A little planning beyond that night’s meal will boost productivity in the kitchen, improve flavor and save money.
IF ONE OF YOUR New Year resolutions is to cook more, or to do it more efficiently, here are some simple practices you can put into place to streamline healthy cooking in 2018. A little planning will boost productivity in the kitchen, improve flavor and save money.
Assuming you already have spices, vinegars, oils and other basics (if not, there are plenty of lists online, and helpful books like “Urban Pantry”), consider making some go-to favorites to store in your refrigerator and freezer. Now is a good time to start whipping up your own stocks, dressings and sauces to have on hand for weekday meals.
Becky Selengut, author and cooking teacher, says making your own stocks is a surefire way to up your cooking game. For starters, label two gallon-size Ziploc bags “Veggie Stock” and “Chicken Stock.” During the week, as you cook, toss chicken bones or trimmings into the chicken-stock bag, and put any compost from onion, leek, parsnips, fennel, or celery ends into each bag. Leftover herbs can be divided and stored in both bags.
When you have enough saved up, make simple stocks to freeze in smaller quantities for future meals. No recipe needed. Just dump the bag into a pot, add water, bring to a boil, simmer an hour for the vegetable stock (or two hours for chicken stock) and strain.
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“Hands-down, it will be better than most store-bought products,” Selengut says. “For extra credit, you can buy chicken necks or backs, and roast them to add to your chicken stock for more flavor, but it’s fine just to use your frozen stash.” As she mentions in her upcoming book “How to Taste,” homemade stock is a major game-changer in improving the quality of your food.
If you like to cook with breadcrumbs, you also can start a third bag in your freezer for storing ends of bread. Or, when you make breadcrumbs, make extra to freeze in small amounts and pull out as needed. This is another case where homemade is far superior to most store-bought options — and, like with stock, it saves money and reduces waste.
Another of Selengut’s secret weapons is dried mushroom powder. She grinds dried porcinis in a coffee grinder and stores the powder in the fridge. “It adds great umami to vegetarian dishes; beans; or anything where you want that earthy, savory flavor.”
Amy Pennington, author and urban farmer, also recommends planning. She usually has two homemade vinaigrettes and two sauces in her fridge at any given time, which makes preparing meals easier. Her favorites include honey-mustard dressing and Asian peanut sauce, which, she says, “can be used for buckwheat noodles, a cabbage-cilantro salad with leftover shredded chicken, or with shrimp you might have in the freezer.” That’s three meals right there.
Pennington encourages cooks to consider meal planning around common ingredients. “Think about using a batch of beans or grains for multiple meals in a week, instead of being beholden to recipes,” she says. “Get loose and relax.”
If you make wild rice for fried rice one night, for example, make extra to use in a salad, or as a nutrient-dense hot cereal seasoned with cinnamon for breakfast, she suggests. Similarly, if you make a large batch of tomato sauce one day, divide it into four parts, and flavor each differently (Italian, Mexican, Indian, etc.) for later use.
Pennington calls it “reverse engineering” your meal-planning. “If I’m going to dirty a pan, there’d better be a multipurpose reason.”