Terrific Tips on Quick & Easy Cooking



by Pamela Marx

The purpose of this article is to help busy people find quick and easy ways to put satisfying, tasty meals and snacks on the table without spending a lot of time in the kitchen.  Therefore, it makes sense to think of as many ways as possible to cut down on time spent in the kitchen.  The following section provides information on  general tips for decreasing time spent on food preparation.



·          Except in the case of cheeses that don't come pre-shredded or grated such as Gruyère and Gorgonzola, buy shredded cheese in bags. 

·          When shredded cabbage is called for, use a bag of coleslaw.

·          Consider quick alternatives to chopping and mincing onion and garlic.  For onion, use a bag of fresh chopped onion available in the produce section of the market or frozen chopped onion available in the frozen foods section.  A jar of crushed garlic is a very handy alternative to fresh garlic.  For a quick way to peel and mince fresh garlic, cut off the ends of the clove, smash it with the side of a knife or cleaver to break the skin, peel the skin off and mince it by making checkerboard cuts into the clove through which you slice sideways.  If this doesn't work for you, use that handy jar of crushed garlic.

·          I use almost no special equipment such as food processors or blenders when making food for any occasion.  I don't want to clean the equipment because I don't like doing dishes.  The one piece of equipment sometimes referred to in the recipes is a potato masher which I prefer to something fancier.  Where a blender or food processor would work much better than a potato masher, I have referenced this in the tips that follow many of the recipes.

·          When doing a vegetable sauté, I almost never cut my vegetables first on a cutting board and then put them into the pan.  I put the oil on and chop the onion right into the pan.  (The same goes for garlic and I haven't lost any fingers yet, although this is not a method for children to use.)  I add softer vegetables when the onions are translucent by chopping these directly into the pan as well.  If you are not comfortable with this, your cooking time may be a few minutes longer than that indicated, but it shouldn't vary by much.



Obviously, one of the fastest ways to get something that passes for rice on the table is to use a minute-style rice, but for those who prefer the taste and texture of less refined types of rice, there are some other methods to try.  First, you might consider investing in an electric rice cooker.  Rice cooks quickly with no attention required and it keeps warm until you are ready to serve it.  For help cooking specific kinds of rice, consider the following:


Basmati Rice:  This is an excellent rice, but can be a long and tricky job when cooking it stove-top.  Instead, do it in the microwave.  While you are fixing your ten-minute meal stove-top, your basmati is cooking in the same time on the other side of the Atlantic in the microwave.  For 1 cup basmati, add 2 cups water.  Put it in a microwave safe bowl and cover.  I usually just lay a plate on top of the plastic mixing bowl.  Heat it on high for about 9 minutes.  Depending upon the size and material of your container, it should be more or less done at this point.  If it needs a little more time, continue cooking for a minute or two. 


Wild Rice: I have yet to find a real fast way to cook up wild rice.  Whether in the microwave or stove-top, it seems to take an awful long time.  You can use 3 cups water to 1 cup wild rice and cook it using the same method as described for basmati rice above except that the cooking time is between 20 and 25 minutes.  Once you have invested this much time in the cooking, maximize the effort by freezing the results in 1/2 to 1 cup increments in freezer bags.  Then you can use wild rice whenever you want by defrosting it in the microwave.  Add 1/2 to 1 cup wild rice to 2 or 3 cups cooked white rice for a tasty, nutritious side dish.  Seasoned with garlic powder, green onions, and a bit of butter, it's a winner.



Pasta preparation time depends upon the type of pasta you choose to use.  Here are some timesaver ideas for pasta.


Capellini, Angel Hair and Fideos:  If you want to prepare a quick pasta for a main dish or a side dish, one of these thin string pastas is a great choice.  They cook up in about three minutes, once the water is boiling.  These are not good pastas for freezing and reusing later.


Fusilli, Corkscrew, Elbow, Bow Tie, Penne:  These pastas take longer to cook-between 7 and 10 minutes, depending upon the one you choose.  They are, however, sometimes the best choice for the dish you want to make.  If you plan to use them for your quick pasta dish, make sure you start the water as soon you begin preparing the other ingredients.  Then, the pasta will be ready about the same time you have finished with chopping and cooking the vegetables or making your sauce-about 15 minutes, max. 

