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Good Weeknight Family Fare in 30 minutes or Less


Chris Amirault
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Yum neua is fast if you cook the steak on the stove rather than grill it.

You can also do goi cuon-like dishes. The last one I had was a vegetarian version with purple cabbage, jicama, chickpeas (sprouted if you want), carrots, red peppers. . . I'm sure there was other stuff with a peanut butter-based dressing. You can add shrimp or quickly cooked thit nuong (assuming you prepared the meat to marinate overnight).

When I lived in Japan, I really appreciated thinly sliced meats (pork or beef) that were sold pretty much everywhere. They were very quick to cook, and I added whatever I wanted--vegetables, yakiniku sauce, ponzu, etc. to "create" a different dish every time. If you can get meats like that in your area, or prepare them like that yourself and then freeze them in portions, they make for very fast protein-based meals.

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On 02 October 2010 - 08:10 AM, Chris Amirault said:


Thanks for all the ideas -- keep 'em coming!

Made two massive batches of chili, one meat, one beans & veg. Details here. Bagging them up in small batches today.

Can't understand why I need a crockpot when I have a Sous Vide Supreme, which can do everything a crockpot can and much more, with far greater precision. Made that chili with it, for example.



Chris -
I am in clearly in the minority here that doesn't find much time savings in a crockpot, even though I have several. While I love them for parties, I rarely use them for meal prep. It is probably because I do a lot of prep and cooking on weekends and really try to minimize dishwashing in the time savings equation (especially during the week). Why brown stew meat in a pot and then make the crock pot dirty when you can just finish in the pot?

My aunt makes great meatballs in the crockpot that come out really tender - but their not browned! I think it just depends on the methods you use to save time and when you have the time. We are always running around like maniacs in the morning and that would just add to the stress level. That said, I always make chipotle beef brisket in a crock pot because I can put it out on the porch - no heat or smell in the house. While the smell is great on day one, it never seems to leave with as much chipotle as we put in for our love of spicy :shock: :wub: .

For those of us that like things browned and cook ahead on weekends in larger quantities to freeze, are there still things that are more effiecient in the crockpot?
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Can't understand why I need a crockpot when I have a Sous Vide Supreme, which can do everything a crockpot can and much more, with far greater precision. Made that chili with it, for example.

I'm with you. Never had a crockpot, never will. Just not my style. You're Sous Vide Supreme sounds way better anyway. Personally, if I need to long-cook something unattended I'm going to look to my hot smoker (pop the ribs in in the morning and they're just ready for diner time), or my oven on super low for a good braise or even slow-roasting a large cut of beef or a turkey (somedays I do miss the Alto Shaams I got used to using in restaurants!)

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I haven't owned a crockpot for years. I gave my last one away. I don't like the steamed or boiled quality of the meat, and the need for thin, small veg pieces in order to cook properly. Fortunately, I have more flexibility in my cooking time, so I always opt for slow cooking in a conventional oven.

If I did own a crockpot, I would cook beans, including dal, in it. I think the crockpot is ideal for that. One day my neighbor was cooking dal in his crockpot, and it smelled so good I asked for the recipe. It's online here, dated 5/9/10, post #34 (scroll up):

http://community.cookinglight.com/showthread.php?p=1566034

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Can't understand why I need a crockpot when I have a Sous Vide Supreme, which can do everything a crockpot can and much more, with far greater precision. Made that chili with it, for example.

The main reason to have a crock pot is that your original question involved leaving your home all day to go to work and then having to come home and get a good, hearty meal on the table in a half-hour or less.

I, for example, would never go off and leave my oven on all day, even on low. I actually tried it once, but worried about it until finally I left work and went home to turn it off.

But I left that crock pot on all day all the time.

I had a big family, including for quite a few years, teenaged boys. My goal was to fill them up. That's not an easy thing to do under the best of circumstances, and practically impossible when you have a stressful, full-time job to worry about. I think we're talking apples and oranges here. "Fine gourmet technique" for a hobby cook that has time in the kitchen vs a big hungry family and a full-time job outside the home.

If you're going to be hanging around the kitchen all day long putzing with this and that, or if you're comfortable leaving your SV Supreme on all day long, I agree with you. You don't need one.

_________________

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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The main reason to have a crock pot is that your original question involved leaving your home all day to go to work and then having to come home and get a good, hearty meal on the table in a half-hour or less.

