My friend came over dinner the other night and as we sat down to the main course, she commented that she was envious of my calm and control in the kitchen, my multitasking abilities. For that reason I’ve put together a few tidbits that I’ve picked up over the years that I’ve found helpful.
1. Pretty much anything that you’re making can be pulled off the heat if you’ve gotten ahead of yourself. Your onions are starting to brown but you haven’t finished chopping up your garlic and ginger? No problem. Take the pan off the heat. Your water has come to a boil for the noodles, but you know your sauce is still 20 minutes away? Turn the burner off and wait 10 minutes.
2a. Mise en place, aka have everything out on the counter/cut up/measured out before you start cooking. If you’re a beginner cook and you tend to move a little bit slower and you know that once you turn the burner on you’ll feel rushed or distracted, avoid that by setting yourself up for success and prepping everything that takes time in advance. I’m decently efficient with a knife, and if I’m making a butternut squash soup, I’m butchering that thing before I even think about peeling an onion.
2b. Furthermore, when you’re having people over for a meal, have it 85% ready to go. That way, you can get the bulk of the cleaning out of the way, and do the final assembly while they’re with you so that the food is fresh and hot. I went to the gym before my friend came over for dinner (fitness? you mean fittin-dis-whole-pizzah-in-mouth), but I made a spicy cucumber salad before leaving and then threw together a simple gingery miso broth with shitake mushrooms when I returned home. For the main course I served soba noodles with crispy tofu and vegetables in a spicy peanut sauce, so I had the tofu cooked, the veggies and mint prepped, the peanut sauce made, and I brought the water to a boil for the noodles while I assembled the appetizers.
3. Read the recipe all the way through, and foresee hurdles. Do you chop garlic really slowly? Are you missing ingredients? Do you hate opening cans (me) or rinsing grains (also me)? Get it out of the way immediately. Maybe you want to complete the recipe in slow steps throughout the day or maybe you just want to be able to pull in off in 15 minutes, but you know that you’ll be too tired when you get home from work to grab the canned tomatoes from downstairs. Make the recipe work for you and your schedule.
4. Clean as you go. Have a bowl nearby for scraps (I will love you forever if you compost) and a sponge at the ready. Put the dirty dishes in the sink. Do them when there’s a break in the recipe. Your kitchen won’t look disastrous once dinner is ready and you’ll be more motivated to cook again another day.
5. Make sure there’s a clock or timer of sorts in your kitchen. It’s distracting to have to look at your phone to see how long your cake has been in the oven, or to know how much longer your pickling solution needs to boil for.
6. Cheat. With machinery (a mini food processor minces garlic and ginger in seconds), with store bought ingredients (pre-sliced cabbaged with a tahini, soy, apple cider vinegar, olive oil dressing and segmented clementines is a great starter), and by encouraging the people around you to help out. When guests come for dinner, ask them to chop parsley, flip the fritters, dry the dishes, etc.
7. Have a well stocked pantry. Everyone has different staple ingredients that they turn to but knowing that you can always throw a meal together, or at the very least that you’re not about to run out of olive oil or peanut butter is reassuring and a great way to make cooking easier. When you’re trying new recipes, you can use the opportunity to try a new ingredient (like pomegranate molasses), and you won’t have to buy familiar things you already enjoy using, like cumin or dried oregano.
I hope these tips help you before a more efficient cook. Feel free to share your tips and tricks in the comments down below, along with any questions or subjects you’d like me to write about. Happy cooking.