cooking techniques en-US Elevate Your Kitchen Skills With These 5 Easy Cooking Techniques <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/elevate-your-kitchen-skills-with-these-5-easy-cooking-techniques" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="woman holding pan" title="woman holding pan" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="141" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Tired of the same old cooking routine? Sure, we can break it up with the occasional &quot;microwave&quot; or &quot;barbeque.&quot; However, if you are ready to try a different cooking technique, check out these five ideas. (See also: <a href="">11 Kitchen Tricks to Make You Love Cooking</a>)</p> <h2>1. Poaching</h2> <p>To poach means to simmer, gently. I have become a fan of poaching all sorts of things, lately. Whether you poach <a href="">eggs</a>, fish, chicken, meat, or fruit, if done correctly, the resulting food is tender and moist. The trick is to watch your liquid to make sure it stays at a simmer and does not become a full boil.</p> <p>Try poaching:</p> <ul> <li><a href="">Salmon in white wine with dill</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Hot dogs or sausages in a dark beer</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Chicken poached in champagne</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Pears poached in red wine</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href=";rec=569">Apples poached in white wine</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Poached eggs in tomato sauce with chickpeas and feta</a></li> </ul> <p>As you can see, with poaching, you can run the gamut of simple to fancy. One of my favorite dinners is to boil angel hair pasta, add sauteed peas or kale to the pot until tender, drain, and top that with a poached egg and parmesan cheese. I also like poaching because I am big on using up leftovers. When you poach, that little bit of white wine, leftover champagne from New Year&#39;s, or the last bit of tomato sauce can be put to good use. (See also: <a href="">Fancy Ways to Use Leftovers</a>)</p> <h2>2. Braising</h2> <p>Wait, wasn&#39;t &quot;braising&quot; something your grandmother did? Well, if you&#39;re lucky, it was, because braised meats are tender, succulent, and flavorful. Braising (&quot;to cook slowly, usually covered, in a little liquid or fat, often on a bed of aromatics&quot;) is a very economical method of cooking, because you can use a cheaper, and tougher, cut of meat.</p> <p>To braise, meat is first browned. I use my heavy dutch oven. Heat some cooking oil. Rub the meat with salt and pepper. I like to add some diced shallots, or an onion, minced garlic, and chopped carrots to the hot oil. Next, add the meat, and brown it on all sides. Do not drain the fat. Next, add liquid. The liquid can be wine, broth, tomato juice, or a combination. Even a can of V-8 is great! Cover, and either keep on the stove at about 185 (a simmer) or pop into the oven at 350.</p> <p>Here is a bonus for braising: You can make gravy. Gravy! We love gravy. It&#39;s Sunday dinner at Grandma&#39;s house, again. Slice the meat and serve over noodles or mashed potatoes.</p> <p>Ready to try braising? Try these:</p> <ul> <li><a href="">Beer-Braised Pork Loin</a> (I recommend using a porter or other dark beer.)<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Braised Balsamic Chicken</a> (The recipe suggests serving over rice or pasta, but you can catch so much more of the gravy with mashed potatoes!)<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Braised Mushrooms</a> are so delicious &mdash; and they take very little time. Stick with the shallots, which give amazing flavor.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Braised Lamb Shanks</a> take a while to cook, but they are well worth the effort. Shanks are one of my favorite cuts of lamb. You don&#39;t see a lot of them in the market anymore, but your butcher may be able to help. When I was a newlywed, we used to buy a half of a lamb and freeze it. I had to learn what to do with all of those &quot;parts.&quot; I like just a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar added into the pot toward the end of cooking.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Braised Root Vegetables</a> are nice both with a roast OR just by themselves, with a loaf of crusty french bread.</li> </ul> <h2>3. Broiling</h2> <p>Broiling is &quot;to cook on a grill under strong, direct heat.&quot;</p> <p>I have found, over the years, that whether I do much broiling depends on the oven that I have at the time. When I had a wall oven, I did more of it, simply because it was handier. I now have a stove-oven combination appliance and the broiler is near the floor, which means I have to keep squatting and crouching to check on the progress of dinner. The wall oven also had a self-cleaning feature &mdash; and my current one does not &mdash; so I take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to broil.</p> <p>If you are using your oven&#39;s broiler feature, you will need to preheat your oven. Most dials have a &quot;broil&quot; setting. This will take about five minutes or so.