What's your go-to cooking shortcut?
Hands down, a well stocked pantry makes for the best quick meal. Many times that I've been without a dinner plan, I find myself staring at the contents of my pantry with it's canned beans, and tomato, rices, pasta and grains and a meal just leaps out at me. Our favorite is this simple Three Bean Chili.
The slow cooker!
Most any soup or stew can be made in the slow cooker. Place all ingredients inside in the morning and it will cook itself and be ready when you are.
A few non-recipe recipes for the slow cooker:
Chicken Taco Meat
Place chicken breasts in slow cooker and cover with salsa. Cook on low for 4-6 hours and shred meat. Use with tortillas, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, and onions.
Place 1 slab baby back ribs in crock pot. Cover with BBQ sauce, 1 quartered onion, and 1 beer. Cook on low 4-6 hours. Delicious!
Place beans, chopped veggies, onion, vegetable stock and chili powder in crock pot. Sere with cornbread.
Slow Cooker Recipe for Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup on Yummy Mummy: http://www.yummymummykitchen.com/2011/04/tortilla-soup-slow-cooker-version.html
Slow Cooker Recipe for White Chicken Chili on Yummy Mummy:
Slow Cooker Recipe for Pulled Pork Sliders on Yummy Mummy:
I like to keep onions cut up because I use them for nearly every dish I make. It makes for less mess and more efficient prep time.
Making big batches of food, like rice, stir fry, chili or soup, so there are lots of leftovers to be heated up for lunch (or a quick dinner) for the rest of the week.
One of my favorite "big batch" recipes is to make pasta with homemade meat sauce. My kids actually thank me every time I make this, which warms my heart.They also like eating leftover pasta and sauce for breakfast!
You can see the recipe here: http://www.thismamacooks.com/2010/07/healthy-whole-wheat-spaghetti-with-meat-sauce.html
Planning ahead really helps. I work with the husband and children to come up with menus we might want in the next few weeks, ranging from the meals that cook all day to tuna melts which can be whipped together in ten minutes. Then when I do the shopping we have everything on hand for any of the meals on the list. Night to night we make meals based on how much time we have and cross them off the list. When the list runs short everyone devours leftovers and the new list is born!
For recipes that call for shredded chicken, I always purchase a rotisserie chicken, shred it, and then bag it in 2-cup portions. Most recipes call for 2 cups of shredded chicken so it works out great!
Easy: my freezer. I make ahead full entrees or sauces (pesto, red sauce) and gnocchi. That way when dinner arrives---or I am away at work---my family can grab a meal/or I can make a meal on the fly.
Meal Planning. For sure. Knowing what awaits you in terms of prep and cooking time helps a lot in keeping things under control in the the kitchen.
My biggest time-saver is pre-cooking chicken breasts to freeze and have on hand for fast meal preparation. I freeze a mixture of diced and whole breasts to be used in a variety of ways. Chicken is a wonderful lean protein and so incredibly versatile!!!
Setting my rice cooker to finish cooking steel cut oats in the AM! I set it at night and it's hot and ready for a quick breakfast at 7:00! Also setting my rice cooker to finish cooking in the AM so I can make sushi for lunch boxes.
Cream of Mushroom Soup, and Pasta, lots and lots of pasta, are in my pantry at ALL times!! There's Parmesan cheese in my fridge. My family's favourite super quick meal is Mushroom Pasta. Sometimes, I get fancy and toss in some leftover shredded rotisserie chicken. Oh, I can't forget my freezer, there's also a stock pile of various frozen fruits and veggies.
I love Cream of Mushroom soup because it's an quick shortcut for lots of sauces for pasta, pork, or chicken. (I even use it as a base for a super quick gravy, and the kids gobble it up.) My kids will eat just about anything they can sprinkle some Parmesan on. Oh, and I love frozen fruits for quick smoothies or even a quick compote for waffles. As for frozen veggies, I prefer them over canned ones. :)
I cook today's dinner the night before. Walking in the door after a long day of work with 2 cranky kids is never fun. It's even less fun if I have to do a meal from scratch and the whining reaches the level of an opera soprano (that's the one with a really high pitch). So I cook Monday's dinner at the same time as Sunday's. Monday, after we've all eaten, I make Tuesday's dinner while the kids play and so on. It's never anything fancy, but doing it this way takes a huge amount of stress out of my day.
The other thing I do is make a big batch of pizza dough on Sunday, separate and roll out individual crusts, and parbake them. At that point, they can be stored in the fridge for a few days, or the freezer for months. And if you read this post, you'll understand that some weeks I go through a lot of pizza!
I love finger foods! Whenever I need a fast meal for the family, small bites are my go-to-cooking shortcut. Making fun little plates and appetizers from leftovers you have had from the week is a great way to clear out the fridge and have a fun, unique meal. Stick a toothpick in a piece of leftover chicken and a cube of cheese. Plate up small servings of that left over casserole into cupcake liners. I find that my children eat more on these nights. The variety is nice, the fridge is cleaned out, prep is quick and best of all, no mess!