10 Tips To Help You Get Meals on the Table Faster
How you doin’? I’ve been told I’m not a very generous cook. My portions are large and my plate presentations are great, but I don’t always play well with others in my kitchens. If you must know, I’m kind of a tyrant. I don’t yell or scream, in fact I prefer quiet. After all I’m putting whole meals together and even for me, an experienced chef, I need to think about what I’m doing. It’s important to give me my space—in short, stay the heck out of my way! With some visitors at my home I must draw a line—do not cross over or get in my way! Well… glad I got that off my chest! Now, onto some things to help you.
There is slow cooking—crock pots and such—and there are Slow Cooks. Slow cooks generally don’t have their s*&@t together—they are disorganized, messy and without a plan… and sometimes even a clue.
My friend Bonnie always invited me over early for a holiday dinner. “Ed, I’ve never cooked a turkey before… can you help me get it in the oven?” “Do you know how to make giblet gravy and mashed potatoes?” On our first holiday, I wound up making the whole dinner for 10. When I told her it was ready, she was surprised by how quickly I had gotten the meal on the table so fast. "I'm the slowest cook in the world," she told me.
I’ve never thought much about it. I’m a European-trained professional chef and I frequently over-estimate the capabilities of others. I sometimes forget that I practice more than others… and practice makes perfect!
The next day, as I sipped a beer while she took a turn at cooking, I realized she really was a slow cook. As I watched, I noticed she was missing a few key moves that I generally take for granted–just a few small changes ultimately helped her up her game significantly. These are the tips I gave her, and she has since given up the title of World's Slowest Cook.
Rule #1—Get Your Kitchen Organized. There is nothing worse than opening every cupboard, closet or drawer to look for an ingredient, implement, pot or pan. Everything should have a place and everything should be in its place. You can save hours with just this one improvement in your work habits.
Rule#2—Keep Distractions to a Minimum. Don’t keep talking unless it’s to yourself. Put on some mindless music or TV in the background and concentrate on what you’re doing. That way you won’t burn things in the oven or cut off your fingers at the knuckle because you’re not paying attention.
Rule #3—Read The Recipe to the End At Least Twice and Understand What You’re Read. That’s just another reason to keep the distractions down. When reading the recipe make sure you have all the ingredients, utensils and equipment you need to complete the dish and that you have enough time to pull it together. If you are making more than one recipe—read them all.
Rule# 4—Measure All Ingredients and Have At Your Side. Nothing is more frustrating than getting halfway into a recipe and finding out you don’t have enough eggs or all-purpose flour. Measure all the ingredients out before you start and place them on your work counter in the order you are going to use them.
Rule #5—It’s Really Not Necessary to Use Every Dish, Cup and Measuring Spoon In the House. Plan! Have dry measuring cups and wet measuring spoons ready so you don’t have to wash and dry between uses. You can measure sugar and flour in the same cup.
Rule #6—Wear an Apron, Keep a Towel Handy to Wipe Your Hands. Aprons may feel kind of girly (that’s okay if you’re a woman), but I think they help all home cooks—men and women—to cook more boldly. If you are concerned about messing up your clothes you’re going to move more cautiously when preparing a recipe than someone wearing an apron. Think of an apron as your suit of armor: No need to worry about a splash here or a little hot sauce there as you aggressively season your wings. Go ahead and put your full power into whisking… small splashes won't ruin your shirt. Don't think twice about bringing your tomato sauce to a rolling simmer. Plus, having an easily accessible place to wipe your hands is key.
Rule #7—Be Neat. Once I turned over my brand new home kitchen to little Kimmie. She was a good cook, but oh my goodness. When I came home it looked like the all-purpose flour dragon had flown amuck throughout the kitchen. Try to work neat! You'll spend less time cleaning up at the end. Clean As You Go, It’s The Sign Of A Pro. A lot of speed in the kitchen is connected to confidence–knowing where you're going and how you’re getting there. Remember save your energy and delicacy for the plate presentations. Practice make perfect!
Rule # 8—Conserve Your Steps. I’ve seen kitchens where trash cans and recycle containers are on opposite sides of the kitchen. Watch your steps or get a pair of roller skates! Watching cooks who spend a lot of time running from one spot to the other drives me crazy. Keep a garbage bowl and spoon plate handy, and everything else just one step away. It makes it much easier to clean your workspace and stay organized without moving around.
Rule #9 Keep Your Knives and You Sharp. Most home cooks struggle with cutting, mincing and dicing; these steps are among the most time consuming during the preparation process. Having sharp knives is not only a safety issue but it will speed up the process of dicing something as simple as an onion or slicing a tomato. Most people who get bad knife cuts do so because they are trying to force a dull knife. Using sharp knives is much safer, as a sharp knife requires less force and is less likely to slip and cut you. It’s awkward to try to push a dull knife while trying to cut carrots or celery. Source a good knife-sharpening services or learn to do it yourself.
Spend a few minutes watching the Food Channel or YouTube to see how chefs chop your most-used ingredients. Just a few viewing minutes shows you how the pros do it. This can save you hours—what a great way to improve your skills while watching TV. Just don’t use a knife while watching TV!
Rule # 10—Use the Right Heat. Gas, electric or induction range tops all cook differently. If you're cooking on an electric stove, it can take quite a while for the burners to heat up and cool down. Don't be afraid to crank the heat to get things going, then turn the burner down when needed. For foods that need a good sear—steaks, especially—don't be afraid to go all the way to high heat. For eggs and omelet cooking go low and slow. If you’re shopping for a new range top, I highly recommend an induction model… you’ll never want to cook any other way. But beware… not all pots and pans work on induction cooktops.
ChefSecret: No matter your skill level, making a few changes to your cooking routine can shave precious minutes off your time in the kitchen.
Covid-19 Quip of the Day: “If your eyes hurt after you drink coffee, take the spoon out of the cup.”
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