KAREN TEMPEL’S THE SCOOP: Tips to fixing dinner quickly

  • Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 5:24 p.m.
A shopper browses the aisle at a Fresh & Easy store in Azusa, Calif.
A shopper browses the aisle at a Fresh & Easy store in Azusa, Calif.

According to the US Department of Labor, the first Monday in September is designated Labor day and is dedicated to honoring the achievements of American workers. It is designated as a yearly national tribute to the contributions those workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

In honor of Labor Day and the hard working Americans who hold down two jobs, one outside the home and one inside, here are some of my favorite hints and tricks for putting a meal on the table after a long day at work.

Dinner in no time

One of the best ways to save time in the kitchen is to take advantage of pre-prepared items from the grocery store. A rotisserie chicken can be dinner tonight and the leftovers can be used to make chicken salad for lunch the next day or used as a filling for fajitas the next evening.

The produce department is a great place to look for ingredients that have already been prepped, saving you time in the kitchen. Try using broccoli slaw and pre-sliced mushrooms to make a stir-fry. Pre-washed veggies are often sold in microwave pouches making it super easy to put a fresh vegetable on the dinner table.

There are pre-cooked rice packets in your choice of white, brown or wild, saving you anywhere from 20-40 minutes of cooking time. Just be sure to check the ingredients. If the label lists much more than rice and water or if the sodium content is high, you should probably look for other options.

Flank steak or skirt steaks require only about 10 minutes of cooking time and are quite delicious when sliced thin. You can cut the cooking time for chicken breasts nearly in half by slicing them in half crosswise before cooking.

Don’t forget about fish and seafood. Naturally quicker to cook, these are excellent choices for weeknight dinners.

Craving a baked potato (or baked sweet potato) but don’t have 40-60 minutes to bake it in the oven? Simply poke several holes in the potato skin with a fork. Wrap loosely in a wet paper towel and microwave 4-6 minutes on high or until potato softens.

When pressed for time to get dinner on the table, skip the produce department and head to the freezer section instead. Frozen vegetables save time because they are already washed and chopped. They come in a wide variety of combinations so keep several bags in your freezer to get a jump start on dinner.

My daughter’s favorite trick is grilling lots of chicken or pork but keeping it fairly plain. The leftovers provide quick dinners and can be incorporated into a variety of dishes including stir fry, fajitas, topping a pizza, or over pasta or rice.

And speaking of rice, why cook just what you need for tonight? Go ahead and double or triple the recipe and save (or freeze) the leftovers for future use. Follow the same rule when browning ground beef or ground turkey for a recipe. Double or triple the amount of meat and refrigerate or freeze the extras for another meal.

Consider going meatless at least once a week to save time, money and put a healthier option on the table. It is much quicker to open and rinse a can of beans than to cook a piece of meat.

I would also recommend keeping a variety of staples in your pantry so you don’t have to spend time running into the grocery store every night before dinner.

A good quality pasta sauce, low-sodium chicken broth, a variety of pasta and rice, frozen veggies, a few of your favorite bottled sauces, canned beans and tomatoes, canned salmon or tuna are all great items to keep on hand at all times.

Do you have a topic you’d like reading about or want to share your favorite shortcut in the kitchen? Email chef Karen at karen@letkarencook.com or comment at Everyday Gourmet Aiken on Facebook and your suggestion may be featured in my next article!

Karen Tempel, an aspiring chef since she could reach the countertops, has been delighting friends and family with tempting treats for most of her life. She is the owner of Everyday Gourmet, a custom caterer in the Aiken area. Visit her website at www.LetKarenCook.com or email her at Karen@LetKarenCook.com.

Dinner from the Pantry

Grandma’s Chili

4 16 ounce cans kidney beans

1 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 8 oz can tomato sauce

1 small onion, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped (optional)

1 teaspoon canola oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin, ground

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Saute onion and bell pepper in large pot in canola oil. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer 30 minutes or longer.

Optional: add 1/2 pound cooked ground beef or ground turkey or chopped cooked chicken or pork.

Labor Day Trivia

• The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City.

• The first Monday of September was designated as a national holiday by a law signed by President Grover Cleveland.

• The national holiday has been celebrated in the U.S. and Canada since 1894.

• Labor unions were at their highest percentage in the 1950’s when 40 percent of workers were a part of unions.

• The 8-hour work day was firmly established in 1916 with the passage of the Adamson Act. This was the first federal law regulating hours of workers in private companies.

• According to the bureau of labor statistics, the average commute time to work is 24.3 minutes.

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