</p> <p>Try to place your food in the middle of the broiling pan (which usually comes with the oven). If it&#39;s going to be messy, I cover my pan with foil.</p> <p>When broiling, be prepared to check your food every few minutes. It will cook very fast under the high heat. Don&#39;t walk away!</p> <p>Broiling is a very versatile way to cook. Try:</p> <ul> <li><a href="">Portobello mushrooms</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Steaks</a> (a London Broil is my favorite in the broiler). Great leftovers.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Tuna melts</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Chicken</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href=";evt19=1">Salmon</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>No campfire? No problem. You can broil <a href="">S&#39;mores</a>!</li> </ul> <p>If your oven does not have a good broiler, you might consider a <a href="">toaster oven</a> that has a broiler feature. If you aren&#39;t cooking for a crowd and have the counter space, this is a handy option.</p> <h2>4. Pressure Cooking</h2> <p>Pressure cooking is a method whereby you use a metal pot and steam, under pressure, at a high temperature, to cook food quickly. (See also: <a href="">The 5 Best Pressure Cookers</a>)</p> <p>I used to have a co-worker whose husband thought pressure cooking was the greatest cooking method ever. He would pick up used pressure cookers at yard sales. Unfortunately, she&#39;d go home to find something was wrong with the latest &quot;great deal&quot; pressure cooker, in that her kitchen would be splattered with bits of meat and beans. Her harrowing tales were enough to keep me from trying this cooking method.</p> <p>However, that was 15 years ago, and pressure cooking is making a comeback. Why? Well, with so many of the cooks in the workforce, there is an appreciation for being able to cook dinner quickly &mdash; and a pressure cooker will help you do just that. If you liked the braising method above, well, pressure-cooking is braising on steroids. You can put a stew on the table in thirty minutes, or make a pot of beans in under two hours. Plus, the modern pressure cookers aren&#39;t&hellip; scary, the way my friend&#39;s cookers were. New models have pressure release valves and other safety mechanisms.</p> <p>With some cookers, you can also do canning. If you have a garden or belong to a CSA, you may want to consider this if considering a purchase. (See also: <a href="">How to Preserve Foods for Off-Season Feasts</a>)</p> <p>Ready to give it a go?</p> <ul> <li><a href="">Beets with Dill</a> (I like a little sour cream dollop on top, or crumbles of bleu cheese).<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">30 Minute Sunday Dinner Pot Roast</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>We love these <a href="">Refried Beans</a> served with whole-wheat tortillas, shredded cheddar, lettuce, and cilantro. Beans are something I used to just buy in cans &mdash; but with a pressure cooker, you can make beans (from dry) quickly and cheaply. Keep in mind, they are going to thicken up &mdash; so you may need to add some water if you have leftovers that you want to reheat. Sometimes I make them really &quot;soupy&quot; with more water, add Tabasco sauce, and crack eggs into the bean mixture. Fast Huevos Rancheros! Great with chips and, of course, more cheese.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Do you like standing at the stove, stirring a risotto for the better part of an hour, so that it doesn&#39;t stick? <strong>Neither do I.</strong> So I rarely made them until (drum roll) I found out that you could do them in a pressure cooker. For this <a href="">Prosecco and Parmesan Risotto</a>, I just used white wine and parmesan cheese.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>My daughter loves these <a href="">Honey-Glazed Herbed Carrots!</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>My friend MZ and I could probably eat <a href="">Tortilla Soup</a> several times a week. We like to make big batches and freeze half. We agree that slicing an avocado and &quot;floating&quot; a few slices on top is the way to go.</li> </ul> <h2>5. Packet/Parchment or Leaves</h2> <p>The French term is &quot;En Papillote,&quot; which means to wrap in a packet and cook with steam. Many cultures use this method. Hawaiians use ti leaves for laulau; Latin American, Asian, and African countries use banana leaves, corn husks, etc. When you add seasonings, herbs, fruit and/or vegetables to the packets, the results are delicious and fun to eat.</p> <p>A very popular &quot;packet&quot; method is to use aluminum foil. A big bonus of using foil is that clean-up is so easy!</p> <p>Try these:</p> <ul> <li><a href=";category=1192,1244,1274,1254,1277,1279,1280,1271,1262,1264,1265,1268">Aloha Tuna in Foil</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Campfire Chicken in Foil</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Chicken in Parchment</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="">Baked Apples in Parchment</a><br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>Throw a luau! <a href="">Hawaiian Roast Pork</a> is so &quot;ono&quot; (delicious)! If you cannot find a sugar cane, a skewer will work. Try your grocer&#39;s freezer for banana leaves.