Saturday, August 29, 2020

Food Prep 101

School has started all over the country, at this point, and we are busier than ever.  Whether the kids are attending in-person classes, or you're still homeschooling your little ones, we're juggling more things now than ever before.

You may still be working from home, but you're trying to fulfill everyone's needs and demands ... from your job to your spouse and kids ... simultaneously.  Far from having more time because we're staying at home more, our attention is more divided and in demand than ever.

The longer days of summer are over, and the year-end rush has begun.  Now more than ever, we need some help pulling dinner together while we're busy trying to wrap up our work and help the kids real-time with their lessons and homework.

Any shortcuts we can make in the kitchen will have the biggest payoffs in the weeks and months to come.

Grocery stores sell pre-chopped onions, cut fruit and vegetables, and all kinds of convenience items in the produce aisle.  This is definitely the time to take advantage of those.  But beware ... when the grocery store does the work for you, be prepared to pay extra (sometimes a lot extra) for those services.

If you have the time to stalk the grocery store aisles, you can wait to see if those convenience items get marked down.  But let's be real ... you don't have time for that.  It can be tempting to purchase these ready-to-go items and skip all the prep work of cooking.  When you think about all the clean-up of the food processor, mandolins, blenders, etc., or if you're just not that confident in your knife skills, the higher prices may seem well worth the cost.

But there are other options.

First of all, you can check out the frozen food section of your favorite supermarket, instead.  The veggie section often (but not always, at least mine doesn't) have chopped onions and pepper frozen mixes ready for you, often at lower prices.  Check also the bags of soup mix vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces.  Besides soup, you can saute these mixed vegetables in butter and garlic, roast in the oven drizzled with olive oil, serve as a side dish with meat and mashed potatoes, toss into a quiche or pot pie assembly, or add to any meat-and-sauce recipe you serve over rice or noodles.

But I find I can't always rely on those bags being there for me, so I buy one or two when I see them, but I often rely on my own food prep for quick and easy meals throughout the week.

I've briefly mentioned a few of these tips before, but it's good to go into them in more depth.

Instead of chopping just enough onion for what I need at the moment, I can chop up one, two or three onions at the same time (or throw them into the food processor), use what I need, and freeze the rest.  That way, I don't have to wash the food processor three different times ... wash it once and done for multiple uses.

If I anticipate using the rest of the chopped onion within the week, my storage container can stay in the refrigerator.  Otherwise, it's off the to freezer they go.


I do the same with peppers and other vegetables that I use often.  I keep a storage container or freezer bag each of chopped green, red, and yellow peppers, and another with poblano peppers.  You can do this for any peppers you enjoy, and I buy a number of peppers at a time, knowing that I'm going to chop them all the same night and keep them in the freezer, ready for my use.

I keep chopped celery for cooking (freezing does make them lose their crunch, so frozen is not good for salads).  When I have an abundance of tomatoes from the garden, I chop them up and freeze them, as well.  It is so satisfying to be able to throw fresh-frozen chopped produce from my garden into my soups, stews, and tomato sauces ... and it's absolutely delicious!

Any vegetables that I have an overabundance of or is getting over-ripe, I prep and throw into the freezer.  From avocado to sliced carrots, they can pretty much all go into the freezer to await its destined meal.

I also keep all the abundant herbs we grow in my freezer, as well.  I usually chop or mince them, and sometimes coat them with olive oil to protect the delicate leaves.  Again, the next best thing to fresh is fresh-frozen right out of my freezer when I need them.

Another thing I do is keep a small baby-food-sized jar of minced garlic and olive oil in the butter compartment of my refrigerator.  I will often chop up extra garlic (sometimes the entire bulb) and put it in the jar to stock up.

I can't tell you how convenient that single practice is!  I use it for almost everything!  

  • If I'm going to roast vegetables, I will take a spoonful of my garlic-and-olive oil, and massage it on my cut vegetables to coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and pop into the oven.
  • If I'm going to brown ground beef or sear a steak, I will take a tablespoon or two of the garlic-and-olive-oil, and throw it into the pan to heat before adding the meat.
  • I heat another tablespoon of it to saute onions and peppers for another dish, sliced mushrooms, or any other vegetables I'm cooking.
  • I can take a tablespoon to make garlic mashed potatoes.  I can spread spoonfuls of it on bread for fantastic garlic toast.
  • I can stir a tablespoon or two into any dressing or marinade I'm going to make.
  • I can use a tablespoon or two in homemade pesto, or simply toss hot pasta with it.
  • I can let the jar come to room temperature and just use the garlic-infused oil at the top of the jar to dress a salad, for dipping bread, or drizzle over any dish to add flavor.

