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Picking up speed in the kitchen?

Any tips or tricks you've picked up along the way...that have significantly increased your speed in the kitchen?

I am a very slow cook and would like to get faster. Sometimes I just get overwhelmed, though, by the multi-tasking and have to limit it to two things at a time...or I get perfectionistic about chopping. Too many items on the counter and I can't think straight... Or can't remember what's next.

Anyway with line cook experience perhaps have any insight?

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  1. Sorry..."Anyone with line cook experience..."

    1. A line cook makes the same few things 100's of times a week. My advice is to make the same things over and over. Make muffins every Sunday morning, you will be able to do it in your sleep, without a recipe. Make pizza every Friday, you will be comfortable to do it with an audience. Make little changes and learn what makes a difference, what you like. Not using a recipe is much faster once you know what your doing.

      Also, develop good habits. Keep your cupboards neat, even if that means paring down how much stuff is in them. Start with a clean kitchen, and clean up as you go. If you're doing a big complicated dinner, make a list of what to do in what order.

      1. Make sure you have all the ingredients and equipment ready before you cook.
        Clear enough space on the counter and in the fridge.
        Clean as you go.

        2 Replies
        1. re: iluvcookies

          Absolutely. When I first started to learn Asian cooking, about 30+ years ago, I found I had to have every thing prepped and ready. No stopping to measure out a tsp. of fish sauce or a half cup of something, it is what you will hear chefs and cooks call mise. French for mise en place, everything chopped, measured etc. It made me a much better and faster cook.

          1. re: Candy

            Oh my gosh, definitely true in Asian cooking! A minute or even less can be the difference between perfect and crap. Mise en place made me so much better.

        2. Have you ever taken a knife skills class? Years ago, I took one at a professional cooking school near me and it really helped me to increase my prep speed.

          And the whole "mise en place" thing really works. I find if I prep everything first before I start cooking, everything stays pretty tidy and I don't have a lot of cleanup at the end. On the other hand, when I do things my normal, impatient way (e.g. chop the onions, put in pan, start chopping the next thing, etc.), I end up with stuff everywhere.

          4 Replies
          1. re: stockholm28

            Mise en place times a million :) When I do it, I'm (relatively) assured of success.

            1. re: c oliver

              I'm also a mise en place convert. But. But also look for dead times to schedule other activities. You know how long it takes to boil water for pasta, for example. Use that time to chop the onions you've already pulled out, mix the seasonings, etc. Also, schedule some simple finishing tasks like slicing tomatoes and spinning the lettuce for any time when your meat is supposed to be resting. Not only will this speed your total time, it'll make sure you're not staring at that delicious meat wondering "Can I slice it now? How about now? OK, 1,2,3 now?"

              1. re: nokitchen

                I agree with this. I have a pretty good idea of dead times that will be available and use those intervals to chop. However, I always get spices and other seasonings ready before I start cooking. Mine aren't as organized as they should be so I pull out everything I'm going to need before I start cooking and measure amounts.

            2. re: stockholm28

              +1 on the knife skills and mise en place. Prep is usually the slowest part of food prep. It's why many professional kitchens have prep cooks who do no cooking at all - just cutting and prepping.

              The other thing I'd recommend is learning more about the food itself. Having more than one cooking style for different foods affects speed as well.

              Oh, and if deep flavors in a short time are truly desired, take some classes on cooking with pressure cookers. They're incredible devices but hard to learn to use well on your own.

            3. I've never had restaurant experience, just decades of home cooking. My onion seminar herewith:

              Prepping and sweating onions is often the most time-consuming part of entree creation. So, when onions are on sale, buy a 5# or larger bag and devote a few hours to a one-time prep session. Chill the onions or soak them in very cold water first. If they're cold, they won't make you cry. Peel them. Chop some, dice some, slice some. Put them in freezer bags in amounts you typically use, and freeze them.
              Because freezing ruptures cell walls, they will cook faster from frozen than fresh. No need to defrost.

              If you have more time and more onions, saute several pounds of sliced onions in a 4qt pan. Remove and freeze some when they're golden. Keep going with the rest until they are caramelized, then freeze those too. Because of the fat, the cooked onions won't freeze super-solid. If you only need a little, you'll easily pry some off the frozen mass with a fork.

              7 Replies
              1. re: greygarious

                Gotta give a shout out "yes!" to this. Freezing raw, already chopped onions has helped me so, with week night cooking.

                And you don't need to pry them off with a fork. Freeze them in a zip lock bag and when you need them, just throw them on a hard surface to break up the ice, then pour or scoop out the amount you need - from a tablespoon to a cups.

                Oddly enough, this method also worlds with grated cheese.

                1. re: happybaker

                  after chopping/dicing, spread them on a sheet pan to freeze, then bag them. this way the pieces stay separate and you can easily shake out what you need.

                2. re: greygarious

                  This is a great tip thanks for sharing!

                  1. re: greygarious

                    I'm going to try this.
                    I usually sauté or caramelize onion and freeze, but I've never done it with raw.

                    Although I had an onion breakthrough recently....how to get "carmelized" tasting onions without oil!

                    1. re: cheesecake17

                      Just be prepared for the "oh, geez, this doesn't work!" phase when the frozen/now thawing onions release way too much water. You'll be sure to think we were all nuts suggesting it. Hang in there, let the water cook out, and the onions will indeed proceed nicely.

                      And how do you get that carmelized taste without oil?

                      1. re: pine time

                        I'm going to try it when onions are on sale.

