Cooking From Scratch for Dummies: 3 Simple Tips

September 1, 2009 at 11:43 pm Leave a comment

The last-minute 5-dish meal

The last-minute 5-dish meal

Tonight, at around 5:30pm, our plans for a plan-less evening suddenly morphed into a dinner party for 6.  That left us from 6:45 to 8:00 to go grocery shopping and prepare a giant meal from scratch.  POP QUIZ: What did we do?

a.)  Panic
b.)  Serve Hamburger Helper (same thing as panicking…)
c.) Order Pagliacci’s/Go out for Sichuanese food
d.) Make a 5-dish dinner and dessert

Okay, I guess it’s obvious the answer is d.).  Bad quiz.  But the point is, if you told me a few months ago that I’d be able to make a meal this involved in under 1.5 hours, I’d have assumed there was crack involved.

Le Menu
Here was our final menu for tonight: Basmati pilaf (rice), raita (yogurt sauce), daal (lentils), turkey keema (spiced ground turkey), and baingan bhartha (baked eggplant).  We even made a strawberry shortcake last minute, just for kicks.

So how can you become the kind of chef who whips together dinner and makes strawberry shortcake as an afterthought?  Here are 3 simple tips I’ve picked up in the last 20 days:

Jeff doing the dishes after dinner

Jeff doing the dishes after dinner

1.) Always (and I mean ALWAYS) clean up at the end of the day. No matter how painful it is — no matter how much wine you’ve had to drink — go to bed with a clean kitchen.  There’s nothing that kills cooking plans faster than dirty equipment, unwashed dishes, and an hour’s worth of cleaning that needs to be tackled before you can even start.

2.) Do as much prep as possible in advance when you have some free time. This Sunday, Jeff and I were making a huge vat of chili, and decided to make the Indian ground turkey dish while we were at it, too.  At the time, we just thought we’d freeze it and eat it periodically on days when we didn’t feel like cooking.  It came in handy today, though, and we still have leftovers for later. It also pays to have chopped veggies on hand.

3.) Create a plan/menu every day. As much as I love opening up the fridge and concocting something on the fly, when you’re cooking everything from scratch, planning is key.  Setting a menu helps optimize your time and ingredients.  For example, plan on making a dish that requires bread crumbs when your loaf of bread is getting stale.  Or, make mayonnaise on a day when you’re making bread so you can have sandwiches during the week.

My final, unofficial tip is to cook and share with friends.  I know, it sounds corny.  But the truth is, cooking with/for friends pushes you to try new things and make more dishes than you would otherwise.  For example, tonight, I’ll be packing away 4 different leftovers that’ll keep lunch interesting for days.  Of course, that requires having friends who don’t eat you out of house and home…

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Entry filed under: Equipment, Preparation. Tags: , .

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