This tutorial explains how I changed my routine for food preparations and cooking meals using my recipes, so on the days I do not have the energy, I can make homemade meals in twenty minutes or less. It also shares tips for those who purchase frozen, canned, or pre-cooked food items.
I give my sister credit for teaching me how to cook from scratch. I have always been quick on my feet and and never minded the time I spent in the kitchen, until this past year when I find age has slowed me down. I have been challenged to re-organize my recipes in such a way that I do not need to purchase canned or ready made food items, and can still control the ingredients that go into them.
I appreciate home cooked meals to the point, that I do not enjoy going out for dinner. I would much rather stay home and cook. Follow through and lets get started.
Step 1: Planning Ahead
I normally spend more time cooking dinner meals than I do for breakfast or lunch, so I chose a few recipes to try and reduce the amount of time that I spend making them, so on my low energy days, I could make recipes in twenty minutes or less. I looked for recipes that could be made ahead and store in the refrigerator or freezer. I also looked for recipes that could be made into a totally different dish by adding different ingredients and meats. Some of my most time consuming recipes are made with rice, beans, soups, sauces, cheese and meats. Prepping produce is also time consuming.
While planning these recipes, I looked for ingredients that overlapped, as well as how I could organize the way I cook, so I could double the amount I made at one time, and change a few techniques I have been using to reduce prep-work.
Not everyone will be interested in cooking from scratch and for those of you who do not have time to do so, you can substitute ready made ingredients for some of these recipes. Purchasing a few simple and delicious herbs, spices or condiments will certainly improve the flavor of canned, frozen, and ready made ingredients.
Step 2: Bulk Packaging Tips
I purchase bulk foods and re-package them when I get home to save on our food bill.
Packaging bulk items:
I have been using freezer bags for this but do have plans to begin using butcher paper to avoid contact of the meat with the plastic bags.
I package pork chops, chicken, steak and other suitable meats into the bags loosely, and place them on a cookie sheet lying flat. I freeze them until they are somewhat frozen. Then I remove the meat from the freezer and break the separate pieces apart if they are attached. Then I stack the slightly frozen meats into the freezer. When I need a single serving, I do not need to thaw out the whole package.
For hamburger, I place smaller portions into smaller freezer bags for individual servings to reduce the time it takes to defrost them. I freeze larger bags for meat loafs and other recipes that require more meat.
While I am filling the bags, I have my husband help me so I do not touch the bag with the juices from the meat. Occasionally I miss the bag and will use straight vinegar to spray the exterior of the bag and a paper towel to remove the juices so I do not contaminate the other bags.
The night before I make the recipe, I defrost one of the meat packages in the refrigerator so it will thaw out during the night.
Step 3: Pre- Measure Herbs for Recipes
Last spring we planted herbs for the first time and I had an abundance of these fresh herbs, so I began drying them and freezing them for my recipes. After washing and drying the herbs, I placed them on the food dryer and hung some here and there up side down to dry. After they were dry, I chopped them up and placed them into jars and bags.
To freeze the fresh herbs, I chop, and place them on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer until they are frozen, it didn't take very long. Then I took them out of the freezer and used a spatula to break them up so the pieces were separate. Then I place them into freezer bags and back into the freezer they went.
When I use them for recipes, I measure the amount that I need and put them immediately back into the freezer. If they thaw out they get kind of mushy. This method as well as the drying method has worked very nicely for me.
I decided to start making seasoning packets that are pre-measured with the herbs and spices that were used in some of my recipes to cut down on the time it took to measure them separately. The way I did this is, one of my recipes called for 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. I measured out the ingredients to make one batch. Then I measured how much it was with all the seasonings and spices, which happened to be slightly less than 1 Tablespoon for that recipe. I continued measuring the ingredients until I had measured enough to last for a few months.
I marked on the bag what recipe I used those spices and how much was needed to make the recipe. This method is not practical unless you make the recipe often. It does save time in the long run.
