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Making the Most of Time in the Kitchen

March 7th, 2010

It’s been a busy busy week here at Chiot’s Run. With the Real Food Challenge going on at Not Dabbling, sugaring our maples and all the usual work and activities I haven’t had much time for blogging. I’m reposting this from Not Dabbling. I thought some of you who don’t read over there would enjoy this article.

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When it comes up in conversation that I make everything from scratch, including butter, bread, pasta, etc, I often hear, “Oh, well, if I had time for that I would, but I’m so busy.” I must admit, it’s not that I have more hours in the day than everyone else, I have two almost full-time jobs (that’s 2 full-time jobs not 2 jobs that equal 1 full-time job) and write for 4 blogs. I grow some food, can & freeze food in the summer, we sugar our maple trees and keep bees. We don’t have kids running around which saves us time, but I still have to make the best use of my time in order to get things done. Mr Chiots helps out a great deal as well, although since we own a business he spends between 60-80 hours a week working as well. We both work from home, which saves us time commuting and allows us to monitor certain projects during the work day.

I must admit, I love to cook, always have. I enjoy spending time in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, kneading bread, churning butter. Being in the kitchen is usually relaxing for me and it’s a great creative outlet. It’s kind of like gardening, you can let your mind wander while you’re hands do the work. That being said, I don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen each night, I have to get my blog posts written! Over the years I’ve developed ways to make the most of my time in the kitchen, today I’ll share what works for me. After spending some time cooking you’ll start to develop your own techniques that work well for you.

Cooking from scratch doesn’t mean being a “foodie” and having sun-dried tomatoes, capers, truffles, white wine sauce and pancetta in the pantry. It’s no wonder people buy canned or pre-made items, if they feel “cooking from scratch” equals gourmet meals with all kinds of dishes. There are times when I make gourmet meals with exotic ingredients and many components. Most of the time, in day-to-day life, we focus on eating good quality simple meals consisting of a few ingredients, often all in one dish.

The best way I’ve found to save time in the kitchen is to “Keep it Simple”. Forget what you’ve learned about meal components and what makes a “healthy” meal. Cooking from scratch can be overwhelming if you feel you need to have a meat, a few veggies and a fruit for each meal. When you make meals from scratch you can focus on making nutrient dense foods so you don’t have to be cooking/eating as many different dishes. For example, when I make tomato soup I use my home canned soup (made with tomatoes, celery, onions, parsley) and I add equal parts chicken stock and some butter to the soup (bones stocks add loads of vitamins, minerals, trace elements & nutrients and butter, especially pastured milk butter, adds lots of healthful fats to your meals). I also add spices & herbs, often Italian spices, fresh basil, dried oregano, parsley (herbs also add vitamins, minerals and trace elements). Often I’ll top the soup with some grated raw milk cheese and a side of crusty sourdough bread topped with lots of butter. Because I’m getting so many vitamins & minerals from what’s in the soup (spices, herbs, bone broth, butter, vegetables), I don’t need to add anything to this meal, I’m getting tons of nutrition from one hearty bowlful.

Learning to cook good simple food is a beautiful thing. Realizing that you don’t have to have a meat, two vegetables, a fruit and bread to have a “complete” meal is liberating. It opens the door to creative casseroles, stews loaded with all kinds of goodness or meatless meals that are surprisingly filling and delicious. Learning to put your vegetables/fruits into the main dish saves tons of time. Instead of having chicken with side of rice, peas and carrots, how about making a pot of chicken and rice, with everything in one dish. You save time by cooking everything together, you can add broth and extra spices that add extra nutrients to your food. Not only do you save time by not cooking 4-5 different things and having 4 pots on the stove, you also save money and so much time washing pots! Double or triple that recipe and you’ll save even more time.

