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Cooking - Best Time Saving Tips?

I have been battling some health issues lately, and hope to sometime in the near future try and ease back into a little cooking again if I am able to. Please share your tips with me on how to save time in the kitchen so that I can prepare a good meal (Chow-worthy or otherwise!) without exerting too much energy or having to stand at the stove for an extended period of time.

Also please do share any kitchen tools (pressure cooker for example) that will help to cut down the time I have to spend in the kitchen. I eat a variety of foods, with an emphasis on meats for good protein. Thanks in advance for your advice!

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  1. Cook once, eat twice (or more). Some people eschew leftovers, but I purposely make enough for planned-leftovers. That way, we can either have them the next day, with no cooking, or freeze a few portions for a later day when I don't have the oomph to cook.

    1 Reply
    1. re: pine time

      I have no problem with leftovers...good idea - will try to cook once and see how long I can stretch it out for more than one dinner.

    2. The greatest time-saver in my kitchen is a large-size toaster oven (Breville or Krups). I've never had a microwave oven but that too is a time-saver, for such foods as it's suitable for.

      10 Replies
      1. re: John Francis

        Good one, John - I do not have a toaster oven, but I could put it in an area of the kitchen (so that I don't have to stand at the stove) where I can sit down and just wait for the food to finish preparing. Plus, it should save me some money on my electric bill if I do not have to heat up an entire stove to cook up a slice of say, garlic bread.

        1. re: John Francis

          John, besides some of the obvious ones (making garlic bread, quick snack - "english muffin pizzas", etc.) do you have any recommendations on how to use the toaster oven to make simple dishes? If you use it for this purpose, any ideas would be appreciated.

          1. re: littleflower

            Eric Ripert has/had a deal to promote the Cuisinart toaster oven. In that connection, he has a blog, "Get Toasted", of toaster oven recipes that should be useful regardless of brand.

            1. re: greygarious

              Grey I googled it but ended up coming to this:
              http://www.aveceric.com/recipes-get-t...

              I would love to see his toaster oven recipes - I wonder if they are featured anyone else online???

              1. re: littleflower

                Hmm - I'm not seeing them anymore, either, but found this link to a Get Toasted video series: http://blip.tv/eric-ripert-avec-eric/...

            2. re: littleflower

              In our house, the toaster oven (Breville, convection, larger) is used for: roasting a split chicken; baked potatoes; roasted vegetables; bake a 9" square pan of squares or cake; bake a dozen cookies from pre-portioned & frozen dough; bake 6 biscuits; dry herbs; bake fritatta; cook bread puddings in individual ramekins; roast 4 pork chops or a 1 lb pork tenderloin; cook a pizza.

              1. re: KarenDW

                Wonderful, Karen! How much does one of those cost? I am looking at a slightly limited budget now...hoping to purchase a decent one under a hundred dollars.

              2. re: littleflower

                You can do pretty much anything in a toaster oven you would do in a normal oven, except that it is smaller so larger dishes won't fit. It isn't recommended for really finicky baking recipes, but I've made cookies, muffins, cheesecakes, etc., in one with no problems. Foods tend to cook slightly quicker, so keep an eye on them.

                1. re: DevorahL

                  Oh trust me I don't think I will be preparing too many chef-y memories right now...just trying to get decent food that doesn't always have to be all take-out.

                  Thanks for the tip on the time it takes for foods to be done in them...good to know.

              3. re: John Francis

                I cook most of my dinners in the toaster oven. One favorite is chicken legs with some veggie sharing the pan (zucchini or green beans, usually) and a sweet potato baking in there as well. Also, sausage with baked beans or winter squash works well.

              4. Roast! You can put things in the oven and let them do their thing, staying within smelling distance but on the couch or wherever. You can also roast multiple things (e.g. chicken parts or pork and some kind of vegetable) and either but them all in at the same time, or only have a minute on your feet to add the later thing. I prefer almost every vegetable roasted. You can also slow cook, either in a crock pot or a dutch oven, with minimal prep time and nice results.

                4 Replies
                1. re: ErnieD

                  Ah, excellent!! I thought of roasting (I love to roast pork loin, leg of lamb, etc.) but did NOT think of roasting more than one thing at a time.

                  1. re: littleflower

                    Bon Appetit did a great feature a while back (http://www.bonappetit.com/uncategoriz...) of Sheet Pan Dinners, i.e. dinners that cook on one sheet pan, protein and veg together. They sometimes instruct you to put the ingredients on at different times, to accommodate cooking times, but they make for easy, simple dinners. My favorite is the wasabi salmon with bok choy and mushrooms.

                    1. re: DevorahL

                      Thanks much for this tip - I found several I want to try.

                      1. re: MidwesternerTT

                        Me too!

                        I went searching for the Bon Appetit link (not realizing Devorah had already provided a link) and found this story with a few other sheet pan dinner ideas, too. http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelysander...

                        ~TDQ

                2. Mise-en-place: Sit down while you measure and prep your ingredients. Put the containers on a tray. Use cupcake papers in a muffin tin to hold your measured seasonings and other small ingredient amounts. You can toss them, or shake them out to reuse, and won't dirty the tin. This will minimize the time spent standing at the counter and stove.

                  I don't use the cupcake papers because I have a set of 6oz silicone cups from Amazon. They are easy to rinse out, and to pour from.

                  Casseroles, stews, and other one-dish meals would help you.
                  I make a lot of legume-containing soups, 3 qts at a time. But in summer, I want to avoid heating up the kitchen, and eating hot meals, so I make a large batch of multi-bean salad - about the only time I buy canned beans - and eat that for my daily bean equivalent. When it's finished, I add seasonings to the remaining liquid to turn it into salad dressing.

