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Old 01-12-2010, 01:20 PM   #1
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Making time to cook/Cooking efficiently

Despite my best efforts and planning, I never seem to be able to cook efficiently. I suppose I do make time to cook but when I do, that means not eating dinner until 9 pm (or later!), which doesn't work when the BF leaves for work at 6 am. I'm a busy college student living (FAR) off campus in my own apartment with said BF, which also cuts free time at home as it takes me anywhere from 30-90+ minutes to commute into school every day. I work on campus too, so when classes are in session, I could be gone from 6:30 - 7 am to 7 - 8 pm or later. Take-out and frozen dinners can be great lifesavers in a pinch (such as finals week) but I personally value cooking from scratch as it tends to save a lot of money and is more nutritious and, obviously, more often than not tastes better.
We do tend to make enough to have leftovers, but we get sick of them after a couple of days and they end up going bad in the fridge..

So I'd like to ask everyone, what are your tricks and tips for staying efficient (not just with cooking but clean up too!) on a busy schedule? When you have a slew of leftovers, do you have a way of jazzing them up to make them stretch?

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Old 01-12-2010, 01:26 PM   #2
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When you have free time, cook up a big batch of food and freeze it in meal-sized portions. I do this with chili, stews, soups, casseroles, pasta sauce, lasagna, etc.

Once you build up a nice variety of stuff in the freezer, it's easy to have some variety in meals.

In addition, find or develop meals that you can do fast. There was a thread not too long ago about what do you cook when you have no time. As much as I am not a fan of Rachel Ray's TV show, her concept of 30 minute meals is great and others have said her recipes are pretty good.
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Old 01-12-2010, 01:29 PM   #3
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I tend to freeze left-overs, so I'm not eating the same thing for days.
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Old 01-12-2010, 01:33 PM   #4
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Actually, we have a Meals in Minutes forum that could be a big help.
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Old 01-12-2010, 01:34 PM   #5
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Life will get easier, I promise You might condsider spending some time on a Saturday or Sunday preping for the coming week. Pick up a roasted chicken at the grocery, several carrots, celery,mushrooms. or any veggies you like and get a pack of perpared pastry crusts and some pot pie tin foil pans.Make and freeze them out of part of the chicken. The rest of the chicken can be diced for soup or a nice big salad, or even used on top of toasted corn tortillas and topped with black beans,lettuce,a little red onion,cheese,and a dressing of lemon juice,whisked with Dejon mustard and a little cilantro and honey. That would give several meals. Use as much disposable things as you can afford for awhile. this should cut your time some.Good luck
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Old 01-12-2010, 01:46 PM   #6
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That's a very good question!

For myself, I approach cooking three with phases in mind, and I've gotten two out of the three fixed.
First, I employ "mise en place", a French culinary doctrine of "everything in its place." For instance (just as an example): All ingredients are lined up and if possible, opened; the oven is preheated; tools are ready (measuring cups, rolling pin, scrapers, etc.); the kitchen sink is cleared and able to be used for hand washing; kitchen towels are on hand.

During cooking I consolidate trash, putting vegetable trimmings in an empty can or meat tray; I use a digital timer, not just for the oven, but even for things on the stove (cooking pasta, steaks, rice, etc.), I try to keep up with cleaning, by wiping up while waiting for something to come to a simmer. And I often hand wash utensils as I go, and then put them on a sink-side drainer (folded kitchen towel). At the end of cooking, I often have very little clean up to do in the kitchen with relation to cooking.

My downfall is after the meal... I'm tired by that point and after hand rinsing the dishes in preparation for the dishwasher, most make it into the left side of the sink and that's where they stay for a day or two.

I have definite room for improvement and look forward to the answers from others.
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Old 01-12-2010, 03:48 PM   #7
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Thanks guys :) it never dawned on me to freeze leftovers! I guess I always assumed that freezing a finished product will ruin it, which I guess it could alter the texture of some foods but would be fine for soups (and could have saved the incredible but now pitifully awful beef stew that I found in the back of my fridge last night... uh, last time I made beef stew was sometime in December... whoops.) I also had not seen the meals in minutes forum and will check that out.

Kades... I'll hold ya to that promise ;) and thanks that sounds quite good!
Selkie, my BF is always griping at me trying to get me to do just that (clean as I go), heh. Not my strongest point in the kitchen but I'm getting better at it every time I cook ;)
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Old 01-12-2010, 06:14 PM   #8
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Buy a little white board to stick to your fridge. One day, you and your BF sit down and decide what meals you are going to have during the week. Make sure you have all the ingredients you need on hand for the week or put them in your Shop for category.

If I can figure out how to show you my menu I'll post it.

