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Tips to Save Time Making Meals

January 14, 2015

If I calculated how much time that I spend in the kitchen, it would probably be half my life.

If not for the fact that the boys congregate in the kitchen and share what they are doing, this would probably depress me. Even still, I try not to ‘live’ in the kitchen. Maybe these tips can help you move from the kitchen to spend more time with your family doing other things, (probably eating.)

1.  Pre-cook bulk hamburger or sausage for lasagna, spaghetti, or hamburger meals, then bag in dinner sized portions.

2. Prepare twice the amount needed for dinner, then freeze.

3. Make beans to use as basis for several meals: beans and rice, beans and enchiladas, bean burritos.

4. Chop onions, peppers or other vegetables all at once and freeze in small bags. Add to your chili, or sauce, or potato salad.

5. Bake two roasts; shred the extra one, bag and freeze. Ready for BBQ sandwiches, teriyaki pork, or gravy and mashed potatoes.

6. Make tamales using aluminum foil wraps instead of corn husks.

7. Make specialty breads (like zucchini bread or poppy seed bread) in bulk, then freeze.

8. I make my calico beans, then freeze in gallon size bags, ready for any pot-luck, surprise company, or quick dinner add-on. Use it as side dish, in burritos, with hot dogs.

9. Slow cook beans during the night to be ready for the next meal. I usually make them in the morning, but I'm home most days.  (Not so time-consuming, just allows your dinner to be finished sooner.)

10. When I had small children, I would make dinner in the morning, then I’d finish cooking it, or season it an hour before my husband came home. So no matter what other interruptions came, I had dinner ready when Joey came home. (My only accomplishment on some days!) Beans can pre-cook and sit on the stove then finish with flavorings before serving.

11. Always double the recipe when you make cookies. You can freeze the dough or freeze the cookies, if they last that long.

12. For lasagna, do not cook the noodles prior to layering in the pan, just add an extra cup of liquids (water or sauce).

13. For enchiladas, do not individually roll the meat in tortillas. Place the meat and sauce in the bottom of the pan, top with a layer of tortillas (cutting them in half so you have a flat side against the edge of the pan), top with a layer of sour cream mixed with milk, continue layering tortillas and sour cream and finish with sauce and cheese. 

14. Whenever you freeze anything, make sure you label, label, label. Frozen meat eventually looks like frozen peaches. Put the year on the label also. 

On last week's article about saving money on food, a reader asked what to do with dried beans. Here's what I do. 

Some people soak them overnight before cooking and then change the water before slow cooking them. I don't. I sort them, looking for stones and broken beans, wash them with a colander, and put them into boiling water, simmmering for 1-2 hours (depending on the type of bean). If I can pinch them and they are soft, then they are done and I leave them on the back of the stove until an hour before dinner. Do not put salt in them until after they are soft. Salt can lengthen the cooking time. Drain all water. An hour or so before dinner, I season them, and slow cook them again, to allow the seasonings to infiltrate the beans.

For pinto beans, after cooking I add parsley, basil, oregano, salt, garlic and tomato sauce (or enchilada sauce or spaghetti sauce...anything red.) At the last minute, for a big pot of pinto beans, I add 2 cups sour cream, and about 2 cups shredded cheese. (The residual heat will melt the cheese and the sour cream.) Mix well. That will make the Mexican beans you often see in restaurants.

Black beans season the same way. Use like Mexican beans, in burritos, Mexican side dishes, with eggs.

Garbanzo beans seem to take longer. I cook them separately, then add them to kidney beans for a chili based meal, or blend for hummus spread.

Kidney beans use what you would use to season chili: basil, parsley, garlic, onion, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce. Sometimes I add black beans for variety.

Split peas only take about 1 hour to cook. Set for the day on back of the stove and add onion, garlic, pepper, some salty meat for flavoring, and carrots for split pea soup.

Lentils use the same seasonings as split pea soup.



What tips do you have that cuts down on time spent preparing meals?

Some of your ideas I already use, very helpful for fast cooking. Like cooking up 10 lbs. of hamburger at a time, cutting up bunches of onion to have ready to use any time, etc. Always make 2 casseroles, one for the freezer. It just makes such a difference in preparation. But sometimes the things we take for granted, others find to be a brand new idea and are so glad to hear of it. Love reading your blogs!
P.S. Katrina and Josh just got a 3 month and 21 month old brothers on Fri, and it looks like they'll be adoptable. Just have to be patient and see what happens, but for now, Katrina is in 7th heaven over having a baby. And the toddler is so precious. I spent Sat. helping them out as they were in the midst of changing things around when suddenly they had two little ones. Thurs. eve. we're babysitting so K and J can go out to dinner for their anniversary.

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Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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