Vegetable

The Grown-Up Kitchen: How to Time Your Cooking So Everything Is Ready at Once

Photo by Damian Siwiaszczyk.

When preparing a “square” meal—you know, the kind with a protein and at least two sides—I rarely struggle with the actual cooking. I can cook a chicken, mash some potatoes, and roast a sheet pan of broccoli without any issue, but timing it all so everything ends up on the table simultaneously—hot and ready—is what gives me trouble.

I’ve been cooking for a long time, and even I struggle with timing, particularly when working with new foods or recipes. The more cooking you do, the more intuitive timing becomes, but it can still be overwhelming. Given the fact that there are an infinite number of combinations of an infinite number of recipes, it’s hard to right a Complete Definitive End-All Guide on the subject, but I can give you some basic tips and guidelines for streamlining and timing a meal that all comes together at once. Spoiler alert: it involves a fair amount of planning.

Step One: Make Good Choices and Keep Things Simple

Photo by baron valium

Everyone loves a new and exciting recipe, but making a new dish for the first time almost always takes longer than you expect. Whether you’re learning how to break down a new vegetable, working with a new piece of meat, or trying an entirely new cooking method, it’s going to take longer than the estimated recipe time. You should give yourself an extra 15 minutes of cooking and prep time to account for this, but you should also make sure that the other dishes you’re preparing are things you’re familiar with.

Also, don’t go crazy with the menu. Know what you’re going to make ahead of time and stick to it, and resist the urge to make absolutely everything yourself. Yes, you can make your own salad dressing, but rifling through the fridge to find mustard, vinegar, and half a shallot you saw somewhere in there earlier this week can add time and distract you from the rest of the meal prep. You’ve already washed, chopped, and tossed all the components to make a nice, fresh salad, and no one is going to be mad if you plunk a couple of bottles of olive oil and vinegar down instead of whipping up a vinaigrette.

In terms of how many components your meal should have, that depends on you and your comfort level. For a weeknight meal, I tend to stick to a protein, a cooked veg or starch, and something made of raw plant parts (when tomatoes are in season, I just slice them and sprinkle them with salt for the easiest side ever), but there’s nothing wrong with serving a single side, or—in the case of soups, stews, and casseroles—a good piece of bread. No matter how many you choose, it’s important that you stick to your choices. Once that’s done, you’re ready to plan your attack.

Step Two: Make a Timeline

Photo by Rebecca Siegel.

First, decide on when dinner is going to be served, and work backwards from there. Write down everything you’re making, with recipe times and cooking temperatures beside each item. If you’re not working from a recipe, a quick Google search can usually reveal this information. If you just want to roast some vegetables, it sure helps to have a handle on how quickly different types of vegetables roast. Below are some general roasting times for cooking vegetables in a 425-degree oven, but keep in mind that these can be affected by how small you cut them up:

  • Thin and soft vegetables: (Yellow squash, zucchini, peppers, green beans, asparagus, tomatoes) 10-20 minutes
  • Greens: (Kale, mustard greens, collard greens) 6-10…

Why is Ham Traditionally Eaten on Easter?

easter-ham

Under Jewish dietary laws (called kashrut), eating pork in any form is strictly forbidden. Jesus Christ was Jewish. So why, on the anniversary of his resurrection, do people traditionally serve ham? You’ll often read it’s because ham is supposedly a “Christian” meat, able to be consumed by Christians but not certain other prominent religious groups. However, the real reason is simply because it’s in season.

While modern food storage techniques and supermarkets with efficient and worldwide supply chains shield us from this fact somewhat, like fruits and vegetables, different meats also have seasons, and these depend on a variety of factors including what the animals were eating and when, where they were in their growth cycle, and the availability (or lack) of refrigeration.

With pigs and cows, before refrigeration, it simply made sense to slaughter them in the fall. Since it takes a fair amount of time to butcher a beast as large as a hog or steer, the cold temperatures helped keep the meat from going bad before it could be properly prepared.

Another consideration was taste. Shortly before slaughter in the fall, hogs would be fed things like apples and acorns that would greatly improve the flavor of the meat they would ultimately provide. As one specialty pork producer noted:

The tradition of acorn-fed pork goes back millennia . . . . The oak nut was a diet staple because the pigs roamed and rooted about for acorns in the forests of Italy and Spain. An acorn diet is today best known as what makes the prized and pricey Jamón Ibérico of Spain so succulent.

Butchered in the fall, most hams were prepared and allowed to properly cure over the winter to further develop their flavor. This was a particularly important food source this time of year in some parts of the world where the rest of the stored meat would have already been eaten, with little other meat of any real quality available. This was the case in North America where the other traditional spring meat, lamb, was (and still is) less in vogue, which…

Cold Comfort: How to Best Use Your Freezer

The following article is from the new book Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader.

Did you know that you can keep eggs in your freezer? (There’s a trick to it.) Here are some tips on how to freeze foods you probably thought couldn’t be frozen, and how to better freeze the stuff you’re already freezing, preventing waste and saving money in the process.