I, for example, would never go off and leave my oven on all day, even on low. I actually tried it once, but worried about it until finally I left work and went home to turn it off.

But I left that crock pot on all day all the time.

It depends so much on your personal circumstances, doesn't it? I've done my 8 years without a crockpot - but I don't have kids and I do have a job that can have me staying back until all hours at a moment's notice. I don't want to come home to a meal ready to go at 7pm because when I leave the house I don't know if I'll be home at 7pm or 11pm, so I find it easier to just have the makings of a reasonably healthy super quick meal around. Plus, I can barely get myself out the door in the mornings so best intentions and all, I know I'd never pull off putting the right things into the crockpot as well, not to mention the fact that in this climate you probably wouldn't want to eat what came out of a crockpot for 9 months of the year.

For those in the right circumstances though, I can see the boon it must be.

One thing we do have though was a luxury purchase when we renovated our kitchen: a 'light-speed' oven. Now we can bake/roast all sorts of things without waiting for the oven to heat up, or creating much heat in the kitchen. This is especially good for things like roasted potato/sweet potato (and potato gems/tater tots...). The main issue is getting the right size/shape equipment, as it uses a turntable. Obviously this is something to think about only if you are renovating and/or replacing a microwave.

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You can do it. You can even do it from scratch, though you shouldn't have to. Every day at work, I put up "family meal" for 15 or so hungry souls in 30 minutes or less. Almost always entirely from scratch. I slam together a protein, some veg, a full-on sauce, and sometimes the starch as well, all while I'm scrubbing down and setting up my station for service. Record so far: penne with a smoky-spicy tomato sauce, seared chicken breast, and peas in 15 minutes, not counting time to boil the water.

Get fast. Use frozen food and advance prep and all the other ideas in this thread. But mostly get fast. If you're under the gun anyway, why spend a minute cutting up a carrot when you could have done it in 15 seconds? Do everything faster than you ever have before and do it all at the same time. Sear your protein while you're still prepping your veg; and you've already got the starch cooking, right?

If that all sounds way too stressful, remember that less time in the kitchen is more time out in the dining room with your family. Also, when you pull it all off, you will be a better cook and feel like a minor god to boot.

It's hard to push yourself to get faster, better, stronger when there's no chef standing behind you telling you to do the impossible and no seasoned veteran grill cook next to you crushing out prep twice as fast as you, so for inspiration here's a nice clip of some guy from Top Chef doing some useful knife work kind of fast.

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The main reason to have a crock pot is that your original question involved leaving your home all day to go to work and then having to come home and get a good, hearty meal on the table in a half-hour or less.

I, for example, would never go off and leave my oven on all day, even on low. I actually tried it once, but worried about it until finally I left work and went home to turn it off.

But I left that crock pot on all day all the time.

It depends so much on your personal circumstances, doesn't it? I've done my 8 years without a crockpot - but I don't have kids and I do have a job that can have me staying back until all hours at a moment's notice. I don't want to come home to a meal ready to go at 7pm because when I leave the house I don't know if I'll be home at 7pm or 11pm, so I find it easier to just have the makings of a reasonably healthy super quick meal around. Plus, I can barely get myself out the door in the mornings so best intentions and all, I know I'd never pull off putting the right things into the crockpot as well, not to mention the fact that in this climate you probably wouldn't want to eat what came out of a crockpot for 9 months of the year.

While I agree it depends on personal circumstances, I think Jaymes' suggestion is directed to Chris Amirault specifically, and based on his description of his circumstances, it would fit them quite well. He has a more precise idea of when he and his family will be home, and he seems organised enough to put the right things into the crockpot.

For Chris' situation, a crockpot or similar (like the Sous Vide Supreme he mentioned) is great for when he wants to serve his family some kind of stew-like dish.

For those in the right circumstances though, I can see the boon it must be.

Ya, like for Chris.

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Wow, so many great suggestions...

My quick meal tip is to spend time on a weekend preparing filo-pastry parcels and freezing them. During my uni days the problem I found with quick meals is that they're mostly pasta, stir-fries, or stews. Sometimes I really felt like a traditional meat & 3 veg meal but without doing the prep work and the subsequent cleaning. Filo pastry to the rescue...