“Doubling the Recipe” is another technique I often employ to save time. It doesn’t take much longer to double a batch of soup, to make an extra pan of lasagna, or to double a batch of bread. You can freeze the extras in meal sized portions for your family and have quick meals ready to go on busy days. Spend a lazy Sunday afternoon making 2-3 pots of different kinds of soup and you’ll have a couple weeks worth of lunches or dinners out of the way. Not only will you save time by not having to cook every night, you’ll have quick meals in the freezer ready to go. I often quadruple my bread recipes (generally making 2 double batches) so I have a nice stockpile of bread in the freezer for the summer months when I don’t feel like baking.

Learning to “Creatively Turn Leftovers Into New Dishes” is another great way to save time in the kitchen. If you don’t mind leftovers you could just make up big batches of things and eat on them all week, which we often do for lunches. Dinners often call for something different though, so I try to find ways to be creative with our leftovers. For example, if I decided this week I want roasted chicken and potatoes on Sunday evening, I’ll roast an extra chicken and extra potatoes that evening. I can make a big batch caramelized onions to use with the leftover chicken all week while it’s roasting. I now have a whole chicken, extra potatoes and a big container of caramelized onions to use for future meals during the week. Monday we can have chicken quesadillas, filled with roasted chicken, onions, greens, salsa. Tuesday we can have chicken pizza, pizza topped with chicken, sun dried tomatoes, olives, peppers and onions. Wednesday we can have BBQ chicken sandwiches, topped with onions and cheese with a side of baked potato fries (made from those roasted potatoes). Thursday evening we can have we can enjoy omelets with chopped with potatoes, onions, and cheese. Friday a hearty chicken vegetable soup made from the bones and extra leftover chicken (you can make this any night of the week after you pick the chicken off the bones and freeze it).

Make sure you “Have Fun with Your Food”. Let your kids pick out a new fruit or veggie at the grocery store. Have one night a week called “smorgasboard” make it a meal of all the leftovers in the fridge that need eaten up. We have at times had meals like this made up of: baked beans, fried plantains, pizza, salad, green beans, etc. Make “leftover” pizza, topping your pizza with whatever leftovers you find in the fridge (we’ve had some surprisingly good pizzas topped with odd items). Make it a game and your family with love it.

“Learn to Make Some Quick or On The Go Meals”. When we’re out late and are hungry having a quick meal you can make within 15 minutes of getting home will save you from eating out (plus carrying a few snack whenever you leave home helps as well). Eggs make the perfect quick meal, they’re healthy and they cook up in a flash. Fried or scrambled eggs with some homemade ketchup & toast topped with preserves. How about an English muffin egg sandwiches when you need a portable meal to take with you as you run out the door. And don’t forget about the humble peanut butter & jelly, very delicious, nutritious and portable! We often have tomato soup as a quick meal, or something from the freezer.

Do you have any great time-saving tips to share? How about some creative ways to use up leftovers?

13 Comments to “Making the Most of Time in the Kitchen”
  1. Mrs. Mac on March 7, 2010 at 5:38 am

    I’ve been slowly switching over to all ‘scratch’ cooking … about 90 % there. Haven’t made pasta regularly. I’m adding one or two new skills each month … perfecting them … until I can perform without using the recipe. This way it becomes second nature. Cooking in this fashion takes forethought. This week I mastered making cultured buttermilk .. and perfected a bread recipe. A time saving tip: Make a large pot of seasoned pinto beans and freeze in pint jars. Make a large pot of porridge at the beginning of the week … and use it for cereal, additions to pancakes and bread dough. Freeze bacon in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with butcher paper. Once frozen, wrap tightly and store in the freezer; you can then remove a single piece or however many pieces from the freezer keeping the remainder fresher longer.
    .-= Mrs. Mac´s last blog ..You, Me … and the Kitchen Sink =-.

    Reply to Mrs. Mac's comment

    • Meyser on March 7, 2010 at 6:15 am

      Oh, I like the idea of adding/perfectioning one skill a month! That seems so doable! Thanks!
      .-= Meyser´s last blog ..yellow and red =-.

