So much to do, so little time. Whether you work outside your home or otherwise, after a busy day having dinner on the table fast is always
a pain in the neck an issue.
You see a recipe for a 20-minute meal, and attempt it yourself only to find out it took you twice as long. Or when someone– a food blogger?– tells you a recipe is “so quick and easy” and you end up with a mess on your hands that takes forever to clean. You throw in a towel (or an oven mitt) thinking, there is no way a delicious AND healthy meal can be on the table in shorter time then it takes for a take-out pizza. Sounds familiar?
Do not order that pizza yet. I wanted to encourage you not to disregard the concept of quick dinners from scratch. Food bloggers and food magazines are not making it up. I have been cooking for my family almost on a daily basis for years, using fresh ingredients. Along the way I have figured out a few things that make cooking easy, fast, and enjoyable both for the cook and for the recipients.
Here is what helps to be an efficient cook
Place your most often used cooking tools and pantry items at your fingertips: most of the time we don’t get to choose a layout of the kitchen. As much as I love the general layout of my house, the kitchen is far from being my dream kitchen. For one, it has little natural light (which makes it almost impossible to photograph).
Also, the cabinets, though nice quality, are too high for me to reach comfortably.
Well, you can’t have it all perfect, can you? What you can do however is strategically arrange frequently used tools and ingredients. I guarantee you will NOT feel like cooking much if you have to trek your kitchen to assemble everything you need for a recipe.
For example, since I bake almost daily (bread, muffins, granola) I set up the baking station close to the oven. I do not bake elaborate desserts daily however, so the rest of my baking ingredients (cocoa powder, cake flour, cookie cutters, sprinkles, etc.) are in the pantry, on the opposite end of the kitchen.
Here is what else I keep within easy reach: most often used spices (upper cabinet), utensils, oil, salt&pepper (on a tray next to the stove), stand mixer (too heavy to lug around), large canisters with white sugar and all-purpose flour (use those all the time), and my heavy marble rolling pin (I make a lot of pie crust). Obviously, your set up will reflect your needs and cooking preferences.
Organize your pantry: pantry organization deserves a separate post (coming soon) but the main things to focus on are making the ingredients easily accessible and visible (you want to quickly grab that bag of pasta and that can of tomatoes, not dig around and shuffle the half-open bags and boxes. Stock up on items you frequently use and avoid over-stuffing your pantry.
Rely on pre-made (preferably) home-made staples: I call it “freezer stash”. Whenever you have some leftovers that you are not planning to use in the near future, freeze them. A lonely chicken breast, leftover gravy from pot roast, a handful of rice? Zip-lock bag them, label the bag, and put it in the freezer. I use a plastic shoe box for this purpose. Fried rice, burrito, quesadillas, soup, protein for a salad, etc. for your busy night ready in no time!
Keep stock of fresh basic ingredients that can be used in a variety of quick recipes: The list will depend on the type of food your family prefers. I always try to have on hand fresh parsley and cilantro, Dijon mustard, cream, Parmesan cheese and some chicken and beef broth. I can put together a scrumptious sauce to go with some simple chicken breasts/ seafood, steam some veggies– a speedy healthy dinner is done!
keep fresh herbs on hand
Minimize the mess: Clean up as you go, use fewer tools. Honestly, if I could stir soup with my hand, I would. I hate dirtying up dishes while I cook. “Impeccably clean” (Julia Child’s quote) hands are cook’s best tool. I don’t know if she hated dirtying dishes, but I know she was a fan of cleaning as you go. I couldn’t agree more. It’s not fast cooking if you have to spend additional half an hour cleaning up.
Plan your menus: Please do yourself a huge favor and do some form of menu planning. It does not have to be elaborate. There are lots of ideas online on how to menu plan, I will share mine soon. No matter which method you use, you will not only have a list of meals to rely on, but will also make sure you have all the ingredients on hand (hopefully) when you need to throw together some quick dinner.
Use a scraps bowl on the counter: Minimize trips to the trash can and back by using a scraps bowl. No need to pay twenty bucks for one, any old bowl will do.
(really, Rachael Ray?)
Here are additional helpful ideas from around the internet:
Menu Planning from Morganize With Me
Easy family dinner recipes in this book
Good tips on general kitchen organization from Olga’s Flavor Factory (great recipes on that blog too)
It really isn’t complicated, but takes some forethought and planning, as well as a little creativity and thinking outside the box.
Do you have some tricks you use to save time in the kitchen (apart from ordering a take-out, of course?)
Did you find this helpful? Please share it with your friends using the buttons below!