A year ago I wrote a blog post with a list of reasons why we should all cook from scratch. For many, the reason not to cook is that they think they don’t have the time.
However, in my experience, we always magically find the time for what we want to do. It is there somewhere and I promise you investing a little time into cooking your own food is absolutely worth it. If you do nothing else, making food from scratch is the one big step towards better health.
Having said that I find that many people overestimate the time it takes and there are some tricks to help shave off a few more minutes here and there.
1. Batch cook
Always make more than you need. It doesn’t take a lot more time to make more of the same thing. Freeze leftovers and always have a home-made ‘ready meal’ to hand for when you have to work late.
2. Prep and Freeze
You can buy chopped onions – but you’ll pay for it. Fresh onions are cheap and you can freeze your own chopped onions. Pop a couple of onions into you food processor – and some garlic cloves if you tend to use the two together – and pulse. Fill into silicone muffin cups and freeze, transfer to reusable freezer bags once solid. You’ll then have your onion/garlic mix ready to start off your meal.
In the same way you can blend garlic and ginger into a paste (add chilli if you like). Freeze in ice cube trays and use one or two for curries or stir-fries.
The quickest way to peel ginger is to scrape the skin off with the tip of a teaspoon. Here’s a trick to effortlessly peel lots of garlic.
3. Use frozen fruit and veg
Frozen fruit and veg are often cheaper than fresh, especially when the season is over. Fresh berries, for example, are hugely expensive now, but frozen berries are not. Frozen fruit and veg may even contain more vitamins than fresh, because produce is frozen straight after harvest, often right there on the farm. It is already washed, trimmed and chopped, ready for use. You can even get frozen avocado halves (Iceland), always the right degree of ripeness, always delicious.
Some produce – such as cauliflower, squash, broccoli or carrots – keep their shape and are just like they would have been fresh. Some, e.g. berries, go mushy when they thaw. This is because of their high water content. The ice breaks their cell walls and the fruit doesn’t hold it’s shape, but there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re just not as pretty as they used to be. They’re still great for stewing (hot berries on a steaming bowl of porridge, anyone?) or blending.
Just check that the bag of frozen fruit and veg contains just fruit and veg and nothing else (except perhaps fresh herbs). Some look like a bag of veg, but they’re actually a ready meal …
Have a look out for chopped frozen herbs as well or – again – freeze your own. I find that basil that has been frozen loses it’s taste and in my opinion coriander doesn’t freeze well either, but parsley, dill, chives, rosemary, thyme and tarragon are just fine. If you’ve bought a bunch of tarragon and only need two twigs, chop up the whole bunch and freeze. That way the leftovers don’t go off either.
4. Use frozen fish
Again, frozen fish usually gets frozen at sea, when super-fresh, and did you know that much of the fish you buy at the fish counter or fishmonger has been frozen before anyway? Only then you can’t freeze it again. So you may as well stock up on your own frozen fish. It’s already cleaned and filleted. All you have to do is season and pop them into the oven for 20 minutes. Done!
5. Thicken your soups and stews with lentils
Red lentils cook very quickly and are a brilliant, gluten-free way to thicken soups and stews. They also add protein and allow you to save money by cutting back on the meat. You could also make the red lentils the star of the show by cooking a quick dhal (using your frozen garlic/ginger/chilli mix). This literally takes no more than 20 minutes. Here’s an easy recipe for dhal.
6. Get a digital pressure cooker
I love slow cooking. It’s the easiest way of cooking from scratch. But it is … well … slow. The latest gadget to make headlines is the digital pressure cooker or ‘instant pot’ (and no, I haven’t got one – yet), which is just as easy to use as a slow cooker and it’s fast. My next newsletter will contain an instant pot recipe and it is not too late to subscribe for you to get it.
I’ve written a short post on some very easy ideas for ‘food assembly’ (because you can’t really call it cooking) here.
Over to you …
Let us know in the comments what you do to speed up your meal preparation!