                        Fake carmelized onions
                        I use large Spanish onions, peeled.
                        Slice almost all the way through the onion, but leave it intact
                        Put onions in a large stockpot, and fill with water
                        Bring to a boil and cook till onions are separating and soft- maybe 1 hr.
                        Drain, separate layers.
                        In a large roasting pan, toss onion pieces (I cut the pieces) with a little cooking spray and salt
                        Roast at 400 till soft and browned, stirring once in a while

                        1. re: cheesecake17

                          you can skip the boiling step entirely and just cook the onions in a low oven for a long time. you'll get far better flavor this way.

                  2. The multi-tasking is the key. Think about how long something might take and what doesn't need a lot of attention - for example, if you're making pasta you can put a big pot of water on to boil, then you have a good 10 minutes to prep stuff and another 10 or more while the pasta is cooking. So you always start the water first.

                    As others have said, it's all about practice, after a while, some of the timing just comes naturally.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: judybird

                      I use the dead time to do the above and also put dishes in the dishwasher. Or, if the dishwasher has already run, this is a good time to take the dishes out.

                    2. I'm not a line cook either, just a mom who fed a family of five for many years, and who learned to make dinner fast after coming home from work.

                      I agree with making the same dishes repeatedly. Find a few dishes you like and make them over and over again. The techniques you master doing that will transfer to other recipes you try later.

                      All of the tips before mine were excellent IMO.

                      Also, make fish a lot; fish cooks fast.

                      1. You can limit yourself with all the extra added ingredients to your dishes.Learn to cook simple. This will save time.

                        1. Pick a technique you want to get good at, find several different recipes that use that technique and make them until you are comfortable. Pick another technique, rinse, repeat.

                          1. wash, rinse, and dry every fruit and vegetable that you can as soon as they enter the house in the first place.
                            everything should be clean and ready to go as it's pulled out of the fridge.

                            get a GOOD chef's knife and learn how to keep it sharp.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: westsidegal

                              I also remove plastic seals and such as soon as I get home. I hate grabbing something that I've recently bought in the middle of cooking and having to remove that stuff.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                I agree with you with everything except for berries and mushrooms. They tend to go bad if they are washed far in advance. But most everything else, yes!

                                1. re: westsidegal

                                  This is probably a worthwhile practice, but not for everyone.

                                  I find myself wiped out by shopping, and it's all I can do to get things put away afterwards. And I shop in a small town with little to no heavy traffic -- can't imagine how exhausted I'd be if I had to deal with real traffic and bigger stores. Post-market is definitely not the right moment for me to clean produce.

                                  I can see the benefit of doing a batch of produce washing, drying, and storing -- but my method is to cook up as many vegetables and greens as possible the day after food shopping (roasting, blanching-then-sauteing greens, caramelizing onions), to have them available as ingredients over the next week or so.

                                  1. re: ellabee

                                    I also do some pre-chopping and cooking. Timesaver for sure.

                                2. One practice I've adopted is that I have a space reserved for things I'm done with. That way only those things that still require my attention are in front of me and within my field of view. I find this goes a long way towards keeping focused, avoiding getting overwhelmed, and not overlooking anything.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Soul Vole

                                    The "to put away" zone is key, especially if you are doing a sauce with lots of ingredients, or baking something. I don't wonder whether I've already added something any more!

                                  2. Sharing tasks with another person is a good way to assist in even a small kitchen.

                                    My wife and I get ideas constantly for meal recipes. " Can I help ? " or " What would you like me to do ? " works for both of us. We have passed this on to our children, and encourage guests to participate if they are so inclined. Unless there is a Birthday, Anniversary, or something of a surprise, no one is ever chased out of the kitchen area.

                                    To follow up on suggestions already made, planning the meal, preparation of ingredients in small bowls, and constant clean-up as you go, all avoid delay and bottlenecks in the process. Remove clutter as you go before you run out of work space on the countertop. I wash and dry our sharpened knives as they are used and leave them on a magnetic rail rack constantly. Either of us may be using and reusing any of those knives or tool again every 10 minutes or so. If one slices or preps, the other cleans and dries.

                                    Pots and pans get the same treatment when they cool, as a meal progresses. If all we have are the dishes and silverware left at the end, that is an easy enough task to finish.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: SWISSAIRE

                                      Agree that cleaning as you go is very helpful.

                                      1. re: SWISSAIRE

                                        Sharing tasks is an incredible time-saver. Two can do more than twice as much in the same time, if they know how to work together.

                                        Normally, I'm in charge and she provides very good backup, but at the holidays we make A LOT of cookies & breads, and she's in charge. I'm chopping nuts, softening butter, separating eggs, cleaning bowls & measures while she concentrates on the mixer & oven.

                                        1. re: WNYamateur

                                          my spouse doesn't enjoy cooking and tends to be a crazed and haphazard cook so I like him to stay on the other side of the peninsula when I'm cooking. But my 11 year old son is a huge help and quite competent in the kitchen. I enlist him to measure spices, chop things, stir, sauté, etc. I hope I'll send him out into the world as a fairly decent cook someday.

                                          1. re: tcamp

                                            yeah my b/f is in charge of steaming lobsters or corn on the cob. otherwise he stays away when i am cooking.

                                      2. Not a line cook, but a regular home cook for years. First, don't sweat it. I sometimes feel I am too slow because I prefer to be thorough, and I factor that in when planning meals and mealtimes. Multitasking in the kitchen is not easy, and I try to minimize it (and the stress it causes) by keeping meals simple: a protein, one side and/or a salad. As others have pointed out, mise en place is really a necessity, even for the simplest dishes.

