Kitchen for Adults: How to Calculate the Cooking Time so That Everything Is Ready Right Away

When preparing a “square” dish – you know, this one with protein and at least two sides – I rarely struggle with the preparation itself. I can cook chicken, mash potatoes, and fry a baking sheet of broccoli without any problems, but keeping track of the time so that everything is on the table at the same time – hot and ready – is what gives me trouble.

Part of The Grown Up Kitchen series , Skillet is designed to answer your most basic cooking questions and fill in any gaps that may be missing from your home chef education.

I have been cooking for a long time, and even I find it difficult to choose the time, especially when I work with new products or recipes. The more you cook, the more intuitive the timing becomes, but it can still be overwhelming. Given the fact that there are an infinite number of combinations of an infinite number of recipes, it is difficult to come up with a complete definitive guide to this subject, but I can give you some basic tips and tricks for optimization and meal timing that all fit together. Spoiler alert: This requires careful planning.

Step one: make the right choices and keep things simple

Everyone loves an exciting new recipe, but preparing a new dish the first time almost always takes longer than you expect. Whether you are learning to grind a new vegetable, working with a new piece of meat, or trying a completely new cooking method, it will take longer than the estimated recipe time. You should give yourself an extra 15 minutes of cooking time and preparation time to accommodate this, but you should also make sure that the other dishes you prepare are familiar to you.

Also, don’t go crazy with the menu. Know what you are going to do ahead of time, and stick to it, and resist the urge to do absolutely everything yourself. Yes, you can make your own salad dressing, but fridge-hunting the mustard, vinegar, and shallot halves you saw out there earlier this week can add time and distract you from the rest of the meal. You’ve already washed, chopped and mixed all the ingredients to make a beautiful fresh salad, and no one will get mad if you smoke a couple of bottles of olive oil and vinegar instead of whipping up the vinaigrette.

As far as how many ingredients should be in your food, it depends on you and your comfort level. On weekdays, I usually prefer protein, cooked vegetables or starches, and something from raw plant parts (when the tomatoes are in season, I just chop them and sprinkle them with salt for ease), but there is nothing wrong with serving one a serving or – in the case of soups, stews and casseroles – a good piece of bread. No matter how many you choose, it’s important to stick with your choice. Once this is done, you are ready to plan your attack.

Step two: draw up a timeline

First, decide when dinner will be served and work in the opposite direction. Write down everything you do with the cooking time and cooking temperature next to each dish. Unless you’re on a prescription, a quick Google search can usually reveal this information. If you just want to roast a few vegetables, you definitely need to know how quickly different types of vegetables are roasted. Below is the total time to bake vegetables in a 425 degree oven, but keep in mind that this can be affected by how finely you cut them:

  • Thin and soft vegetables: (yellow squash, squash, peppers, green beans, asparagus, tomatoes) 10-20 minutes.
  • Greens: (cabbage, mustard greens, cabbage greens) 6-10 minutes, depending on how crispy they are.
  • Hearty Crucifers: (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower) 15-25 minutes.
  • Bow: 30-45 minutes
  • Mushrooms: 20-40 minutes, depending on size.
  • Winter squash: 30-60 minutes, depending on the size of the cubes.
  • Root vegetables : (carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets) 35-60 minutes depending on size.

You will know they are done when they are soft when poked with a fork and have a great crunchy edge. If you’re new to frying, it’s a good idea to try one vegetable at a time, and then add variety to the baking sheet as you feel more confident. Aside from frying, Betty Crocker has a pretty detailed guide to the various cooking methods and durations of vegetables .

So with all this in mind, let’s play pretend. Let’s say I want to serve fried chicken breast (we’ll be using this recipe ) with fried carrots and red onion, blue cheese and bacon salad, and let’s say I want to serve it at 7:00 pm. … We start by recording each dish, including the cooking time, method (so you can keep track of the space in your oven and hob), and temperature (if you’re using an oven). Since the bacon needs to be cooked before it is added to the salad, I would treat it as a separate dish. For our imaginary menu, it will look like this:

Fried chicken breasts – 30 minutes, on the stove

Roasted carrots – 45 minutes including washing / peeling / chopping.

Blue cheese and red onion salad – 10 rub.

Bacon – about 7 minutes

Given this cooking time, I would give myself at least an hour (chicken and carrots can be cooked at the same time), maybe a little more if there is a dish in the mixture that I’m not used to. Since the salad can be made and refrigerated while you do the rest, I would go ahead and get it out of the way, especially if you don’t multitask too much (and I don’t). Also, since it’s about bacon, you can cook it first and then use the fat to cook the chicken, saving you a frying pan and some oil.

Step 3: Complete this timeline

So, shortly before six, I would pour myself a glass of wine and play sweet culinary tunes because cooking should be fun and relaxing. Since I know I am going to bake the carrots at a fairly high temperature, I would go ahead and preheat the oven. Then I chopped up the bacon and began to fry it in a pan. This should take about five minutes or so, and while it does, I can wash, dry, chop the salad, and dice the onions. Then I put the bacon on a paper towel lined plate to dry, and removed the pan of bacon grease from the heat to keep my apartment from smelling of smoke. I put salad and onions in a salad bowl and put them in the refrigerator.

Then I would pay attention to carrots, as they take longer to cook than chicken. I chopped them, poured them with oil, seasoned with salt (add pepper at the end) and laid them on a baking sheet. At this point, the oven should be good and hot, so it’s time to put the carrots in the oven. Now we can attack the chicken. Since I know this whole process should take about half an hour from start to finish, I would put off starting until the carrots have been in the oven for 10 minutes or so. It would be a good time to refill your glass of wine. I’m not going to retype this entire recipe, but if you’ve read it carefully and follow it exactly, your carrots should be fully cooked and roasted by the time you’re done with the bird. Put your hot meals on a table that hopefully someone else has set, take the salad out of the fridge and sprinkle with bacon and some crushed blue cheese. Dinner is served.

Now suppose there is a disaster and your chicken is ready before your carrots, or your carrots are ready before your chicken. Don’t worry, just take a sip of your wine and grab some foil. If the carrots need a little longer, simply remove the chicken from the pan, place it on a serving plate and wrap it tightly in foil. Place them on the stove (but not yet hot), it should be warm, but not too hot. If the chicken needs more time, just turn off the oven and leave the carrots there until they cool.

You are now ready to eat and reaping the delicious rewards of your careful planning. Of course, we’ve just looked at a very specific meal scenario, but this strategy can be adapted for almost any meal. To re-set the limit, you need:

  1. Make a menu and stick to it
  2. Find out the cooking times for everything you need.
  3. Write it all down, including cooking times, cooking times, cooking temperatures, and how much oven and stove space you need.
  4. Once you have a plan, stick to it.

As I mentioned in the beginning, timing will become more intuitive as you cook more and more, but scheduling for yourself and not overwhelming yourself with a whole bunch of new recipes and ingredients can make cooking a lot more relaxing and enjoyable.

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