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li>I made this <a href="">Salmon in Parchment</a> yesterday and was happily reminded of how moist salmon stays when cooked by this method. This recipe calls for basil, but parsley or chives work well, too.</li> </ul> <p>So, readers &mdash; put that microwave dinner back in the freezer, and try one of these easy techniques!</p> <p><em>Which of these easy techniques is your favorite? Please share in comments!</em></p> <br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">This article is from <a href="">Marla Walters</a> of <a href="">Wise Bread</a>, an award-winning personal finance and <a href="">credit card comparison</a> website. Read more great articles from Wise Bread:</div><div class="view view-similarterms view-id-similarterms view-display-id-block_2 view-dom-id-4"> <div class="view-content"> <div class="item-list"> <ul> <li class="views-row views-row-1 views-row-odd views-row-first"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">16 Simple Kitchen Skills Every Frugal Person Should Master</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-2 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">8 Money-Saving Hacks for Those Who Hate Cooking</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-3 views-row-odd"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">35 Mouth Watering Lentil Recipes</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-4 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Cooking for Beginners: 10 Recipes for Kitchen Newbies</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-5 views-row-odd views-row-last"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">15 Delicious Ways to Prepare a Humble Head of Cabbage</a></span> </div> </li> </ul> </div> </div> </div> </div><br/></br> Food and Drink cheap recipes Cooking cooking techniques kitchen basics kitchen skills Tue, 04 Feb 2014 10:48:12 +0000 Marla Walters 1122869 at How to Make Whipped Cream by Hand <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/how-to-make-whipped-cream-by-hand" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src=" 13.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="138" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Fresh, homemade whipped cream is one of my favorite things. That's right, I love it so much that it's not just a favorite <em>food</em>, it's a favorite <em>thing</em>. It's delicious on its own, divine on&nbsp; desserts, and oh-so-simple to make, requiring just one ingredient &mdash; heavy cream.&nbsp;(Although you can include other things. We'll get to that.) (See also: <a href="">15 Ultra-Quick Homemade Desserts</a>)</p> <p>Making your own whipped cream is easy if you have an electric mixer, but it can seem super intimidating if you don't have one. The good news is that making whipped cream by hand is possible; it just takes a little time and gumption.</p> <p>That's why I made a video that doesn't just teach you how to make your own whipped cream (with options for delicious flavors like mint, vanilla, and bourbon) &mdash; but it also features a food quiz to entertain you while you're whisking.</p> <p>I'm writing this on the eve of <a href="">Valentine's Day</a>, which is a perfect day for whipped cream. But then again, I think every day is a perfect day for for whipped cream. So no matter what the occasion, grab a bowl and some heavy cream, and get ready to make something delicious.</p> <p><iframe width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="" src=""></iframe></p> <p><strong>Homemade Whipped Cream</strong></p> <ul> <li>1 half-pint of cold heavy whipping cream</li> <li>2-4 tbsp of powdered sugar (or more or less to taste; optional)</li> <li>1/2 tsp of vanilla extract, peppermint extract, or liqueur (optional)</li> </ul> <p>Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Whisk continuously until the cream forms soft peaks.</p> <p><em>Do you make your own whipped cream? If so, do you have any tips?</em></p> <br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">This article is from <a href="">Meg Favreau</a> of <a href="">Wise Bread</a>, an award-winning personal finance and <a href="">credit card comparison</a> website. Read more great articles from Wise Bread:</div><div class="view view-similarterms view-id-similarterms view-display-id-block_2 view-dom-id-1"> <div class="view-content"> <div class="item-list"> <ul> <li class="views-row views-row-1 views-row-odd views-row-first"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">25 Tasty Ways to Use Chicken Stock</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-2 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">25 Great Non-Sandwich Work Lunches</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-3 views-row-odd"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">25 Things to Do With Rotisserie Chicken</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-4 