Many of us want to cook, and by cooking we mean do more than add bottled sauce to boiled spaghetti. There is a reasonable middle ground for the hearty eater with good intentions but neither the time nor patience to devote to Julia Childian efforts. And let’s be frank: many of us (myself especially) are a bit lazy, and want good food with as little hassle as possible, and certainly with as little to wash up afterwards as might reasonably be engineered. So, without offering specific recipes, here are some tips for the well-meaning, but time-restricted home cook to maximize deliciousness, but minimize both active cooking and cleaning time.
Braising is just about the easiest and most fool-proof way to draw incredible flavor out of meats, and produce wow-inducing dishes. In brief, braising is the very slow cooking of meat in a liquid. The liquid could be just about anything you like, but a combination of wine with stock seems to work best. You can also get away with using inexpensive, tough cuts of meat (which also tend to be the most flavorful), because you’ll be cooking them for such a long time that the meat becomes tender.
A good trick is to brown the meat first, along with onions and garlic, then add any vegetables you like (root vegetables all work well), and only then add the liquid. That takes about ten minutes, max. The rest of the cooking time is entirely unattended. Make sure the meat is covered by the liquid, pop the top on, and let it cook at a low temperature (no boiling), either on the stovetop or in your oven, for at least four hours.
Generally the longer you braise it, the better it will taste, provided you check to make sure that enough liquid remains, so nothing burns. You’ll end up with a wonderful stew or, if you’re like me, you can cheat and get multiple dishes out of one preparation. After braising, I like to take the meat and vegetables out—they provide one meal. The remaining liquid I then reduce, by cooking with the top off, until it has the consistency of a sauce. The sauce can be served with pasta or as a bath for mashed potatoes, giving you a second, hearty, flavorful meal. Best of all, you’ve done everything in one pot, so there’s only one thing to clean.
Mix and Mash in Your Storage Container
I recently made meatloaf. Now normally I would mix the minced meat with the breadcrumbs, milk, vegetables, and spices in a large bowl, until it was thoroughly blended, and then I’d scoop it into a baking dish, form it into a loaf, and bake it. I’d then slice the meatloaf out of the baking dish, serve it, and place the sliced leftovers in a Tupperware container to keep in the fridge. That’s fine, but it also means that I’ll have three containers to ultimately wash: large bowl, baking dish, and container. Instead, I took a note from Lazy Chefs 101, and did everything in the baking dish (I’d chosen a Pyrex one with a removable plastic lid). I poured all the ingredients into the dish, blended them with my hands, patted them into a loaf, then slipped the dish into the oven. When it was done I sliced out the meal’s worth of meatloaf, let the rest cool in the dish, then popped the lid on it and slid it into the fridge. All in one container.
When I mash avocados for guacamole, I use the back of a spoon to mash the flesh inside its own skin. Why have to wash an extra bowl? I then mix all the other ingredients in the same bowl or container I’m planning to store the guacamole in. Making a smoothie? Provided your fridge has the capacity, you can store the leftovers in the blender jug, rather than pouring them out into a separate container. This has the added advantage for home smoothie makers who don’t add the chemicals that professionals use to prevent the ingredients from separating over time—you can re-blend your smoothie to make it smooth again, without having to wash, use, and re-wash the blender jug.
Make Larger Quantities
When I do take time to cook, I like to make far more than a meal’s worth. It takes no longer to make more of any given dish than it does to make less, so you might as well take advantage of the time you’ve set aside. I’ll make stew or lasagna or grilled chicken breasts or soups or burgers that will last several meals. I don’t eat them all in a row, because I don’t want to grow bored with them. But I’ll eat them on alternate days, or I’ll freeze a few portions for a rainy day.
I hope these tips will save you some time. Feel free to add your own tips in the Comments section.