When I was a full-time manager in a private doctor's office, people asked me how in the world I had time to cook. Now with a 3-month-old baby girl and still working part-time, I ask myself how in the world I have time to cook. I used to tell people "Well, you just have to have your priorities straight." I used to think something had to get left behind in order to produce a decent meal. These days, I'm learning that's the wrong opinion. As a mostly stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), I'm learning every activity of every day is a choice. Because there's always something to do, there's always something that doesn't get done. I began looking for ways to cook on a time-budget because I don't want to spend my life in the kitchen (no matter how much I enjoy it) and miss out on the quiet times with my daughter.
Here's my new opinion: Good, fast cooking is not about convenience foods. It's about convenience appliances. Below is a list of kitchen accessories I consider vital for convenience cooking in my house.
- Cuisinart Mini Food Processor My food processor doesn't even go under the counter anymore. It makes chopping ANYTHING easy! The Splendid Table taught me that you can maximize the flavor of your ingredients by chopping them together. (Try pistachios, cranberries and chives for couscous or basil, tomato, and garlic for spaghetti.)The food processor cuts the time for prep significantly when you need to chop large whole veggies like carrots, onions, and bell pepper. Not to mention, clean up is a cinch with the small, top drawer dishwasher safe bowl and blade. I even use the food processor for making salad dressings, and fruit sorbets.
- Upscale Cheese Grater A good, large, solid cheese grater is very easy to clean and can be used for shredding cheese, slicing potatoes or zesting fruit. (And burn calories at the same time!) One item with so many uses saves me time by taking up only one space in the dishwasher. Not to mention, the more items you have, the harder it is to find places to store them. And yes, I know it would be even more speedy to buy pre-shredded cheese, but you can't always find shredded asiago, pecorino, or fresh parm at the store. I also think my system is faster and less wasteful than electric or hand-graters.
- One High Side Skillet The high sides keep you from spilling things on the stove, which will save you cleaning time. It also becomes widely useful for simple sauces, stir-fries, etc. Mine might as well live on the top of the stove. The down side, it's so big the skillet nor the lid fit in my dishwasher. Perhaps not a true convenience, but I know it's a lot easier to clean the pot than to clean the stove.
- Silicone Baking Mat The unadvertised use for the baking mat is to actually use it as a pastry sheet for kneading dough or rolling out the dough in preparation for cookie cutters. A silicone cookie sheet actually covers a baking tray making clean-up a breeze. It also keeps foods from sticking to the tray which keeps them from breaking when being removed. It cleans up so quickly and fits in a jelly roll pan or on a cookie sheet. I use the baking mat for cookies, biscuits, puff pastries, and more. I wish there were mini ones that fit into muffin tins, too. It would be so much more environmentally friendly than paper liners and much healthier than greasing.
- Slow Cooker I'm still looking for more ways to use my slow cooker (please feel free to give recommendations). I think the appliance is under used in general, but I find it rather difficult to find healthy vegetarian dishes to make in it. It can save considerable time in making homemade spaghetti sauce and cooking dried beans. For example, it took six hours to make one batch of beans, but the beans could easily make a week's worth of meals: Rice bowls, haystacks/taco salads, chili baked potatoes, enchilladas, soup. . .get the picture? In this case, one big cooking activity makes subsequent meals a breeze.
- Oven Just last night, I made roasted cauliflower on the bottom rack with a narrow loaf of bread wrapped in foil beside it and roasted corn went on the top rack. Combined with a salad, I had a great meal with little to clean but our eating dishes. After our guests left, Paul thanked me for the "fancy" meal. He had no idea how 10 minutes of prep work and a half hour of playing with our daughter while it cooked made a filling meal with little effort on my part. Yes, a microwave can give you speed. But sometimes it's limited in it's uses, and you generally have to watch what you're cooking. The oven can be a much bigger convenience.
The one item I don't have is a toaster oven. I really feel like my kitchen would be much more complete with one (but then my counter might not appreciate it). It warms up faster than a big oven for cooking smaller amounts of food. And at least four nights a week, it's just Paul and I. Also, I find I waste lots of time when things fall through our horizontal toaster, and I have to dig them out.
I have two Aldi brand silicone baking mats to give away to two winners. To be entered to win, post a comment below with your kitchen convenience item. The winners will be selected randomly. For an extra chance to win, Tweet a link to this giveaway with the hash tag #EatlikeaRabbit. The giveaway will end on Friday, May 21 at 8 pm. The winners will be notified by email. (Sorry, the giveaway is only offered to residents of the United States.)