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8 Things You Can Cook More Efficiently Using an Oven

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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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    Last Updated on November 25, 2021

    Protecting Your Online Life With Secure Passwords

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    Protecting Your Online Life With Secure Passwords

    With all of the recent online services and companies falling under attack to hackers in the past few months, it seems only fitting to talk about password creation and management. There are a lot of resources out there discussing this, but it never hurts to revisit this topic time and again because of its importance.

    Password management isn’t necessarily a difficult thing to do, yet it does seem like a bit of an annoyance to most people. When it comes to password management, you will hear the famous line, “I don’t really care about changing my passwords regularly. I have nothing important online anyways.” Let’s see if you have nothing important online when your PayPal account gets taken over because you thought the password “password” was good enough.

    In my opinion, it is an “internet user’s” responsibility to make sure that they keep secure passwords and update them on a regular basis. In this article we will discuss how to make your online presence more secure and keep it secure.

    The easy fundamentals

    First thing is first; creating a strong password.

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    A strong password is a mixture of alpha-numeric characters and symbols, has a good length (hopefully 15 characters or longer), and doesn’t necessarily represent some word or phrase. If the service you are signing up for doesn’t allow passwords over a certain length, like 8 characters, always use the maximum length.

    Here are some examples of strong passwords:
    * i1?,2,2\1′(:-%Y
    * ZQ5t0466VC44PmJ
    * mp]K{ dCFKVplGe]PBm1mKdinLSOoa (30 characters)

    And not so good examples
    * sammy1234
    * password123
    * christopher

    You can check out PC Tools Password Generator here. This is a great way to make up some very strong passwords. Of course the more random passwords are harder to remember, but that is where password management comes into play.

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    Managing your passwords

    I know some people that keep their passwords in an unencrypted text file. That’s not a good idea. I suppose that if you aren’t doing much online and are decent at avoiding viruses and such, it could be OK, but I would never recommend it.

    So, where do you keep your strong passwords for all the services that you visit on a daily basis?

    There are a ton of password safes out there including KeePass, RoboForm, Passpack, Password Safe, LastPass, and 1Password. If and when I recommend any of these I always count on LastPass and 1Password.

    Both LastPass and 1Password offer different entry types for online services logins (PayPal, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, etc.), credit cards and bank accounts, online identities, and other types of sensitive information. Both have excellent reviews and only differ in a few subtle ways. One of the ways that is more notable is that LastPass keeps your encrypted password Vault online where 1Password allows you to keep it locally or shared through Dropbox. Either way, you are the holder of the encryption keys and both ways are very secure.

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    LastPass and 1Password both offer cross-platform support as well as support for Android and iOS (LastPass even has BlackBerry support). 1Password is a little pricey ($39.99 for either Windows or Mac) where LastPass has free options as well as premium upgrades that allow for mobile syncing.

    Upkeep

    You should probably change your passwords for your “important” accounts at least every 6 weeks. When I say “important” accounts I am referring to ones that you just couldn’t imagine losing access to. For me that would be Gmail, PayPal, eBay, Amazon, all my FTP accounts and hosting accounts, Namecheap, etc. Basically these include any account where financial information could be lost or accessed as well as accounts that could be totally screwed up (like my webserver).

    There is no hard and fast rule to how often you should change your passwords, but 6 to 8 weeks should be pretty good.

    Alternatives

    You may think that all of this is just too much to manage on a daily basis. I will admit it is kind of annoying to have to change your passwords and use a password manager on a daily basis. For those people out there that don’t want to go through all of the hub-bub of super-secure, encrypted, password management, here are a few tips to keep you safe:

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    1. Create a unique and hard to guess “base password” and then a pattern to use for each site you logon onto. For instance a base password could be “Ih2BaSwAa” (this stands for “I have two brothers and sisters who are annoying”). Then you would add something “site specific” to the end of it. For Twitter Ih2BaSwAaTWTTR, Facebook Ih2BaSwAaFCBK, etc. This is sort of unsecure, but probably more secure than 99% of the passwords out there.
    2. Don’t write your passwords down in public places. If you want to keep track of passwords on something written, keep it on you at least. The problem is that if you get your wallet stolen you are still out of luck.
    3. Don’t use the same passwords for every service. I’m not even going to explain this; just don’t do it.

    These are just a few things that can be done rather than keeping your passwords in a management system. Personally, with over 100 entries in my password management system, I couldn’t even dream of doing any other way. But those out there with only a few passwords, having a simpler system may be beneficial.

    So, if you want to be a “responsible internet citizen” or you just don’t want to lose your precious account data, then creating and maintaining strong passwords for your online accounts is a must.

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