You can parcel all sorts of stuff up with filo pastry and I'll leave that part up to you, but my my personal favourite was chicken breast, apricots and cheese. I'd dice up chicken breasts and season them, dice up apricots (usually canned) and add pre-grated cheddar. Then portion the mix, wrap them up in filo and freeze them. The proportions can easily be sized according to the relative appetites of your family members. And of course the combinations are endless... everything from a vegetable ragu through to beef wellington, or spinach & ricotta with or without chicken- and so on.

You can take the filo parcels out of the freezer and pop them into the oven with some potatoes, if you time it right they'll be ready together. Steam some frozen vegies in the microwave and you can have a tasty meal ready with virtually no preparation and no mess to clean up. It will take closer to 1 hour than 30 minutes to cook, but with negligible preparation.

(PS and on a different note, omelettes are great too)

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Chris, here's a suggestion for general strategy rather than actual recipes. If I were in your situation, I'd make a list of a dozen meals that your family likes and then take a look at each one to see if there's a way to make it fast. Look at where the time sink is and see if you can get around it, either by advance prep, or making large batches and freezing portions, or buying prepped ingredients, or cooking sous vide.

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I agree with the streamlining - I have moved things around to maximize efficiency in the mornings, when I usually have to get breakfast and 3 cooked bento done in 30 minutes. I keep a basic knife or two, cooking chopsticks, etc in one easily accessible place specifically for making bento, so I don't have to move in differet directions to get my knife, then my cutting board etc. I only use one cutting board in the morning, with a couple of those plastic cutting sheets that are tossed in the sink as each type of food is prepped and done with.

In my kitchen, the bottleneck is the two-burner stovetop. That's why I like having a rice cooker and some form of slow cooker, and force myself to think about using the microwave and toaster-grill - they free up the burners. Think about where your bottleneck is - serving dishes or fridge in an awkward location? Kids needing help/attention just when you want to power through kitchen prep?

Cutlery and glasses/cups for the under-pressure meal is kept in a closed contaner close to if not right on the table, and certain plates/glasses/condiments etc are kept on a tray or in a small deep basket that can be moved to the table in just one trip. The first step of the meal is always the same, so that every member of the family knows without asking what needs to be done first. For breakfast, that means that yogurt and fruit are already in individual portions in dishes in the fridge, ready tto be moved to the table. Training even small kids to help out is money in the bank in later years, even if it requires a boring sameness for a while now! If they don't have to think too hard about what they are doing (i.e. same old routine), they will also be more cooperative when sleepy at breakfast or dinner time.

Big batch cooking - sometimes it's good to save out a package or two BEFORE the dish is finished, so that you can make some variations on its next appearance.

SV - how are you using this for "serve dinner fast!" meals? I don't know enough about SV - my image is of meats of various kinds in plastic bags that have to be hacked open...what am I missing? Maybe SV is the way to go if it's only the meat dish that you want to make ahead?

When I'm out all day, a crockpot is wonderful, especially for soup, beans and big winter vegetables like turnips.I really like white fish cooked on low in a crockpot or thermos pot too - very creamy texture.

When I'm out for half a day, a thermos pot (like a haybox) is great and doesn't need a heat source after the initial stove-top time. However, it won't keep food hot for 10-12 hours and more. In either case, the big attraction is the ability to cook meats and vegetables together (don't have to be stewed up together, you can wrap or bag one up, or just park it at one end, one reason why I like an oval crockpot) and then just lift the lid and serve up when you walk into the house. Doesn't mean you have to use the crockpot every day from Monday to Friday.

Pressure cooker is another friend - not only does it make the best pulled pork I know (I compared several methods), it's invaluable in speeding up late-night dinner prep. Oddly, both a crockpot and a pressure cooker can give you very clear stock.

Oven + timer, outdoor smoker etc. - that would not be practical in Japan, hence my love of small-wattage appliances.

One wacky idea - semi-dried vegetables cook very fast in stir-fries or stews, and have lots of flavor. E.g. cabbage, zucchini, eggplant, funghi, etc. dried for half to one day on a sunny weekend and stored in the fridge.

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I highly recommend two books. Rick Bayless Mexican Everyday and Lee Brothers Simple Fresh Southern. I have made these books the backbone of recent meals. Most of the recipes can me prepped in 30 minutes. Many recipes can be cooked in that period of time, but there are also crockpot and long cook recipes.

Dan

Edited by DanM (log)

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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Thanks, DanM.