                                        For complicated dinners, like a holiday meal, I actually write out a timed schedule, indicating when to start each task, when to put in/on the oven, when to remove from heat, etc. I work backwards from desired serving time to arrive at when I have to start the whole process. Helps tremendously to maintain proper timing and low stress.

                                        Finally, recognize that speed is not all that. Rachel Ray's 30-minute meals is a total fantasy achievable only in a studio kitchen with EVERYTHING prewashed and prepped and stuff happening behind the scenes during commercials/editing that you never see.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: janniecooks

                                          My aunt-in law does the timed schedule thing during the holidays. She also sets out all of the serving dishes and writes a note in front of each one as to what belongs in it. Saves the moments where you accidentally forget something in the microwave or the oven, only to find it after you've finished the meal!

                                          1. re: ludmilasdaughter

                                            I have been doing the notes in dishes for many years. Not just for meals, but also for parties. Which bowl for which dip, chips, plates for what cheese, etc. Really saves time and you don't find that you have some item and nowhere to put it.

                                            1. re: travel61888

                                              Another point in favor of the pre-laid-out serving dishes and utensils with notes on the dishes is that it allows others to help you without your having to physically oversee, freeing you to tend to the last-minute food work.

                                              Likewise, a detailed hour-by-hour plan (and minute-by-minute as you get closer to guests arriving) allows you to do a meaningful run-through for helpers, whether hired or family or friends. Questions can get answered, helpers may well think of things not in your original version, and they can get a copy of the final plan with their tasks and times highlighted.

                                              For parties and events, this level of planning has made all the difference in being able to relax, focus on guests, and enjoy the gathering myself.

                                          2. re: janniecooks

                                            Love the time schedule for holidays. I've used one for years that includes all the recipes I'll be using in the order I'll be using them (Word document). Then I add specifics like "cube bread for stuffing and freeze" or "take ribs out to thaw" between the recipes. I can update it each year, then print it out once and have the satisfaction of ticking off each task/recipe as it's completed.

                                            I have a timer that allows me to set times for three different things at once. That's been a real help not necessarily in being faster but ensuring I don't forget something that boils over or boils dry, saving a redo or extra cleanup.

                                            Along the same lines and as coll mentions, use as many dishes/utensils as you need, and be sure to take a large enough bowl out that you don't have to be too careful stirring. I'm still not very good at eyeballing what will fit. Just last night I was making spud salad and grabbed a bowl that ended up being too small. Shoulda just swapped it up, but got stubborn and ended up with potatoes on the counter : -(.

                                            Also notes in dishes is great, as are preprinted cheese names and attributes for cheese plates at a wine and cheese. People always ask what the cheeses are and if I'm busy I don't have to be rude, I can just point them at the printouts!

                                          3. My tips and tricks are

                                            Start and end with a clean kitchen
                                            Clean as you go - I can't stress this enough. We use the dishwasher and when cooking I just leave it open and add dishes as I'm cooking. I am kind of OCD and clean the pots before eating as well, and then all dishes are cleaned immediately after eating
                                            Prepare everything before cooking (I rarely need to pull out the cutting board while cooking because anything hta tneeds to be cut has been prepped and set aside) - chop ingredients, prepare dishes

                                            Quick timeline - most of our meals include multiple components and we have a convenient white board on the fridge which I just jot down timing estimates to guide me alone - for example if we're having steak and roasted veggies, I'll time how long the veggies take and plan to have them in in the time that it takes to cook and rest the steak so everything will be done about the same time

                                            Timer - very useful to remind yourself to put things in the oven or take them out when you're busy with multiple dishes

                                            Prepare ahead of time - I will often prepare things ahead of time. If I'm making dinner and I know we're having eggs in the morning with spinach and cheese I will blanch the spinach while dinner is cooking, drain and store in the fridge overnight, dice the omelet ingredients and shred the cheese so then in the morning it's all ready to go. I make salad dressings and sauces ahead of time and store in mason jars, trim meats and prepare them a few hours ahead. I will do the same at breakfast for whatever lunch or dinner is being planned so it's much easier to pull out the cutting board or other prep tools once and then the cooking time for each meal is shorter.

                                            Organization - I keep the spices and oils that I use most frequently readily handy at the side of the stove so I don't have to go looking for them. All other things have a place so I can get to it quickly.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                              I'm totally with you on the clean as you go thing. The only things left in my sink when dinner is done is the pots and pans. Hubby has clean up duty so I have to leave something for him to do!

                                              1. re: ludmilasdaughter

                                                I may be the only one here, but what I learned from cooking professionally is to use as many pots, bowls and utensils as needed, and also the biggest ones so it won't overflow when I stir (I used to be strangely chintzy about that), and then not to worry to about them being cleaned until the food is cooking. I used to have porters and dishwashers to clean up after me, so I learned that it's nice to just concentrate on the dish itself, instead of the dishes.

                                                1. re: coll

                                                  I agree. I do use "down" time (waiting for something to bake or boil) to wash up what I can, just so that the sink is completely overflowing, but I focus on the cooking, not the clean up.

                                                2. re: ludmilasdaughter

                                                  I clean as I go, sort of. The first large bowl I use goes into the sink, gets soap and hot water. All utensils, smaller bowls get tossed into that bowl to soak. When there's a pause in the recipe, I clean whatever's in the sink.

                                                  Knives go sharp side down in a measuring cup or glass - never in the sink

                                                  1. re: cheesecake17

                                                    Love your tidying approach, cheesecake. I am also fanatical about cleaning anything that will get stuck on if left too long, e.g. cheese graters.

