I’m one of those cook-from-scratch types who cheats and feels no shame about it at all. I will happily spend hours watching over a bubbling stew, just don’t ask me to make some mash to go with it. I’ve been thinking about the kind of time saving cheats I use in my kitchen
I have certain rules for cheating which I’ve imposed on myself. For example, I won’t use a jar of pasta sauce, but I will use a jar of pesto. I can knock up a decent tomato pasta sauce in a few minutes; but pesto requires a blender, a garden full of basil and a whole load of ingredients I generally can’t be bothered with.
I also have my ability (or rather lack of ability) to stand in the kitchen for hours prepping meals. I have a spinal injury, chronic pain and neurological problems which can make hours of prep intolerable for me. Sometimes my hands and arms can go numb too. The idea of peeling spuds with numb hands sets off a number of health and safety alarm bells in my head. Sometimes it’s just better to choose convenience over cut fingers. In short, there are some time saving cheats I’m prepared to forgive myself for, here are some of my favourite ones.
7 Time Saving Cheats for Busy Cooks
One – Frozen mashed potato. I first discovered frozen mash on a trip to Ikea and I’ve been buying it from supermarkets ever since. It costs around £1 a bag and each bag is enough for two meals for our 3 person family. It’s just frozen mashed potato with milk and a bit of seasoning. I usually add more milk and butter, a few minutes in the microwave and you’ve got beautiful, smooth, lump-free mash. There’s no going back to mashing my own from scratch now, and I’m not even sorry.
Two – Ready to roll pastry. I can and do make pastry from scratch when I want to and have the time, but the ready rolled stuff costs about £1 and saves about half an hour of prepping and cleaning up afterwards. If I’m throwing a quick pie or tart together, this is such a time saving ingredient. There’s no shame in using shop bought pastry, no shame at all!
Three – Lazy garlic/chilli/ginger etc. There’s no doubt that fresh is probably better in this case, but unless I’m doing serious batch cooking, then buying a whole bulb of garlic for one or two cloves is a bit wasteful. My garlic tends to start sprouting before I get round to using it all. Tubes or jars of ready crushed garlic, chilli or ginger are a great store-cupboard staple I wouldn’t be without.
Four – Frozen, ready prepared vegetables. Frozen veg has always lived in my freezer, but in recent years it’s taken a bit of a step forward. You can get ready chopped onion which saves you tears and oniony smelling fingers, I like frozen sliced mushrooms and frozen sliced peppers. They’re so handy if I’m making a quick pasta dish and need to up the veg content. My freezer is also always home to a bag of frozen cauliflower. The cauliflower makes a quick and hearty soup or gets thrown into macaroni cheese to make it more of a balanced meal.
I can also recommend frozen butternut squash pieces. Trying to cut a butternut squash is like trying to finely dice a brick, save yourself time and a trip to A&E by just buying it ready diced and frozen. It tastes no different but it is hard to find, so buy a couple of bags, you won’t regret it.
Five – Microwavable rice pouches. My husband makes beautiful rice, I don’t. I have given up trying and usually use boil in the bag rice; although I do flavour the cooking water with stock or turmeric. These days I always have a couple of microwavable pouches in the cupboard. They’re quite expensive and not as healthy as rice you’d cook yourself, but they’re really handy if you’re rubbish at cooking rice or need a speedy supper.
Six – Grated cheese. I use grated cheese a lot at home. You can buy ready grated cheese, but I find that it behaves a little differently to normal blocks of cheese. This is because it’s usually coated in starch to stop it clumping together. I do sometimes still buy it; but often I’ll buy a big block and run it through the grater setting on my food processor, box it up and use it when I need it. Sometimes I just grate by hand until I get bored, and put it in a box in the fridge until I need it.
Seven – Breadcrumbs are part of so many meals I cook. If I know I’ll be getting the food processor out for some batch cooking chopping, then a few days before I’ll buy a crusty loaf to go stale, chunk it up and whizz it in the food processor until it’s crumbs. I put the crumbs in a tub in the freezer, if you give it a shake every so often the crumbs should separate beautifully. You’ll have enough fresh breadcrumbs for a few months for almost no effort.
And if all else fails, order a takeaway! What are your time saving kitchen cheats? Do you worship at the altar of frozen mash too?