I'm estimating on the conservative side of the spectrum, but granting that I have spent somewhere from thirty minutes to an hour in the kitchen at least four days a week over the past six years (about the time since I left my parents' nest and dorm life), I'm thinking that my guess isn't too far beyond the realm of possibility. I haven't yet hit the 10,000 hour mark, so I cannot call myself an expert--nor do I pretend to hold a candle to those who have decades worth of cooking experience--but that doesn't mean that my skills haven't improved. It's no secret that I am a big proponent of meal planning and cooking, so I thought I would share a few tricks I learned along the way.
Eliminate Food Waste
1. Freeze your greens.
Seriously. I thought this sounded so strange at first, but Dan's mom turned me onto this trick. The frozen greens are great for green smoothies, and the frozen texture is actually a boon because it makes the smoothies icy, cold, and thick.
2. Save and freeze bread ends for breadcrumbs.
When you have enough, thaw and pulse in your food processor.
3. Make croutons out of stale bread.
Cut bread into cubes, bake at 400 degrees for about 10 or 15 minutes, and toss with salt, olive oil, and spices.
4. Reimagine an ingredient's purpose.
Often a "close enough" ingredient that you do have on hand can stand in for one that you need. A half jar of pizza sauce that has been sitting in the fridge, for instance, could be used for enchilada sauce with additions of chili powder and cumin since tomatoes and oregano are the dominant flavors.
5. Save guacamole by pressing plastic wrap directly onto the dip's surface.
This prevents the air from touching the surface and causing color change.
Organize Your Meal Prep
6. Integrate lunchbox preparation into dinnertime cleanup.
Pack leftovers into containers for work and school lunchboxes as you are cleaning up and doing dishes for the meal. There is no sense in transferring food from a larger tupperware to individual smaller tupperware containers the following morning!
7. Set aside a few hours to prepare food for the week, or prepare food as you are cooking dinner.
Roast a bunch of vegetables and wash and chop some produce on a Sunday afternoon or while your meal is in the oven. It takes a little upfront time, but it is always worth it. In the long run, you save money, time, and calories.
8. Plan your meals.
Dan and I have found that about four per week is what works for us, but again, a little upfront effort saves us headache down the line. Make choosing meals less daunting by saving recipes and ideas as you come across them while browsing the web (services like Pinterest, Pocket, and Evernote are some of my favorites). Then, add these links to a shared calendar so either you or your partner (or whoever shares the cooking duties) can execute the recipe.
9. Get a garbage bowl.
If you haven't heard of this tip, you must be living under a rock. Rachael Ray may not have invented it, but she sure put it on the map (We basically just use our compost container since most of our stuff is compostable).
Cook Faster and Better
10. Grate your garlic.
Okay, here's another Rachael Ray hack, but it may be my favorite. Peel your garlic cloves and then grate the clove using a Microplane. It is much faster and safer than attempting to mince by hand.
11. Go meatless.
You probably know by now that I am a vegan. But did you know meatless meals are cheaper and faster 99 percent of the time? That's because you never need to worry about anything being underdone (not life threateningly, anyway). And what takes longer? Roasting a pork loin or opening a can of beans?
12. Designate salt and pepper pinch bowls.
These are not just for chefs. Allow these bowls to live on your stovetop. It is far more efficient to pinch the amount of seasoning you need rather than shake out granule after granule.
13. Speed up soaking with boiling water.
If a recipe calls for you to soak beans, dried fruits, nuts, or the like for several hours, you can hurry this process along by dumping boiling water over the ingredient in question.
14. Harden chocolate with coconut oil.
Don't buy those candy coating chocolate chips; they are full of a bunch of crappy food-like substances and don't taste nearly as good as the real thing. Instead, add a little bit of coconut oil to your melted chocolate. It will help the shell harden (and it makes an all-natural magic shell for ice cream too!).
15. Freeze cookie dough before baking for super soft cookies.
If you like your cookies doughy as Dan and I do, freeze the dough first, no matter what the recipe instructs. After a long quest for the perfect cookie, I have found that chilling the dough for at least an hour and then baking the cookies results in barely crispy outer edges and thick, gooey centers.
16. Get a dog.
Then you never have to sweep. Ha!