If I were in your situation, I'd make a list of a dozen meals that your family likes and then take a look at each one to see if there's a way to make it fast. Look at where the time sink is and see if you can get around it, either by advance prep, or making large batches and freezing portions, or buying prepped ingredients, or cooking sous vide.

I was thinking about this this weekend while making several batches of sausage. The kitchen is now very well laid out, much better than any kitchen I've ever had and with most things in good spots. So upon reflection I realized that some of the time sinks were:

1. prepping items to be cooked a la minute

2. having sauce and dressing items on hand: roasted garlic (I'm out), fresh herbs, curry pastes, that sort of thing

3. boiling water for pasta

The first two are just prep items, and I think I can figure out some of that on weekends. The third is trickier -- though I realized that I could use the Sous Vide Supreme to hold a ton of water at 95C and then use it when I get home. I'll keep thinking about these time sinks -- it's a great idea.

SV - how are you using this for "serve dinner fast!" meals? I don't know enough about SV - my image is of meats of various kinds in plastic bags that have to be hacked open...what am I missing? Maybe SV is the way to go if it's only the meat dish that you want to make ahead?

A Sous Vide Supreme can do literally anything a crockpot can do, with greater precision. A water bath is also the fastest way to bring something up to temperature.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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ok this may sound stupid - but do you not have electric rapid boil kettles in the US? Using my kettle to boil water for the pasta (takes about three minutes) means I can have a quick pasta dinner done in ten minutes (if using fresh pasta). Whilst the water's boiling I defrost (in the microwave) the pasta sauce I previously batch cooked and froze in portions, when the water's boiled I add it to the pan & whilst the pasta's cooking I prepare a quick salad. It's not the most sophisticated dinner but it's a speedy back-up.

Like others when I'm making something more time consuming at the weekend I tend to cook more and freeze it in portions for later meals. Also deliberately cooking more of an item than needed can save on cooking time later on in the week, with the leftovers transformed into a different dish to give variety (I tend to do this most often with boiled potatoes).

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No. I confess that they scare the bejeezus out of me.

I hear you.

I can add a couple of suggestions, although anyone who has seen me cook would laugh at me giving advice on how to cook quickly. In addition to DanM’s suggestions, Madhur Jaffrey Quick and Easy Indian Cooking (clicky)has some very nice recipes that can be made within 30 minutes.

We have been crunched for time lately, so I have been buying frozen, peeled (or tail-on) shrimp when they go on sale. Toss the shrimp in the fridge to thaw the night before, refresh the shrimp in heavily-salted water while you prep, a quick stir-fry while the rice cooks, set out some raw veggies or salad greens, and call it dinner.

My go-to shrimp stir-fry is some variation on Lee Wan Ching’s Sizzling Pepper and Salt Shrimp, from Breath of a Wok.

Good luck!

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Already mentioned once but let me reiterate that making a salad mix in bulk on Sunday can give you salads through Wednesday or Thursday. So for example you might wash and dry red-leaf lettuce, arugula, radicchio and endive and refrigerate a ton of that mix. Then on the day of service you slice tomato and cucumber and you have a salad. Needless to say, your mustard vinaigrette is already prepared in bulk in the fridge.

There has already been so much good advice here, I think it illustrates that making 30-minute meals is totally doable. I do think there are some strategy notes I can offer, though. My time constraints come from needing to get dinner on the table early, because we have a five-year-old to get fed, bathed and into bed. So even though I work, such as it is, at home I try to compress the dinner timeline so I can have a full day.

For example, I find it very helpful to examine the week as a whole and implement some rituals. Although we don't have Prince spaghetti night, in a week where I prepare dinner five nights (that doesn't happen every week, but does happen sometimes) there is always one night we do takeout and one night we do mixed-bag leftovers -- usually Thursday and Friday respectively. Having those anchors means there are only three nights left on which real meals need to be prepared. One of those nights being Monday, it's possible to do most of that prep on Sunday. Then for the Tuesday and Wednesday meals you rely on things like the frozen meatballs, chili and lentil soup. The breakfast-for-dinner ritual is good for a night if you want it. If your family is into rituals, you can even make a schedule.

Another thing I find is that, even when people are pretty clever about preparing good food quickly, they tend to prepare only one thing. I think the real badass display of cooking prowess is to do the meal quickly and also serve a lot of different things. Always including a salad, which can be served as a separate course, can really enhance the meal. So can putting out the kind of stuff you'd put out for guests: olives, nuts, pita chips and hummus, whatever -- I mean just put that stuff out in addition to the meal you're serving, in order to create a sense of diversity and abundance.

