10 Time & Money Saving Strategies for the Cook

Time Saving Strategies

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Wash your leafy greens as soon as you get them. Freshly picked greens like spinach or lettuce can be downright muddy. Wash them in a basin full of cool water. Keep the batches small enough for the greens to move freely. Drain off the dirty water and repeat until the water is clear. Remove the greens to a towel and toss them to remove most of the water. If you don't have the space for this you can place the greens and towel in a grocery bag.


Shake the bag to toss the greens so the water from the leaves is absorbed by the towel.  Store the freshly washed greens in a plastic bag with a paper towel.  The paper towel absorbs residual moisture so the greens do not get slimy and also keeps the right amount of moisture in the bag to discourage wilting.  The same process is useful for herbs.  Small bunches of washed herbs can be stored in a vase to be used as needed while also providing a decorative touch.

Think Big
Whether you make one loaf of bread or ten the mess is the same.  Make the most of the mess (and clean up) by multiplying recipes then freezing the extra for your own convenience foods;  if I pull a pizza out of the freezer for dinner it is my own.  Whenever I am making pizza (or bread or chicken thighs, whatever) I make extras and then freeze the excess in vacuum sealed bags. Just like everyone, I have days when there is just no time to think about cooking but I can still have homemade goodness that is heat and serve.  Home canned soups are also a nice convenience and far more flavorful than those that are commercially produced.

Streamline

Rolling individual meatballs can be time consuming.  A more time-effective process (making and clean up) is to line your work surface with plastic wrap.  Place your seasoned meatball mixture on the plastic and cover with a second layer or plastic wrap.  Use a rolling pin to roll the meat into an even slab so the thickness is consistent with the diameter of the finished meatballs.  Use a pizza wheel to cut the slab into cubes then roll each cube in your hands to round the corners.  This results in rapidly produced meatballs of consistent size.  These can be baked on a sheet pan and frozen so they are ready-to-use.  Clean up is a breeze.  Pull up the plastic and discard. Then wash the work surface. 

Simplify Clean Up

Parchment paper is your friend.  You can use it to protect your work surface, transfer goods to the oven or line pans.  More often than not I line my pans with parchment paper.  It makes cleaning up quick and easy because no food is stuck to the pan.  I know this process is common among bakers as it can eliminate sticking for baked goods but I use it for roasting everything from chicken to meatballs to bacon.  Discard the paper and a quick wash is all your pan will need. 

Money Saving Strategies


Dry Canning

This could be more accurately described as using your oven for vacuum sealing.  This is not to be confused with oven canning, which employs antiquated methods of questionable safety that use the oven to can produce and such.  The practice to which I refer is used to extend the shelf life of dry goods like beans, flour, rice and grains, etc., that might be prone to inviting pests to your pantry.  It allows you to buy these items in bulk and safely vacuum seal them in smaller quantities in canning jars.  To do this, fill the jars with the dry goods and place (open jars) in your oven that has been preheated to 200 degrees.  Allow them to remain in the oven for an hour.  Remove the jars (use hot pads), wipe the rims and apply the canning lids.  As they cool a vacuum is created and the lids will seal just like they do when canning other goods.  In addition to grains and flour I will be adding herbs to my dry canning list.  I always have excess herbs on hand and hate to overload the spice cabinet with duplicates.

Always Say Yes

When friends and relatives ask if you want to share in their abundance always say yes.  If you are selective in what you take then you may receive offers less frequently as the easiest path is always the one of least resistance.  For example, when my brother processes his meat chickens he calls to ask if I want the backs, necks, etc.  He hates to see them go to waste but, after processing chickens all day, he doesn't want to deal with these less desirable items.  I on the other hand am happy to receive them.  We cannot possibly consume the volume of chicken necessary to create all of the broth I like to use. So I take the "chicken butts" and pressure can quite a few jars of broth from these freebies.  I take the same approach when offered fresh produce--no matter what it is.  I find a way to preserve all  for later use.

Buy in Season

It is as simple as supply and demand; when the supply exceeds the demand prices are lower.  Visit your area orchard or produce stand and look for "canning" fruits or vegetables.  Often these are not flawlessly beautiful but, when you are processing them anyway it doesn't matter.  They are typically fully ripened, which translates to more flavorful and are considerably cheaper than their perfect counterparts in quart boxes.

Buy in Bulk

Everything from dry goods to baking parchment can be purchased in quantity to reduce the per unit cost.  Using the parchment rolls sold at supermarkets are not cost effective.  I find the commercial half-sheet pan liners to be a convenient size and worth the investment. 


Invest in quality Equipment
I can't begin to list the number of home kitchen appliances that I have destroyed.  It seems that they are meant to sit on the counter and look pretty but not intended for real use.  While I make do with what is available, I research and  save my pennies to buy my dream gadget(s).  Buying equipment that is functional and meant to produce quantity like a rotary slicer can save both time and money over a shiny home version with all of the bells and whistles.   On the other hand, quality does not always have to equate with expensive.  Antique items are often built from sturdier materials than the finest contemporary counterpart.  I have several antique hand-me-downs  and flea market finds that I treasure and would choose over a new replacement without hesitation.  Savings can also be realized in food that has not been spoiled by using a makeshift method rather than proper tools, for example, using a salt-water-filled bag (which can burst) and plate as a weight when making sauerkraut rather than a fermenting crock. That being said, we all must work with what is available at the time. My personal practice is to use what I have, borrow if necessary and set a goal to acquire the desired equipment in time.  Oh, and I gladly accept kitchenwares (over jewelry and other finery) as gifts!

Think Fat

Most meats that you cook will render some fat.  Pork fat (aka lard) beef fat, chicken fat, duck fat and bacon fat all have a home in my fridge.  Not only do I never buy a can of shortening these fats add tremendous flavor whenever they are used.  This leaves the only fats that I need to purchase as olive oil and butter.  I suppose I could make my butter but it hardly seems worth the trouble and it is doubtful I would save money doing so.  On the other hand, I'm not opposed to whipping up some butter for a special occassion.


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