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When I’m cooking, there are two big time sucks in the kitchen: inactive time that takes some dishes (caramelized onions, braises) from fine to great, and active time at the chopping block. Now, I'm always willing to do what it takes for ultra tender brisket or creamy risotto, but there’s never an instance when I don’t appreciate a good shortcut, especially on a weeknight. So when I saw that this week’s Change The Way You Cook newsletter was all about easy tricks to save some time, I was eager to test a few of them out. My objectives: get all inactive steps going quick, streamline similar tasks, and massage the recipes to work together. So I picked two separate dishes to make for dinner and timed myself. I opted for a Caramelized Onion Frittata (off-roaded from this) and an everything-crunchy-in-the-fridge chopped salad and got to work. Would these tips really save me some time? I had to find out.
First things first, I knew I had to get the onions sliced and caramelizing pronto because they took the longest. Once they were on the stove for their uncovered sauté, I plucked thyme leaves and minced garlic. The recipe called to do those tasks first, but I knew I could get them done before they needed to meet the onions. That alone saved me a minute or two.
Once the onions were caramelizing away with the thyme, garlic, and seasoning, I knew I had about 30 minutes to make the egg mixture and figure out the salad—the likes of which I hadn’t decided on yet, besides that it’d be chopping-heavy.
Five minutes in: I snipped parsley with scissors because the newsletter said to keep your handiest tools close and cut a little extra to add to the salad. Then I whisked the eggs with yogurt, walnuts, and parsley. Frittata prep: Check.
Ten minutes in: I chopped some endive, celery, cucumber, and scallion for my salad (my parsley was already ready) and added those to a bowl of leftover barley from the other night (another tip I’m happy the newsletter reminded me of: Always have cooked grains in the fridge). While I didn’t remember to get out a garbage bowl, I did make a little “trash pile” for easy sweeping into the compost.
Then I remembered the dressing. This is always my least favorite part of making a salad because the balance needs to be just right. That can take time, and I didn’t heed (but should have!) the newsletter’s advice to buy something premade where you can, in this case something to serve as the base for my dressing.
Twenty minutes in: While I twiddled my thumbs thinking about what kind of dressing to make (this is not the key to speedy cooking), I noticed the scallions and the yogurt container still hanging out on the counter. I would need to turn the broiler on for the frittata anyways, so I set it a little early and charred some scallions for what would be a yogurt dressing. Aha! Into the jar where the frittata walnuts once lived, I added yogurt, olive oil, sherry vinegar, chile flakes, salt, and pepper. Then I snipped in the scallions, screwed on the top, and shook up the charred scallion-yogurt dressing. Bright and crunchy salad: Check.
With about five minutes until the onions were ready, I strategized how I was going to make the frittata. I already knew I wanted to broil it instead of bake it because of time, and I reckoned the yogurt would keep the egg soft under the high heat, which was true (I’m putting yogurt in frittatas from here on out). Instead of adding the onions to the egg mixture and pouring it into a second skillet like the recipe said, I’d just add the eggs to the onions to save time washing dishes. Sometimes when you take a few seconds to think about your next step, it ends up saving you time.
Once the eggs went in the pan and the pan went into the oven, I spent that time tossing the salad and cleaning the few dishes I had.
The end result? All told, a time-intensive frittata plus a chop-intensive salad and dressing took just 40 minutes, which I think is pretty good! Giving myself a set amount of time—that of caramelizing the onions—to zip through all the prep meant the two dishes were ready at the same time, and I had a few minutes here and there to clean up and plot my next moves. Even though I didn’t know exactly what I was cooking from the outset, these smart tricks and strategies—getting the inactive step humming, streamlining like tasks, and massaging the recipes to work together—saved me oodles of time. And, oh yeah, proved that you can caramelize onions on a weeknight.
Do you have any go-to kitchen time-savers? Share them in the comments!