Feel Like a Quickie?
The last two posts were so big and so motley, I’m going to try to make this one quick and to the point. That is to say that the topic is literally quick meals!
I actually had a lot of fun making this one. I always enjoy getting my hands dirty, but this time I timed myself. I challenged myself. I literally pulled together the ingredients I needed, then timed myself while I prepped and cooked. The goal? Complete these recipes in 15 minutes or less. Two of them took me about 13 ½ minutes, while one of them was just under 9. Talk about quick!How to Cook Quickly
Now, before I get deeper into this topic, I feel I should call Shenanigans on this entire post.
See, cooking a meal isn't really just the cooking part. In order to fully realize a meal, from top to bottom, it requires shopping, putting things away, finding those things, preparing them to be cooked, cooking them, eating them and then doing whatever corresponding dishes, sweeping and mopping that is required. Don't forget to take out the trash!
I define a quick meal as a meal that comes together in 15 minutes or less, from the fridge to my mouth. What happens before I touch the refrigerator and what happens afterwards... does not count. In this case, I had to assemble the ingredients for the photos, though. This way each of you can see the exact, precise state the ingredients were in, when I got started. A reasonable exception, I feel. So, I cheated. Shenanigans!
However, just because I cheated and cooking a meal is never as easy as just "cooking it", there are some steps that can be taken to really make for an efficient and concentrated use of time. While one of these recipes may take me 9 minutes, it may take a new cook 9 hours. By embracing the following, with a little practice... I think we can squeak anyone in into under 15 minutes. I do!
1. Have a plan. Know what you're cooking.
I cannot stress the importance of reading a recipe and mapping out the steps in your mind. If you can picture the entire process, you're far more likely to complete it, quickly. No need to stop and read or to futz around with an accidental omission or recipe cul-de-sac. Being able to visualize and digest the entire process will help eliminate many of the problems that may occur otherwise.
2. Minimize steps.
I remember I used to watch a lot of Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals. Rachel would nonchalantly perform these grand meals in less than 30 minutes. And, you know it's less than 30 minutes because that's how long the show is and it was also captured in real time. Hard to argue with what you just saw!
If there's any one takeaway that you can glean from this, it's this: when Rachel goes to the fridge, she doesn't grab one thing. She grabs EVERYTHING she needs. She casually saunters up to the fridge and piles 15 ingredients into her arms, while holding her pile in place with her chin. This is a key move, and Rachel effortlessly rocks it.
Minimize steps. Literally minimize the number of times you move your feet. Unless you're trying to impress a Fitbit, the fewer steps the better. Not only does it take time for multiple trips back and forth across the kitchen, but it also increases the likelihood of mistakes. Bring a tray to carry things on, if it helps. If you have everything you need right in front of you, chances are you won't forget anything. It's all right there!
Not only is it important to grab all the ingredients you need, while scrounging under the countertop looking for your biggest Teflon sauté pan... grab ALL the equipment you'll need. Stack it within reach of your favorite spot. Grab all the tools you'll need, too!
Oh! Put the trashcan close. I usually park one at my feet. I can just drop things into it, without the need to leave my spot. Thanks, gravity!
Peripheral Aside: I once had a chef that would bark salty things at anyone if he ever found you empty-handed. There's ALWAYS something that needs moved from A to B. If you need to go to the fridge, grab a dirty pot and drop it in the sink on the way!
3. Be organized.
It's good to know what you're cooking. It's good to minimize steps. However, another key nuance is organization. The following may be a bit too deep a look into the professional world, but I can't help but think even a small lesson can be pulled out of the most extreme situations.
I worked for many years in crazy electric restaurants. A group of 5 people would hastily churn out hundreds of fresh expertly cooked meals, in a myriad of tiny rolling 7-minute windows. Every 7 minutes, a new batch of hot perfectly-timed plates would find their way to our guests. We were cooking fancy, famous and elaborate meals, in minutes... while dancing.
A good cook is clean, organized, precise and methodical. A good cook has everything they need to get through the night, right in front of them. The salt and pepper always... ALWAYS... goes in the same spot. The cooking oil lives in a wine bottle in a holster hanging off the stove. The bottle is never... EVER... anywhere other than in the cook's hand, or in that holster. Ever.
It's not enough to know where your tools and ingredients always are. Their initial placement is also important. Popular, heavy or important ingredients are always closer than those that aren't. QWERTY dictates that it's important to organize ergonomically. If you're a pizza chef, it makes sense to put the cheese close and the anchovies JUST out of reach, much like the spacebar is big and easy to find, the Q is way off in left-field. Once is used often. The other? Not-so-much.