views-row-even"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Fast, Single-Serving &quot;Fake&quot; Desserts</a></span> </div> </li> <li class="views-row views-row-5 views-row-odd views-row-last"> <div class="views-field-title"> <span class="field-content"><a href="">Elevate Your Kitchen Skills With These 5 Easy Cooking Techniques</a></span> </div> </li> </ul> </div> </div> </div> </div><br/></br> Food and Drink affordable recipes cooking techniques cream dessert Thu, 14 Feb 2013 10:30:16 +0000 Meg Favreau 967859 at 20 Ways to Get Dinner on the Table Faster <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/20-ways-to-get-dinner-on-the-table-faster" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="crowded kitchen" title="crowded kitchen" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>One of my proudest moments as a mom took place in the drive-through lane of a fast-food restaurant. A series of unusual events while traveling led my family to such a place. What made me feel accomplished was not where we stood (or sat, in this situation) but the confusion and dismay of my oldest son. He questioned the sanity of receiving food in a bag from a window and then consuming the food while driving or riding in a car. I was thrilled that he thought this set-up was unusual.</p> <p>Like many parents, I have made eating dinner together a priority. But family dinnertime amidst full schedules often requires that dinner get on the table in a certain time frame. If you are a mom or dad who cooks regularly, then you are likely familiar with the challenge of preparing healthy, hearty, and homecooked dinners that kids and adults enjoy (or at least consume). Toss in the requirement that meals should be easy to get on the table quickly and this feat, repeated nightly, may seem herculean.&nbsp;</p> <p>While I won't boast that I have achieved perfection in fixing great meals quickly, I can say that I have learned some strategies and tactics that help get dinner on the table, faster. Here are tricks and techniques that have worked for me. (See also: <a href="">7 Time-Saving&nbsp;Kitchen&nbsp;Tips From an Insider</a>)</p> <h3>1. Plan Ahead</h3> <p>To move as quickly as possible during the week, I plan meals on the weekends. But I don't just figure out what meals to serve. I scrutinize the family's schedule and then match dinner menus to specific evenings based on food preparation and cooking times.</p> <p>Tonight, for example, my youngest son doesn't get finished with band practice until 8:30 p.m., my husband will arrive home at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m., and I have a meeting at 7 p.m. We should all be around to sit at the dinner table, even though dining schedules may not sync. A great option here is a meal that is relatively fast to make and heats up well. On other days, if I know I will have extra time in the morning but not much in the evening, then I may do some prep work before the start of the day or opt for a one-dish slow-cooker meal.&nbsp;</p> <p>By figuring out meals ahead of time, I can make a grocery list, restock on basics, and get items that are needed for recipes.</p> <h3>2. Substitute Ingredients</h3> <p>Substituting ingredients quickens the dinner-making pace. Use what you have on hand rather than buying, storing, measuring, and mixing every single ingredient called for in a recipe. This saves money but also prevents me from stopping dinner preparation to go to the store to find the item, ask my husband to pick up an item, or find another recipe.</p> <p>For example, I may use cream cheese for cream soup or sour cream; sea salt and pepper for herbs; crushed tomatoes for spaghetti sauce or fresh tomatoes; water, wine, or bouillon for chicken broth; walnuts for pecans or almonds; breadcrumbs for nearly any casserole topping or breading; cereal for oatmeal.</p> <p>Occasionally, I leave out ingredients if they are not commonly available. If you can safely omit certain items (that is, the dish still tastes good and the texture is intact), you can get dinner on the table faster without much compromise.</p> <h3>3. Develop a Repertoire of Quick Dinner Fixes</h3> <p>When I took a <a href="">cooking class at the community college</a>, I learned from my instructor (a professional home economist) that most people have a repertoire of about 5-10 dinner menus. They cycle through these so that favorites or standbys are served every couple of weeks. Periodically, cooks will try a new dish and add that to their rotation. Since learning about this common habit, I stopped feeling bad about serving the same thing over and over. However, I try to introduce new items in order to avoid family burnout on favorite foods.</p> <p>Within my repertoire, I like to have <a href="">dishes that are quick to fix</a>. What surprises me about the easy-to-prepare meals is that my family often likes those just as much or more than dishes that are time-consuming and expensive.</p> <p>So, to get dinner ready faster on a consistent basis, develop a list of meals that are quick and easy to make. Take, for example, this simple chicken dish &mdash; place boneless chicken breasts in a greased baking dish (I use cooking spray); pour a jar of salsa over the chicken; top with extra sharp cheddar or your favorite cheese; cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees; remove the foil and continue baking until the cheese is melted and the chicken is done.