Kitchen Focus

As if spring cleaning weren't enough by itself, this time of the year brings many events and happenings that make our busy days even busier. Holidays often mean extra travel or extra guests and, if you have kids, the school year gets really busy right before the school year ends. So, this month, I thought I'd tackle the challenge of saving time in the kitchen.

Really, the biggest favor you can do for yourself to save time in the kitchen is to plan ahead ... most of the ideas we're going to be outlining below require that first step. Once you've committed to planning ahead, the options to help you save time in the kitchen are really quite varied. To help you get started, here are some of my favorite ideas:

  • When I pull out the cutting board to chop vegetables, I take the time to prepare 3-4 times the amount I'll need so that next time, I can just turn to the pre-cut veggies I've got on hand. I often save these kinds of tasks for the weekend or a quiet evening during the week. That way, I'm not rushing through it on a day when I really don't have the time to devote to prepping veggies.
  • Remember: Your pantry is your best friend! I like to have canned tomatoes, chicken and vegetale broth, evaporated skim and coconut milk, tuna and a host of other canned items on hand. It's also wise to have an assortment of pasta and rice as well as basics like oil, vinegar, mustard and seasonings available. This is not an exhaustive list ... if you love olives, they are probably a good think to have on hand. If you cook certain ethnic foods, try making sure that special spice mixes or specialty ingredients are stocked in your pantry.
  • If your pantry is your best friend, your refigerator is its partner in crime! If you have a nice assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables on hand, you are more likely to include them in your meals. If you have shredded or sliced cheese, lunchmeat and condiments as well, a sandwich is just a few minutes away. It's all about having things available before you want to prepare a meal.
  • There are some things that are just best to keep in the freezer for long term storage and easy access. In addition to various meats, frozen fruits and vegetables can be a lifesaver when you are in a rush. Other items, like ginger, chives and even pesto can be frozen and small amounts can be used when needed. And frozen ginger grates easier!
  • When you have the time to devote to a big meal, why not make enough for leftovers or, better yet, planned-overs! If you are roasting a chicken for Sunday dinner, why not roast two and use the leftovers in completely new dishes. You save yourself time by not having to cook chicken from scratch during the week and you save your family from monotony at the dinner table. It's a win-win situation.
  • If you are using the same set of spices over and over again, why not save yourself some trouble and put together a custom spice blend? I like to make a blend of salt, pepper, paprika and garlic and then layer additional spices as necessary. I found myself using those four seasonings over and over again and since I've made my own blend, I save myself a little time each time I cook a meal.
  • You can add a lot of flavor without a lot of effort by including flavored oils, vinegars and sauces to your meal preparation. For example, I like to lightly brush my homemade pizza crust with a little garlic-infused olive oil before I bake it. Instead of adding lots of other ingredients, this simple step adds an incredible amount of flavor without much fuss.
  • One-dish meals are a must for those looking to save time in the kitchen. Whether it's a soup or stew or a nice main-dish salad, the fewer pots you have to watch on the stove or in the oven ... the fewer minutes you'll be standing there on call. Plus, when you're done with dinner, you have fewer dishes to clean as well.
  • Don't overlook the time-saving tools you already have right in your kitchen. Home appliances like slow cookers, pressure cookers and rice cookers take on heavy kitchen tasks and either speed the process up or allow you to take care of other things while they help you make a fantastic meal. There's something wonderful about tossing a bunch of ingredients into a slow cooker, turning it on, leaving it for the day and coming home to a wonderful dinner!

I'm sure that you have your own hints and tips about saving time in the kitchen too. Feel free to share your ideas by posting them in the form provided. Again, this is really all about planning. We sometimes get so busy in our lives that we don't stop and plan ahead ... and that can mean many more hours spent completing a task that could be made so much easier with a little advanced planning. Besides, cooking should be something to enjoy and savor. When you put a little time into making sure you have the right ingredients, tools and techniques, it can be just that!

If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .

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