Monday, October 20, 2008

Cooking when you have no time to cook

After working from home for a while (and previous to that, a 8-5 cushy job), I recently started working with my husband at a new job. And working about 50-60 hours a week. Between that and hiking, there isn't much time left for cooking. In the past we've always been able to work out cooking dinner. We'd make a menu and then if one of us was running late, the other would start dinner. Now when one of us is running late, we are both running late and dinner doesn't happen. The first couple of weeks I worked with him, we found that we were suddenly eating like crap. Lots of chinese takeout and burritos. We decided that we had to do something different. So we started cooking almost all of our week's food over the weekend (still hard with the amount of hiking and biking we were doing in the summer). It is kind of a painful process but for the rest of the week, we are very happy we did it. I thought that I would share a few tips for busy cooks. Even if you don't cook everything in a couple of nights like we have been trying to do, these are still useful prep tricks for middle of the week cooking.

Your food processor is your friend. Use it to shred cabbage, slice carrots, celery, zucchini, etc. Get the food processor dirty once and slice up as much as you can. Place vegetables in tupperware or plastic bags. Some vegetables like zucchini do better if you wrap them in a damp paper towel.

Chop up as much as you can ahead of time. You can cut up all your stir fry vegetables and then you are ready to cook when you get home with almost no prep. I chop almost all vegetables ahead of time, except potatoes. Potatoes sometimes turn brown so I wait and do them as needed.

In a mini chopper (or food processor) place a head's worth of garlic cloves in and mince. Put the garlic in a small tupperware container with a little olive oil. Store it in the fridge. It keeps for a stunningly long time. You can also do this with ginger.

Make a big pot of rice and put it in the fridge for the week. Rice takes a long time to cook. This also makes stir-fry an easy weeknight dinner.

If you do want to try to cook everything ahead of time, plan for a few nights worth of food plus a couple night of leftovers. Make big pots of stews and soups. Casseroles are also good for make ahead food. Pasta and sauce also hold up well. You can make pasta, drain it, toss it with a little olive oil and throw it into a ziploc bag in the fridge. I also make side dishes such as sauteed corn or greens or roasted beets and put them in the fridge for eating later in the week. When I get done cooking for the week, my fridge is full of food and my vegetable bin is almost empty. It is an oddly satisfying feeling.

When ski season hits and we are snowboarding all weekend, we won't have as much time to make everything ahead of time so we will try to change tactics a bit... and we won't be overrun with CSA vegetables after December s we will have more control over how much we need to cook. At that point, I expect there will be more spaghetti and "meatballs", burritos, tacos, and pizza in our house on weeknights. I'll still try to get at least one big pot of soup or stew cooked on the weekend so we don't starve. And, I am definitely going to keep prepping all the vegetables over the weekend.


  1. Inspiring post! I really need to do a better job of planning meals for the week. I especially need to cook big batches of rice and freeze them. That is always the one menu item that keeps us waiting and waiting during the week!

  2. That's a good idea. I never though about freezing the rice. I should do that with any leftovers and then I'd almost always have some.

  3. I agree with Jennnifer that this is an inspiring post! Thanks for all the great suggestions.

  4. This is great advice! Can you store the garlic in the fridge without the olive oil?

  5. Maybe you could add some water to keep it from getting dried out, but I haven't tried that.

  6. Good call all around. The nice thing about a big pot of rice and ready chopped veggies for me is the very real possibility of fried rice whenever I want it.