                                              2. Purging the kitchen of duplicates and seldom used items was probably my biggest successful step in becoming a happier cook. It made prepping, cooking and clean up 100x easier when I wasn't faced with a jammed drawer or cupboard.

                                                Keep the counters clear. I simply can't function if my counters are crowded. I have a small-ish kitchen so when it came to my tip mentioned above, I had to get serious and creative about letting go of things. I moved my bulk storage for rice, flour, etc. to plain crockery containers that reside on shelves in my living room.

                                                Along the lines of what someone else mentioned, get one really good (and it doesn't need to be expensive) chef knife, serated knife and pairing knife. These I keep in a in-drawer knife tray.

                                                I invested (all of about $15 dollars) in small glass bowls that I use to measure and store ingredients so everything is right at hand when the actual cooking starts. The key is to make sure they are large enough to hold a decent amount, for example, one chopped onion. I also use these to whisk salad dressings and serve small portions. This is what I have - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002...

                                                I guess it is the same as the mise en place concept but I take it to the extreme.

                                                I do a lot of ahead of time prep. Tonight I am going to do a couple of pounds of onions to freeze and dice ham for omelets. I will freeze these in the approximate serving sizes I typically need.

                                                1. I learned a lot by using the Dinner A Day cookbook (see my profile for ISBN), which has detailed sequenced instructions for the 4 courses per meal that allow prep in an hour or less, start to finish. And getting out all the needed pans & ingredients is a big help. Plus reading through all the recipes before starting.

                                                  Having written instructions is key for me, otherwise I get distracted. So I make work-plan sequencing notes before using a group of recipes / ideas.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                    Very interesting to know about -- thank you.

                                                  2. My dear father always volunteered to help with the most time-consuming tasks: peeling fruits & vegs, deveining shrinp, breaking down a big piece of meat.

                                                    But I'll never forget him watching me work in the kitchen when I was in my 20s, peeling 1 carrot, slicing 1 carrot, peeling 1 carrot... He took my peeler and peeled 6 in the time I peeled 1, and then sliced them all at once faster than I did 1.

                                                    1. I agree with much that has already been said: Before you start cooking, think through all the tasks that you need to perform and figure out an order that makes sense in terms of what takes longest to cook, what you can be working on in the interim, etc.

                                                      In chronologic order, here is how I approach meal planning:
                                                      1. As noted, think through the meal plan and develop a game plan in terms of the order in which you will prepare things.
                                                      2. Before you begin any of the preparation, get your work-space organized. If the DW is full of clean dishes, put them away so you can stash the dirty ones in the DW as you cook. If there are dirty dishes in the sink or in your primary prep area, stash them in the DW if they are DW-able, or stack them neatly where they will not be in your way (e.g,. if you have 2X sinks, as I do, place them in the side that doesn't have a disposal).
                                                      3. Pull out all of the ingredients that you will need and all of the pots/pans/etc you will need for preparing them. And arrange them in an area within reach of your primary prep area, but not in the primary prep area. (It helps if you have a large kitchen with plenty of work space).
                                                      4. Begin preparation according to your work plan developed in item 1. If there are items that take a fair amount of time to prep for cooking, but very little actual cooking time -- e.g., sautéed vegetables -- do the prep and set them aside first. Then move onto items with longer cooking time such as peeling potatoes and boiling them for mashed potatoes.
                                                      5. As you use ingredients, move them out of the way. Either put them away or, if you've got the space, just move them to a counter area away from your prep, and you can put them away later, once you've got time.
                                                      6. As you use dishes and utensils in your prep, put them into the DW or the area you've designated for dirty non-DW-able items. (Other than immediately washing cutting boards and knives that have been used for raw meat or chicken I typically do not actually wash any dishes during meal prep)
                                                      7. If you have multiple sets of measuring cups and spoons, you do not need to wash items during your prep for reuse, which will save time.
                                                      8. You can minimize the amount of dirty dishes and utensils you use in prep by thinking about whether you can use those dirty items again, for another step of your preparation. E.g, for my mis-en-place, I often use flat plates rather than bowls, both because they stack more neatly in the DW and because they are more versatile for using in preparation. So, a small (bread & butter plate) that I used to hold some chopped onions becomes the saucer on which I keep the wooden spoon for stirring an item that I'm cooking. Or, a large dinner plate that held a large amount of raw chopped vegetables when I am making soup, gets re-used to hold the cooked chicken that I am shredding to be added to the soup.

                                                      1. Forgot to mention the simplest thing - assuming your problem is rushing to get a meal on the table for a 2-career family: Start the cycle with a takeout or quickie meal like a cold cut/potato salas dinner. AFTER dinner, cook tomorrow's dinner, to be nuked or oven-heated tomorrow. Obviously you're not going to be doing things that need to be crisp or don't reheat well, but most meals can be reheated just fine. Cooking for the next day takes the pressure off. Even better, cook a double batch so you have tomorrow's dinner and a repeat meal for later in the week.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: greygarious

                                                          I agree with this. We cook a lot, but the bulk of it is done on just a couple of days in the week (Sunday, especially). I do a lot of braises and stews and always make enough so we get a few days out of each. I try to make sure we always have cooked rice and some kind of cooked beans in the fridge, sometimes cooked pasta. So we eat home-cooked most nights, but we're hardly ever starting from square one on the night of the meal.
                                                          "sueatomo: Also, make fish a lot; fish cooks fast."
                                                          Amen to that, too.
                                                          Do agree though, in general about the mise-en-place and cleaning as you go. (We have a tiny, poorly designed kitchen, so cleaning as we go is a necessity. There's no room for a mess in our kitchen!)
                                                          Having an actual plan for what you're going to make in advance is a huge timesaver - not that I always do, but things always go faster and more smoothly when I do.

