Category Archives: Time Saving Tips

One recipe, 4+ different meals

I like to cook, but sometimes I am not in the mood to cook, do not feel inspired, and just want to get meal preparation done quickly. Something that saves me a significant amount of time is to prep ingredients common to several foods we like all at the same time, then pull out of the freezer as needed. An example makes it clearer.

We like soft tacos or burritos, chile, spaghetti and stuffed eggplant. All of those dishes can start with a ground meat, onion, green or hot pepper, and tomato mixture. So, to save time in a large skillet, spray with Pam or drizzle a small amount of oil and saute:

  • 2 lbs. ground beef (we use organic, grassfed, preferably local which will wind up being very low fat ~ 93% lean)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1-2 medium green bell peppers, diced or 1 green bell pepper and 1 jalapeno
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions and meat together, until onions wilt and meat loses its redness and is cooked. Break up large pieces of meat. Stir in the peppers and cook for a few minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer a few minutes and add a little water if needed to keep the dish from becoming too dry.

Now you are ready to divide into about four containers. Freeze three of them and save out the one you are using today.

To make chile, just add chili powder, beans, cumin, more heat if needed.

To make spaghetti sauce, stir in tomato sauce, pureed tomatoes or tomato paste and water, along with crushed garlic and oregano.

For burritos, add some chili powder and cumin, wrap in a soft tortilla with cheese, salsa, light sour cream, etc.

For stuffed eggplant, basically you make a lengthwise slit in the center of Japanese eggplant and then lightly saute the eggplants in a small amount of vegetable oil until softened. Remove from pan and let cool enough to handle. Gently open up the eggplant using the slit and stuff the opening with the filling mixture to which you may have added chopped parsley. Set all the eggplants in an oven safe glass dish and pour some tomato juice over everything. Cover with foil and bake at 350 F. for about 35 minutes. A more detailed recipe can be found in Turkish Family Favorites.

The possibilites are numerous but in each case if you have the meat mixture ready to go, you are significantly reducing your prep time.


One Pan Dinner: Salmon and roasted veggies

This could not be any easier. Not only do you just dirty one pan in the entire dinner, but the prep entails just one bowl. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1/2 small bag baby potatoes or 2 c. butternut squash or sweet potato chunks
  • 1 large broccoli crown
  • 3 T. olive oil, mixed use
  • kosher salt, to taste OR garlic salt
  • soy sauce, to taste
  • sriracha sauce, to taste
  • 1 T. hoisin sauce or ketchup or 1/2 T. balsamic vinegar and 1/2 T. honey

If you plan to cook immediately after prepping the food, go ahead and preheat your oven to 375 F. If you are prepping ahead of time and want to let the fish marinate a bit, wait to preheat your oven.

Next prep the potatoes. Pour two T. olive oil into a largish prep bowl. Rinse the potatoes, butternut squash, or sweet potato chunks you plan to use. Rinse off the broccoli and cut into largish bite-sized chunks and drop into the oil. Cut the potatoes in half and drop into the olive oil. If using butternut squash or sweet potatoes just drop into the olive oil, stir around to make sure all the pieces are covered and then spread on a large rimmed sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt or garlic salt. Next, add soy sauce, sriracha, and hoisin to olive oil in the bowl and add one more T. of oil. Mix all together. Take the salmon fillets and place them into the bowl, skin side facing up, directly into the sauce so that they absorb the seasonings into the flesh. You can leave them to marinate 30-45 minutes. Or, cook immediately.

When ready to bake, first place the sheet pan into the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. When the veggies have roasted for fifteen minutes, remove sheet pan from oven briefly and set on top of stove. Carefully remove the salmon from the marinade and place skin side down on the hot sheet pan (with the partially roasted vegetables) . Drizzle whatever remains of the marinade on top of the fillets. Return pan to oven and roast for another 20-25 minutes, or until vegetables and salmon fillets are done. You may need to adjust the cooking times based on the size of your potato/butternut squash chunks and the thickness of the salmon fillet. For 1-1 1/2 inch potato chunks and average sized salmon fillets, the times given are about right. Voila! Dinner is ready and there are very few dishes to wash! Enjoy.

Asian Style Chicken and Lettuce Wraps

There are many many recipes for Asian style chicken and lettuce wraps. My inspiration for this came from an article in the Winston Salem Journal recently.

Wraps are among the most versatile of food forms. They are often easy to put together and the filling possibilities are endless. One of the things I like most about something like this is that one does not have to be a slave to the recipe. There’s lots of room for creativity. These wraps are also frugal because you can use what is on hand and substitute ingredients according to your own preferences and what you may need to finish.

I have an aversion to running to the store for one or two ingredients. It’s preferable to try to be creative and find a substitute for the missing ingredients. Sometimes, that is not possible, the recipe would be ruined. But, in other cases, it is just fine. For this recipe, I was missing a couple of items, so I found some creative solutions. The food was delicious, and that is what we value the most.