The really magical part of all of this is... in the heat of the moment, in the thick of battle, deeply buried beneath the weeds at 8:15 pm on a Saturday night in West Loop's famed Hibbity Dibbity... A good chef, dialed in, no longer even thinks about what they're doing. They've thought through their night and process so thoroughly and organized their space so efficiently that they no longer even need to focus on each step or mull over the night's many insta-choices. It's all been thought through. There's nothing left to do, but to simply go through the motions. Then, kicks in the repetition. Perform in this controlled chaos enough times, the mind is left free to wander, while the body operates on almost pure muscle memory and Red Bull.
Floating. Dancing. On particularly prickly evenings... there's even a chorus as everyone clicks and harmonizes together.
The point to all of this is, if everything is close and you're keenly aware of it all, its location and its state, it'll increase the chances that you'll perform that meal more swiftly and deliberately.
Mise en Place.
4. Big Projects First. Prioritize.
For quick cooking, this is less of a factor, but... as a strong general rule, get the big things going. Save the little stuff for last. If you need to boil something, get the water on first. It can heat while you move on to other things. If you need to make a sauce and reduce some cream, get that reducing first. Get the big things going. Otherwise, you'll find yourself with all this wonderful food... all set and ready to go, but... who forgot to put the turkey in the oven?!?
Peripheral Aside: Pre-heat ovens and pans, as well.
5. Clean as you go.
Keeping things clean can go great lengths towards an expedient meal. If you don't keep things clean, clutter and mess can quickly accumulate, crowding the work space and obfuscating the process. This will slow things down and create chaos, whilst frantically peering under the dirty piles for the bacon bits you'd just been snacking on.
Peripheral Aside: I had another chef who would always say, "Always improve everything." His feeling was that anyone should always improve their surroundings, even if it's just a little bit, all the time, everywhere. If you have some dirty dishes, put them in the sink. While there... wash one. Or, stack them in an organized fashion. Or, get them soaking. Or, put away the dried ones. The point is, if you're anywhere, take an extra 5 seconds to polish something. Now, imagine the cumulative result of all those brief improvements, all over the place, everywhere. Utopia. Nice, right?!
Ok, that's about all the wisdom that I've got to impart this week!
However, I DID want to suggest that I have a specific section on my website specifically devoted to quick recipes. Take a look. LOTS of recipes!
Hey, while I'm thinking about it ... all this talk of quick meals and quickies, got me to thinking about my new book on QUICK-breads! here's a little story about how it all came together ...Faking
I remember back when I first lost my weight, I started with a kind of odd mostly raw, borderline vegan approach to eating. It was kind of a "gorilla diet"... lots of leaves and just enough protein to equal the protein stemming from the bugs found in those leaves. While this is a WILD oversimplification of that dietary approach, it is where I started. And, it worked! I dropped 27 lbs. in just that first month!
However, I spent most days experiencing a soul sucking anguish jiggling up from my shrieking shrinking belly. I knew how to cook, though. The food I was making was undeniably tasty, but it wasn't nourishing my soul. I endlessly felt wanting. The crave was strong, my friends!
At the time, I knew I was diabetic (turns out I wasn't, but I knew I was). I was afraid to get it confirmed by a doctor, but I had all the symptoms (and then some). My hope had been to cure my diabetes through diet. I turned my attention to stabilizing blood sugars. This is where I discovered LowCarbFriends.com; an amazing and supportive forum filled with people sharing stories of hope, queries for help, recipes and more. It is here that I really started to learn about blood sugar management.
This is also when I discovered Frankenfood.
Frankenfood is food that has been manipulated or isolated from another source, then blended with other Frankenfoods... yielding Frankenfood.
Frankenfood typically looks and behaves very much like the real thing! Rather than Bisquik, there's Carbquik. Rather than Flour, there's Carbalose. Rather than Pasta, there's Dreamfields.
While I loved these foods and found them to be wonderful alternatives to the carby goodness I'd grown so large with, I eventually found that they stalled me. Not only did they stall me, but they caused me cravings. I yearned for more!
This forced me into new territory: nut and seed flours. Just like the cave people!
I began baking with things like almond flour and psyllium husks. Pancake Frisbees! I'd use coconut flour to disastrous effect! My point? There were a lot of failures. I WANTED to make cinnamon rolls with coconut flour, but continued making spiced crumbly lump clods. I stopped, dejected.
I'd given up on baking and crunchy snack, leaving a big hole in my world. I loved the full meals I was developing and continued to lose weight, but... my hollow leg barked at me. There was never a cherry on top. Around this time, I started making ice cream... regularly (and still do!).