                                                          1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                                            Yup, that's precisely what we do: cook two multi-meal dishes on Sun, and alternate them Mo-Th and Sat dinners. Fri night, we eat out. Sun dinner is usually the only cook-and-eat meal of the week.

                                                        2. Besides Knife skills Having a garbage bowl close at hand helps lots.

                                                          Getting your Mise en Place also helps a great deal.

                                                          1. My kitchen is set up to be a mise en place for the vast majority of things I cook. Usually the only additions are fresh herbs, butter, and wine or other cooking liquids. I try to start with an empty DW and clean as I go. Not having to wade through stuff helps a lot. Planning the sequence helps a ton. You don't find yourself jamming up saying, "Dang, shoulda dropped the rice." That's when you find yourself working phrenetically, not quickly. Keep people and dogs out of the way. In my kitchen they can sit across the counter. That way I am not constantly distracted, saying, "It's almost ready!" I find, although I consider myself very fast in a kitchen, that being mentally organized and efficient is more impactful than being blindingly fast with a knife or whisk.

                                                            1. Don't feel badly about being slow. Both my wife and her sister are so slow it drives me nuts, although it HAS crossed my mind that they do it on purpose to make me cook for them.

                                                              Last weekend I asked SIL to help me make 3 small salads to start dinner. I'm talking about some torn lettuce and cut, red onion, tomatoes, red pepper, and avocado.................. that's all. We used bottled dressing (please forgive me). SIL took a solid 25 minutes to do that, while I had to tap-dance the entree so that it didn't get done far too soon. That was slower than my wife, who usually takes only TWENTY minutes.

                                                              Think this is all a setup??? I do. ;o]]]]]]]

                                                              5 Replies
                                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                                That reminds me of the first time my MIL cooked in my presence. It took her 45 minutes to prepare a box of Rice a Roni, at which point I grabbed the still-unfinished mess away from her and asked her to set the table instead. And ever after.

                                                                1. re: tcamp

                                                                  My SIL is a massage therapist and might be able to take me down if I did that.

                                                                  1. re: tcamp

                                                                    If you follow the instruction, RAR is about a 35 minute prep so she wasn't doing so badly. I'm betting that she didn't love it when you "grabbed" it away from her.

                                                                    1. re: tcamp

                                                                      Not quite on topic I suppose but when I was a kid we couldn't have Rice-A-Roni the San Francisco Treat because it was the sponsor of The Invisible Man and I freaked out at the sight of it.

                                                                    2. re: Midlife

                                                                      Oh, salads can take me a long time. Pulling any brown bits off lettuce, trimming, drying. Then chopping of many veggies (I must be a slow chopper). Making dressing and adjusting...I'm easily a 20-min salad maker.

                                                                      I'm fanatical about vegetables being dry.

                                                                    3. Thank you all for these fantastic suggestions. I will make a list of them and post them on my fridge as a reminder to work them into my routine. Definitely surprised by all of the enthusiastic support for onion freezing. The washing of veggies and fruits when they enter the house is also interesting. But many, many great tips. Thank you!

                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                      1. re: chloehk

                                                                        I'm no advocate for chopping and freezing onion. How long does it take to do one? Not much. And to put them on a baking sheet, put in the freezer, then put in a freezer bag, then take out, knock off pieces.... Well, you get it :) Oh, and then I'm wasting a plastic bag which I can't really put anything else in so I'm now adding to the landfill. Hmm, I guess I'm going to continue not doing that :)

                                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                                          No, it doesn't take long to peel and chop but it DOES take a long time to sweat/saute/caramelize and all that goes a lot faster if the cell walls have been ruptured by freezing. I'dr never have enough room in my freezer for a sheet pan, and the frozen raw or cooked onions in a container or bag are simple to break apart. I refill the raw onion bag a few times before chucking it. And I keep a few used ones on hand to enclose food scraps/bones that would otherwise stink up the garbage can.

                                                                          1. re: greygarious

                                                                            Would cell walls be broken by microwaving?

                                                                        2. re: chloehk

                                                                          And one more thing... Never believe the times they give along with recipes..

                                                                          1. re: firecooked

                                                                            I've not found that to be so at all.

                                                                              1. re: firecooked

                                                                                Yep. Like they say, the recipe is never the recipe. Just a guide. In older recipes it's almost more of a mnemonic device.

                                                                              2. re: chloehk

                                                                                I also freeze baggies of onions, some chopped, some in half moons, some pre-carmelized.

                                                                                I don't necessarily do it to save time (except for the pre-cooked), but because I can only seem to find gigantic onions, and there are just 2 of us, so it's too much onion (even tho' we both love them). Half a giant onion is quite enough, so the other half gets bagged & frozen.

                                                                              3. It takes time to prepare. Even a seemingly simple one-dish meal takes time if there's a lot of prep involved. Last night to use up the remains of a rotisserie chicken I decided to make a version of sesame noodles. I was shocked that it took me an hour and a half from starting prep to eating, and I started with cooked chicken. The tasks I did in order were: Place all pantry ingredients needed on the counter in one place (mise en place). Shred cooked chicken breast. Mince four cloves of garlic. Mince a couple tablespoons of ginger. Wash, peel and julienne two carrots. Slice previously washed scallions. Slice a previously washed Serrano chile. Wash and dry cilantro and remove the leaves from a bunch of sprigs. Measure and whisk together five ingredients for the sauce. Wash the knives. Restore pantry ingredients to pantry. Preheat skillet, saute onion, garlic and chile, add carrots and saute, add scallions and saute, add packaged fresh noodles and saute, add sauce and simmer briefly to heat and reduce.