In a small amount of oil, I sauteed the chicken until it was done. Then I added chopped scallions, diced water chestnuts, dried basil, juice of one lime, the grated rind of one lime; 2-3 T. of black bean sauce (instead of fish sauce called for in the recipe since I’m allergic to shellfish and wasn’t completely sure I could eat fish sauce safely;) soy sauce to taste and probably 1 T. of crushed red peppers. I also stirred in one large spoonful of crunchy peanut butter, as I didn’t have the peanuts on hand called for by the recipe. I also added a little bit of blush wine. I’m not really a fan of blush wine, but we had a bottle open and it seemed a good way to add a hint of sweetness and a touch of wine flavor. You could add chopped celery, cilantro, garlic. It would all be good. I just stirred in the seasonings and cooked until it was done. I served it with cooked brown rice and lettuce leaves. Delish!!!

I will say that you pretty much need to have bibb or buttercrunch lettuce on hand if you are going to wrap the chicken mix in the lettuce. Of course, it was really quite good just along side the rice. For what we had leftover, I reheated the chicken mixture and the rice and made a salad with the rest of my romaine and some other salad veggies which is what I had on hand when I made the dish. Not exactly the same effect, but it was good, quick, and tasty.

A different kind of present

During the holidays, it is easy to get very caught up in buying, buying, buying and going overboard with things. Buying things for the house, buying presents, buying special food. There are people who already have quite a bit of “stuff” and do not need more. My sister fits in that category and I did not want to contribute to her simplifying process by buying her more stuff. I’ve also noticed that many times she winds up getting take-out food at the end of the day because she is tired from carting my brother in law around or doing other errands. (He doesn’t drive much anymore).

I am trying to simplify my life in many ways and wanted to incorporate that into my holidays this past season. So, I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what to do for them for the holidays. Finally, I decided to promise to bring them a dinner every month for twelve months. (A dinner that I would cook).

It has worked out very nicely. They were pleased and it works for me. I try to make something that can be frozen or refrigerated so that it can be saved for another day if they have other plans. It doesn’t have to be fancy. The first time I made spaghetti casserole. Today I made lentil soup and homemade bread. Next month I may do borek or a Turkish stew.

It is handy because I just make  more of what I am making for us. I may adjust the seasonings a little, but essentially it is the same. And pop it into a dish that will travel and we are good to go. They have been pleased and it has been fun to do this. Obviously, this will only work if the person to whom you want to gift this lives within easy driving distance.




Saving Time: Use Dried Beans

People who know me well know that I am frugal. That comes from a long history of trying to use what I have and make the best use of my available resources. I really like dried beans because they don’t take up refrigerator space, they cook up so nicely, and they do not come in cans that then take up recycling space and energy, and they are much less expensive than canned beans. Many people make the argument that using dried beans takes too much time, but I do not think that is accurate. All one has to do is soak the dried beans the night before they will be cooked. In the morning they can go into a slow cooker if no one will be home or they can go into a pan and simmer for a couple of hours. It is good to add some seasoning and salt at the end of the cooking period. But hands-on time is minimal. I am positive this saves time in the long run. It takes time and energy to go to the store, buy cans of beans, drive home, rinse them off, etc. etc. etc.  Contrast buying a large bag of dried beans which will provide the equivalent of dozens of cans of beans in much less space. The quality of the cooked dried beans is usually higher and one knows what is in the cooking water.

Keeping dried beans on hand is just a smart thing to do. It is consistent with being self-sufficient in the sense that having readily prepared foods that are easily stored is a great way to be less vulnerable when storms make travel difficult. Saving money and time are smart.

People who are interested in self-sufficiency might be interested in following Rachel Falco’s blog How To Provide (


Saving time in the Kitchen: Chopping Onions

This is such a simple idea and I thought I had written about it before, but I must have just thought about it. I do not usually mind prepping vegetables for cooking, except for onions. I do not really like getting onion all over my hands, which happens even if one uses the processor, as you have to peel it. Depending on the onion, the smell can be rather strong….and before you know it, tears are streaming down my face from the acrid onion smell. So, as much as I dislike using onion flakes in place of fresh onion, sometimes I cave in and do just that. But, in the fall at Costco, there were giant bags of giant yellow onions. I bought a big bag. Since the onions themselves were huge, I could not use a whole onion in most of the recipes I make. I tried saving half in a plastic bag in the vegetable bin in the fridge, but sometimes those get lost and become science experiments. So, finally, I had the idea to chop the whole onion up, save the unused part in a glass or plastic covered container, and use as needed. Most of the time, within a week or less, I had used the whole thing. Saved me so much time and aggravation. I am wondering why it took me so long to stumble across this idea. It works so much better for me and also means that I usually have enough onion for any given recipe. The chopped onions keep well for a week, my fridge does not stink, and neither do my hands, except for the first time I chop the onion and then I use lemon to clean them of the smell..