150 lbs. and 2 years later, I started a blog about weight loss through low-carb recipes. I was forced back into the laboratory with a bag of off-white coconut flour, hazelnut flour and chia seeds. I felt lost. I didn't know what these ingredients were, nor did I know how to use them. I HAD to master them, though! I needed to. So, I played. I tinkered. I baked... then I faked!
My new book, The Fakery, is the book I wished I'd had when I first started this way of eating. It covers a range of ingredients and methods, thoroughly setting straight all the befuddlement I experienced when I started. I'm incredibly proud of it and believe it to be a fun read. Clearly I'm biased, though!
I get several emails and comments a day from people with their stories of success using my website and books. They're usually fairly short, but highly complementary. Every once in a while, though... I get one that hits all the right notes.
Please allow me this indulgence. It's VERY kind, but I also think it showcases the time and effort I put into the books. I genuinely believe them to be something special...
Your Fakery Cookbook is everything I wanted it to be and more. I knew from your first cookbook that you never do anything halfway. People who just want to make a quick OMM can find the recipes, but for those of us who like the "whys" and "hows" of how things work and ways we can mix it up will find everything we might want to know laid out in a logical, easy to follow, form.
There are many, many low carb cookbooks out there these days. I wish there was a way to let people know that both of your cookbooks are head and shoulders above all the rest. Your books need a different category to truly express all they entail. It will be years before I work my way through all the recipes, but I have no doubt that every recipe will work, just like it should. So many of your recipes are my go-to recipes. (This is something I can't say about many of the other books out there--sometimes I can just read a recipe and know that it's not gonna work or be tasty. Other times I don't figure it out until I make it and try to eat it.)
Your new book is really, really good. You did an outstanding job and I hope you feel really proud of what you have accomplished.
So, any chance your frozen desserts cookbook is next? I know I've asked before, just reminding you. Okay, maybe not a full book, but could you work on these three: Frozen Custard, Death by Chocolate Ice Cream and some sort of Berry Gelato? (I can already envision the three sharing the same bowl...lol)
Also, I was wondering what you think about the newer sweetener I am starting to see--Allulose. The press sounds promising, but it always does. I figured if anyone knew the downsides, it would be you.
Again, your cookbook is GREAT!!! I wish I had better command of the language to really convey just how good I think it is.
Thank you, Sharon!! I really appreciate it!
Frozen Desserts? I'd LOVE to write a book on that, but my fear is that it's the kind of thing that requires special equipment and the potential for some wonky ingredients. I make the dickins out of frozen desserts and really feel they've helped keep me honest, but... I just worry that people won't make the treats. Eat the treats?! Definitely. Make them, though? I don't know if people are THAT committed to ice cream.
If y'all want a book on frozen desserts, let me know. I'm FULL of info on that topic! Sharon, I'm going to make a Brown Butter-Maple Ice Cream (tastes like a pancake!) in my upcoming Thanksgiving post. That's a step in the right direction!
Allulose looks promising! I need to re-visit the whole sweeteners subject, but this one definitely looks interesting. It's roughly the same sweetness as erythritol, which suggests it's good in blends. It's purported to have a glycemic index of zero, like erythritol. The taste is supposed to be better, though... closer to the taste of sugar and has no cooling effect. It caramelizes and freezes well, both benefits over erythritol. It looks very promising, but when you read anecdotes from people, it seems to cause gastric distress and blood sugar issues in some people. It's also expensive.
Without the benefit of time and something of a "group consensus"... it's really hard to know. I'd LOVE to hear from diabetics who test their blood.
Anywhoo... I haven't gotten around to playing with it, yet. It's on my list for my next round of sweetener reviews, though. Sukrin is another one I'm asked about quite a little bit...
So... yeah. THANK YOU!!! And, on to the quickies!
Sage Fried Pork Milanese with Artichoke Arugula Salad
Here’s a really fun one! It’s a big tender pounded out chunk of pork, breaded and fried. The idea is to have such a substantially wide pork cutlet that it covers the entire bottom of the plate. This is then topped with a glorious and flavor filled salad! This is ... More >
Stir-Fried Shrimp with Olive-Pepper Cream and Almond Polenta
In the South East United States, there’s a famous dish known as Shrimp n’ Grits. It’s a corn based dish and not really something I find myself eating, any longer. However, it was largely the inspiration behind this more ... More >
Ground Beef Steak with Portobello, Asparagus and a Caper-Balsamic Cream Sauce
During this time, I formed the steak, peeled the mushroom, cooked everything, made the sauce and served it. There’s a bit going on and I was definitely racing, but the end result is attractive, varied and VERY tasty! Give it ... More >
......... Aaaaaaand Next Week!
An Easy Guide to Grain-Free Quick Breads
Taking Out the Carbage
AKA The Big Book of Bacon