Cooking Ahead to Get Ahead in the Kitchen
Growing as a cook is really a state-of-mind. And part of that mindset is thinking holistically about the capacity of your kitchen.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re obsessed with buying the freshest ingredients and always thinking about what’s on future menus (though, we’ll admit it, we totally are!). It means looking at the process of cooking beyond just the next meal. It means getting in the habit of setting up your space and prepping your ingredients, and looking ahead to the days to come and asking, “What else can my kitchen do for me?”
Avoiding food waste isn’t just about saving scraps for stock, or using the whole vegetable when you cook. It’s also about making the most of the resources that it requires to cook at home. Starting to look differently at how to maximize your time in the kitchen makes you a more badass cook and a more environmentally friendly one!
Here are three of our favorite ways to evolve your mindset when it comes to efficiency and “cooking ahead”:
Bringing a pot of water to a boil is the first step in a bunch of recipes (including, of course, making ZENB Pasta!). But, whether you’re cooking with electricity or gas, it uses energy to make that most basic kitchen chemical reaction happen.
To be an efficient cook, always cover the pot with a tight fitting lid as it heats up, even if the recipe calls for an uncovered pot once the ingredient goes in. This will drastically speed up the time it takes to achieve a boil, saving on fuel.
Also, think ahead to have a few other things that can take a dip in the pot once it’s a-boil. Instead of dumping the entire pot of water to strain the ingredient, use a small sieve to fish out whatever is done, and keep the boiling sesh going!
Here’s an example of what we mean: Say you’re making ZENB Spaghetti Carbonara for dinner. When the pot of water is boiling, throw in some fingerling potatoes for the potato salad you’re bringing to a potluck in a few days; once those are done and removed, boil the ZENB Spaghetti. Remove the finished pasta with tongs or small strainer, then add in a few eggs to hard boil for a protein-rich snack throughout the week. Once those are done, use the remaining hot water to steam a batch of frozen edamame, broccoli or dumplings for future lunches.
Using a Hot Oven or Grill
The same principle applies to a hot oven. If you’re firing up the oven to roast meats or vegetables, you might as well use all of that heat to cook ahead. We love tossing in a few heads of foil-wrapped garlic (to use for garlic bread, homemade aioli and so much more), or bell peppers to make roasted peppers.
You can also roast any vegetables that you have on hand that you’re not sure what to do with. You’ll be much more likely to use carrots, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc. if they’re chopped, roasted, and waiting in the fridge! Toss them into salads or pasta dishes, tuck them into sandwiches, or use them for super-quick grain bowls.
If you’ve lit a grill, use the same strategy. Don’t let all that heat go to waste! Throw extra chicken, tofu, or sausages on the grill to enjoy tomorrow. Or, try grilling fruits, like pineapple or peaches, to serve for dessert later in the week. If you’re using a charcoal grill, carefully tuck foil-wrapped sweet potatoes or eggplants in the smoldering coals after you’re done grilling. That captured heat slow-roasts the vegetables and imparts a delicious smoky flavor.
Another way to “cook ahead” is to batch cook. This might mean doubling the recipe for cooked grains like rice, quinoa, or farro and saving half for meals down the line (most cooked grains last up to 5 days in the fridge and much longer in the freezer!).
Or, it could look like making two lasagnas or pasta bakes, with the intention of freezing one for the future. Nothing is better than being too tired to cook and remembering there is dinner all ready to go in the freezer!
Learning to be a savvy home cook is a process, and we’re honored to help you along on your journey! For more cooking tips and tricks, check out the ZENB blog and follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.