I use this jar of garlic-and-olive-oil almost every single day, on almost every single thing I make.  It is one of the most useful timesavers in my kitchen.

I will also take a chunk of frozen herbs and toss what I need into my pot or pan, as well.  These same herbs can go into my salads, sauces, dipping oil, or on my garlic bread.

Speaking of pesto, I almost always keep some leftover pesto in the freezer for the same reason.  A big spoonful is a flavor bomb that can be dropped into a pot of soup, stew, beans, sauteed vegetables, spaghetti sauce, or used to top a perfectly cooked steak or baked potato.

This is convenience cooking at its best.  All the ingredients I need to create a delicious meal are waiting for me in my refrigerator or freezer, and I didn't pay any extra for them.  All the onions, peppers, garlic, and herbs I need for a meal are at my fingertips when I need them.  Add to that sliced olives or tapenade, preserved lemon, capers, pimentos, or other flavorful additions that are also in my fridge right now, and I have all the fixin's for a wonderful meal.

Sure, you can slice as you go if you want to always use fresh ingredients rather than frozen.  That is always optimal.  But on those days when you just can't squeeze in one more thing and need to get food on the table, having these prepped ingredients on hand can be a lifesaver.  It's much better than calling for pizza for the third time that week!

Another good tip is to clean, peel and cut fruit and veggies in advance, and keep those in storage containers in the fridge, as well.  An orange already cut into wedges or slices of peaches waiting in the fridge are more tempting and likely to be eaten than a whole piece of fruit.  Washed grapes or sliced melon are irresistible.  A head of lettuce cut into bite-sized strips is also more likely to appear on a lunch or dinner plate.  If you know you never use a carrot without peeling it, then peel the whole bag, cut into bite-sized pieces or sticks, and know that there's a healthy snack always waiting for you when you need it (or steamed as a side dish at dinner time).

Bottomline, it comes down to being as efficient as you can in the kitchen, to save yourself a lot of time during the week.  Chop two onions, instead of one and freeze half.  Chop two peppers instead of one, and freeze one.  Make the most of your time so you're not chopping every day, or washing knives, cutting boards, or food processors on a daily basis.  Keep the ingredients you need ready to go when it's time to throw a meal together, and watch how quickly dinner comes together.

Spend this precious time enjoying your family, instead.


Enjoy previous seasonal blog posts:

Slick Stuff
Using the right oil for your health.
Peas in a Pod
It's not easy loving peas!
Fruit-Picking Season
There's nothing quite as satisfying as growing your own food
The Fruits of Summer
There's fruit in my salad!
And I wouldn't have it any other way!
Butter-Rich Baking
When flavor counts, there's no substitute for butter. Butter make everything taste better!
The Buzz About Bees
Bees are precious, industrious and endangered.  We can do our part to make sure we don't lose these amazing creatures.
We're Jammin'
When the harvest is bountiful ...
Heirloom tomatoes ... the ugly ducklings / beautiful swans of tomatoes
Cooking with Herbs
Herbs are making a tasty appearance in some of your favorite desserts!
Top Chef - Colorado
A celebrity in the family!
Sunshine In A Jar
Preserved lemons are a game-changer!
Outdoor Spaces
Bringing the indoors outside is just how we want to live in the summertime.
Summer Entertaining ...
the perfect way to entertain.
Get Jiggly With It!
Make every summer party a whole lot more fun with these colorful & spirited shots!
Food Porn
It has become a national obsession ... we're salivating over food and all the food shows on tv.
Ice Cream Socials
We all scream for ice cream! 
Herb Harvest
There's nothing like growing your own fresh herbs!
One-of-a-Kind Design
Create your own fabric, gift wrap and wallpaper to take custom designs to a whole new level.
Happy Labor Day!
Ana's prize-winning
1st Place French Apple Pie & her 2nd Place Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie!

National Coffee Day
September 29th is the day to perk up! Have a Mocha Milk Punch from us
Back to the Farm
Fall is the time to head to the farm to pick pumpkins, visit the animals, go on a hayride, and sip hot cocoa by a bonfire
Brandied Fruit 
Time to put up your Brandied Fruit to marinate and mellow in time for the Holidays
Wine Poached Pears
Perfect for fall, perfect for dessert, perfect on a cheese board, perfect in a gallette!
Pear Tart, Part Deux 
There's a time for rustic, and a time for elegant.
Of Natural Disasters and Charity
A humbling reminder that nature is in charge, despite our best-laid plans
Congrats, HWP!
Healing Warriors Program received a huge honor, and we were invited to the Pentagon to see it!
Ana's non-profit, Healing Warriors Program, gives away a state-of-the-art electric wheelchair!
Donate if you can!
Healing Warriors Program,
my sister's nonprofit, does very important work for our service members' complete health and wellbeing.

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