</p> <h3>4. Get More People Involved</h3> <p>Delegate duties to get dinner on the table faster. Hand off time-consuming tasks like chopping vegetables or shredding cooked chicken. Or hand a recipe to someone else and let that person prepare the entire dish.</p> <h3>5. Grill Out</h3> <p>A great way to get more people involved without too many cooks in the kitchen is to grill outside. One person grills the entrée while the other fixes side dishes.</p> <p>For a simple recipe, marinate boneless chicken breasts in Italian dressing and cook on the grill about 10 to 15 minutes until done. To add veggies, make kabobs. Cut chicken and vegetables (such as green peppers and onions) into large chunks, place on skewers, brush with marinade, and place over the grill.</p> <h3>6. Fix a Cool Entrée</h3> <p>Raiding the refrigerator for dinner doesn't have to be a last-ditch effort of desperation. You can plan and fix a gourmet entrée (like a roast turkey or elegant chicken salad) that is perfect for light summer meals, a group get-together, evenings when family members eat in shifts, or nights that you are busy. Add some quick side dishes, and you can have a hearty meal in minutes.&nbsp;</p> <h3>7. Serve Cool Veggies</h3> <p>Make side dishes ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator, just like the cool entrées.</p> <p>A couple of my favorites in this category include <a href="">red potato salad</a> and <a href="">coleslaw</a>. The key to making great potato salad is cooking the potatoes enough but not too much. To increase the nutritional value, add more vegetables like chopped celery or bell pepper.</p> <p>For coleslaw, use a packaged mix or toss chunks of raw cabbage (and other vegetables that you'd like to add such as purple onions, carrots, or green peppers) in the food processor to shred or chop.</p> <h3>8. Serve Fruit as a Side Dish</h3> <p>You may have the main dish covered. But getting side dishes on the table for a well-balanced meal can be tricky. So, add fruit to your evening rotation of easy and fast side dishes.</p> <p>Chill and serve canned fruit or jarred fruit packed in natural juices or light syrup, such as mandarin oranges or a tropical mix of mangoes and pineapples. Try fresh cored pineapple, chopped and stored in the refrigerator until it's time to eat. An even simpler-to-make side dish is a bowl of grapes, rinsed and ready to eat.</p> <h3>9. Prepare a Pasta Dish</h3> <p><a href="">Prepare noodles</a> in about 20-30 minutes while you are preparing a sauce or topping. You can sauté&nbsp;zucchini and mushrooms in olive oil and serve over pasta with Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes. Or make a traditional meat sauce with ground beef and jarred pasta sauce that you've snagged in a BOGO or Buy Two, Get Three Free promotion.&nbsp;</p> <p>To speed things up, clean and chop the vegetables the evening before your pasta dinner. If dinner involves a traditional sauce, make multiple batches or at least a double batch so that you can serve half for dinner fresh now and freeze the other half for a subsequent, ultra-easy meal later.</p> <p>If you happen to be preparing dinner about the time that you need to pick up your kids from an extracurricular activity, leave the pasta to cook on its own: bring the pasta to boiling, stir to break up the noodles, place a lid over the pot, and <em>turn the burner off</em>; the pasta should cook in about 30 minutes.</p> <h3>10. Make Tortilla Meals</h3> <p>A quick, healthy, and cheap meal is anything made with <a href="">tortillas</a>. Get the ingredients together and let your family assemble them according to each person's preferences. Heat tortillas and toss in two or more of these ingredients: black beans (rinsed and heated); chopped tomatoes; shredded cheese; cooked chicken or beef; guacamole; or sauteed vegetables such as green peppers, red peppers, and onions.</p> <p>Prepare as much as you can the night before, or buy ready-made shredded cheese during store sales. Serve some items on the side (black beans, for example) if you'd like.</p> <h3>11. Have Breakfast for Dinner</h3> <p>An omelet or a frittata mixed with vegetables and cheese, served with a fruit side dish and bread, is a great meal. You and your family may want to avoid dishes that may be better suited for leisurely breakfasts and brunches. But in a pinch, eggs or even pancakes with fruit are fast meals that can help you out in a jam.</p> <h3>12. Toss a Dinner Salad</h3> <p>Salad can be an entire meal or a side dish. Make a dinner of&nbsp;Cobb salad or chef's salad for a <a href="">no-cook meal</a>.</p> <p>Put together ingredients that blend well and help finish off leftovers. For example, toss lettuce with leftover fruit from side dishes, feta cheese, toasted almonds or walnuts, boiled eggs, and chickpeas. If the salad is a side dish, then serve with homemade soup and bread.