Getting a good dinner on the table by 6PM or so every night sometimes feels like an Iron Chef – level challenge. Most days, I rise to the occasion without breaking too much of sweat. And then there are those moments when 5PM hits and the kids are begging me for appetizers when I desperately need to be making dinner and I have NO idea what to cook. That is exactly when my patience runs thin and everything breaks down.
So over time, I’ve come up with a small arsenal of shortcuts to make my cooking life more enjoyable, and I thought I’d share. PLEASE feel free to add yours to the list – I can’t wait to see what great ideas you have up your sleeve!
The Top Five
1. Plan meals ahead. This is not a radical concept and has been recommended by countless others, but you see, I loathe to plan meals, I much prefer to fly by the seat of my pants so to speak. Yet time and time again, the failure of my spontaneity has won me over to the more organized approach. Take a few minutes to poll the family about their dinner preferences for the upcoming week on Saturday morning, when everyone is in a happy, beginning-of-the-weekend mood. Or take it upon yourself. Either way, if you have a general plan you’ll feel much better equipped – actually buying necessary ingredients in advance is a bonus but not crucial. Its the ideas that count in my book!
2) Deal with garlic in advance. It always seems to take forever to peel and chop garlic when you can least afford to spend the time yet I love love love cooking with it and seem to need it frequently. Now, admittedly, I’m not a garlic press person and if you are, ignore this. But the rest of us, here’s my tip: peel and store cloves from 1-2 heads of garlic (however you are likely to use in 5-7 days time) and store in a glass or stainless steel container in the refrigerator. Chopping will seem like a breeze when you eliminate the peeling step.
3) Prep your “mirepoix.” Mirepoix is French for the crucial combination of diced carrots, celery and onions that form the basis for so many soups, stews, braises, etc. Store 1-2 cups of diced celery and carrots in one bag, and the same of onion in a glass container – they will be on hand for whatever you are cooking in the next 3-4 days.
4) The frozen food section. I do occasionally rely on store-bought frozen food items (see below for a case in point). But I prefer to create our own frozen food section in the fridge. I’ll freeze pizza dough, leftover soups and stews, ground beef and small steaks, sausages, fruit, butter, etc. Our freezer is unimpressive in size yet when I properly use the space, I’m always impressed with what I’ve got on hand. Ice cream is also a very important addition to this list, by the way.
5) Trader Joe’s potstickers. When in doubt, I bust these out. Pan-fried with sticky brown rice and green vegetables for a quick dinner, potsticker soup if you have chicken broth around, these work great for lunch or dinner (or breakfast, if you are Talia). I’m pretty sure I’ve been eating these on a regular basis since my early college years. And they still manage to satisfy.