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Healthy eating: Twelve ways to cook a lot of food quickly

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Although I love cooking, it can be hard to cook a lot of food at one time, such as I do almost every weekend for the coming week. Ditto if you’re cooking for a party or a huge family gathering. It’s exhausting. You have to stand a lot, there’s a lot of repetitive motion (chopping, stirring, waiting) Well, at some point you just want to get on with it and be DONE.

People ask me what I cook and how I decide what to cook. Then they ask me how I find the time. Well, I’m always looking for recipes and my go-to sources are Cooking Light and Fine Cooking magazines. I try to make something new every week. I look for recipes that don’t have too many steps or ingredients. And I start cooking early in the morning, sometimes as early as 5 a.m. Lately I’ve been starting later, but my first suggestion is to get your cooking done while the kitchen is empty, either very early, very late, or while everyone is out of the house. If you have a small kitchen like I do, you know what it’s like when people are trying to prepare a meal in the same room you’re trying to cook in. Not fun. You lose your cooking Zen.

Here are some other tips:

Make a list of all the meals you are cooking and all the ingredients before you go to the grocery store. Many recipes make a shopping list for you. Read each recipe from beginning to end. Sometimes ingredients get left out of the ingredient list but show up in the preparation section. Argh! It’s so frustrating to find you’re missing an ingredient when you’re in the middle of cooking!

Combine tasks. Today I had to chop onions and garlic for spaghetti, hamburgers and risotto. So rather than chop them separately each time I started a new recipe, I chopped the onions all at once, then the garlic all at once, and then divided them up by recipe. I also chopped the carrots and thyme that I needed. Chopping is what I hate most, so this method is so much easier and saves me from cleaning the cutting board and knife over and over and over and over and over.

Use one pan when you can. I had made spaghetti and risotto, but hadn’t browned the meat for either of them. I had to brown pork chops for dinner, too. When the spaghetti and risotto were done, and I was later preparing the chops, first I browned them in olive oil and put them in the oven for braising. While they braised, I browned the sausage for the risotto in another 2 teaspoons of olive oil (same skillet, didn’t clean it. The sausage picked up the flavor from the seasoning on the chops.) After that I added 2 more teaspoons of olive oil to the same skillet and browned my ground sirloin for the spaghetti sauce. In a very short period of time I had browned three meats, all in one skillet. If I had browned all that meat separately, I would have had to clean the skillet twice and wait for the oil to heat each time. Time and effort wasted.

Clean as you go. If you have a dishwasher, it can become a bad habit to put everything you use straight in there after one use (at least it was a bad habit for me). But some pans and utensils can be rinsed and put away (or used again) as you cook without going into the dishwasher. It saves clean-up later and keeps your counters cleaner and clearer for prep.

Buy multiple measuring utensils. I own 3 sets of dry measuring cups (for solids), seven liquid measuring cups (glass and plastic, from 1/4 cup to 4 cups) and 3 complete sets of measuring spoons, plus a few strays. When I’m in a hurry, like I usually am, these duplicates save my life. If I were really efficient, I would only have 2 sets of measuring spoons, and use one for wet ingredients and one for dry. Nothing like measuring out a teaspoon of olive oil then realizing you need that teaspoon to measure baking soda.

Be aware of timing: I only have one oven, so I bake or roast anything that takes half an hour or less first. After those are done, I cook the longer cooking foods like roasts and stews. Otherwise, you’re stuck waiting for something to cook 3-4 hours, which can really put you behind. This morning I broiled hamburgers and roasted chicken breasts before using the oven for anything else.

Don’t forget sides. If you have the time, cook your own vegetables. My favorite way to cook just about any fresh vegetable is roasting. Roasting brings out the sweetness in vegetables, and you can roast just about any vegetable in a few teaspoons of olive oil at 400 degrees for half an hour or so. It’s a no brainer. Try not to fall into the trap of eating a lot of canned vegetables. They can be — and usually are — high in sodium. But there are many low sodium frozen vegetables available, Read the labels. Frozen vegetables are real time-savers and nutritional power houses.

Cook two things in the oven at once when you can. It’ll save you time. Roast a pan of chicken and a pan of green beans. That’s 3/4 of dinner right there, and it only took 1/2 hour.

Prep a little the night before. Soak the dried beans. Clean and marinate the chicken. Make the hamburger patties. Wash and cut up the broccoli. Wash the greens. Make a big pot of brown rice to last the entire week. Anything you can do the night before will save you time the next day.

Cook double batches. It takes as long to cook two batches of marinara sauce as it does to make one. So make two and freeze one for a night when you’re snowed in or just don’t feel like cooking. Or give one to a friend or a relative.

Find someone to talk to. I know I said get everyone out of the kitchen, but cooking goes a lot faster when you have company, as long as they’re not trying to cook around you!



2 responses to “Healthy eating: Twelve ways to cook a lot of food quickly”

  1. Ann Olson says:

    You are brilliant, Jules! Find someone to talk to. That’s the key.

    • admin says:

      Thanks, Ann. I don’t know if it’s brilliant or not, but I just know everything goes a lot faster when you’re having an interesting conversation with someone you like.

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