</p> <h3>13. Simmer Main Dishes or Entire Meals in a Crock Pot</h3> <p>Prepare crock pot meals that will be ready when you finish a busy day at work or home. Try&nbsp;<a href="">chicken with black beans and cream cheese</a> or check out <a href="">great, cheap, and easy crock pot recipes</a> like pot roast with vegetables or coq au vin.</p> <h3>14. Roast Your Dinner</h3> <p>Roasting meats and vegetables (or veggies only) is a fast and easy way to make a delicious, healthy dinner.</p> <p>One of my favorite dishes is roast chicken (using boneless chicken breasts) with red potatoes and asparagus. Cut all ingredients into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with rosemary or garlic (or just salt and pepper), toss with olive oil and lemon, and cook in a 400-degree oven. Stir occasionally until done, which should take about 30-45 minutes. For variations, substitute your favorite vegetables like zucchini, red peppers, or mushrooms for asparagus.</p> <h3>15. Use Potato Baking Nails</h3> <p>My parents always used baking nails to speed up the potato-baking process when I was a kid. I still use them to get the oven flavor and texture, which seems to differ from the microwave taste. To use, <a href="">insert nails in the center of the potato</a> and cook; this technique shaves at least 30 minutes off the usual cook times.</p> <h3>16. Slice Thin</h3> <p>To speed up the cooking of a dish, I slice ingredients to make them thinner. For example, I often slice a chicken breast in half, even if the recipe doesn't call for this action. I do the same with slower-cooking vegetables like potatoes and carrots. This technique can be helpful for nearly any recipe.</p> <h3>17. Repurpose Leftovers</h3> <p>Eating leftovers sounds boring, but having them available can be a godsend. Develop a menu of dishes that reheat well, not just for lunch but also for dinner. A pot roast or turkey, for example, could serve as a main dish a couple of times each week and is great for those weeks with many afterschool or evening activities. Broccoli-rice casserole and mashed potatoes also reheat well.</p> <p>Leftovers can also be used in completely new dishes; for example, I may make a chicken casserole from leftover roasted chicken, rather than just serving the same meal twice. For ideas on repurposing main dishes or sides, see these articles on <a href="">fancy ways to use leftovers</a> and <a href="">rotisserie chicken</a>.</p> <h3>18. Use a Pressure Cooker or Other Fast-Cooking Device</h3> <p>A <a href="">pressure cooker can help cook meals faster</a>. A convection oven (as well as microwave and toaster ovens) can also reduce cooking times. There may be a learning curve with these appliances, so some of your recipes may take a tad longer at first but will eventually save time.&nbsp;</p> <h3>19. Batch Cook</h3> <p>Many people find fast-dinner-prep nirvana in <a href="">batch cooking-freezing-thawing-reheating or similar assembly methods</a>. My attempts in this area have fallen short, though I do freeze and use spaghetti sauce regularly. A friend makes batches of <a href="">hot chicken salad</a>&nbsp;(I omit the peppers, use unsalted almonds, and substitute cheddar for Swiss cheese and breadcrumbs for potato chips), and I have found this casserole to be wonderful when reheated.&nbsp;</p> <h3>20. Keep Basics on Hand</h3> <p>If you always have a few basics on hand, then you can easily put together a meal. But defining basics or staples can be tricky as they vary from person to person, family to family. For me, the basics include:</p> <ul> <li>Frozen fruits and vegetables (blueberries, broccoli, green beans, mixed vegetables)</li> <li>Frozen meats (chicken, ground beef)</li> <li>Nuts (peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans)</li> <li>Dairy (cheddar, feta, mozzarella; milk; sour cream; eggs; yogurt)</li> <li>Canned or jarred goods (salsa, pasta sauce, <a href="">beans</a>, fruit)&nbsp;</li> <li>Fresh fruits and vegetables (apples, bananas, lettuce, carrots, celery)</li> <li>Baking and cooking items (<a href="">oil</a>, butter, flour, sugar, salt, pepper, spices like chili powder and cinnamon, white wine)</li> <li>Grains (whole wheat bread, tortillas, pasta, brown rice)</li> </ul> <p>Nearly all of these items can be stored for several weeks with the exceptions of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and bread. There are many items that I freeze to keep longer; for example, I keep cloves of garlic in the freezer as well as peeled bananas and homemade breadcrumbs.</p> <p>The suggestions that I make for preparing meals typically involve these items and maybe one or two extra ingredients.&nbsp;</p> <p>Cooking should be a leisurely activity, except that it isn't when you have a full schedule. Use these techniques and dinner at your house will be <a href="">faster than fast food or pizza delivery</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>How do you get dinner ready faster?&nbsp;</em></p> <br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">This article is from <a href="">Julie Rains</a> of <a href="">Wise Bread</a>, an award-winning personal finance and <a href="">credit card comparison</a> website. 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