Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Ten Commandments of Quick Meals

After the massive amounts of cooking and baking I did last week it's time for a change of pace in my cooking style.

10. Organize your kitchen. If you have to guess where to find something it takes 250% more time to get it. Refrigerators, freezers, cupboards, pantries--know what you've got on hand and keep it visible as much as possible. Keep inventories of what you have on the inside of the cupboard doors if necessary to make shopping for replacements easier.

9. Keep staples on hand. Rachel Ray's book has good ideas for what to stock up on. Spices, oils, vinegars, pestos, prepared sauces, baking ingredients, bouillon, rices, pastas, grains and other longer shelf-life items should be plentiful. Then all you need to do is make a quick trip for the perishables.

8. Know your recipes. Know where they are, read them through beforehand and be familiar with the steps involved so you aren't caught by a "marinate overnight" or "chill three hours" surprise. Knowing the recipe also saves time spent correcting dumb errors or going back and forth between the recipe and the pan, losing your place each time.

7. Buy cookbooks with pictures. You'll be more inclined to cook and it will be easier if you know what the finished product is supposed to look like.

6. Buy a food processor. Yes I know the chefs chop every vegetable into perfect uniform cubes but when you can instead dice your onions, carrots and celery in 30 seconds the trade-off is big.

5. Buy a bread machine and a crock pot. Even if you've never made bread a bread machine makes it as easy as making a bowl of cereal--well almost. You can bake a loaf and time it to be done when you get up in the morning or get home from work. Or you can set it to the "Dough" cycle and make cinnamon rolls, pizza dough or donuts. Same thing with a crock pot. I don't know how civilization made it for all those years without one of these babies, you can throw everything in it and let it do it's magic.

4. Once a week make up a menu. This will save time at the store and in the kitchen if you can plan and shop for the entire week. I keep my menu on a dry eraser board on the refrigerator for all to see because I hate answering the question "What's for dinner?" fifteen times while I'm busy.

3. Eat more soups, salads and sandwiches. These are usually the fastest meals around, no marinating or roasting time involved and you don't need to prepare a side-dish. They can also be lighter and healthier (though it's possible to pack calories into anything if you know what you're doing).

2. Prepare things beforehand. Defrost meats overnight, peel and chop vegetables, grate cheese, freeze sauces, make dressings, whatever you can do earlier do it and pull it out when needed.

1. Modify. This may be the most obvious but also the best tip. There are a million recipe steps that can be substituted with something prepared by hand--who cares if Martha makes her own stock, aoli and pesto? Rhodes rolls, canned broths, buillon granules, cilantro paste in a tube, bottled marinara, bottled minced garlic, pre-grated cheeses, fresh pastas and bottled pesto are all great products that there is no shame in using.

Check in with Rocks in My Dryer every Wednesday for other good tips.



18 comments:

Lady Why said...

Great ideas! I think I need to add a bread machine to my Christmas list!!

stacitee said...

Good tips. I've been wondering if I should buy a food processor. Now I might have to look for one.

Bec of the Ladies Lounge said...

The weekly menu has saved my life. Every now and then I get a work or family emergency on Satuday ( my menu writing day) and the menu goes by the wayside... disaster. We end up with takeaway on a Tuesday and double the food bill for the week.

Do tell more about how you use the breadmaker? We have ready access to cheap fresh bread so I've always thought the home machine superfluous but am open to convincing!

Milehimama said...

I love my breadmaker. This month I figured out the "dough" cycle, and started making kolaches (which I rarely did before, it was so much work). Bonus: My hasband has been selling them at work - made me $8 yesterday!
It is also very helpful, we are on a special diet (no additives for one child, gestational diabetes for me) so I can make whole wheat pizza crust and things that are hard to buy.
I bought a bread machine at ARC Thrift store for $6. There are usually lots there - and almost all of the manuals are available online. Buy your yeast in the baking aisle, not the appliance aisle of the big box stores. It's 30% cheaper.
I make a menu for the week, but I also have a backup plan of meals I can make using pantry foods - taped to the inside of my pantry.

Julie said...

It's funny how if you can find the time to get organized, it will save you time later on. But it's a deadly cycle if you can't find the time because you're too disorganized. (does that make sense?)

I use my bread machine on the dough setting for making rolls all the time. I even have a Bosch mixer now, but I'm used to the bread machine doing all the work.

Waya said...

Great tips as usual Michelle. I was so shocked to find that there is a growing number of anti-Rachel Ray club out there.

http://www.boston.com/business/personaltech/articles/2006/11/26/hatred_of_rachael_ray_can_be_a_powerful_uniting_force/?p1=MEWell_Pos3

I personally like her, I think she's such a down-to-earth cook. Nothing pretentious about her. Go figure!!

Damselfly said...

You must have a one-syllable last name because many great chefs do: Childs, Puck, Ray....

Meg said...

Cilantro paste? tell me more... what's the brand? Is the flavor really comparable? I've tried frozen but it's so dull compared to fresh.

great tips. When I do a weekly menu it help immensely. I've been out of the habit but it's time to get back.

If I had a bread machine I would certainly gain 50 lbs in the 1st year. I have no will power when it comes to the smell of fresh baked bread.
Megin
GNMParents

Anonymous said...

These are really great tips, thanks for sharing them!

Shalee said...

"They can also be lighter and healthier (though it's possible to pack calories into anything if you know what you're doing)."

I so know what I'm doing...

Great tips, Michelle. It's the staples that I can't seem to keep on hand.

Penny said...

Good pointers! I like this 'works for me' idea.. I'll have to do that next wednesday!

Meg said...

Ooops, link wasn't working. Sorry:
GNMParents

Larae said...

Very good tips! I just got my copy of Express Lane Meals and love it. Thanks for sharing! =)

Loralee Choate said...

These are GREAT tips. Especially the one where you keep staples on hand.

I think my two biggest downfalls in the kitchen are my inability to stick to a weekly menu (Usually the meals planned just don't sound good at the time) and having to shop for ingrediants (Because of my hatred of going to the grocery store).

Binkytown said...

I love this. Another good tip is if you live near a grocer that sells grilled chicken breasts in the deli- I stock up weekly. Saves tons of time.

Local Girl said...

My cookbooks all HAVE to have pictures. The recipes seem more appetizing if I can see what it should look like.

Kailani

BionicBuddha said...

Bottled minced garlic! Great tip...I love the flavour (although I'm not sure others approve of my tastes)




www.bionicbuddha.com

The Lazy Organizer said...

Great tips! Can I just add to buy a BIG food processor. I bought one that went with my bosch and it is too small for the jobs I want to do.