                                                                                Not a lot of ingredients, not a large quantity of anything, and even my husband commented on the amount of time it took to make a simple one-bowl dish. Nothing could have been "multi-tasked" without a kitchen helper. I worked at a moderate speed, but am not concerned with speed-chopping or flashy knife skills. Preparing fresh foods just takes time. The only way I could have saved a bit of time is if I had prepared some things earlier in the day: chicken, carrots and maybe the chile could have been prepped hours earlier, and I could have washed and dried the cilantro I needed earlier in the day. But total time would still be the same, I'd just be spreading out the meal prep over the duration of the day instead of at meal time.

                                                                                11 Replies
                                                                                1. re: janniecooks

                                                                                  Well, I DO have a husband who pitches in in any way I want, whether it's slicing and dicing or cleaning as we go along (I only do that when we're entertaining and I want the kitchen relatively tidy).

                                                                                  1. re: janniecooks

                                                                                    As Michael Pollan says when discussing his book 'Cooked': "...when you realize all that not-cooking is costing us and our families, you’ll be apt to carve out a little more time for it." (to say nothing of the rewarding feeling from cooking for you & those you are close to.

                                                                                    That being said, perhaps I can offer a few tips to shave some time off the prepping.

                                                                                    Garlic can be pressed through a garlic press or mashed with a small tined fork & a pinch of salt to create a paste. Smashing/pressing does create a 'hotter' garlic, but if there will be red pepper flakes, mustard or in this case gingerroot involved, it won't be noticeable & can save a few minutes. (Please don't use pre-packaged garlic paste in non-cooked circumstances.)

                                                                                    A nutmeg grater (usually about 3x5" w/tiny holes) will make short work of gingerroot that has been peeled using a spoon instead of a peeler. A micro-plane works well w/garlic/ gingerroot, citrus zest, etc. Try leaving a section of the gingerroot unpeeled to use for a better grip.

                                                                                    Using the back of a butter/table knife to 'peel' the carrots by scrapping into a strainer/colander can improve time as it can be done more quickly due to no really sharp edges being involved (a' la peeler/ paring knife).

                                                                                    Depending on whether the cilantro was for garnish or chopping, the thin stems of the uppermost branches are tender & tasty, so just grab a handful & tear them from the bunch, toss in a large quantity of water, swish around vigorously & lift straight up to remove to leave behind the sand. Change water & repeat until there is no visible residue in the bottom of the bowl of water. Dry by spreading on a clean kitchen towel or paper towels & roll to dry.

                                                                                    For large quantities of cilantro or parsley just grab the bunch by the lower, thicker stems & using your chef's knife like you would a potato peeler, shave the outer layers & save the thicker part for the stock pot. Wash as above.

                                                                                    By planning the order in which you measure your sesame oil, peanut butter, soy/fish sauce, etc. you can save a bit of time as well. Knowing the 1/4 C is 4 Tb & so on, can use a larger measure & just keep adding each. Better still is to configure your recipes to the weight (in grams is better still as they are smaller) & use your kitchen scale.

                                                                                    Another thing to remember is certain prepared items like peanut butter or mayonnaise take precious minutes to scrape from the measure. So try using it for another ingredient before the thicker/gloppier stuff. [Example: Pour some of the sesame oil into the cup measure you will use for the peanut butter & it will slide right out. Or yogurt before the mayo in that low-fat dressing.]

                                                                                    All these little things add up as time-savers & should keep one well involved to the process at hand, to the point where the time will fly by.

                                                                                    Hope this helps.

                                                                                    1. re: seedyone

                                                                                      All great tips, seedyone. Thank you; I'll certainly put them into practice.

                                                                                      1. re: seedyone

                                                                                        garlic presses are the devil to clean so personally consider them hindrance rather than a help.

                                                                                        spray your measuring cups and cheese graters with pam to make scraping out and cleaning up easier.

                                                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                          I finally donated my garlic press when I learned I could grate things on my microplane grater. Never have missed it.

                                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                                            How do you grate something so small on the microplane? Don't your fingers get in the way?

                                                                                            1. re: travel61888

                                                                                              You should see my mini cheese grater!


                                                                                              As shown, I use it mainly for nutmeg. Also as shown, I have A LOT of half pieces of nutmeg.

                                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                                I don't know if you make chicken stock, but I tend to put in the bits of nutmeg too small to grate comfortably in the stockpot when I do.

                                                                                                1. re: limoen

                                                                                                  That's a great idea, thanks. What I usually do is use my old fashioned hand crank cheese grater, it's not perfect but I do get a bit more mileage out of those ever smaller pieces. Maybe I should start throwing them in my pots of sauce too, I really love nutmeg.

                                                                                            2. re: c oliver

                                                                                              Ditto using a micro plane! Garlic press is in the donate box.

                                                                                              1. re: melpy

                                                                                                I just thought of another thing I've started doing recently that speeds things up: try to be less obsessive about using everything up. I don't go right down to the end of the onion any more, as it's harder to chop and I'm more likely to cut myself. Same with garlic ends: I hold onto the "butt" and stop planing when I'm a third of the way from the other end (less bloodshed that way!).

