“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” Anthony G. Oettinger, German linguist and computer scientist
Younger readers sometimes tell me they have trouble cooking, particularly when it comes to getting everything to the table at the same time. This doesn’t surprise me, because I know I certainly had this problem.
One meal I prepared while in my early 20s especially stands out. And, not in a good way. It was supposed to be teriyaki sirloin tips with rice and steamed broccoli. It turned out to be beef jerky with slightly crunchy rice and broccoli cooked to the point of surrender.
Having learned a few things over the years — thank God — I am sharing the timing strategies for preparing and plating a simple meal in this post. (A note to frequent JOY Journal readers: While I prepare and eat many vegetarian and vegan meals, this is not one of them.)
All-Done-At-Once Salmon Patties, Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Vegetables*
Timing any meal preparation begins with knowing your recipes. If you don’t know/have what you need and know how quickly you need it when you actually do need it, you can really mess up a meal. It’s also a good idea to get everything out and do any chopping that needs to be done at the start.
This meal is so simple, we can begin, however, with the other critical first step. You must know how long it takes to prep and make each dish. Meals come together best if you start with the dish that has the longest preparation time. In this meal’s case, it’s the mashed potatoes.
So, begin by chopping about 2 pounds red-skinned or golden potatoes (peel on, blemishes removed) into walnut-sized chunks. Put them in a large kettle, pour in enough water to almost cover, put on a lid and set your burner to high. (When the pot water is boiling, you can turn down the heat to a simmer.) Set a timer for 25 minutes.
You are now playing beat the clock (although mashed potatoes are extremely forgiving if you don’t quite make it).
Next, put a package of the frozen vegetable of your choice into a medium sauce pan (using a steamer insert if you have one). Add about an inch of water and cover. When your timer hits 20 minutes, turn on the burner under the veggies to medium heat.
While the potatoes and veggies are cooking, open a can of wild-caught salmon. Drain it and put it in a medium mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of breading (crushed rice squares work well, especially if you’re gluten free). Also add one egg, the juice of one lemon, 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. With your hands, thoroughly mix until smooth (crushing in any tiny fish bones for added nutrition).
Shape the salmon into four patties. When the timer is at 10 minutes, heat up two skillets (preferably iron ones), add some olive oil to each and swish to coat. Place two patties in each skillet and fry them (without flipping) on medium-low heat for four minutes.
While the patties are cooking, use a fork to check your potatoes. When it slides right into a chunk, they are done. Drain the potatoes. In the cooking pot, mash potatoes with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 2/3 cup milk and 2 tablespoons butter. (If you are dairy free, like me, substitute 2/3 to 1 cup mayonnaise for the milk and butter.) Cover and set aside.
Back to the salmon — slide a spatula under a patty. If it is golden brown, flip the patties carefully and fry the other sides for 4-5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Brrrrringggggg. The timer should be going off right about now. Turn off the heat under your veggies and get to plating your meal. (This recipe serves four. Any leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator. If salmon patties are left over, a fresh squeeze of lemon juice will make for a decent packed lunch entree the next day.)
There you have it. All. Done. At. The. Same. Time! You, go, cook!
*Americans generally prefer all of their meal, with the exception of a salad or dessert, to arrive at the table on one plate (restaurant style) or to be brought to the table in larger serving bowls/plates and passed from person to person (home style). If your culture prefers multiple courses on tiny dishes, the same timing principles still apply. Simply tweak the gap times or make some courses ahead of time to make it work for you.