Despite the many accolades of Sara Moulton's long-reaching career (which include positions as executive chef of Gourmet magazine, Food Editor of Good Morning America, and now the host of Sara's Weeknight Meals), she has, in her own words, "insisted on getting a homemade dinner on the table every night of the week." Perhaps that's not too surprising, considering she's a protégée of Julia Child.
And just like Julia, Sara suggests shirking some conventions to make weeknight dinners a stress-free part of the day. For anyone looking to get a leg up in the kitchen, strategy and streamlining have become the name of the game. Here are a few ways Sara Moulton takes the easy way out in the kitchen to ensure dinnertime success.
1. Forget about mise en place and master the "meanwhile."
This one is the biggie: Forget about mise en place (unless you are making a stir-fry), meaning, don’t worry about dicing, slicing, and measuring everything before you start cooking. Instead, pull out all the ingredients you’ll need and just lay them on the counter. Then look at whatever recipe you have chosen for the evening and read it carefully from start to finish. Decide in what order you should prep the ingredients. For a pasta dish, for example, you should start by getting a large pot of water on to boil; meanwhile you can heat the oil in a skillet slowly while you chop the onion. Add the onion to the oil and cook it while you mince the garlic. Add the garlic to the onion while you chop the tomatoes, etc.
If you prep all of these ingredients before you started cooking, you will add at least 20 minutes to the total prep time. You should always take advantage of the meanwhile moments of cooking and marinating times to prep for other steps.
2. Want faster food? Grate it!
Make good use of the grating disk on your food processor. Vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, summer squash, and turnips cook so much faster when they are coarsely grated than when they are cooked whole, or cut into large pieces. Beets, which normally take 45 minutes to boil or steam, take only 10 minutes in a large skillet when they’re grated. In the summer you don’t even need to cook your grated vegetables. Just dress them lightly and turn them into a slaw.
3. Plan ahead and keep things easy.
- Meal planning: Make just one part of each meal involve serious prep. For example, if you decide to do a sautéed chicken dish, just serve a quick grain and frozen vegetable on the side.
- Vinaigrette: You will set yourself up nicely if you make a large batch of vinaigrette once a week in a screw-top jar; then you can easily throw together a main or a side salad every night.
- Sunday night advantage: Cook up a big batch of grains on the weekend, portion them into amounts that work for your family, and then freeze them. You can reheat them in a steamer or in a saucepan with a little bit of chicken broth in the bottom. And there is nothing wrong with frozen peas, corn, lima beans, and edamame. I always have them in my freezer.
4. Make faux grilled Bread in the toaster.
Finally one of my favorite cheating "side dishes" is my faux grilled bread. I take artisanal bread, slice and pop it in the toaster while I am preparing the rest of the meal, and then as the slices come out of the toaster, I brush them with a little extra-virgin olive oil, a cut clove of garlic, and a sprinkling of salt. Dinner is instantly more elegant.