Step 4: Prep Work for Fresh Vegetables Fruit and Cheese
Washing and prepping fresh vegetables can take time so when I feel energized, I will wash and dice produce for that week in advance and store them in bags in the refrigerator until I use them for my recipes. I cut them in different shapes and sizes according to the recipes.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are a good option during the off season. Most frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of the season so they have a lot of nutrients and are healthier, than those that are sold in the produce department during the year. They are a great choice for twenty minute meals. I often use the frozen sweet peas in recipes because they thaw very quickly, when added toward the end of the cooking time of a recipe and retain their shape and bright green color. Most of the time I buy fresh in season produce to save money but at times I don't mind buying frozen.
To save money I buy cheese in 5 pound packages. It requires prep work, so I have begun shredding the cheese using both the large and small grates so I can save time and money. My husband usually slices the cheese for me for sandwiches.
I use a lot of bell peppers, garlic, onion, hot peppers,mushrooms, lemons, limes, and papayas, so I prep them on my good days and store them in the refrigerator in bags for that week. I use a potato peeler for the papaya and cube them.
Step 5: Take Advantage of the Time Your Stuck in the Kitchen
On my really ambitious days, I will make beans, rice, boiled eggs, and or pasta, and I make enough for the week. The beans and brown rice can be frozen, so I make enough for a bag of each to be frozen as well, I have more on freezing rice later. When I make pasta, I reserve a couple of cups of the pasta water as I have several recipes that call for it when re-heating the pasta. I don't freeze the pasta but plan to give it a try as I keep perfecting these methods.
I peel the eggs and place them in a bag and store them in the refrigerator for several days. I add the eggs to salads and warm them for breakfast for my husband.
It is not unusual for me to have the burners on the stove going as well as the oven and crock pot. During the summer months I use the crock pot all the time.
Sometimes I will bake potatoes (sweet and or russet) at the same time I bake a chicken. It all depends on how much I have already prepared.
I am guessing that I do this about one time every two months or so, depending on how fast we go through what I have already made. I try to use up most of the pre-made and frozen before I begin cooking more.
For this to work for me, I do take inventory on the supply and re-arrange items, moving them to the top so I can use them first.
Step 6: Get Hooked on Marinade
My son taught me how to marinate and after tasting the results, I was hooked on them. They take minutes to prep but do require an inactive time to marinate. Cooking times vary depending on the size of meat and recipe.
I have altered one of my favorite recipes for marinade by cutting the chicken breast into thin slices to marinate so they cook quicker and I cooked them on top of the stove. Normally the recipe calls for a whole chicken and required 45 minutes to bake as well as browning the chicken on top of the stove. I use the baking method for whole chicken often. Careful planning and prior food preparations has made this recipe one of my go to recipes for busy or tired days.
The beauty of this recipe is, a whole chicken can be marinated for up to 24 hours but no longer than that and smaller pieces can be marinated for a couple of hours and then cooked. I checked to see if a marinade with lemon juice changes the texture of the chicken, and the comments I found on message boards, said that when the meat is frozen it stops the marinade process and does not alter the texture of the chicken. However, when the meat thaws the marinade begins to work again. I haven't tried this method yet to see if it is true but I plan to.
The recipe is easy:
1 small package feta cheese reserve 1/2 for garnish
2 cups of water or more for whole chicken
pinch of salt
Blend together until smooth.
- This amount of marinade is enough to marinate several pieces of chicken breast. For larger portions make necessary adjustments. Please remember to reduce the time the chicken soaks in the marinade in the refrigerator if you will not be making a whole chicken.Chicken should be covered with marinade.
- After the waiting period, discard the brine and blot the chicken pieces or whole chicken using a paper towel. Allow the chicken to dry.
- I added oil to a skillet and seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper, cumin, thyme, and garlic to taste.
- I added a few fresh bell pepper chunks, quartered onion, olives, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms.
- I added a tiny bit of sesame seed oil and cooked the mixture for about ten minutes or until the chicken was cooked through.
- I served it on a bed of re-heated pre-cooked rice, a lime wedge, and a parsley spring.
Step 7: Cooking Meats
I have been cooking bacon, chicken, roast, and pork chops in advance and shred or chop them according to the recipe requirements and use them during the week for quick meals. I use the crock-pot a lot for the chicken and roast because most of the time they require little or no attention while they cook.
I cook an entire package of bacon at one time and store it in the refrigerator for that week.
Instead of making a large meatloaf, I make mini loafs that have a much shorter cooking time.
