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Eight Tips for Cooking Whole Foods from Scratch–Quickly and Easily (Part 2)

Way back in this post, I asked you all if you’d be interested in tips on speeding up the process of cooking whole foods from scratch. I realized there is so much to say on this topic that I’d need to split it up into two smaller posts. I offered the first  four tips last week; today, I’ll present the final four.

Eight Tips for Cooking Whole Foods from Scratch on Diet, Dessert and Dogs

[Clockwise from large photo: Collard Wraps with Raw Carrot Pâte; Pesto-Bean Topped Salad; His N Hers Grain-Free, Oil-Free Pizza; Grain-Free, No-Cook Breakfast Porridge; Chickpea Pot Pie; Pasta Arrabiata.]

Well, howdy, everyone! I’ve made it back from my 1-1/2 days at the amazing Vida Vegan Con (I swear I spent more time in the air than on the ground!) and can’t wait to share all the happenings next time. For now, let’s just say I’m glad I survived the 10-hour travel times and dreaded flights across the country. Here’s what I looked like prior to takeoff in Toronto:

Ricki prior to takeoff for Vida Vegan Con on dietdessertndogs.com

[Anxious about flying? Me??]

Really, I’m just so much better in the kitchen.

So let’s get right to it: Part 2 of my Eight Tips for Cooking Whole Foods from Scratch–Quickly and Easily! (You can check out Part One right here).

Tip #5: Make Use of Time-Saving Methods.

Fill ‘Em and Leave ‘Em. Although I tend not to use appliances like a pressure cooker or slow cooker, I have friends who swear by each one–and I know they both save time. A pressure cooker can convert a recipe that normally takes hours into one that cooks up in mere minutes; and using a slow cooker frees up the time you’d normally use to check on, stir, and watch over your simmering stew, soup, or other meal (and you can go off and do your own thing while it cooks itself).

Save Time Prepping Food. In addition, countertop appliances such as a food processor or blender can save untold hours of time in the kitchen. When I need to chop or grate, I almost always use my food processor. Besides making short work of carrots, cabbage, onions, and so on, the parts can then be popped into the dishwasher, so I don’t even have to wash up afterwards.  If a recipe calls for several grated ingredients to be combined later in a bowl, I usually add them to the processor instead and just blend. No, the bits aren’t as distinguishable as they are when you grate them individually, but I save 15 minutes in prep time that way.

You may have noticed that chefs on cooking shows always have ingredients pre-measured and waiting. So when Giada De Laurentiis tosses that “one tablespoon chopped garlic” into the pot, it’s already prepared and she need only grab the little glass bowl and tip it in. She’s using the concept of mise en place (French for “putting in its place”), another method to save time during preparation.

If you lay out each ingredient and pre-chop, grate, melt, and so on beforehand, then the actual mixing-together of the recipe will flow so much more quickly.  Another benefit of prepping all ingredients in advance is that you can combine the prep work for more than one dish. For instance, if you require chopped garlic for your salad dressing and for your pasta sauce, it’s much quicker to chop all four cloves at once than to chop two for the salad, then two more later for the sauce.

Make Quick, Portable Meals. And just in case there’s someone out there who hasn’t yet tried a smoothie in the morning: blending all your breakfast ingredients into one fluid, drinkable mixture is oh-so-much-quicker than eating the individual parts one at a time! Next time you find yourself with leftover cooked cereal on hand (oatmeal, quinoa, etc), don’t bother to reheat it and dirty a bowl: simply add some to your morning smoothie for extra creaminess and thickness, then pour into a container and you’re good to go.

Toronto Sandwich on dietdessertndogs.com

[The Toronto Sandwich: A DDD Household Favorite.]

Tip #6: Find Some “Old Reliables” That You Can Turn to in a Pinch.

To save time during the week or whenever you need a meal quickly and without fuss, keep an ongoing list of reliable recipes that you can whip up in no time. These are the ones you’ve made so many times that you no longer need a recipe; they’re the ones with which you’re so familiar that, even if you don’t have all the ingredients on hand, you feel comfortable switching them up a bit.

In our house one of our most recycled meals is some version of The Toronto Sandwich. Whether the filling is grilled tofu, marinated tempeh, spicy beans or veggie pâté, the base of a chickpea crepe with some kind of sauce and spice is a staple of which we never tire–and it’s ready in about 10 minutes. Other go-to quick dishes are Quizza, kale salad, Spicy Favas and Soba Noodles with Ginger, Chard and Walnuts (these days I use 100% soba noodles).

Additional quick dishes include almost anything raw (such as “egg salad,soups, “rice,” and so on), make-ahead dishes (there’s that slow cooker calling again), and pre-frozen, defrosted meals.

Classic Vegan Quiche on dietdessertndogs

[Classic Vegan Quiche with Millet Crust.]

Tip #7: Multi-Task (Sort of).

So, apparently it’s a myth that humans can multi-task, since our brains are simply not wired for it.  Even so, it’s possible we can multi-task where food prep is concerned: on evenings when you need more time to yourself, choose a dish that can be prepped quickly but requires more time to cook. That way, you can pop it in the oven, then leave the room while your dinner simmers away.  Simple soups work well in this instance, as do slow-cooked stews. And don’t forget to cook more than you need and freeze the leftovers!

Tip #8: Use Leftovers with Pride–and Creativity!

I know: lots of you don’t enjoy eating leftovers.  The HH falls into this group, too. When we were first together, I attempted to serve the same dinner two nights in a row. Well, suffice it to say, that only happened once (I think The Girls are still traumatized).

