Here are some simple tips to help you make things happen in the kitchen. For those of you new to a kitchen, you may want to brush up on the inner workings of your cooktop and oven. These tips will get you up and running for meal preparation. For those of you comfortable in the kitchen, you should still be able to take away some pointers.
· Be organized! If you need to do a whole kitchen overhaul- do it.
o Organize your pantry (it should be empty now that you have cleared it out of all of the crappy food).
o Reorganize your refrigerator
o Set up a flow for your kitchen. For example, I have the glasses very near the dishwasher because they are harder to transport, colanders by the sink, pots/pans right next to the stove, etc.
o Keep you favorite recipes organized and convenient.
o Get rid of what you don’t need. Try the “box rule”. Put all of your kitchen gadgets/utensils in a large plastic bin or cardboard box. Pull items from the box as you need them. At the end of 30 days, get rid of whatever is left in the box- you don’t need it!
· Clean up as you go. It is much easier to put away your spices, mixing bowls, etc while your meal is sautéing/simmering than it is to do at the end. This is especially true if you do not have a lot of counter space in your kitchen.
· Learn how to multitask. This comes with experience, but with practice you should be able to time dinner to the minute. For example, when I am cooking chicken, I know precisely when to put on the brown rice and steam the broccoli so that they will all be done at the same time. You have to sort of work backwards on your cooking times.
· Keep it simple. If you are just starting out in the kitchen don’t start with a gourmet 5 course meal. A simple meal of sautéed chicken, brown rice, and steamed broccoli is easy, tasty, and nutritious.
· Start a menu diary. If you find a recipe that you and your family like, keep it. Don’t be like me and lose it and forget about it. Keep a binder, index card holder, computer file, etc. with the items you like so that you can go back to it often.
· Keep it fun. Don’t consider cooking a chore, it can actually give you a chance to relax. Put on some music, enjoy the beauty and aromas of what you are making, admire your concoctions, etc.
· Don’t get distracted. Let the children know you will be busy for the next 30 minutes, don’t answer the phone, put your to-do list in the back of your mind, etc. This will make the process more enjoyable and productive.
· Keep a stocked pantry. Make a list if items that you know you need on hand. When you use the last of this item (or close to it) put it on your shopping list. You should keep a running shopping list handy. For me, it is just a sticky note I keep in one spot and grab when going to the store.
· Chop vegetables at the beginning of the week. You wash and chop the vegetables you will use for the week. For example, cut up bell peppers, onions, celery, broccoli, cucumbers, lettuce, etc. You can then use them in salads or in your recipes. If you have the time on the front end, it will save you time on the back end. Save things like tomatoes and strawberries until just before you need them, they don’t do well stored.
· Skip the microwave. I will let you do your own research on the microwave but my common sense philosophy is that I would rather be safe than sorry. Here are some tricks to avoiding the microwave. Put leftover pasta in a sealed Ziploc bag and immerse in boiling water for a couple of minutes, steam veggies in a steamer on the stovetop (this doesn’t take much longer than the microwave), reheat leftovers in a skillet over low-medium heat, etc.
· Leave the kitchen gadgets you use frequently on the counter. For example, leave your blender out for making smoothies in the morning and the food processor for blending vegetables for soups, etc.
· Gather all of your ingredients before you start cooking. You can use small bowl or ramekins to measure out ingredients. To save dishwasher space, you can put ingredients on a cutting board and scrape them into the recipe when needed. That way all of the bags, bottles, etc. are put away before you start cooking. Plus, you are not scrambling to find things.
· Shop more often. As much as I love the big bulk stores, it is not the best place to shop for fresh ingredients. For the produce and meat you are better off shopping more often to ensure that the ingredients are fresh and not full of preservatives.
· Have salad fixins’ (wow, I used that in a sentence…I am from Pennsylvania but have lived in Georgia for 13 years now and I can finally say I used the word fixins’!) If you have chopped your veggies, you can quickly throw a salad together with some olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice.
· Have the right equipment. Every kitchen needs some good cookware (preferably enameled cast iron), a steamer basket, a juicer, a blender, etc. See some of my other articles for specifics.
Cooking is an art so it takes time to learn the nuiances of preparing a meal. The proper equipment and a great plan (i.e. meal plan/recipes) is key to success in the kitchen.