I have not tried freezing cooked meats as I have not done any research on how it might affect the texture of the meat. It might be Ok for meat balls but honestly I do not have any experience freezing cooked meats but might do some research about it. I do plan to pre-make meatloaf and freeze the raw loaf and see what happens when I cook it. I will probably test it on muffin size or mini loafs and meat balls. I do not purchase pre-made frozen foods so I am not familiar as to what is available in the freezer section of the store.
Step 8: Converting Homemade Marinara Sauce or Store Bought Sauce
I use this pre- made marinara sauce recipe to make home made chili. I can make chili in twenty minutes or less by doing this. When I am stuck in the kitchen watching something on top of the stove, I will add a little olive oil to a cast iron skillet, wash, dry, and oil a package of bell peppers plus one mild pepper and bake them at 400 degrees F for about twenty minutes.
I cook the bell peppers and the mild pepper just long enough to have a char color to them. I remove them from the oven, let cool and then remove the stems and seeds, but leave the skins on for flavor, slice and store them in the refrigerator or freezer in bags for rice, pasta, and chili recipes.
Baby bell peppers are best for this recipe because of their delicious sweet flavor but they are more expensive. I don't bake them, I cook them on top of the stove in a skillet with oil until charred somewhat. I used regular bell peppers in the pictures. Both work great though.
When I make the chili, I add oil to a skillet, saute diced onions and garlic and brown the hamburger. Sometimes I add diced celery, diced carrots, beans and corn, depending on what vegetables I need to use up. While the meat is browning, I blend the peppers with a cup of the pre-made sauce and place the remaining sauce in a large pot and add paprika, chili powder, and cumin to taste and a bay leaf if I have one, and then I add the cooked hamburger mixture and heat the mixture on the stove top until it begins to boil.
Remove it from the heat and serve hot. Sometimes we add cheese, sour cream, or fresh peppers.
During the summer months I use organic tomatoes from the garden, which makes the sauce extra delicious. Adding these ingredients to just about any marinara sauce is sure to crank up the flavor quite a few notches.
Step 9: Rice
I make brown rice and Basmati rice a lot. Sometimes I use chicken stock or broth to add flavor to the Basmati rice.
I follow the recipe on the bag making enough for the week plus extra to freeze and substitute stock or broth for part of the water. I save a couple of cups of the rice water and freeze it to add to the rice instead of water, this helps when re-heating the rice or pasta.
I do not freeze the Bastami rice as it has a lighter texture than brown rice. Bastami rice is very tasty and takes only twenty minutes to make with a ten minute rest period. It is a good choice for many quick recipes.
When I freeze the brown rice, I place it on a cookie sheet loosely and stick it in the freezer until the rice is slightly frozen, then I remove the cookie sheet from the freezer and use a spatula to loosen the grains. If the grains are clustered together, I break the clusters with my fingers, label the bags with the date, place the rice into bags and freeze them until needed. I don't make more than what I will use in 4-6 weeks. I have a small freezer and don't want pre-made food items to get freezer burn because they are buried under other items.
Step 10: Flavor Enhancers
I will spend a few extra bucks on quality seasonings and oils because they add a lot of flavor to home made and pre-made store bought food items. Naturally high quality ingredients play a big part in the outcome of recipes but they can be spendy, so I purchase those that pack the most punch. I also consider the health benefits of using them.
I have been saving all my empty spice jars to to store my herbs in when I have enough for a small collection. I made a mistake without thinking and removed the label on one jar. I should have left it on the jar for that particular herb.
Step 11: Sunshiine's Final Thoughts
The advantages of cooking pasta and rice in large batches on the same day is (example) when cooking the rice and then the pasta or visa versa, I don't need to wash the pan except for a quick rinse and add water or broth to the pan and cook the rice. Pasta, rice, and beans are perfect for easy twenty minute meals if pre-pared in advance for those of you who prefer cooking from scratch. Cooking them in advance provides a little more time and attention to prepare a tasty and delightful meal.
If a person took detailed notes on the entire process of every single step they did and how long it took them to accomplish them, as well as the clean up time when making smaller batches every day, I think there would be a significant amount of time and resources saved.
I wish to thank the instructables community for their efforts in making this a great place to share and explore ideas. Have a safe and happy SPRING~