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8 Things You Can Cook More Efficiently Using an Oven

8 Things You Can Cook More Efficiently Using an Oven


    We all want to make the best use of our time, and time in the kitchen is no exception. For many of us, cooking has become synonymous with drudgery — with that perennial question, “What’s for dinner?” striking a silent sigh from within.

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    Yet cooking from scratch is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and our families.

    While I do make my living as a cook, I’m just like the rest of you. I don’t want to spend needless time in the kitchen at the end of a long workday…or on my days off. I also don’t want to have to fuss over sauces or stove top dishes that require constant supervision to save them from the risk of total ruin.

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    One of the best kept secrets for efficient and easy food prep in the kitchen I discovered early on was to use the oven — and for a lot more things than pies, cakes, or roast chicken. It really is the ultimate kitchen multi-tasking device. I can get a recipe written up and laundry done while the soup I’m going to have for dinner roasts quietly in the oven.

    Why you should cook in the oven

    • Using the power of dry heat is a kinder, gentler way of coaxing flavour from simple ingredients. Don’t believe me? Try roasting your green beans next time you think about steaming them.
    • It’s mostly a “hands-off process” once you’ve completed all the preparation – the oven does all of the hard work. Perfect for those of us who work from home, or a Sunday afternoon…when you’re likely home anyway.
    • If you have time (but not attention), the oven is the perfect way to cook. Just make sure you put a timer on — and like that commercial from the 80’s used to say: Set it, and forget it!
    • Despite the hype about low-cost fast food, cooking from scratch is cheaper — and better for you. Using the oven makes it easy to do that with very humble, inexpensive ingredients.
    • There’s no special equipment needed. Think of your oven like a big slow-cooker. With multiple settings, no need for a new piece of equipment, and no loss of valuable counter real estate. I’ve had best success with cookware I already have –- sheet pans and parchment paper for many things, and cast-iron frying pans and pyrex casserole dishes for things that are a bit more fluid.

    What should you be cooking in your oven?

    1. Soup. Any soup that is going to be pureed and/or that requires a flavour base of browned aromatics (onions, carrots, celery, garlic) is much easier to do in the oven. A rough chop, then sprinkle with salt and pepper, and finally a toss to lightly coat with oil. Bake at 375 degrees until everything is fork-tender. Puree in a large bowl with hot chicken stock and adjust seasonings. That’s it!
    2. Chickpeas and other dried legumes. Dried legumes are so much more frugal than canned, but usually involve soaking, rinsing and simmering. Cooking chickpeas in the oven is easy as placing them in a casserole with a heavy lid — no soaking required. Toss in a small onion, whole garlic clove and a bay leaf, cover with 1” of water and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 2-3 hours. Bake up a lot and you can freeze the extras with a bit of the cooking liquid for later use.
    3. Jam. Cooking jam the classic way involves cooking fruit and sugar on the stove top until it reaches that magical temperature of 220 degrees. This usually requires stirring to avoid scorching on the bottom, and sometimes some scorched fingers in the process as it bubbles up. Most jam recipes follow a basic ratio of fruit:sugar. Just follow this ratio, but spread everything out in large roasting pan. Cook at 300 degrees for about 2 hours, with a stir every 30 minutes or so.  It will get thicker as you get close to the end.
    4. Beets. Are you tired of trying to figure out how to peel beets without running the risk of maiming yourself? Roast them unpeeled! 350 degrees in an oblong pyrex pan covered with foil; there’s not even any oil needed – the moisture in the beets does it all. After 60-70 minutes (for medium-sized beets) they should be tender through. Slice off the top and bottom and the peels will slip off!  Chop up and store to use in salads, or for quick pickles through the week.
    5. Savoury salads. Roasted root vegetables make a great base for savoury salads. Roast these on a parchment lined sheet pan with a bit of olive oil, onions, garlic, balsamic vinegar and spices if you like (smoked paprika makes a great addition, or try some ground coriander with your carrots). Roasting everything with the balsamic gives it a complex, new dimension that you won’t get by dressing it after the fact.
    6. Tomato sauce. Tomatoes taste best when they have been reduced slowly, with a bit of caramelization happening (for the geeks out there, look up the Maillard reaction). It’s super easy to achieve this using the oven. Fresh tomatoes are best — if they’re in season, but canned are excellent if they’re not. Add onions, rosemary, whole peeled garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil. Roast on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
    7. Caramelized onions. No worry about them burning. Peel and chop as many onions as will fit on your sheet pan. Chop them pole-pole, and toss with a bit of olive oil, and 1/2 tsp salt. Roast on a parchment-lined sheet pan for 60 minutes at 375 degrees.
    8. Polenta. Classic polenta requires stirring…and monitoring…and more stirring. Using the oven to bake polenta is dead-easy and only requires one intermediate step along the way — with equally delicious results! Bake 1 cup polenta, 4 cups water, 1 tsp or so salt, at 350 degrees in a covered 3 quart casserole for 1 hour. Check it for moisture, and stir in cheese if you want. Bake for another 15 minutes and serve.

