Amazing Do-Ahead Shortcuts That Save Tons of Time
Aside from making the entire dinner the night before, here are four small things you can do that have big payoffs.
Prepare Your Side First
We often forget to steam the green beans or sauté the zucchini until the chicken or pork chops are almost done, thereby tacking on an additional 10 to 20 minutes to our cooking time. But now we know this trick from Susanne Henderson, who writes for the blog Tiny Oranges. She doesn't follow a raw-food diet, but she loves to serve uncooked vegetables as side dishes: They're fast, easy, delicious and nutritious. The key is to slice them fairly thinly and dress them with oil or vinegar before you start the rest of your cooking (say, just after you preheat the oven). That way, the liquid will have time to seep into the veggies, softening them slightly and helping their flavors develop. A few of Henderson's go-tos are avocado or tomato with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper; cucumber with rice vinegar; and, zucchini with olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
Pick a Double-Duty Recipe
For many of us, the last day of the weekend is when we have the most time to cook. Henderson takes full advantage of this luxury by choosing a protein that can moonlight in another meal later in the week, such as pulled pork, roast chicken, flank steak or pork loin. She makes extra and then incorporates the leftovers into salads, twice-baked potatoes, panini, flatbread pizzas, pastas, tacos or stir-fries made on other days. By using the pork, chicken or steak in a brand new dish the second time around, you won't feel like you're eating leftovers.
Photo: Tamara Jovic/iStock/Thinkstock
Get the Onions Out of the Way
Why do so many recipes begin with sautéing an onion? This fascinating article explains the answer in depth, but the basic reason is that cooking chopped onion in butter or oil before adding the rest of your ingredients gives the finished dish a more mellow, smooth taste and aroma. You can shave at least five minutes off of each night's dinner prep if you can chop the onions beforehand, so they're ready to go when you need them. Store each one in a resealable plastic bag, and then place all the bags in an airtight container in the fridge to keep the smell from seeping out (they'll keep for a week).
Refrigerate Your Carbs
Brown rice, quinoa or noodles can help round out a meal, but sometimes the last thing you need on a busy night is one more dish that needs to be prepared. Instead, cook a big batch of the grains or pasta one evening when you have a spare 30 minutes and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for three to five days. Then, about 15 minutes before you plan to eat dinner, heat the rice or other food up in a skillet with some olive oil or butter to bring it back to life. You won't be able to taste a difference between precooked and freshly made grains; and since they're a supporting (and not main) part of your meal, you won't feel like you're eating a completely reheated dinner.