Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tips for the Harried Family Chef

I know I've mentioned before that I'm constantly in a hurry. That I spend my nights cooking dinner and making tomorrow's lunches and doing dishes and picking up messes and taking out garbage and doing more dishes and putting away dishes.

I'd like to say that I've got this kitchen operating like a well oiled machine, but I'd be lying. Despite spending 95% of my time at the sink doing dishes, there are always more dirty dishes to be done. There's always something I forgot to do, something that's still a mess and some critical ingredient I'm missing and making up for. Despite my shortcomings, I've learned some tricks that keep me sane and my kitchen (more or less) running smoothly. These tips help me crank out the meals more quickly and makes food preparation less stressful.
  1. Always prepare extra of the things you use a lot. Grating cheese? Grate more than you need and put the rest in the fridge for next time. Making refried beans? Make a double batch and put the leftovers in the freezer. Cutting up sausage for the 5,000th time? Cut up extra and put the rest in the freezer. Which leads to my next tip...
  2. Keep extra things in your freezer. You'd be amazed all the things that you can freeze and thaw later with minimal consequences. I mentioned refried beans already. Cheese is another good example. Remember to give ample time to thaw--24 hours should be enough.
  3. Keep a running grocery list. Write it down as soon as you've used the last of whatever ingredient. I keep a list on my phone (one of those smart touch screen gadgets) of groceries we need.
  4. Always, always have a frozen pizza on hand for emergencies.
  5. Don't snub your nose at time-saving conveniences. I'm talking about buying the sliced cheese instead of the block, or the sliced pineapple instead of the full-sized pineapples. That kind of stuff.
  6. Stop making extra trips to the garbage while you cook. On your counter, place a Tupperware dish that features a wide opening into which you can throw all your food scraps. You can empty the dish into your compost pile or garbage when the meal is over. Not making a trip to the compost pile just yet? Throw the lid on the tupperware and save it for later.
  7. Keep your Tupperware organized. When I'm cleaning up after a meal and stashing the leftovers, nothing slows my momentum like finding a the perfect Tupperware but being unable to find the lid.
  8. Treat yourself while working the kitchen. If you spend as much time as I do in the kitchen, which is to say, if you spend like half your life in the kitchen, it shouldn't be a chore. Find little ways to make cooking and clean up more fun. Sometimes I play a radio or sing songs to myself. I like to have a beer while cooking, and while I'm cleaning up, I have coffee. In the absence of either of these things, I'll have a juice.

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