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Old 01-12-2010, 07:01 PM   #9
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When you cook, plan leftovers (DH says I must buy them at the store). If you are making a beef (or pork) roast get one big enough for hot beef sandwiches one time and BBQ beef for another. Three meals with one big cooking event. Same with chicken; roasted chicken breasts work nicely in a hot pasta dish later. I think it saves time if you can always think of two or three meals you can spin out of one dinner prep time. And, of course, freeze the items that will be used later. When I cook beef or pork I slice the meat when it is cool, then wrap well and freeze. If you want BBQ some other day defrost overnight in the 'frige, then pop into a crock pot with the sauce and know dinner will be ready when you get home. That's if BF saves some for you. ( Just realized if I froze the sliced meat in the sauce/gravy I could just pop it into the crock pot!)
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Old 01-12-2010, 07:09 PM   #10
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Here's an example of my menu
Attached Files
File Type: pdf menu.pdf (24.4 KB, 99 views)
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Old 01-12-2010, 07:27 PM   #11
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...
( Just realized if I froze the sliced meat in the sauce/gravy I could just pop it into the crock pot!)
When I make a roast, I divide the meat and drippings into glass bowls, and reheat them in the microwave to serve.
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Old 01-12-2010, 08:35 PM   #12
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When I make a roast, I divide the meat and drippings into glass bowls, and reheat them in the microwave to serve.
I guess I wasn't really clear that I would be putting them into the freezer. I use my Mom's old Pyrex to store in the 'frige. Not something I would freeze...or would I?


Alix, I really like your menu selection for Wednesday.
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Old 01-12-2010, 09:04 PM   #13
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I often cook for just me or for two. I tend to go generous on the starch and the veg; the protein I usually cook enough. Later, I can take the rice/potatoe/grain and add other foods to it. If, by chance, I have veg left with the starch, a few additions and there's a good heat-it-up in the skillet I did my new protein in. One pan is as important to me as using the leftovers.
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Old 01-13-2010, 12:00 AM   #14
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I save time by prepping any veggies I can on the weekends or just buying the pre-frozen onions, peppers, etc. I also found a good way to spice a boring pork chop or piece of chicken is to make my own spice mixes when I get some time. It doesn't take much time to fix a piece of chicken and a few veggies I just mix it up by throwing on one of the different spice mixes. Try checking the store for premarinated chicken breasts, depending on the brand, they can add alot of flavor with little effort.
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Old 01-13-2010, 01:31 AM   #15
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I used to do a lot of make ahead one day a week cooking - something that I got started doing when I was in college and working full time. I just wish we had had microwave ovens back then.

Like others have mentioned - first you set aside one day to do your cooking, then you start with a menu, do your shopping, then do all your prep work (chop all your onions, peel and crush all your garlic, slice all of the things you're going to need, etc. at one time) and then start cooking - with a little practice you'll have all your cooking done for the week and in the freezer or fridge in 3-6 hours (depending on what you're cooking). If you clean as you go - you'll have a clean kitchen with no pot's or pans in the sink, either!

Two good sites to get you started are: The Recipe Link's Make Ahead Cooking and Freezer Recipes and About.Com:Busy Cooks Make Ahead Recipes and OAMC - but there are a lot of other sites that cover Once A Month Cooking OAMC , Once a Week Cooking OAWC and Make Ahead Cooking with good information, ideas and recipes.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a good section on "How Do I Freeze?" that covers most of the bases - and a lot of what I had to learn from trial and error over the years. The General Information section covers what will/will not freeze well, what changes occur with certain things, and even includes the changes that happen with spices and seasonings. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service has an excellent paper on Freezing Prepared Foods that also has a lot of good information on freezing, thawing and reheating frozen ingredients and prepared meals.
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Old 01-13-2010, 06:27 AM   #16
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Alix, your menu plan is a great one for beginning cooks or even those of us who have been cooking for years. Mine is a bit like yours without the organization. I think I will make one like yours. My biggest problem is we don't really know much ahead of time when we will eat out. Today a friend and I are taking soup and cornbread to another friend who has been sick. I'm making a big pot of soup, so we will have some for our own dinner here.
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Old 01-13-2010, 07:01 AM   #17
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Thanks guys :)
..... my BF is always griping at me trying to get me to do just that (clean as I go), heh. Not my strongest point in the kitchen but I'm getting better at it every time I cook ;)
It sounds like all of the responsibility for both meal prep and clean up are on your shoulders, in spite of the fact that you get home later than he does.

Maybe part of the solution is a better division of labor. If you've prepared a menu in advance, he can have some of the prep work done when you get home, like washing/chopping, peeling vegetables, putting a potato in the oven to bake, etc.

And if he wants to criticize they way you do something (like clean up), then he should take responsibility for doing it himself "the right way".
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Old 01-13-2010, 12:11 PM   #18
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Alix, your menu plan is a great one for beginning cooks or even those of us who have been cooking for years. Mine is a bit like yours without the organization. I think I will make one like yours. My biggest problem is we don't really know much ahead of time when we will eat out. Today a friend and I are taking soup and cornbread to another friend who has been sick. I'm making a big pot of soup, so we will have some for our own dinner here.
Hey licia, the beauty of my menu plan is that its pretty flexible. Its more just to have things ready to roll when you walk in the house. If you have to put things on hold, then you can and either bump things back a day (which means you have part of the next week already done!) or just flip stuff around. I mention Cooking for the Rushed all the time because I believe it has good flavorful, nutritious (mostly) meals that are quick and easy to prepare. The layout is fabulous and it gives step by step instructions that are timed. Once you've made the recipe a time or two you can adjust for yourself, but the meals are on the table very quickly. My menu plan is an edited form of what is found in those cookbooks. It has really made life easier around here when I'm working weird shifts all over the place.
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