                                                                                      2. Learn weight conversions and use a scale to measure. Easier and cleaner than measuring cups.

                                                                                        1. Much depends on whether you cook a wide variety of things and in varying styles or if you repeat a lot. In the second case, for example, it could really pay to freeze small bags of component elements.

                                                                                          I have a pretty extensive set of little pyrex-style bowls, which I think I got from Amazon or maybe a restaurant supply place. Some are very small, like enough to hold a few tablespoons of soy sauce or minced garlic. Most useful is a mid-size that holds 2 cups or so (say, for chopped onions; or a measured amount of grated cheese). Especially for Asian cooking, it's great to have everything set out, and it's simpler to keep your work area clear by tossing each bowl in the sink as it's used.

                                                                                          Quicker knife skills, as others have said, will help almost everyone, especially beginning cooks. One advantage of the bowls approach, of course, is that it lessens the trouble you get into with slow knife work...

                                                                                          6 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                            I have a set of six 6-ounce silicone baking cups from Amazon. They are also great for mise-en-place, especially because it's easy to pour from them neatly by squeezing one side into a spout. Likewise to pour any unneeded ingredients back into their original containers. I also have a set of 3 silicone cylindrical liquid measuring cups: 1, 2, and 4-cup. I love these and was annoyed that ATK dismissed them because it hurt to pick them up if they had hot contents. Most ingredients are room temp or colder, and if necessary I can pick the cups up by an edge. It can be tricky to pour ingredients into a Kitchen Aid bowl when it's in the mixer, but the silicone cups do this easily and without spillage. The pieces in both sets sandwich into one another so storage space is minimal.

                                                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                                                              For pasta, pizza, or stir fry, I just get out a dinner plate and put piles on it... Much easier to wash than several bowls. Just need to do things in the right order, for example if you have a bunch a chopped greens that is done last and left on the cutting board.

                                                                                              1. re: firecooked

                                                                                                I use a large bowl, with layers of paper towel or waxed paper between ingredients.

                                                                                                Last ingredient to go in goes on the bottom, make your layers till you've got the first ingredient on top. Saves a lot of fridge space if you use a tall bowl for prepping in advance

                                                                                              2. re: greygarious

                                                                                                I love the little silicone cups. It seems whenever I'm at wegmans or Target I grab another set in multiple sizes because I go through so many of them in one day, very handy.

                                                                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                  I went on Amazon to find these. Are these what you bought? If not, could you tellme what they are called. Thank you.

                                                                                                  Kitchen Supply Silicone Baking Cups, Set of 6, 3-inch Muffin Cups

                                                                                              3. I totally agree Mise en place is the way to go> Make yourself do it. I was taught to do that every time I cook to do it. That helps not to forget something in your recipe for also. Once you start it you will see how easy it is.

                                                                                                1. I used lessons from cooking in teeny RV & boat galleys, and found a handyman to make fitted cutting board/covers for my side by side sinks here at home. My kitchen space is limited, so all added counter room is valuable -- and the sink covers have handsome cutting board tops, while also allowing me to stow & soak used cookware/utensils out of sight. Suddenly this gives me space that's refreshingly larger, clutter-free -- and
                                                                                                  guests in the kitchen don't know what's under those sink covers!

                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                  1. re: emerita

                                                                                                    A few years ago I found bamboo cutting board cover for the front 2 burners of the stove in my miniscule NYC apartment. Originally designed for RVs it is the best $50 I've spent in years.

                                                                                                  2. So many good ideas (mise en place, wash as you go, knife skills, et al), but here's something I do that helps me. I have a commute that takes me 45 minutes to an hour. During that time, I visualize what I'm going to be making for dinner, setting a timetable, thinking about what's in the fridge, what prep I need to do, and in what order. By the time I come in from the garage, I can kiss Mrs. ricepad, pat the dog on his head, wash my hands, and get cranking in the kitchen at full speed. You may have seen World Cup skiers in the start house just before their runs with their eyes closed, 'turning' and 'banking' their hands as they visualize the perfect run? I think of my routine as the same kind of thing, sort of a mental pre-rehearsal.

                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                    1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                      Around 230 each afternoon I start the how am I going to make dinner happen mental thought thread. Even if it's just leftovers, how am I going to make it good and "different" and yummy and not just re-heated. The hour or two of off and on attention lets me work through various ideas, some better than others, so when the skillet hits the stove, we are ready to cook.

                                                                                                      Also really helps that Mr Autumn takes toddler spawn to the park to burn off energy so I can cook freely. just 15 minutes of 'freedom" is amazing (and gets a jump start on tomorrow's dinner)

                                                                                                    2. I am faster in the kitchen since I practised my chopping skills.

                                                                                                      1. Has anyone mentioned how much time you can save in the first place with (a) a go-to personal Best Tested Recipes log/index -- meaning, notes on your all-time keepers covering all situations, the more the better, plus where to find that recipe -- and, (b) on those recipes, noting what time YOU take, or took, in YOUR individual kitchen?

                                                                                                        I figure this saves me 30 min. to an hour on just planning a meal where time is a factor, but not falling back on just the same old repeated dishes nor taking risks with ones I haven't tested. And the confidence seems to help the food prep. sequenced smoothly too.

                                                                                                        1. When my mom does a big meal like Thanksgiving, she sets out all the dishes and serving spoons the night before and puts a Post-It in each one to remind herself what goes where. She also makes a time table of when to do what and preps as much as possible the night before. It's pretty impressive. I've stolen some of her secrets :)

                                                                                                          1. I agree with everyone else about knife skills. Better knife skills make you a faster cook. Keep in mind that there's more to good knife skills than just the claw grip and rock chopping. Though that's a decent place to start.