Another way to make these pastas user-friendly is to cook them ahead of time and freeze them in gallon size plastic bags for reheating later.  To do this, drain the pasta well and rinse with cold water so that it is room temperature.  Freeze it in a plastic pouch-about 2 cups to a pouch. To heat for use, put the bag in the microwave cracked open for air to escape and heat on high for 2 1/2 minutes.  Move it around a bit and heat on high again for 2 1/2 minutes.  It should be ready to serve.  Rinse with hot water and use in your dish.  This method allows you to have thick pasta ready to use in five minutes.  Some cooks may like this method.  Others will prefer cooking pasta fresh when they plan to serve it.



If you want to make potatoes for potato salad or other chopped potato dishes, do not boil the whole potato and then rinse, cool and chop.  This method is very time consuming.  To be as efficient as possible, chop your potatoes (with the skin on-it never hurt anyone) and drop them into the boiling water already at the size you plan to use.  When they are done, rinse them in cold water.  They both cook and cool more quickly this way.  Be careful not to cook to mush unless you want to use them to make mashed potatoes, in which case you may want to peel them first.


Other Useful Tips

As you look through the recipes, you may have some questions about lowfat or other healthy substitutes you can use for listed ingredients.  Consider these ideas:

Feel free to use lowfat sour cream and imitation mayonnaise when sour cream and mayonnaise are called for in a recipe.

When milk is an ingredient, you can use nonfat milk unless otherwise noted.  I have not had lowfat or even 1 percent milk in the house for years and rely on nonfat milk as my cooking ingredient with rare exceptions.

While a recipe may call for a tablespoon of oil in the pan when browning onions and the like, I actually dispense with the oil when I cook at home.  I put the vegetables in a hot pan and keep them moving until they are done.  Then I add my remaining ingredients.  You can use this dry pan method if you like or use a little oil or butter in the pan when you brown vegetables.  Also, I never add any oil to the pan when I brown meat of any kind.  If the pan is too dry, I add a bit of water to keep it from scorching.


Sample Recipes

The following recipes are set up to provide the basics: ingredient listing, directions, and preparation time. Each recipe will serve a family of 4.

The recipe ingredient quantities are identified as follows:

Cup                  c

Tablespoon            T

Teaspoon            t

Pound              lb

Ounce              oz

Package            pkg


Salmon with Paprika Sauce


4 salmon fillets

4 T butter or margarine, melted

2 t Worcestershire sauce

2 T chives, chopped

1/4 t paprika

Directions: Put 1 tablespoon butter in skillet and brown salmon over medium low heat.  Cover and cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Melt remaining butter in microwave and mix with Worcestershire sauce, chives and paprika.  Pour sauce over salmon when you turn it.

Preparation Time:  less than 15 minutes

Side by Side: This dish is great with any number of vegetables from steamed broccoli, asparagus or green beans to sautéed sweet bell pepper and onions.  Serve with white rice. 


Kinda Kheer


3/4 c couscous

3/4 c water

1 c evaporated milk

1/8 c brown sugar, packed (2 T)

1/4 c slivered almonds, toasted

1 t almond flavoring

Directions: Make couscous according to package directions. Or, mix equal parts boiling water and couscous, cover, and let stand for 3 to 5 minutes.  While couscous is cooking, toast almonds in a dry pan for 1 to 2 minutes.  Mix milk, sugar, almond flavoring and almonds.  Fluff couscous with fork and pour milk mixture over it. 

Preparation Time:  5 minutes

This dessert is a variation on Indian rice pudding called kheer.  You can add raisins to it if you like things fruity.  You can also make it with leftover rice.

Leftovers reheated in the microwave serve well for breakfast.

This is a good dessert for grandkids when you don't want to do dessert because it satisfies that sweet tooth but is healthy and has only a little sugar.   

From Better Than Take-Out (& Faster Too) by Pamela Marx. Copyright © 2001 by Pamela Marx. Excerpted by arrangement with Perspective Publishing. $14.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-330-5851 or click here.