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Chris Amirault

Good Weeknight Family Fare in 30 minutes or Less

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Oops! It's 5 in the morning. I fixed the edit.

I mean pressure cooker.

I have a crock pot, and I never use it. If I'm going to cook something forever, it's either going into the oven, or into the sous vide water bath.

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I don't necessarily think in the final analysis one is "faster" than the other.

In the preparation of most dishes, you have your prep time, your active cooking time, and your unattended cooking time. The task of making high-quality meals quickly involves the timing and interplay of those three variables. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to get each as close to zero as possible. You're just trying to move them outside of the time frame in which you don't want to experience any waiting. It's just like with long-rise bread: yes it has to rise for 18+ hours, but if you organize yourself around that schedule the actual time commitment by you is close to zero. So something that takes more time can actually take less time.

One area in which I think it's worth doing a little more thinking is the area of par-cooking,. Restaurants do a lot of this and, I think, the competent ones get some respectable results. Restaurant risotto, for example, is most always picked up from par-cooked rice. Most any time you have potatoes in a restaurant they have been in some way cooked first, then finished to order. It's standard procedure in several places -- some critically acclaimed -- to sear off the protein, refrigerate and finish to order in a convection oven.

It probably goes without saying that raw foods -- cheese, charcuterie, etc. -- don't require any cooking time.


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

Hate to quibble about time, but quibbling about time is what I'm doing all day long. So, to that end, a trip to get a "fresh protein" takes at least an additional 15 minutes, cutting dinner prep time by half.

Maybe I need to look into this pressure cooker idea. And I definitely have to check out the broiler in these new ovens.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I also think there's not much point in en-route protein acquisition. The overwhelming majority of proteins aren't improved by being purchased right before the meal. With some fish and seafood, it does make a difference, but it doesn't with beef, chicken, etc.

As a theoretical matter, I'd count en-route shopping as part of prep time. So 15 minutes of shopping adds 15 minutes to your prep-time total.


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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I don’t own either a crock pot or a SVS. I have a 1hr commute each way and a 2 ½ yr old daughter. I still prepare a meal every night.

I fall into the category of people who plan and prep their meals ahead of time. My week’s worth of meals are planned during Sunday breakfast, shopping is completed on Sunday morning, and the meals are then prepped later that day. If something can be cooked, it is (soups, stews, curries). If not, it is prepped for cooking later in the week: veggies and meats will be cut up. Last day items (rice, pasta) will be cooked on the day we are going to eat them.

I would also note that planning out the week allows for economic time usage. For example, say I am having gumbo, a stir-fry, and pasta in one week. All of those items require onions, while two of them require peppers. So even though I am making the gumbo and the pasta sauce on Sunday and am waiting to make the stir-fry on the day I plan to eat it, I can still cut up onions just once, not three times. And I can cut peppers once, not twice. This will save you a lot of time throughout the week.

You’ll also notice that preparing this way is a great stress reliever. There is no worry about what can be cooked, do I have the time, do I need to stop at the store? There is no decision making or consensus building. There is no take out or fast food. All of your decisions are already made, the prep is already completed, and meals are fresh every day.

Nothing compares to good ole mis-en-place.

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It definitely reduces stress in the sense that you have things planned out. But as I read this, I realized that I resist such weekly battle plans because it is the cooking itself -- and not heating and assembling -- that reduces stress for me.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I think that's an important point: if you love to cook, you don't necessarily want to eliminate cooking from your day; you just want to operate within a time frame that allows you to get dinner on the table.

For fear of being ridiculed, I'm not going to say anything about eggs here.


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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It definitely reduces stress in the sense that you have things planned out. But as I read this, I realized that I resist such weekly battle plans because it is the cooking itself -- and not heating and assembling -- that reduces stress for me.

Think about it though. What are you doing now? According to your original post:

"The dinner upshot is that most weeknights I've got 15-30 minutes to make meals for myself, my wife, and my two daughters. We're usually all pooped, take-out is not a regular option, and everyone's sick by Wednesday of the stream of leftovers that flows from the fridge after my weekend kitchen projects."

Then you note:

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

and

"Parceled out many two-serving FoodSaver bags of chili yesterday, and am making 20# of sausages today. I think that having smaller servings are going to help out a lot."

You're already not cooking and you are prepping. Planning out the week is just taking it to the next step: you can do as much or as little as you want - you just know and prep for what you are going to do. It does not mean you need to elminate cooking from your daily life. (I can assure you, it has not resulted in me elminating cooking from mine.)

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For fear of being ridiculed, I'm not going to say anything about eggs here.

I'll take the ridicule for the team!

I find that a frittata and a salad make a nice dinner. I took the optional heat insulator off of one of my saute' pan's handle so that it could go into the oven just to be available to make frittatas.

Now I know what I'm going to make for dinner tonight: a frittata. Maybe ham, cheese and green onions. Maybe some marinated artichoke hearts as well.


Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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For fear of being ridiculed, I'm not going to say anything about eggs here.

