I'm testing a slow cooker cookbook this week, and it's making me
consider (or re-consider) the ways we try to conserve time as
cooks. It was only last year that I came to slow cookery, and
loved the convenience. Strictly speaking, a slow cooker
isn't a time-saving device so much as a time-banking one.
You still have to invest a good number of minutes in dinner,
but you get to choose which minutes--preferably
before-work minutes. Then, when you walk in the door, you can
have a glass of wine and unwind rather than scrambling for an onion
and a knife first thing. It's a 6pm timesaver, for people who
like to plan ahead.
That made me think: really, there's two types of time-saving
cooks. The kind who like to control their schedules way in
advance, and the kind who absolutely, positively don't.
Timesavers for Plan-Ahead Types
Slow cookers: Up and dressed at 6am, done with the
newspaper and looking for something to do? You're definitely a
candidate for making dinner in a slow-cooker.
Big batches: Got a 10-gallon stockpot, a 16-inch
skillet, and an oven big enough to accommodate a full sheet pan?
Good. You can make enough for leftovers straight
through Wednesday, meaning no dinner prep! for 3 days.
Bean soaks: Putting your dried beans to soak overnight.
Since you still have to cook the beans for an hour afterward,
this really only counts as a timesaver in comparison to cooking
your dried beans the other way--boil, soak, boil again over a
Meat marinades: Oh,
the joy of marinades! If you have the presence of mind to
make up a big batch, dump a piece of boneless protein in some of it
and freeze the rest in ziploc bags, you've got dinner in little
more than the amount of time it takes to heat the grill.
Timesavers for Last-Minute Types
Salad: The ultimate shortcut--not turning on your
stove even once. Colorful, easy, and--bonus!--good for you.
Canned beans: Because who can possibly know they
want to eat beans 24 hours in advance? Let's be real!
Pre-chopped produce for stir-fries: Because when
you're frazzled, stressed, and tired, having to chop stuff, with a
knife and all, isn't just time-consuming, it's downright
Trader Joe's: Fondly referred to by some as "My
Friend Joe". Why prep it when you can nuke it or pop it in
the oven for 25 minutes?
Takeout!: What to do when you look in the fridge 20
minutes before table-time and see nothing but 3 pounds of lamb
shanks and an artichoke.
Let's Go Out: As if we need an excuse!
Sometimes I'm in the first category, sometimes in the second.
(And I'm sure there are lots of timesaving techniques I
haven't thought of.) What type are you? And what's your
favorite ace-in-the-hole for those harried weeknight dinners?