Monday, January 9, 2012

Cooking Strategies

These little hands are the reason I like to and have to prepare ahead for meals.  
Before I had my daughter, I worked outside the home 40 hours a week.  This meant that from the time I left in the morning and until I got home at night, I was gone about 9.5 hours each day.  Besides working, I also had to maintain a clean home, grocery shop, do laundry, make meals, and the list goes on.  Needless to say, I didn't have a whole lot of time to spend cooking.  I no longer work outside of the home, but I still don't have a lot of time to spend cooking.  I have many unplanned interruptions throughout the day (I'm sure anyone who's cared for a child knows what I'm talking about), and it just so happens that they often come when it's time to make dinner!  So I've developed some strategies for getting dinner on the table (almost always) on time despite limited time.

  • Do as much prep work as you can throughout the day.  I tend to have a little extra time in the morning, so that's when I try to get some of my cooking prep done.  Use whatever time works best for you, whether it's in the morning, early afternoon, or the night before.  This includes:
    • chopping vegetables.  Just put them in a bowl and cover with a lid or cling wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
    • mixing dry ingredients.  For example, if we're going to have cornbread with our meal, I'll measure and mix all the dry ingredients ahead of time.  This also helps with cleanup after dinner, since I can get all the dishes used in prep (i.e. measure cups and spoons) washed and put away long before dinner!
    • set all needed ingredients and utensils on the counter.  Some meals require quite a few ingredients and dishes/utensils, so I'll get everything I need out ahead of time.  That way I'm not scrambling around the kitchen trying to find everything when it's time to cook.
    • shredding cheese.  It's often (but not always) cheaper to buy cheese in blocks rather than shredded, so I make sure my cheese is shredded ahead of time.
  • Make the meal the night before or the morning of and simply reheat when it's time to eat.  This actually works quite well with many pasta sauces, as it allows the flavors to blend longer.  I've also been known to do this with casseroles, soups, and salads (just leave the dressing off).  In fact, this is sometimes my trick to making sure dinner's on time when we're having guests over.  For example, I'll make ham and potato soup earlier in the day and reheat shortly before the guests arrive.  I like to serve it with cornbread, so I'll prepare the dry ingredients and also assemble a salad ahead of time.  
  • If you're making a casserole, assemble it ahead of time and refrigerate until ready to bake.  Just keep in mind that that since it was refrigerated, it will require a little extra time in the oven.
  • One of my favorite tools for making dinner with little prep time is the slow cooker.  When I'm making something in the slow cooker that requires a bit of prep, I do it the night before and just keep it in the refrigerator.  That way all I have to do in the morning is take it out of the refrigerator, set the time on the slow cooker, and turn it on!  This was especially helpful when I was working!  Just keep meats and veggies separate until you're ready to turn the slow cooker on.
  • Keep hot dogs in the freezer!  Lest you think I have my life together all the time and always prepare a homemade, from-scratch meal for my family, I don't.  Yes, there are those days where I just can't get anything together and it's always nice to know there are hot dogs in the freezer!  My husband passes right by the grocery store on his way home from work, so on these nights, I'll simply ask him to stop and pick up some buns.  It's one of the easiest meals and my family loves hot dogs!
  • Make a double batch and freeze!  This works well with pasta sauces and soups.  I'll often double the recipe just so I have some extra to freeze for a quick dinner the following week.
  • There are many other methods, as well, including freezing chopped veggies (I know people do this with onions and they can be chopped in the food processor); cooking, shredding/chopping chicken (or other meats), and freezing it; sticking raw chicken breasts (or other meat) in a zip top bag with marinade and freezing it (it marinates as it's defrosting); among many other methods.  If you have any time-saving or prepare-ahead tips, please leave a comment!  We'd love to have your input and ideas!


Kristin said..., that last picture of the red sauce going into pork? looked really yummy! Do you have a link to that post? :)

Kimiko said...

Yes, that was the barbacoa on this site (that picture actually isn't in the barbacoa post, but that's what it is!

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