What do short order cooks and moms have in common? Both need to get delicious food on the table in a hurry. And some moms take individual orders from each family member to make sure everyone is happy. That’s okay for some people and I never minded doing that for breakfast or lunch. But dinnertime can be dicey as so many of us need to work healthy meals into busy schedules. Especially during holiday time. I took my mother’s advice early on and made a “no-exceptions” rule for dinners. We all ate the same meal. My kids had to expand their culinary horizons or be hungry. They usually gave in and ate those yucky green beans or mushrooms. But it also made my life easier and made it possible for me to serve a healthy meal and get the kids to their activities on time.
Along the way I’ve found some fun kitchen tools that have shortened my prep time. I call them my 5 Easy Pieces. I’ve also learned some time saving techniques to help get the food on the table. Let’s start with the tools. These five make my life easier.
A fat separator does just what it says. It separates the fat from the good meat juices and makes turning cooking liquids into sauces and gravies easy. Fat separators look like measuring cups with long snouts. The cook pours used braising liquids, juices from roasted meats, or even marinades into the cup and the fat almost immediately rises to the top. The long, angled snout keeps the fat in the cup as the cook pours the liquid out. When using this tool with marinades that have held meat or fish, it’s important to cook the resulting liquid to kill any harmful bacteria. Find them at Target, in the supermarket aisle with the cooking tools, or at any cooking products store.
A mandoline quickly slices foods into uniform sizes. It can be used to julienne vegetables or cut them into thin, chip-worthy slices, and can even crinkle cut veggies. The chef runs a firm vegetable or fruit along an inclined plane into a blade. The plane is adjustable, and the blades can be changed for different thicknesses and shapes. Fantes makes sturdy mandolines.
Get a grip! with a palm peeler. I used to hate peeling vegetables. The process seemed endless and the vegetables always slipped out of my hands or the blades slipped off of the vegetables and nicked my hands. Especially potatoes, and the smaller the potato, the more slippery both it and the peeler seemed. A palm peeler calms down the process. The plastic device fits into the palm of your hand and is secured there by a ring on the backside that fits over your ring finger. The construction stabilizes the scraping and peeling process, which speeds it up and makes it safer than using traditional peelers. ChefN makes one that sells for about $7.00.
Like spatulas, spoonulas come in lots of sizes to fit many purposes. They are a hybrid of a spoon and a spatula essentially giving you flexible spoons. Spoonulas’ bendability make scraping batter bowls and pan corners easier. Find them at cooking stores, T J Maxx, and Target.
I use kitchen shears so often they almost made my 5-Iron List of the 15 tools you need to make any dish. They are not essential, but sure make food prep easier. I bought a Cutco brand pair since I have been cornered into several Cutco presentations made by eager college students earning tuition. A kitchen shears is a heavy-duty pair of scissors for food. I highly recommend spending the money on a substantial one because the stronger the shears, the more you can do with them. In the Cutco demo, the kids actually cut the rim off a penny. I haven’t yet had the need to perform that task, but I have found my shears to be handy for disjointing chicken and they can even cut through bones. A good kitchen shears will also perform delicate tasks. I like to snip scallions and herbs like chives and rosemary that can be tedious to chop.
5 Easy Procedures
Sometimes I don’t bother with my chopping and slicing gadgets because I’ve got my good chef’s knife out and I know lots of quick techniques. For those who want to stick to the 5-Iron list and its companion additions, or are happy using a chef’s knife to perform chopping, mincing, and slicing tasks, check my website for the quickest ways to: seed, peel, and slice an Avocado; core and slice a bell pepper; core an apple; chop an onion; peel, seed, and cut a cucumber, and more.
Any or all of these items make great hostess gifts or stocking stuffers for the chefs in your life, too. And if you need some quick and easy one-dish Christmas season meals for before, during, and after Christmas, pick up a copy of Complete Christmas Cooking for only $3.99.
Enjoy your speedy cooking this month and all year long!
Food Photos Courtesy of Easy Weekly Meals
Gadget Photo Courtesy of ChefN