You'd get no ridicule from this quarter. Actually, I brought up eggs some time back in this thread when I said:

"And don't discount breakfast for an occasional dinner: scrambled eggs or omelets, pancakes, etc. It all works. In Texas, we've got a great late-night, busy-night dish: chili and eggs. Quick, easy (if you've already got the chili in the freezer, which we always did) and delicious. My family loved that."

Egg-based dishes are indeed an excellent source of protein and a great time-saver. Although as I've said elsewhere, feeding a large family that includes teenaged boys requires a bit more effort than that usually needed for smaller families, I did often manage to work in an egg-based main dish. Curried hard-cooked eggs over rice was one. Creamed eggs over toast, another. And in the summertime, I often could get away with a big chef's salad for dinner - including chopped eggs, cheese, ham, leftover green beans or peas or corn or other veggies, etc., and a loaf of the ubiquitous 'crusty French bread.'

___________________________


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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Special sandwiches and salads make a nice dinner too.

We spend the summer glorying in caprese salad, or bruschetta dinners, or bacon tomato sandwich dinners.

Winter gets the occasional curried chicken salad dinner.

We also have a 'clean out the fridge' dinner about once a week.

All the various leftovers not already tagged for 'repurposing' get heated and put out, then diners pick and choose as they please.


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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We also have a 'clean out the fridge' dinner about once a week.

All the various leftovers not already tagged for 'repurposing' get heated and put out, then diners pick and choose as they please.

We do this too -- we call it "fending," as in "Fend for yourselves!!"


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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It definitely reduces stress in the sense that you have things planned out. But as I read this, I realized that I resist such weekly battle plans because it is the cooking itself -- and not heating and assembling -- that reduces stress for me.

Think about it though. What are you doing now? According to your original post:

"The dinner upshot is that most weeknights I've got 15-30 minutes to make meals for myself, my wife, and my two daughters. We're usually all pooped, take-out is not a regular option, and everyone's sick by Wednesday of the stream of leftovers that flows from the fridge after my weekend kitchen projects."

Then you note:

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

and

"Parceled out many two-serving FoodSaver bags of chili yesterday, and am making 20# of sausages today. I think that having smaller servings are going to help out a lot."

You're already not cooking and you are prepping. Planning out the week is just taking it to the next step: you can do as much or as little as you want - you just know and prep for what you are going to do. It does not mean you need to elminate cooking from your daily life. (I can assure you, it has not resulted in me elminating cooking from mine.)

Plus, while I love cooking, I hate cleaning up! By prepping/blanching on Sunday, I use the same pots and pans over and over, maybe only rinsing quickly if I have to. Examples: Blanch a bunch of vegetables in series, use same pot to cook rice and or pasta or use same pan to roast a bunch of veg in series, homemade croutons. One of my quick weeknight dinners - sautee veg like spinach with shallots and garlic in pan, wipe pan out, then sauteed chicken or fish dish in same pan, serve with rice or pasta dish (made ahead of time and reheated or course!).

Definitely agree with everyone on frittata - great way to use up leftover spaghetti and roasted peppers. My favorite is red pepper, tomato, and zucchini with goat cheese.

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There are two diferent brands of pasta that have a few selections for a three minute boil. They look like the pieces are on the smaller side, but that's about a 7 minute savings you could use to heat the water.


Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman

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Hey Chris, you are in luck. It appears that Rachel Ray has a new show just for your problem. Cook one day eat for five or something. :biggrin:

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

Hate to quibble about time, but quibbling about time is what I'm doing all day long. So, to that end, a trip to get a "fresh protein" takes at least an additional 15 minutes, cutting dinner prep time by half.

Maybe I need to look into this pressure cooker idea. And I definitely have to check out the broiler in these new ovens.

I buy boneless skinless chicken thighs in bulk and freeze them when I get home. Thaw a few pounds before dinner. If thawing takes too much time, do this: make a big vat of braised chicken on the weekend, portion, then freeze. You can thaw dinner by moving one portioned container from the freezer to the fridge and it will be ready by the time you get home. Just reheat and serve.

And flash freezing your veggies works well, depending on your type. You don't really need to thaw if you're using smaller veggies, like spinach.

Oh and if you really need to cook when you get home, portion and freeze, leave to thaw before work, then cook when you get home. Whatever floats your boat.


Edited by percival (log)

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You will all be proud to know that I portioned, seasoned, and froze several meals worth of chili and chicken breasts this weekend. I also made onion confit, roasted a ton of garlic, and made two cups of salad dressing. I'm tryin', folks, I'm tryin'!


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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To follow-up on the pressure cooker idea others have mentioned, I've discovered that they work great for steaming potatoes, sweet potatoes, or other root vegetables that otherwise take a long time to cook. You can have potatoes ready to mash in less than 10 minutes from turning on the stove, and I find them more flavorful since you don't boil them to death.

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For mashed potatoes, the microwave is also excellent: 8-10 minutes gets you potatoes ready to mash, indistinguishable from boiled, faster than boiling but you don't need to heat water first.


