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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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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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