These days, I still serve leftovers to the HH; I just don’t tell him that’s what I’m doing, and I serve them in such a way that he doesn’t recognize last night’s hummus in tonight’s pasta sauce. (And don’t worry, he doesn’t read this blog, so he’ll never know. Let’s just keep it between us, shall we?).

Some creative ways to use leftovers:

  • Store frozen vegetable trimmings in a bag in the freezer to use later in broth. Freeze already-cooked broth in silicone muffin cups or ice cube trays, then pop out and store in ziploc bags in the freezer. Use for soups or sauces as needed.
  • Keep frozen tomato sauce and pesto on hand in the freezer. You can dilute your sauce (with some of those broth cubes!) for a great tomato or minestrone soup base, or use in other sauces, stews, chili, and so on.
  • Give meals a makeover and new life as something else entirely. Soup can be used as the basis for a pasta sauce (purée and add some tomato sauce; or purée and bake with some legumes in a casserole); nut butters can be used in baked goods; muffins or cookies can be crumbled and used as the basis of crusts and in brownies and bars; cooked cereals can be added to baked goods, or made into meals on their own; meat crumbles can be used in any number of dishes; hummus can be combined with sauces to add creaminess in pastas; cooked grains or pasta can be used as pizza crust or crust for a quiche. . . the possibilities are practically endless.

Savory Oatmeal Wedges on dietdessertndogs.com

[A great way to use already-cooked leftover oatmeal.]

So, you see, there are myriad ways to ensure that cooking whole foods–mostly from scratch–needn’t be onerous.  Time in the kitchen transforming real, whole food ingredients into delectable, nourishing meals is always well spent, of course. Even so, it’s always nice to find yourself with a little extra time on hand to enjoy eating those meals, socializing, or simply relaxing instead.

Do you have any other tips to add? I’d love to know how you make creative use of leftovers, too. Please share in the comments!

Never miss a recipe–or a comment from The Girls! Click here to subscribe to Diet, Dessert and Dogs via email. (“We love subscribers, Mum. . . almost as much as we love treats!”)

Last Year at this Time:  (gluten free; ACD  All Stages Stage 2 3 and beyond Maintenance)

Two Years Ago: (gluten free; ACD All Stages Stage 2 3 and beyond Maintenance)

Three Years Ago: (gluten free; ACD  ) All Stages Stage 2 3 and beyond Maintenance)

Four Years Ago:  (gluten free; ACD  ) All Stages Stage 2 3 and beyond Maintenance)

Five Years Ago: (gluten free; ACD  All Stages Stage 2 3 and beyond Maintenance)

© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs

Never miss a recipe–or a comment from The Girls! Click here to subscribe to Diet, Dessert and Dogs via email. (“We love subscribers, Mum. . . almost as much as we love treats!”)

Last Year at this Time: Watermelon-Basil Cooler (gluten free; ACD  Stage 3 and beyond)

Two Years Ago: Carob Fudge (gluten free; ACD All Stages )

Three Years Ago: Creamy Mint and Pineapple Dressing or Sauce (gluten free; ACD Stage 3 and beyond)

Four Years AgoDog Day: Where’s Mum? 

Five Years Ago: Radish and Grapefruit Salad (gluten free; ACD  All Stages)

© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs


12 comments to Eight Tips for Cooking Whole Foods from Scratch–Quickly and Easily (Part 2)

  • I love hearing what bloggers make regularly. It always bumps those recipes up the to do list.

    I don’t tend to use my food processor to chop vegies – chopping takes up quite a bit of my prep time but I find it time consuming to get out the right blade so I just use a knife.

    I was really surprised to see that you say many people don’t like leftovers. They make me very happy – a night of minimal cooking and dishes and more of that yummy food. Of course leftovers aren’t always straightforward. I love to put leftover cooked vegies into soups, or a rice casserole or a pasta dish – anything actually. My main problem with leftovers is potato – I find that mashed potato is best on the first night and that potato doesn’t freeze well – though it does do well if reheated the next night.


    Ricki Reply:

    Interesting about chopping with a processor, Johanna! I only have two blades (the “S” and the grating blade), so there’s no real work to find the one I’ll use! 😉 And I totally agree about the potatoes. A little less smooth, a little more grainy when frozen and defrosted, right?


    pdw Reply:

    Using mashed potato a second day:
    – potato patties
    – potato soup
    – perogies
    – shepherd’s pie


    Ricki Reply:

    This is fantastic–thank you! 🙂


  • These are totally up my alley! I LOVE to multi-task in the kitchen 🙂 I do need to work on #5 though. I’m not so good at saving time. Sometimes I feel like I’m locked in my kitchen!


    Ricki Reply:

    Yes, it can seem that way sometimes! But I think establishing routine and habits in the kitchen is so important when you’re on a special diet–so many regular meals or types of preparation can be streamlined!


  • Love the multi-tasking tip! I love it when I can set supper on simmer and just do other stuff while it’s cooking. 🙂


    Ricki Reply:

    Me, too! Makes life so much easier. 🙂


  • Seriously, I’ve become the worst make-ahead, planning cook ever. I need someone to come in and train me on it – it is that bad!

    I’ve been told that companies now look at multi-tasking as a negative – have found that those who multi-task have reduced quality – makes sense.

    Heading to that delicious-looking Toronto sandwich now!


    Ricki Reply:

    Thanks, Alisa! I agree about multi-tasking. Every time I attempt to multi-task, I realize I’ve spent an hour and haven’t gotten anything done. I’m all about uni-tasking, these days! 😉


  • Ha! Glad you survived the plane trip. Great tips!


    Ricki Reply:

    Thanks, Carol. (Survived is a good word!!). 😉


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