It’s Tuesday, the day for Time-Saving Tips and Techniques at CookingManager.Com.
In Pre-Leftovers and Rotating Food I described how I cook something new and combine it with something on hand, putting a series of meals together like an interlocking chain.
Below are cooked foods I like to have on hand for putting together quick meals:
- Beans, chickpeas and lentils. I soak and cook a large quantity, set aside some for the next few days, then freeze the rest flat in a shallow container or “zippered” plastic bag. This makes it easy to break off a small amount. I add them to chili and any dish that needs an extra punch of protein. Save the cooking water as it adds flavor and texture to soups and casseroles. If you store chickpeas the cooking liquid is a good addition to chumus. Water for soaking beans should not be used in cooking, but you can water your plants with it. For picky kids, mash the beans. Lentils and smaller beans don’t need pre-soaking.
- Rice. I never make just one meal’s worth of rice. We’ll eat it for breakfast or lunch, or I add it to soup, serve with stir-fry, or put in a tortilla. Add an egg to cooked rice and make a crust for a quiche. Just microwave or bake it for a few minutes before filling.
- Potatoes. Mash them into a soup, chop them into a quiche or casserole, or add some onions and an egg and make potato cakes under the broiler. Avoid freezing cooked potatoes, although most people don’t mind them in soup.
- Marinara sauce. Keep in smaller containers in the freezer for when you want to pull together a meal. Serve plain with pasta or add in some leftover meat. You can add it to casseroles and quiches too.
- Gravy. This is the home cook’s secret weapon, but many just throw it out. After roasting or cooking meat or chicken, pour boiling water in the pan and pour the contents into a container. This is called deglazing. The fat will congeal at the top in the refrigerator and you can remove it. Freeze it in small containers—a little goes a long way—for turning ordinary leftovers into something special.
- Bits of meat, casseroles, or other leftovers. Sometimes this will be just what you need to fill out a meal. Another meal option is simply a selection of collected leftovers.
- Larger amounts of cooked meat for adding to sauce, stir fries, or casseroles.
- Vegetable cooking liquid. Use for cooking rice, add to soup, or bread dough.
- Raw, prepared vegetables. Ideally vegetables should be peeled and washed as close to cooking as possible, but most prepared vegetables will keep for a few days. You can even soak peeled potatoes overnight if you have to. For me, having peeled onions and washed celery on hand is the key to a quick meal.
- Sauteed onions, peppers, celery or mushrooms. When you are sauteeing vegetables, make extra and divide into one or more meal sized quantities in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Soup fixings. Add clean leftover scraps of vegetables and other foods on this list, to a container in the freezer until you want to make stock or soup.
So next time you find yourself in the kitchen, double up on the basics and get a jump start on future meals.
What cooked foods do you find most handy to have around?
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