I've had a strong interest in cooking for a number of years and as a remote worker I've been able to spend more time than I used to in the kitchen. I've gotten adept enough that I generally prefer what I can do to eating out in Manchester, NH (there are a few very tasty exceptions). The problem is that I've found I can only sustain cooking passion for so many meals in a row before burning out and then eating out unnecessarily.
Late last year I built a hypothesis around why the burnout was happening and the result was that I mostly jammed all my cooking time into a 6-7pm slot that was after a full days worth of work. I have a limited amount of cooking surface so managing multiple things at once is also really stressful.
The one tool/technique that I've adopted that has really eliminated a ton of the stress is cooking meat/eggs sous vide. I've recently gotten an Anova circulator and I'm super happy about it. There's a lot of hype around sous vide in general, but there are a couple of really good reasons why I think it's a practical technique for someone who wants to reduce stress/time cooking:
Under/Over cooking meat is no longer a thing
You are basically preparing something at the ideal temperature to convert fat into deliciousness in meat (or convert egg yolk into desired consistency for eggs) and then cooking it long enough to ensure the entire portion is at a consistent temperature. This is contrasted to most other methods where you are cooking at a temperature above the desired internal temp and then ensuring the center gets to that magic temperature via thermometer and/or sixth sense.
I fret about temperature all the freaking time on basically anything I cook and it gets worse as the cost of the meat goes up. Even the best in the biz get it wrong a non-trivial amount and this is probably why most of your meat is prepared sous vide at high end restaurants now. Eliminating this whole class of problem is great. Not to mention setting the appropriate temperature and cooking is about three button presses.
Detaching the bulk of 'cooking' into prep time
I can actually cook the protein of my upcoming meal or batch a couple of meals into one prep time using sous vide during a lunch break. The steps are as follows:
- Portion meat
- Add herbs/spices/seasoning & butter/oil to bag
- Seal bag (vacuum or hold a ziplock bag under water to remove air)
- Drop it in the water for a set amount of time
- Chuck the meat back in the fridge (the lack of air inside the bag means it is safe from the bacterias for a bit)
This is something that I can generally timebox to 1 hour or less. It's about 10 minutes of work to get the whole deal setup and then I go do something else for the cook time so long as I've set a timer. It's easy to batch up a couple portions of meat and then eat them over a few days this way.
This is the rule for meats that you'd cook fairly quickly. For cuts of meat that need to be braised, you've got a long cook on your hands (actually probably longer than braising would take). I'm unsure if this offers any real prep benefits over a crock pot and/or a dutch oven for slow cooked meats in liquid.
You'll still need to sear the meat as you're about to plate dinner. This is about 2 minutes worth of effort though which is pretty reasonable.
I've found that employing the increasingly approachable sous vide technique to my daily cooking has been really helpful to reduce my daily time/stress for preparing food that I'm excited to eat. Writing the whole deal off as 'haute' and/or 'cheating' is less than ideal and I'd encourage you to check it out!