    Conclusion

    So now that you have this technique at your disposal, play around with it. Start thinking of your oven as a “mechanical prep-chef” — and think about the different ways you might use a big batch of roasted beets, chickpeas, or tomato sauce throughout the week. A large batch of polenta can be eaten as a side dish, and leftovers can be chilled in a loaf pan and eaten sliced and fried until crispy 2 nights later.

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    The more ingredients you have prepared in advance, the less stressful dinner will be!

    (Photo credit: Modern Oven Detail via Shutterstock)

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    Published on July 15, 2019

    10 Simple Strategies to Make Your Life Better Starting Today

    10 Simple Strategies to Make Your Life Better Starting Today

    Habits are an important part of the direction you take your life, and — as I’ll share with you shortly — there are certain daily habits you can adopt right away that are guaranteed to improve your life.

    Think back to when you were just six or seven years old…

    At that age you probably didn’t have many habits. But, as the years went by, you picked up more and more good and bad habits.

    You may not have thought about it before, but habit forming never really stops.

    That’s why it’s never too late to change your habits and transform your life.

    So, if you feel burdened by your bad habits, start kicking them into shape by replacing them with these 10 positive, life-changing strategies:

    1. Go to Bed a Little Earlier and Wake up Earlier 

    Starting tonight, get yourself to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual. And, then make sure you get up tomorrow morning 30 minutes earlier, too. This small change can have a BIG impact on your day. 

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    Instead of furiously rushing in the morning to get ready for work, the extra time will give you a golden opportunity to start your day off on the right note. You can drink a smoothie while sitting on your porch, spend 10 minutes exercising and stretching, and still have time to read a few pages of an inspiring book.

    2. Be Grateful for the Good Things in Your Life 

    Setbacks and obstacles are inevitable in life. But, with a positive mindset, you’ll be able to overcome most of these. And, when you do, you’ll boost your self-confidence. 

    This is something you can definitely be grateful for. 

    However, if worst-case scenarios are playing out in your life, then sometimes, to stay strong, you’ll need to keep your mind on the good things that are happening to you. For example, your relationship with your partner might be crumbling, but your career is continuously getting stronger. It’d be easy to feel downtrodden and miserable about your relationship problems —  but, it would be much healthier to keep your mind and gratitude on these things that are going well, such as your career.

    3. Drink Water All Day Every Day 

    I’m sure you’ve heard the advice of drinking at least eight glasses of water a day, but are you following that advice? If not, you’re robbing your body and mind of essential hydration. 

    With the right amount of water intake a day, you’ll be amazed how good you feel — and how good you look!

    4. Take 15 Minutes to Set Goals for the Day, and Then Tackle Them One by One 

    This strategy will put your life into a new stratosphere! And, it’s very simple to do. 

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    Simply spend 15 minutes in the morning (either at home or at work) planning what you need and want to achieve during the rest of the day. Once you’ve listed your tasks, the next step is to put them into order of priority. 

