Katie at Kitchen Stewardship is asking everyone to share our top 3 kitchen time-savers this week! I work full-time outside the home, and although my partner Daniel has been doing more than half the cooking in the past few years, I do most of the planning, shopping, and preliminary preparations. He works from home and tries to continue getting work done after our nine-year-old comes home from school, so it’s important to him to be able to spend less than an hour making dinner. Here are our top tips:
Prepare ingredients for multiple meals at once.
When you’re going to the trouble of cutting up some food, using cutting tools that will have to be cleaned, you may as well cut a whole lot of it! While you’re at it, measure the portions you’ll need for several recipes, and wash the measuring cup just once. If you preserve some of the food (we freeze any we don’t plan to use within a week), you can stock up when it’s on sale and use it over a long period of time, instead of buying smaller amounts at higher prices. Here are some specifics:
- How to freeze vegetables and how to use them. You don’t always have to thaw them in advance!
- How to freeze cheese. Even a small family can make efficient use of a two-pound block of cheese!
- When you have some unwanted or almost-stale bread, make cubes or bread crumbs that you can use in recipes. This is much less expensive than buying bread crumbs! Here are our recipes for old bread.
- Cook extra grains (rice, pasta, etc.) and use leftovers in a casserole or Fried Rice or as a quick meal topped with sauce and/or cheese.
- Consider an efficient chopper. We’ve had a food processor for many years, and we use it to slice, shred, or grate food when we’re preparing a big batch–it’s a lot faster than doing it by hand. We recently got a Vidalia Chop Wizard, which is designed for dicing onions but also works on some other foods, and we’re learning that it is quick and easy to use but takes a while to clean, so it’s best to plan on chopping several different ingredients or a large batch. This is true of the food processor, too, and to a lesser extent of knives and cutting boards–but once you’ve set up a cutting system, you can process the less messy foods first, then move on to strong-flavored onions or sticky cheese, simply rinsing the parts between foods, and get a lot of work done with just one full washing of your tools!
- Dedicate some time to preparing extra ingredients while food is in the oven or slow-cooker, during a “stir occasionally” stage, or even at a separate time when you have an hour to spare.
- Store ingredients that will be used in the next few days in reused glass jars. Freeze ingredients for later use in the plastic bags that lined cereal and cracker boxes–they make excellent freezer bags!–or reuse your purchased plastic freezer bags. This really cuts down the cost and environmental impact, compared to using new disposable containers every time.
Use “planned leftovers” as convenience food.
When you’re going to the trouble of making something that has a lot of ingredients and takes a while to cook, you may as well make a whole lot of it! Then you’ll have a meal you simply reheat on a busy day. If it’s a food that freezes well, you can freeze portions to eat months later. The clear polypropylene quart and pint containers used by some restaurants for take-out food are excellent for freezing–just let the food cool a bit before putting it in the plastic, leave about 1/2 inch at the top for food to expand as it freezes, and squeeze out as much air as possible when closing the lid. Here are a few examples of planned leftovers that work really well for our family:
- Any beans-and-rice food reheats well. We make enough for at least two meals for the three of us. Then either I pack individual portions in Pyrex bowls with tight-fitting lids and take them for my lunch at work over several days (and Daniel can have some for handy microwaveable lunches at home) or we store leftovers in glass jars and have an “encore” dinner in which we scoop portions onto our plates for reheating. Sometimes we make a huge batch and freeze some. Great recipes for this approach are Honey Baked Lentils, Mexican Beans & Rice, Lentil Rice (3 flavor variations!), and Masoor Dal.
- Main-dish soups like Apricot Lentil Soup are easy to reheat, either in the microwave or in a pot. The straight-sided two-cup glass jars from some brands of salsa are perfect for storing, transporting, and reheating a lunch portion of soup; just use a napkin when lifting it out of the microwave because the jar gets hot. (A jar lid is much better at holding in liquid than the plastic lids of Pyrex bowls–but my lunch sometimes gets tipped sideways on the way to work, so I put my jar inside an old bread bag just in case it leaks.)
- Burritos freeze beautifully and reheat quickly in a microwave or toaster-oven. Since tortillas typically come in a package of 8-12, it’s easy to mass-produce burritos! See freezing instructions in our recipes for Bean Burritos and Sweet Potato Burritos. One of the best meals of my life was the bean burrito with black olives, frozen months earlier, that Daniel brought for me to reheat in the family lounge of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit when our newborn son was being treated for jaundice–a taste of home, after days of hospital food!!
- Tomato-based spaghetti sauce lasts about 3 weeks in jars in the refrigerator, about 6 months in the freezer. Here’s my index of spaghetti sauce recipes.
- Always bake as many loaves of bread as you have bread pans! This saves a lot of energy, compared to heating up the oven for each loaf at a different time. Most breads, especially moist quick breads, freeze well or can be refrigerated for a few days to prevent mold–just be sure to wrap them tightly to prevent them from getting soggy with ice crystals or picking up flavors from other foods. We love Raisin Bran Bread for breakfast, snacks, and a side dish with baked beans, soup, or chili.
Cut down on dishwashing.
Even if you have a dishwasher, loading and unloading it takes time, and running it uses water and electricity. If you wash all your dishes by hand, you’re even more motivated to reduce the time and resources you spend on that. We three run our packed-full dishwasher only about twice a week, using these strategies:
- Use the same water glass for a few days. We just keep them on our place mats.
- Rinse and reuse lightly-soiled dishes, like cereal bowls, coffee cups, and toast plates, and the associated spoons and forks. If you didn’t finish your water during the meal, pour that water over your dish to rinse it in the sink. If you ate a dry food like toast, just brush off the crumbs into the sink or trash can. Wait until dishes are unusably yucky before putting them in the dishwasher or dirty-dish sink. We leave some gently-used dishes next to the sink and check there first next time we’re eating; we don’t worry much about which family member last used the dish, figuring we all swap germs a lot anyway–and we don’t get sick very often. (Guests always get clean dishes, though!) Daniel often uses a plate and knife to make a sandwich for Nick’s lunch in the morning, then uses the same plate and knife to eat his lunch.
- Keep a knife on top of the butter dish and use it several times.
- A pot that was used for cooking pasta, steaming vegetables, or a similar use can be reused before washing.
- When measuring ingredients, try to do all the dry stuff first, then the wet stuff, and last the sticky stuff, so that you can use the same measuring cup and measuring spoons for all the ingredients.
- Serve most foods from the pot or pan in which they were cooked. Serving dishes from foods like carrot sticks can just be rinsed and dried.
- Lids from cooking pots and leftovers containers are not necessarily dirty after use; they often just have a little condensation on them. Place in the dish drainer to dry and be put away, instead of in the dirty-dish sink.
These time-saving tips work for me! Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for other ways to conserve time, energy, food, and money! Visit Kitchen Tip Tuesday and the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more kitchen tips!