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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I have a crock pot that I don't use much. Still, it has its uses and I like having it around when needed.

For quick meals, I always have the followings on hand: pasta (dried and fresh), pasta sauces, chicken & beef stock, curry sauces, miso/miso dressing, rice, couscous and eggs. I also usually have chicken thighs, chicken wings, ground meats (turkey, lamb, etc.), corn and peas in the freezer. I have been stocking up on diced pancetta as well now that Costco has the multi-packs.

I make pasta at least once a week. The quickest is to add some ground meat to a jar of sauce and mix with cooked pasta. That gets boring quite quickly, so I switch it up whenever I can. I'm fortunate to be able to get this fantastic lemon fettuccine from my farmers market. Because the pasta is so well flavored, all it needs is a little cheese. For more substance, I add things like pancetta, mushroom, garlic/onion/shallot or greens. Fried eggs and toasted breadcrumbs make delicious toppings. If you have a cream sauce on hand, peas, onion/shallot and pancetta/prosciutto/bacon is great. Works well with gnocchi as well.

With stock, I make a lot of quick soups. Diced butternut squash (I get the family size from Costco) is perfect. I heat up the stock, add some onion (or dehydrated onion if I don't have fresh on hand), add the squash, cover the pot and let that cook. The squash should be soft in about 15-20 minutes. I use an immersion blender to blend the soup when the squash is cooked. Season to taste with salt and pepper. A little milk/cream if you want it creamy. I sometimes like it with some cumin and/or curry powder. For more a one pot meal, I often start with stock, throw in whatever vegetables I have on hand and add some short cut pasta. If I have ground meat defrosted, I season it to taste, add an egg and put that in the soup as meatballs. No need to shape the meatballs, I just use a disher to scoop the meat from the bowl and dump into the soup.

Curries are also great for quick meals. Veggies, meats and curry sauce. For Thai style curry, add coconut milk.

Baked chicken thighs may take more than 30 minutes, but you don't have to pay much attention to them when they're baking so it frees you up for other tasks. I bake them @ 425. 15-20 minutes on the lower 3rd rack, another 15-20 minutes on the upper 3rd rack, time depends on the size of chicken and your oven. What I like about the thighs are that they are forgiving. They stay moist even if you over cook them a little. Seasonings range from salt and pepper, garam marsala/cumin, homemade teriyaki, soy/lemon, miso, etc. Baked fish fillets that even less time. Since the oven is already on, season some vegetable, throw them on a sheet pan and roast along with the protein.

I don't often buy cooked meat, but the carnitas from Trader Joe's is quite good. I start with some onion, garlic and bell peppers. Add shredded carnitas. I like to add some cumin. Once the meat is warmed through, it's done. Serve with rice or tortillas. Guac, salsa, cheese, sour cream are all optional.

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Use the stuff you have in your freezer!

Usually (or before I figured it out) I would make an extra batch of whatever and stick it in the freezer. .... and then just let it basically rot there because I was always "afraid" to use it (as in everytime I opened the freezer I would think to myself "no- don't want to use that - what if there is a snowstorm tomorrow and we have nothing to eat" In August! or "That lasagna would be so handy in case unexpected guests arrive - what a shame to waste it right now")

The new me actually uses what is stored in the freezer and has yet to be left foodless in a snowstorm and has yet to have unexpected guests leave the house hungry....... not to mention no more guilty feelings about throwing mystery items out of the freezer.

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Use the stuff you have in your freezer!

Usually (or before I figured it out) I would make an extra batch of whatever and stick it in the freezer. .... and then just let it basically rot there because I was always "afraid" to use it (as in everytime I opened the freezer I would think to myself "no- don't want to use that - what if there is a snowstorm tomorrow and we have nothing to eat" In August! or "That lasagna would be so handy in case unexpected guests arrive - what a shame to waste it right now")

The new me actually uses what is stored in the freezer and has yet to be left foodless in a snowstorm and has yet to have unexpected guests leave the house hungry....... not to mention no more guilty feelings about throwing mystery items out of the freezer.

I have a little dry-erase whiteboard attached to a magnet that is on the front of my freezer door. I make note of things like soups, stews, lasagna, roasts, etc., whatever is in there that I want to use up. Since it's dry erase, it's easy to just wipe off the names of the items as we use them. Also, when they were old enough, my children could read that list much like a menu, and would request this or that.

Worked well for me.


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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We also have a 'clean out the fridge' dinner about once a week.

All the various leftovers not already tagged for 'repurposing' get heated and put out, then diners pick and choose as they please.

We do this too -- we call it "fending," as in "Fend for yourselves!!"

We call this "pick and point" as in pick what you want and point at it before anyone else and it's yours. You snooze you lose. :)

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We call this "pick and point" as in pick what you want and point at it before anyone else and it's yours. You snooze you lose. :)

I Like It!

I am very into portion control and only cook enough food for the meal we are having so leftovers aren't generally to be found.


Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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We call that last call and it happens the night before trash.

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