a Mix Master, Make Your Own Baking Mixes
Unbeknown to many, there is a happy place located somewhere between the box of Bisquick and the chaos of a baking mess. Welcome to the homemade mix. There are a number of pancake/muffin/waffle mix recipes floating around the Internet, but this “Fauxquick” one is great because you can use it for any Bisquick recipe.
6 cups all-purpose flour (swap out any portion of this for whole wheat flour)
3 Tbsp baking powder
1 Tbsp baking soda
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp salt
1 cup vegetable shortening (opt for one that is free of hydrogenated oils and has no trans-fats)
Sift everything except shortening into a mixing bowl. Add shortening and mix with a hand mixer until the mixture is fine and free of lumps. Store in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to two months.
6. Tout Your Tools
Tongs. A simple pair of kitchen tongs can become an extension of your hand, like very fragile fingers that can take extreme heat.
Use your tongs for everything from getting pizza out of the oven, to tossing salad, roasting peppers on the burner, stirring pasta, or whatever you don’t want to do with your fingers.
A good garlic press.
A good vegetable peeler.
Ceramic ginger grater.