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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 December 3, 2019

    How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

    How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

    Achieving personal goals deserves a huge amount of celebration but setting these goals in the first place is a massive achievement in itself.

    While the big goals serve as a destination, the journey is probably the most important part of the process. It reflects your progress, your growth and your ability take control and steer your life towards positive change.

    Whatever your goal is, whether it’s losing 20lbs or learning a new language, there will always be a set amount of steps you need to take in order to achieve it. Once you’ve set your sights on your goal, the next stage is to take an assertive path towards how you will get there.

    The aim of this article is to guide you through how to take action towards your personal goals in a way that will help you achieve them strategically and successfully.

    1. Get Very Specific

    When it comes to setting your personal goals, honing in on its specifics is crucial for success.

    It’s common to have a broad idea of where you want to go or what you want to achieve, but this can sabotage your efforts in the long run.

    Get clear on what you want your goal to look like so you can create solid steps towards it.

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    Say you have a vision on retiring early. This goal feels good to you and you can envision filling your days of work-free life with worldly adventures and time with loved ones.

    If retiring early is a serious personal goal for you, you will need to insert a timeframe. So your goal has changed from “I’d like to someday retire early and travel the world” to “I’m going to retire by 50 and travel the world”.

    It may not seem significant, but creating this tweak in your goal by specifying a definite time, will help create and structure the steps needed to achieve it in a more purposeful way.

    2. Identify the Preparation You Need to Achieve Your Goal

    It’s easy to set a goal and excitedly, yet aimlessly move towards it. But this way of going about achieving goals will only leave you eventually lost and feeling like you’ll never achieve it.

    You have to really think about what you need to do in order to make this goal possible. It’s all very well wanting it to happen, but if you just sit back and hope you’ll get there one day will result in disappointment.

    Self-managing your goals is a crucial step in the process. This involves taking control of your goal, owning it and making sure you are in a great position to make it happen.

    In the early retirement example, this would mean you will need to think about your financial situation.

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    What will your finances ideally need to look like if you were to retire early and travel the world? How much money will you need to put into your retirement fund to retire at 50? How much extra savings will you need to support your travels? You could also start researching the places you’d like to travel to and how long you’d like to travel for.

    Outlining these factors will, not only make your goal seem more tangible, but also create a mind shift to one of forward motion. Seeing the steps more clearly will help you make a more useful plan of action and seeing your goal as a reality.

    3. Breakdown Each Step into More Manageable Goals

    The secret to achieving your goals is to create smaller goals within each step and take action. Remember, you’re looking for progress, no matter how small it may seem.

    These small steps build up and get you to the top. By doing this, you also make the whole process much less daunting and overwhelming.

    In the early retirement scenario, there are several smaller goals you could implement here:

    • Decide to make an appointment with a financial advisor asking what financial options would be available to you if you were to go into early retirement and travel. Get advice on how much you would need to top up your funds in order to reach your goal on time.
    • Set up and start to make payments into the retirement fund.
    • Research savings accounts with good rates of interest and commit to depositing a certain amount each month.
    • Make sure you meet with your financial advisor each year to make sure your retirement plan remains the best one for you. Research new savings accounts to move your money into to reap the best returns in interest rates.
    • Start investing in travel books, building up a library that covers where you want to go.
    • Think about starting a language course that will help you get the most out of your travel experience.

    4. Get Started on the Journey

    Creating a goal planner in which you can start writing down your next steps is where the magic happens. This is where the real momentum towards your dream starts!

    Create a schedule and start by writing in when you will start the first task and on which day. Commit to completing this small task and feel the joy of crossing it off your list. Do this with every little step until your first mini goal has been reached.

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    In the early retirement example, schedule in a meeting with a financial advisor. That’s it. Easy.

    As I mentioned before, it may seem such a small step but it’s the momentum that’s the most important element here. Once you cross this off, you can focus on the meeting itself, then once that’s ticked off, you are in a position of starting a profitable retirement fund…and so the momentum continues. You are now on your journey to achieving your dream goal.

    5. Create an Annual Review

    Taking a step back and reviewing your progress is essential for keeping yourself on the right track. Sometimes you can be moving full steam ahead towards your goal but miss seeing the opportunities to improve a process or even re-evaluate your feelings towards the goal.

    Nominate a day each year to sit down and take a look at your progress. Celebrate your achievements and how far you’ve come. But also think about changing any of the remaining steps in light of new circumstances.

    Has anything changed? Perhaps you got a promotion at work and you feel you can add more to your monthly savings.

    Do you still feel the same about your goal? It’s normal for our desires to change over time and our personal goals need to reflect this.

    Perhaps you’d like to take someone new with you on your travels and you need to take this into account regarding timelines. Are there any new steps you want to add as a result?

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    Remember, reflection is a useful tool in realigning your goal to any changes and it’s important to keep on the right trajectory towards it.

    Strive to Become the Best Goal-Setter You Can Be

    Having personal goals gives you purpose and the feeling of becoming a better version of yourself.

    But it’s the smaller steps within these big goals that the growth and achievement really lies:

    • Whatever your goal is, make sure you get specific on when you want to achieve it. This helps you focus on the necessary steps much more efficiently.
    • Research the actionable steps required to get to the end result and…
    • Break these down into smaller, manageable goals.
    • Create a daily or weekly schedule for these smaller goals and start the positive momentum.
    • Reflect each year on your goal journey and purpose, readjusting steps according to changes in circumstance or desire.

    Keep going and always have the end goal in sight. Remember the ‘why’ behind your goal throughout to keep you motivated and positive.

    More About Setting & Achieving Goals

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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