Then there's the question of what's on your route home. Like, if I'm going to be coming home on the subway, I know I can go by Le Pain Quotidien for a great loaf of bread and that the time expenditure will be on the order of a minute. If it happens to be a night when my wife isn't in the picture, my son and I love to make a meal of bread with an array of stuff to put on it (cheese, butter, jam, etc.)

Also, I suggest giving some thought to containers. We use a lot of Pyrex because it can go from fridge to microwave to table. You don't have to deal with transferring stuff. And if you're using glass lids, you can often microwave with the lid on to avoid mess and improve heat retention and distribution. (The trick with something like chili is to overheat a little and then let it rest so the heat evens out.) That way you can walk in the house and just put the Pyrex in the microwave, punch in the time, then worry about your coat and such. You can also delegate that job to a non-cook if someone else gets home before you.

Finally, has anyone mentioned the broiler? I think the broiler has got to be the most underutilized tool in the typical American kitchen. Bear in mind, in particular, that most fish fillets can be cooked very quickly under the broiler.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Savory pancakes. Over in the "Cooking with Dorie Greenspan's Around my French Table" topic, I made Swiss Chard Pancakes and they couldn't have been simpler or quicker--the entire recipe comes together in a food processor in 10 minutes max, another 10 minutes to fry them up. Before that, I assembled a side salad of grated carrots--peeling them, grating in the FP, making a vinaigrette--that took no more than 10 minutes. Both recipes lend themselves to variations, but the basic idea is delicious and easy.


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I work full time and have 2 kids, ages 6 and 4. I refuse to have them eat chicken nuggets all the time so I cook...a lot. I do not have a crock pot and do not feel the need to have one.

Some of the things that I cook up in large-ish batches and then freeze in smaller batches are sweet & sour meatballs, turkey chili, meatloaf (my husband will not eat this so I freeze with 2 slices in a packet -- one for each kid), brisket (the jewish kind, not smoked kind). Oh, and bolognese. I will make a big batch on a Sunday when I have a few hours at home. My nanny gives my kids dinner before I get home, so I will pull out something the night before and my nanny will just make some pasta, or potatoes, or whatever is to go with the meat.

I am also is the camp that prepares the next day's dinner in the evening. Take chicken fajitas, for example. After my kids have gone to sleep, I will cut up the peppers and onions, and even cut the chicken into strips. Then when I get home, I just have to cook it. Less than 30 minutes. Same with various stir fry dishes.

Tonight I made this turkey scallopini with hoisin orange sauce. And I made some Near East couscous with it. Was it the best meal I have ever eaten? No, but it was an easy, pretty tasty and somewhat healthy weeknight dinner.

I also have the Cook's Illustrated Best 30-Minute Recipe cookbook. But no matter what, I think a well-stocked freezer and the advance prep is the best thing for getting dinner on the table quickly.

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A slow cooker is slow.

Sous vide is glacial.

What you want is a pressure cooker. You can churn out fall-off-the-bone braised meats in under 30 minutes. 15 minutes for chicken.

On the way home, pick up 1. a fresh protein, 2. a bitter green.

3 burners:

A. Rice pilaf. Takes 15 minutes. Fluff and rest for 10 minutes.

B. Brown chicken, then dump in 1/2 the usual amount of braising liquid you normally use. If you're doing something sweet/caramelized, do the sauce separately or it will burn. 15 minutes. Rest for 10 minutes, till the pressure lock drops.

C. On the hottest burner, canola + a splash of sesame oil + green + crushed garlic + oyster sauce or soy sauce + a little water. Lid for 5 mins till wilted, toss for a few more till mostly dry. If you like shiny veggies à la chinoise, corn starch + water.

If you want an A for effort, on the 4th burner:

D. Get 2" of canola to 300. Cube a 14 oz. pack of firm tofu into 8, deep fry till they're french fry color but still soft on the inside, serve with soy and + sriracha + mayo dip. With a little bit more time, you can do something like a diced tomato + peas + napa cabbage + corn starch sauce for more veggies. Flash frozen peas and canned tomatoes work in a flash, and cabbage as a good long shelf life.

Doable in 30 mins. I take longer cos I wash as I cook so there's less work after the meal.

Edited by percival (log)
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