Whenever I am in the kitchen to make a big meal, like I often am on Sunday afternoons, I like to try to make that time really count. This often means that while I am cooking one big dish, I also take on some simple side dishes or meal prep that will help me save time later in the week. So yesterday when I pulled out the veggies I was going to put into a big baked pasta that would last us for at least one dinner and two or three lunches, it was also time to roast the remaining broccoli and brew my chai (spiced tea) for the week.
There are a couple of tricks that I have learned over the years that help this kind of multitasking work well:
1) The kitchen timer is your friend. This allows me to focus on the tasks at hand and not have to keep an eye on the clock. When I’m really on a roll I often have both my oven timer and the microwave timer going at the same time.
2) Think through the pots and pans you are going to use ahead of time. I mentally assign pots and pans to different dishes so that I am not suddenly scrambling at the sink to clean a pot as things sizzle on the stove.
3) Think through the order of things before you start. If you are going to need the oven at two different temperatures, think through which dish should be done first and which second.
So what did this look like yesterday? I started the spice brew for my chai on the stove, setting the kitchen timer. While it was in the first stage of brewing, I chopped the veggies for the sauce. When the timer went off for the brew, I paused in the chopping and started the second round of brewing, setting the timer again. Then it was time to start the pasta water and the sauce. When the timer went off for the third time, I took out the tea bags, mixed in the last ingredients, and left the chai to cool.
Then it was time for the next batch of veggies to go into the sauce. Once they were in, the water came to a boil, so in went the pasta. I started the oven to preheat and then my five-year-old appeared wanting to help. So I set him to work prepping the herbs for the sauce and then together we chopped the olives (he can’t handle a chef’s knife on his own quite yet). All of those things went into the sauce, he went off to play, and I had time to chop the broccoli for roasting. By then, the pasta was done, so I strained it, popped it into the sauce, mixed in the final ingredients, and into the oven it went. And I set the timer again.
While the pasta baked, I prepped the broccoli for roasting and put it to the side to go in when the pasta came out, decanted the chai, and even did a first round of dishes. Then, when the pasta came out, I reset the oven temp, put the broccoli in to roast, and again set the timer. I used that final timer both for the broccoli roasted and the pasta cooling!
It may sound overwhelming and crazy, but with just a tiny bit of planning ahead and the use of my love, the kitchen timer, it all went very smoothly. And in the end, dinner was made (as well as lunches for a couple of days), roasted broccoli for lunches and to go into quesadillas later this week was done, and my chai was ready and waiting for me in the morning.
Oh, and I felt a little bit like a superhero.
- ½ lb whole wheat pasta (shells and fusili are favorites in our house)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, pealed and chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- ⅓ large head of broccoli, chopped into bit sized stem pieces and florets, add stem pieces to onion pile and keep florets out separately
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 28oz can chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbl fresh oregano, chopped or 1 tsp dried
- 1 tbl fresh thyme, chopped or 1 tsp dried
- ⅓ cup red wine
- ¼ cup olives, chopped
- ⅓-1/2 cup feta
- 1-2 tbl fresh basil
- ⅓ cup parmesan
- salt and pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat oven to 425. In a 5-6 quart dutch oven, heat 1-2 tbl of olive oil on medium-high, add onion, carrots, green pepper, and broccoli stems (you’ll add the florets later). Turn down to medium and cook until the onions are translucent. Start a pot of water to boil. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add broccoli florets, can of tomatoes, oregano, thyme, wine, salt and pepper. Turn down to low and let simmer gently. When the water is boiling, add pasta and cook until just al dente. When pasta is ready, strain and add to the sauce. Mix in the olives, basil, and feta. Sprinkle parmesan over the top. Cover and put into the oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, uncover and broil for 5 minutes.