What's the number one obstacle to whipping up delicious meals in your kitchen (other than homelessness)? As with many things we wish to accomplish, our enemy is time. Picking out a recipe, compiling a list, getting to and from the store, and completing all the prep work before even getting your meal on the stovetop, in the oven, or spinning in the microwave eats up valuable time that could be better spent balancing your checkbook or staring into space.
Follow these hints for efficientizing your kitchen experience. They're fun, easy, and only marginally increase your risk of food-borne illness, or accidents due to use of sharp implements.
- Keep your oven set on 350 at all times. Most recipes call for this setting, give or take 75 degrees. Waiting for the oven to pre-heat is a big time suck; having your oven ready-to-cook all the time saves valuable minutes. As a bonus -- it will also cut down on your heating costs in the winter!
- Avoid hoity-toity prep steps. So many recipes ask you to julienne, dice, mince, chop or cube your ingredients. Honestly, the only person on earth who knows what "julienne" means is Julia Child, and she's a goner. All those fancy techniques don't mount to a hill of beans (see next hint for more on beans) once your food hits the table -- even the finest pot au feu (literally, "aw, I have few pots"), regardless of how tasty, looks like an amorphous mass of various colored constituents when served. To save time and pretention, put all your meats and veggies through a paper shredder. Easy, automated, uniform cuts, and a handy collection bin besides!
- Beans are the most versatile ingredient of all. Besides being nutritious, beans come in easy-to-open cans and are already cooked. Pop a can open, stick a fork in it - they're done! But if you have illusions of being a "chef", you can substitute beans for almost any other main dish. Want to serve your guests chicken? Dump a few cans of chickpeas into a roasting pan and work them into a poultry shape with your hands. Instead of serving roast beef, wrap some string around a pile of kidney beans (use the light variety if you prefer your roast "rare"). Fish? -- garbanzos have a scaly skin that will fool anyone willing to come to your house for a meal. Pork chops are the easiest of all to impersonate, since no one serves pork any more.
- Place settings are for sissies. Steak knives, salad forks, shrimp spoons -- it's all too much. Plates and cups get soiled and often require washing before their next use; they're time- AND energy-consuming. It's much easier to buy a case of plastic picnic tablecloths at Costco and toss one over your dining room table. Serve your meal directly onto the tablecloth, eat with your hands, and then just ball it all up and toss when you're done! Your kids will love it, so much so they'll even eat their vegetables if they first get to go mano-a-mano with them.
- Think of chewing as "optional". There's an old kitchen adage - "This took all day to make, and fifteen minutes to eat." Don't regret the time it took to cook -- embrace the rapid consumption and streamline wherever possible! Eating can be broken down into three major components - insertion, chewing, and swallowing. Insertion and swallowing take virtually no time, but chewing can be lengthy and tedious. How to avoid? Easy - put everything in the blender or food processor and turn your meals into puree'. (And it's a nifty way to sound like a fancy-pants sous chef when you can say you "pureed" the evening's meal.) Serve in a tumbler with a bendy straw -- what fun!
- Avoid cookbooks. Cookbooks promote a misdirected focus on "cuisine", which comes from the Latin for "food served in other countries that I won't care for". Everyone has their favorite comfort foods -- mac and cheese, soup, Hershey's syrup -- and you'll be much happier picking out one or no more than two "stand-bys" you can serve night after night after night. Your family wants variety? Hey, that's what restaurants are for. You'll save a TON of time when someone else does the cookin'!