Quick Cooking Methods?
What are some recommended quick cooking methods? My only two ideas happen to be microwave (for certain things) and pressure cookers. Do any other potential options exist?
Also, in addition to quick cooking methods, are there any methods which require less monitoring, such as baking or slow cookers?
Do any specific cookware items or appliances help you?
For quick cooking, stir fying is fast - it takes longer to cut things up than to cook it. You need a wok or frying pan, food cut into smallish pieces, reasonably high heat and some oil. Generally, I cook stirring on high heat for a minute or two, add a bit of liquid if needed, cover and cook on lower heat until done.
For example, for a fast meal, come home, set up the rice cooker and start the rice cooking. Slice beef and onions and broccoli and chop some garlic. Slice some tomatoes and cucumbers for a side salad and drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. Saute the garlic in oil for a minute or two, add the onion and broccoli and cook for a bit, then the beef. Add a dash of soy sauce or oyster sauce, cover and cook for a until the veggies are tender (it doesn't take long). By this time the rice is about done - fluff it, and serve everything. Dinner in the time it takes to cook the rice.
For slow low monitoring cooking, braising and stewing are good, both of which use slow moist heat, and work with cheap, tough meats. I buy packs of beef shanks at Costco, and simmer in a big pot for about an hour, then fish them out and slice them into about 2 cm thick slices (easier than when they're raw), and simmer for about another hour. Then I cool them and cut into cubes and freeze. The meat by this point is wonderfully tender, and I can quickly make something like burritos, or a pasta sauce, or a stew, or hot sandwiches.
For a really quick pasta sauce start a pot of water boiling for pasta. -Slice onions and dice garlic and saute. While the onions cook chop up some sausages, toss in and cook for a few more minutes. The water is probably boiling now - add the pasta. While that's cooking, chop some tomatoes, or drain a can of diced tomates. Add to the sausages cook. Add some herbs, salt and pepper to taste, and serve over the now ready pasta. You can adapt this to chicken, or beef, or whatever, just make sure the meat is cooked through.
For general coordination - keep a bin of pre-prepped, washed veggies in the fridge; celery sticks, carrots, cucumber, green pepper, etc, and a bag of pre-washed lettuce. Then when you go to make a salad, all you have to do is tear the lettuce and dice the vegetables, rather than having to wash and peel everything. Rice cookers are great - set it cooking and then ignore, and it will turn off when the rice is done, requiring no monitoring at all.
Practice makes a big difference. If you're new to cooking it's harder to pay attention to multiple things at once, which is how you cut down time while making a meal. The more you cook, the more efficient you'll get.
Now that you've clarified your goal I'm going to suggest that you take a tip from restaurants and don't try and do it all at once.
There are many things that can be made ahead in batches and frozen/refrigerated to make dinner go a lot faster. I've no idea what types of food you're cooking so all I can suggest are some general ideas. Anything you can find 5 min. to do once in awhile will cut a lot of your cooking time down.
Cook beans in a pot or slow cooker and freeze in small portions
Chop onions and garlic and keep them in the fridge ready to go
Roast chicken breasts in the oven with just a little olive oil and salt, cut up and freeze, and you have cooked chicken on hand that can be used at a moment's notice for everything from chicken salad to pasta to enchiladas.
Pesto freezes beautifully
Lemon juice or wine frozen in ice cube trays and stored in containers
Bake meatballs on a sheet pan and freeze
*make note of what stores sell already prepped in the produce section and freezer to get more ideas
*watch restaurant shows on tv and notice what the chef has prepped and ready to toss in a pan
I do love my slow cooker, since I can make a huge amount of food when I do have time and not have to cook the next few days. If you're clever with leftovers, they can easily make a new exciting quick meal.
Tonight we're having leftover chicken wings, and tomorrow whatever meat is left will top a pizza with onions and whatever veggies I can find. Yesterday I made pizza dough and it can hang out in the fridge for several days at the ready. It'll take me about 20 min. to assemble and cook the pizza (if I remember to preheat the oven, lol).
Better even than refrigerating chopped/sliced onions is to freeze them. This breaks their cell walls so that straight from frozen, they cook faster than fresh-cut or chilled. When onions are on sale, I buy a big bag and spend several hours taking them to various steps of preparation: slice and freeze some in a baggie, put the rest into a saute pan with oil and start cooking them on medium-low heat. Remove, bag, and freeze some at various stages, from just-sweated to golden to caramelized. The oil means it is easy to pry off what you need from the frozen mass with the aid of a fork.
Are you looking for methods to speed up longer cooking meals? Or are you looking for ways to develop new faster meals?
Micro and pressure cooker are good for the first.
As far as quick cooking meals in general go, you really can't beat pasta with a pan sauce. Put your pasta water on, forget about it and do other things. Put yr pasta in, and by the time it's done you can whip up a tasty pan sauce with veggies, anchovies or sardines and other flavorings.
However, it's important to remember that speeding up your slowest step is the most important thing. For example, the point when I got really fast at cooking happened right after I got good at chopping. Once I could cook without mise en place, it cut down like half of my time. I could suddenly chop an onion in the time it took for the pan to heat up, and do more things at once. Once the onion was in, I could chop the garlic before the onion was done cooking. Tada. Much faster.
I am a huge fan of "low and slow" for all meats either in the oven in a braiser or in the crock pot.
The crock pot has the advantage of allowing you to be out of the house during the cooking. A big pork shoulder gives me three or four different meals using pulled pork- and stewing a chicken, beef shortribs and pot roast in there -does the same. Lots of potential meals from one effort. I have three packages of already cooked "plain pulled pork" in the freezer right now. I will pull some out for tamales tonight. It makes pulling together a more complicated and time intensive dish (like tamales) really easy.
Do you mean total time of preparation, or just the actual cooking time? What is your goal? Limiting fuel consumption, meal-preparation speed, or avoiding overcooking mistakes?
For example, stir-frying developed in part because of the shortage of available, affordable fuel, but depends on significant prep time to chop and slice the ingredients small enough to cook fast.
Most baking requires attentive monitoring. Braising less so, slow cookers hardly at all. Roasting meat at the temperature you want it to end up at is monitor-free, since the meat can't get hotter than you want it to be. Browning is accomplished either by pan-searing or oven-browning first, then the temp lowered, or by broiling or searing once the entire piece has finished cooking through. This is of course the farthest thing from quick!
I am aiming to cut down on my time spent in the kitchen, so thank you for the tips! Cutting down on fuel consumption, as well as avoiding any mistakes, would be ideal, as well.
Baking requires attentive monitoring? Perhaps I am not doing it properly, in that case, as I only check on the meal one or two times. However, most of my recipes in general have been rather simple lately out of necessity.
A saute if quick. 1. Cherry tomato sauce can be done in the time it takes to cook pasta. 2. Steak cooked in a hot pan, turned frequently, can be served with potatoes that you put in the oven a good hour ahead. Pass the sour cream. 3. Start rice, and while it's cooking saute chicken breast until brown, add white wine and herbs, cover. When rice is done, remove chicken from pan, reduce liquid if necessary and swirl in knob of butter or splash of heavy cream.