Staying safe by socially distancing during these past months means cooking and eating at home more often. In fact, many of us have made more home-cooked meals during the last year than ever before. While home cooking is often healthier and more economical than dining out, it can also be a time-consuming task. There’s no better time than the present to rethink your cooking habits to save time and energy preparing food.
While we’ve missed dining at our favorite restaurants and gathering for large festive meals, many of us have gained new culinary skills, at least partly out of necessity, during the pandemic. However, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, particularly in larger households, can quickly become a daunting chore. Here are tips, tools and techniques that can help streamline meal preparation and cut back on active cooking time.
An Air Fryer is a small, freestanding appliance that “fries” food by circulating very hot air quite forcefully within itself. It helps produce crisp, flavorful food without the oil required in traditional frying. While potatoes may be the top food cooked in the Air Fryer, it can be also used to make chicken, fish and an array of vegetables. Many people enjoy the Air Fryer’s ease of use, speed and the taste of the food prepared.
A multi-functional kitchen appliance, the Instant-Pot can serve as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker and more. It’s known to be used to make everything from yogurt and hard-boiled eggs to soup and stew. As a pressure cooker, it drastically cuts cooking time by raising the boiling point of water and trapping the steam. The Instant-Pot and similar appliances made by other brands, help with cooking larger amounts of food more quickly, and with fewer pots and pans, making it great for meal prep. Take a look at some Instant-Pot recipes and be sure to read the instruction manual closely before getting started.
A griddle is a useful and simple cooking tool. It is a flat cooking surface with an underneath heat source. A griddle can be either non-stick or cast iron. There are three basic types of griddles. The first two can be heated over a burner or built directly into a range. The third type is a piece of electrical equipment, plugged into the wall, which rests on the countertop separate from the stove. Griddles are ideal for cooking foods that need to be flipped, like pancakes. They are also useful for cooking burgers, hot sandwiches and French toast, among other items. An electric griddle is particularly helpful when the goal is to create a cooking station away from the stove.
En Papillote is a French term for the technique of cooking food wrapped in paper. It is a delicate, moist-heat cooking method that allows the ingredients enveloped in parchment paper or even foil to steam while cooking in the oven. This technique works well for fish or chicken sealed in with vegetables, aromatic herbs and spices. The trapped moist air inside the wrapped parcel of ingredients allows for foods to cook relatively quickly and without the need for added fats and oils. Because it’s difficult to gauge doneness with en papillote cooking, it’s beneficial to use a recipe when trying it out.
While the microwave is neither novel nor synonymous with scratch-prepared food, it is a small, practical appliance that can make preparing meals much easier. Microwaves can be used successfully by children and teens who haven’t quite gained the cooking skills or for seniors when manual dexterity or oven safety may be a concern. Microwaves are for more than just TV dinners and popcorn. They can be used to heat health-conscious frozen meals, eggs, soups, leftovers, frozen veggies and frozen pizzas, for example.
You can try these cooking tools and techniques to make cooking at home easier and less time-consuming without sacrificing taste and healthfulness.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at RD@halfacup.com.
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