                                                                                                            OTOH I have mixed feelings on some of the other common suggestions. Mise en place is helpful for organization and necessary if you're cooking something that involves a lot of quick cooking in rapid succession like a stirfry. But it is often not the fastest way to cook. It is often faster to use the downtimes in between steps of cooking to prep ingredients that you'll need soon. Making a pomodoro sauce? Preheat pan, quickly cut onion while the pan preheats, mince garlic and get out other ingredients while onion softens, add garlic, add can of tomatoes, etc. The point is that its quicker to prep as you go in many situations. But that also requires you to have solid knife skills and to have the experience to know what you can get done in how much time and where you can squeeze it in.

                                                                                                            Other things that will speed you up: learn to rely less upon recipes. Checking a recipe over and over again while you cook takes more time than you might think. And somewhat related - learn when you really have to measure and when eyeballing and tasting to adjust is just as good. Example - if you're very familiar with sesame oil, then there are very few situations where you have to measure it. Go by taste.

                                                                                                            Unfortunately much of this boils down to experience. Still, it helps to understand what you're working toward. At least in the case of knife skills, you can get ahead just by doing a little extra practice.

                                                                                                            ETA: by the way, you CANNOT develop good knife skills without a properly sharp knife.

                                                                                                            1. Put a pot of water on to boil first.
                                                                                                              ETA - Found the review here http://www.gourmet.com/food/2007/05/p...
                                                                                                              Advice from a famous French chef to working folks cooking weeknight meals - paraphrased as "before you take off your outdoor coat or change your clothes".

                                                                                                              The assumption was that somewhere along the way you'd need boiling water, whether for pasta, veg, gelatin, baked custard, tea or coffee. And if it wasn't used for anything else, handy for cleanup. Starting that water first saves 15 minutes of waiting during prep.

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                                                                Corollary: turn the oven on to begin preheating before putting away groceries or taking out all the ingredients or taking off my coat, etc.

                                                                                                              2. Buy multiple sets of measuring spoons and dry measuring cups. I hated when I would use a measuring spoon for something wet and then need the same one for something dry and would have to stop to wash and then dry it.

                                                                                                                7 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: dmjordan

                                                                                                                  I usually attempt to measure dry things first, then wet to not use multiple sets of measuring utensils. I also use "dry" measuring cups for wet. Also, I try to chop veggies before meat to use the same knife and cutting board. Can't always, but usually.

                                                                                                                  1. re: firecooked

                                                                                                                    Too much thinking involved for me! I have probably a dozen different sized cutting boards, and several sets of measuring cups. The spoons, if it gets down to it , I'll use the tableware, even though I know it's not accurate. Then again, neither was grandma's palm, but it worked for her!

                                                                                                                    As I said above, plenty of time for cleaning after the fact. Sometimes WAY after the fact, haha.

                                                                                                                    1. re: coll

                                                                                                                      Precision is overrated! Even for baking.., I make muffins before coffee enough times that I have made some significant errors and they still come out fine. Use the 1 teaspoon spoon instead of the 1/2 for baking soda, forget the vanilla and/or salt, etc, etc.

                                                                                                                      1. re: firecooked

                                                                                                                        I know! I never got the "baking is strict science" thing. It's always edible, and sometimes I even discover something interesting.

                                                                                                                        1. re: coll

                                                                                                                          Like the time a friend & I made almond pound cake and mistakenly doubled the butter. Dense, but oh-my! it was good.

                                                                                                                          1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                                                                            Butter is good. More butter is better! I would eat it with a spoon if I had to.

                                                                                                                  2. re: dmjordan

                                                                                                                    I bought extra measuring cups so I can leave them in the containers. Flour, sugar, oats all have their own. Yeast in the freezer has its own tsp. I have all of my "dry" goods in tupperware bins cause we have seasonal mice issues.

                                                                                                                  3. I prep ingredients as I go. Onion takes a while to sweat, meat takes time to brown, fluids take time to come up to a boil, etc. so there's always time to prep the subsequent ingredients. Mise en place is good for recipes with ingredients that cook very quickly e.g. sauteed zucchini with garlic: the garlic will toast quickly so the zucchini better be ready for the pan beforehand. Mise en place doesn't save any time for me because it requires the exact same amount of prep: washing, peeling, chopping/slicing/dicing/etc.

                                                                                                                    Also, I don't think better knife skill saves _that_ much time. It takes less than a minute to dice an onion, probably even if one is clumsy with a blade, but it might take five minutes to sweat the onion. Even if one doubles one's knife speed, one would only save less than 10% in time. Now if it takes one five minutes to dice an onion, that's a different story.

                                                                                                                    My time saving philosophy is basically that programming adage: "Don't Repeat Yourself". If I find myself doing the same thing again and again, for instance, washing cilantro, or washing lettuce for a meal's salad, I'll see if it's possible to do it in a big batch at once: wash the whole head of lettuce and keep in a zip lock bag; wash all the cilantro and keep it in a zip lock bag with a moistened paper towel, wash cucumbers for salad all at once and keep it with the washed lettuce, etc.

                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                    1. re: aqn

                                                                                                                      For me, your post condensed so many points into a unified approach to food prep. that many Chow readers (including me) and way more others would benefit from the 2 minutes it would take to stick it permanently on the fridge. I'm copying it to certain friends and family.

                                                                                                                      P.S. Thanks to this long-running thread for producing such great, practical options in so many voices.