      Reply to Meyser's comment

    • Susy on March 7, 2010 at 11:30 am

      I freeze my bacon that way as well, it’s a great tip!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  2. Meyser on March 7, 2010 at 6:14 am

    Great post. I love to cook and people coming to my house think I spend hours and hours in the kitchen. I’m not completely cooking from scratch though. I think that well-considered use of for example frozen veggies or some good-quality canned products can, in my case, really add to the dish I’m making. It’s good though to keep in mind (and that’s why I like your post so much) that with a bit of planning I could be able to keep ingredients even more simple. Thanks!
    .-= Meyser´s last blog ..yellow and red =-.

    Reply to Meyser's comment

  3. barb on March 7, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Sounds to me like you have all the hours in your day under very well control! I hate it when people say if only I had the time. You are right, you “make” your time for the things you love. Great website I like reading about all the dishes you’ve made.

    Reply to barb's comment

  4. Lynn on March 7, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Bravo! The Art of simple ‘whole’ food!

    Reply to Lynn's comment

  5. Helen on March 7, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing yur tips. I often cook things in one pot, it is definately quicker and creates lots less washing up.

    Reply to Helen's comment

  6. Attila on March 7, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    That was an interesting read! I just made roast chicken with roasted swede (I think that’s what you call rutabuga or something!), parsnip and sweet potato. Yesterday I sliced a load of leeks longways, washed them and then ran out of energy and just wrapped them in a cloth and put them in the fridge. I had meant to make soup, so today, I parboiled the parsnips for roasting and held some back (and the cooking water). Sweet potatoes don’t need parboiling and nor does swede if it’s cubed, so they went in the oven with the chicken and some parsnips. Then I made curried parsnip and leek soup (2 portions) and sweet potato and leek soup (4 portions). I do normally make larger amounts, but it was not a lot of trouble at all; 3 lunches for 2.

    Reply to Attila's comment

  7. Compact UK on March 7, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Hi, I’ve been reading through your blog for the last few days (I found it via flickr’s square foot garden group) and you have inspired me so much!

    Now I get it about local foods, and you made me realise it really is something to get excited over. We’ve just spent an amazing weekend discovering local foods around our area, and we would’ve never know any of them if it wasn’t for your wonderful blog. Thank you very very much.

    I’ve written about how you inspired me on my own blog: http://compactuk.blogspot.com/2010/03/now-i-get-it-about-local-foods.html

    Thank you again!!
    .-= Compact UK´s last blog ..Now I *get it* about local foods! =-.

    Reply to Compact UK's comment

    • Susy on March 7, 2010 at 5:05 pm

      Great to hear! One of the reasons I blog is to inspire people to grow some of their own food and to try to find local food. Can’t wait to head over and read your blog!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  8. JP on March 7, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    everything sounds delicious and well planned. I think having a plan is really key to getting the most meals out of your time. I am a vegetarian sandwich fanatic, and I live in fear of the day I get sick of them, as they’re so easy and flexible.
    My favorite meals are always those with very few ingredients, and it’s a lesson that I have a hard time learning. I keep coming back to the simple stuff. Dessert = spoonful of maple syrup, sometimes with peanut butter. Yum.

    Reply to JP's comment

  9. Jamie Oliver’s America | Online Cooking Blog on August 12, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    [...] chiotsrun.com/2010/03/07/m&#1072k&#1110ng-th&#1077-m&#959&#1109t-&#959f-time-&#1110n-th&#1077-k&#823…Vegetarian Cooking Share and Enjoy: [...]

    Reply to Jamie Oliver’s America | Online Cooking Blog's comment

  10. angie h on August 16, 2012 at 10:30 am

    I love this post! This is so motivating for me. I think you can always find time for what is important to you and I am etching out more time to cook real food now that I realize how much of a difference it makes to our lives and health. My focus right now is making all of our bread. I like the comment about adding a new skill every month and that seems like a good goal for me.

    Reply to angie h's comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.

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