                  Cut your raw meat into bite-sized pieces for quick cooking. You can do stir-fries, of course, but there's no rule that you can't cut your steak before you pan-sear it. Instead of roasting a whole chicken as is, spatchcock/butterfly it, or roast parts, and put chunked vegetables onto the same pan to roast along with the chicken.

                  Bake a pound of bacon strips on a sheet pan (375-400F, watch it at 15 min and remember it will cook more after it's out of the oven as you wait for the pan to cool a bit). Let the cooked strips drip before transferring to paper towels. Pour off the fat and refrigerate it. The bacon will keep for over a month in the fridge. Then when you want to make bacon and eggs, use the fat to cook the eggs, toss in some bacon at the end to warm it through. Breakfast in a few minutes.

                  To shorten your cooking times, present yourself with the mental challenge of how you would cook if your stove had a meter you needed to feed with quarters. Ditto for reheating leftovers - cut your food up before you rewarm it.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: greygarious

                    Grey, you ALWAYS have such great ideas - thank you!!! Love the one about the cupcake holders for mise-en-place and the cutting up raw meat into bite-sized pieces first - stir frying will be a helpful way to cook b/c the food can be cooked in no time.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      I usually try to do a big mise en place every few days or so. I just camp out in the kitchen with music on and go to won. If not for the next day then at least for the meals that day. It's so useful to have it all ready to go. Also while in the kitchen, I try to prep anything else that I can for the day, trim and prepare any meats, assemble any things that can just be popped into the oven, simmer a sauce for later while I'm chopping, shred any cheeses, etc.

                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                        I do that sort of things when we entertain. ANYTHING that doesn't suffer from sitting around all day gets done ahead. Salad dressing, app, dessert, mise en place. It feels so great when, in mid-afternoon, I can say "dinner's basically done." And I physically feel better cause I've spread it over the whole day. And then I hap :)

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Exactly. I might e lame but Friay night is usually the prep night. Last week for example I roasted tomatoes which were quickly pureed afterwards and stashed in the fridge until Sunday, while the tomatoes were going I used the processor to make salad dressing for the weekend and to chop broccoli stems into slaw which made it's way into the freezer, sauteed mushrooms and garlic to be used for stuffed mushrooms the next day, etc. I love walking into a kitchen and just knowing it's all ready to go. If I did all the prep separately, it really adds up since every time I have to get out supplies, clean, wash, repeat. This way it's all done at once and my knife gets and cutting board are taken out and cleaned once.

                    2. Mise en place. Not because it actually saves time but because I can do that part ahead of time and then the actual cooking goes a lot faster. And I can do it sitting on a stool in the kitchen.

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: c oliver

                        Awesome thought about the stool...I am searching around online to see if I can find a comfortable chair with a back that is high enough where I can place it in front of the stove (when I have no other choice but using my burners) so I do not have to stand long. One with wheels would be a plus as well so that I can just wheel from one part of the kitchen to another on days where I am totally exhausted.

                        1. re: littleflower

                          Wish I had room for a stool in the kitchen, but I don't. I have joint problems and pain problems, though, so I bought 2 of those gel mats for under the stove and under the sink--they do make a difference in standing on hard kitchen tiles.

                          1. re: pine time

                            I bought those also - great price at Costco. They make a huge difference. And one can be moved to where slicing and dicing is going on. I still have to remind myself to sit for larger jobs.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              I don't have a stool either though now that you mention it should just get one. I often use the kitchen table but it's just not quite high enough to be comfortable so after a while I start to feel it in my back and feet. Thanks for the suggestion of a chair..duh!

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Got mine at CostCo, too, and while I initially was skeptical, I'm a convert. Plus, 'cause of the joint/back issues, I pull out a lower drawer and rest one foot on it to reduce the pressure on my back. Between the mats and the drawer-trick, has reduced my cooking pain a lot. My table is too low for comfortable chopping, so I still do it at the counter.

                                1. re: pine time

                                  Forgive me if I have asked this already, but does anyone have a recommendation for a comfortable chair with a back that would be suitable to use in the kitchen? That would be a tremendous help to me - I even thought about purchasing an comfortable leather office chair that way I would be 1) comfortable since I tire easily and 2) the height could be adjusted on it hopefully to use at the stovetop.

                                  1. re: littleflower

                                    We recently purchased a rollator/walker for my mother at Walgreens. It was around $150.00. It's not lovely, but she uses it to sit on when she doing different things. It has a low back and the height of the seat is adjustable. It's quite small and can be collapsed for travel. The light weight of it allows her to use her feet to move around. It might fit your needs.

                                    Hope you're feeling better soon!

                                    1. re: littleflower

                                      See if you can track down a drafters chair, used by graphic designers, architects etc. they are basically a tall office chair on wheels. Adjustable, padded seat and back.

                                      http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&n...

                                      1. re: cronker

                                        That is what I had in mind actually...a chair with a comfortable back, one that was adjustable in height, and had wheels. I really like the one for 124.00 with the high back chair (second row from the bottom, first chair in that row). Great one, thank you!!!

                                      2. re: littleflower

                                        You might also look at what's called a "shower chair," but with a back. While I've not seen them with an adjustable back (they do have adjustable heights), they're low profile, and you can also use it, natch, in the shower, which can add safety and comfort while bathing. When I was recuperating from knee replacement (and a few other medical issues), I was shocked at how exhausting just getting a shower can be.

                                        Best wishes.

                                        1. re: pine time

                                          Already looking into this...this is an essential for me and key to being safe in the shower. Thank you so much for your well wishes.