    For instance, you have three things to do: catch up with your emails, write a project update, and prepare a briefing for your CEO. It’s best if you put these in order of importance. In this example, your emails can probably wait until you’ve created your CEO brief and updated your project documentation.

    5. Turn Off Your Cell Phone (or Put it on Airplane Mode) When You’re Focusing 

    A 2012 study found that even looking at a cell phone or feeling it vibrate in your pocket can significantly distract focus and reduce your ability to complete complex tasks.[1]

    It’s no surprise really, as our thoughts are subconsciously drawn towards checking our phones when they’re switched on. It’s a bad habit — but one that most of us have. However, when you need 100% focus (like I do when writing my articles), then switching your phone off, or at least putting it into airplane mode, will free your mind and supercharge your focus. Try it and see!

    6. Walk as Much as You Can 

    Have you noticed that most people’s lives are sedentary? They drive to work, sit in front of a screen all day, then drive home and binge on the latest Netflix series. It’s no wonder there’s a growing epidemic of obesity and mental health issues. 

    Our bodies are made to move — so we should move them! This can be as simple as walking up the stairs to your office instead of taking the elevator, and going out for a walk around the block at lunchtime. In the evening, instead of arriving home and crashing on the sofa; spend 20 to 30 minutes walking around your block.

    When you make these things a habit, you’ll be amazed by how much better you feel. You’ll have less stress — and more energy.

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    7. Be Mindful of Your Surroundings

    How often do you stop, think and appreciate the “here and now”? I’m guessing not very often. But, I understand why. Modern life is demanding and fast-paced. There’s precious little time to appreciate the small things. 

    But, if you want to live a healthy and happy life, you must break out of this trap. You can do this by allocating 15 to 30 minutes each day for mindful meditation. This could be in a park, in your garden, or even in your lounge. The trick is to focus 100% on your surroundings. 

    For example, if you’re outside, watch how the leaves on the trees blow around in the wind. By keeping your focus on this movement, you’ll clear your mind from your usual stresses and strains. This will give you brain a much-needed break. And, as well as improving your mental health; you’ll find your creativity gets a boost, too.

    8. Ask for Help When You Need It 

    No one can know or do everything. Which is why you shouldn’t be embarrassed to delegate tasks to others when needed, ask questions when you don’t have the answers, and work with partners and colleagues to clarify intentions. 

    When I first set up Lifehack, I tried to do everything myself: blog writing, website creation, marketing, financial planning, etc. However, I quickly learned that it was much better to hire some help. Not only did this inject some fresh ideas and inspiration into Lifehack — it also made the whole operation way more enjoyable!

    9. Practice Self Care 

    Are you looking after yourself as well as you should? If not, then take steps to improve your diet, exercise more, and to speak to yourself with encouraging words and thoughts. 

    The latter suggestion is often overlooked. But how you speak to yourself determines how you feel, what you believe, and what you achieve.

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    10. Embrace Learning 

    You cannot transform your life without learning something new. That’s because the process of change forces you to adapt. But, many people stop learning as they get older, as they find the learning process boring and bothersome. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. It can be fun and rewarding. 

    Whether you decide to learn to play guitar or study the basics of accounting — embrace learning, and begin changing your world for the better.

    I’m sure you’ll agree that these 10 strategies are simple enough for you to start putting them into action in your life. (I suggest you begin today!) 

    Nevertheless, you’ll probably need to use some extra willpower for the first 30 days or so, as this is the typical length of time it takes to create a new habit. After that, these strategies will be part of your day-to-day life, and you won’t need to think about having to do them. In other words, they’ll have become habitual actions.

    If you need any further encouragement to get started with the 10 strategies, then consider this:

    Even just adopting one of the strategies can turn the tide in your favor. But, when you implement all 10, you’ll create an unstoppable trend towards success, health and happiness.

    So start making your life better — today!

    Featured photo credit: Javier Garcia via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Deborah R. Tindell and Robert W. Bohlander, Wilkes University: The Use and Abuse of Cell Phones and Text Messaging in the Classroom: A Survey of College Students

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