FRESH VEGETABLES

• Before freezing, chop raw vegetables to the size you are likely to use when cooking. Thawed vegetables are more difficult to chop.

• Vegetables tend to lose color, favor, texture, and even vitamins when they’re frozen, thanks to the activity of enzymes in the veggies. Blanching the vegetables (immersing them in boiling water for a short period of time) before freezing interrupts the activity of the enzymes, and will keep the frozen vegetables fresher longer.

• Blanching times vary from 11⁄2 minutes for peas and 11 minutes for large ears of corn; consult a cookbook for the correct amount of time for the vegetable you want to freeze.

• After blanching, quickly immerse the vegetables in cool water to prevent them from overcooking.

• Leafy greens, tomatoes, and watery vegetables like zucchini and squash can be frozen without blanching. If you plan on making zucchini bread, grate the zucchini before you freeze it.

GROUND MEAT

• Ground meat is suitable for freezing, but the Styrofoam tray covered with plastic wrap that it comes in is not. The container leaves too much air in the package, causing freezer burn.

• Remove ground meat from the container and place it in a plastic freezer bag, taking care to squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before placing it in the freezer. Press the bag of meat as flat as you can before freezing—the flatter the meat, the faster it freezes, preserving quality.

• If you want individual servings, lay the unfrozen bag of meat flat on the kitchen counter and press a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon lengthwise against the outside of the bag to create indentations that divide the meat into single-sized squares. Now when you need some but not all of the meat, you can easily snap off as many squares as you need and return the rest to the freezer, instead of having to thaw out the entire bag.

EGGS

• Eggs expand while freezing and should not be frozen in the shell. Instead, beat raw eggs just until the whites and yolks have blended together, then pour the mixture into an ice cube tray and freeze. Each compartment of a standard ice cube tray will hold about one egg’s worth of the mixture. When the eggs have frozen, they can be popped out of the ice cube tray and stored in a freezer bag for up to a year.

• Yolks and whites can be separated before freezing if you expect to use them separately. Separated whites will freeze just fine as they are, but separated yolks can become gelatinous over time. To prevent this, beat in 11⁄2 teaspoons of sugar (if you plan to use the yolks in a dessert) or 1⁄8 teaspoon of salt (for other dishes) for every four egg yolks before freezing. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.

THE CUBIST MOVEMENT

• Fresh herbs and spices can also be frozen in ice cube trays. Fill each compartment about two-thirds full with chopped fresh herbs or spices and cover with your choice of water, chicken or beef stock, olive oil, or melted unsalted butter before freezing. When the cubes are frozen, remove them from the tray and store them in freezer bags.

• Two more candidates for ice cube freezing: coffee and leftover wine (for cooking). Coffee cubes can be used to keep iced coffee cold without watering it…

Save Time and Money With These 15 Delicious Sheet Pan Meals

Feel like you’re constantly stuck in a dinner rut? Don’t turn into the drive-thru lane again for a quick dinner solution. Instead, use sheet pan meals to cook a delicious dinner, all in one pan.

The best part about sheet pan meals is that there are endless options. Below are 15 recipes, but feel free to tweak them to your desire. These meals are practically foolproof. (See also: 10 One Pot Meals That Will Transform Dinner)

1. Ultimate Chicken Nachos

Nachos can’t really be dinner, can they? You bet they can, and your family will love you for it. Spread an overlapping layer of chips on your metal sheet pan, then top with grated cheese, cooked chicken pieces, diced tomatoes, corn kernels, and canned pinto or black beans. You can even add sliced jalapeños if you’d like.

Bake at 400º for 10 to 15 minutes. Immediately sprinkle chopped cilantro on the finished chips. Top with your favorite wet ingredients (sour cream, guacamole, salsa, etc.) and enjoy!

2. Ratatouille

You won’t miss the meat in this dish. Use a mandolin or vegetable slicer to save time. Cut Yukon potatoes, zucchinis, yellow squash, and eggplant into small coin shapes. Next, open a can of tomato puree and add a thin layer on your sheet pan. Season with salt, then arrange the sliced vegetables in an overlapping fashion. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.

Bake the ratatouille for 35 minutes in a 375º oven. Sprinkle with goat cheese and serve with crusty bread for a complete meal.

3. Lemon Garlic Salmon and Green Beans

Baking salmon on top of green beans, or a vegetable with a similar cooking time, makes for a yummy, heart-healthy meal.

Layer the green beans on a nonstick sheet pan. In a small bowl, mix ½ cup of olive oil, the juice of two lemons, a dash of salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning. Dip the salmon fillets in the oil mixture and then lay them skin side up on the green beans.

Broil on high for eight to 10 minutes. Make sure the oven is fully hot before sticking your fish in, and check the fish at the eight-minute mark. It should flake easily with a fork.

4. Cilantro Lime Chicken Fajitas

Cut raw chicken breasts, onions, and bell peppers into strips. In a bag or bowl, mix ½ cup of oil, ¼ cup lime juice, finely chopped cilantro, and a packet of taco seasoning….