Cook While You Rest: Four Ways to Get Started When You are Short on Time

It’s Tuesday, the day for Time-Saving Tips and Techniques at

Today I share techniques to get a jump start on cooking, with just a few minutes of investment. Allow chemical processes to do the work until you can give the recipe more attention.

  1. Soak beans. Soaking cuts cooking time and lessens flatulence. To prepare dried beans sort through them for stones, then rinse well.  Place the beans in a bowl and cover with water. The beans will expand, so you need a large bowl and about two inches of water above the level of the beans. Soak overnight.If you need to soak them longer do so in the refrigerator, replacing the water once a day. Beans can spoil so don’t soak them indefinitely. Always discard the soaking water, which can be used for plants. Note: Smaller beans and lentils don’t need pre-soaking, just a good washing.
  2. Marinate meat and fish. A marinade tenderizes meat and adds flavor. Marinating also helps keeps meat or fish fresh, allowing you to cook it closer to the meal without worry of spoilage. Soak meat, fish or vegetables in marinade, using a closed container in the refrigerator. To prevent bacteria from growing ensure that your marinade has an acidic base like lemon juice or vinegar.Thirty minutes to two hours is long enough to incorporate the taste of the marinade in most foods. Marinating longer doesn’t improve food and may make it mushy. I regularly marinate overnight, but I leave you to experiment. Note: Never use leftover marinade for another dish. If you boil it for a few minutes you can add it to another recipe.
  3. Defrost food in the refrigerator. For safe and tasty results, always defrost raw and cooked foods gently in the refrigerator. This saves energy because the frozen food helps keep refrigerated food cool. Don’t use the microwave for defrosting.
  4. Set up a bread sponge. If you are planning to make bread in the next day or two, you can set up a sponge. A sponge contains all of the wet ingredients or just the water, yeast, and about two-thirds of the flour.Mix it and cover it—kneading will come later. The batter should be loose and fairly wet. A large, clean garbage bag tied loosely around the bowl works well as a cover.

    Leave the sponge on the counter or  put it in the refrigerator, depending on the climate, type of yeast and your schedule.  After a few hours, or the next morning, add the rest of the ingredients and continue with the recipe. A refrigerated sponge will need time to warm up before you work with it. Then you let the dough rise and move on to shaping the loaves; no second rising is required.

    Tip: When using instant yeast, skip the “proofing” stage. Instant yeast can go right into the flour.

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  1. On 4., what is the difference between mixing and kneading? I put the bread ingredients in my mixer, and it basically kneads the dough. Is the point of this to leave out part of the flour and then do a piece of the recipe one day and the rest the next day?

  2. Mixing is a quick blending of ingredients. To make a sponge with a mixer is hardly worth washing the blades. Kneading is working the dough more thoroughly, and takes approximately ten minutes by hand–and can be hard for anyone with physical limitations.

    Well, I guess that making a sponge will only save time if you are planning to knead by hand. But it will still improve your bread. Did I answer your question?

  3. No Brainer Baking:
    Though I do love individual cookies, I hardly ever make them anymore–any cookie recipe I make (chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin) I dump into one pan, bake, and cut into bars. Not necessarily the nicest presentation, but it cuts the time invested by at least 2/3.

    I also have a fallback cake recipe that I can mix up literally in 5 minutes. I always feel like I am accomplishing something when I make it 🙂

    I’ve never tried refrigerator/freezer cookies, but I might feel compelled to soon. As soon as I have a kitchen again.

  4. Yes, you answered my question, Hannah. So maybe I could make some of the challah dough tonight, as a sponge, and make the rest tomorrow morning. Would that save me time? Well, I doubt I’ll do it tonight. But it’s a thought.