Guest post from Debra Worth
When we first got married, I made the decision to mostly cook from scratch. I decided this for frugality, because I like the tastes of home cooked foods, and in general wanting to avoid ingredients that sound more like it is what an extra terrestrial creature should name their child then something desirable to eat.
I used to spend hours in the kitchen making elaborate meals and dirtying the kitchen. Then I had kids. I still spent hours in the kitchen– it just came at a higher cost. I did not have the first clue about how to be more efficient.
When my daughter, who can not have corn and possibly gluten and soy, came along I faced two options: 1. Learn how to manage the kitchen or 2. spend a lot of time feeling overwhelmed, crying, and in general wishing I never had to cook again. Thankfully I have learned some things that have helped me immensely. I am afraid I am not always the best at remembering how helpful the tips below are–but I see a world of difference between when I apply them and I do not.
Whether or not you cook completely, or even mostly from scratch, I hope what I have learned can be of service to you.
Tips For Cooking From Scratch (without going crazy):
Keep your kitchen counters clear– Clear counters make cooking so much easier and less stressful. It is imperative for you to have space to work. This is actually the first piece of advice in a very good book about keeping an efficient kitchen by The Heavenly Homemaker called Do The Funky Kitchen.
Fill the sink with hot soapy water– Yes, my first two pieces of advice have little to do with food, it is keeping your kitchen so that you can have a place of peace to work. Keeping up with the kitchen is the biggest help in being able to cook without it taking longer then necessary.
By filling the sink with hot soapy water, it invites you to clean up as you go.
Mise en place- This is a French term that means “put in place”. It is the assembly and preparation of ingredients. If your counters are clear then you are able to gather all the ingredients you need (and not have to search for them among stuff) and it makes cooking much easier and quicker. As far as preparation goes– having onions chopped, garlic minced, seasonings measured and mixed in a small container (such as a dessert plate or lid) makes the cooking of a dish far less stressful, much quicker, and usually more successful.
Use bowls- I know, I know, it is hard to cook or bake without bowls, but I mean use bowls to their full potential. This is related to the mise en place concept. Have bowls handy for your ingredients as you prep them.
Since your counters are clear, there is a space for all the bowls. Since the sink is full of hot soapy water, washing them is a cinch and having them handy is more then worth the “extra” dishes. If the bowl just had things like herbs, onions, or spices rinsing them is usually sufficient.
Flavor bombs– Use things that add a lot of flavor easily. This will help making flavorful dishes in a small amount of times.
Even if you prefer fresh ingredients, keep dried herbs, garlic powder, and onion powder etc. on hand for easy flavoring.
Make or buy seasoning mixes and have them handy. The possibilities are endless for mixing together spices and herbs and you can quickly and easily flavor if you already have them handy. I keep mine in small jars in a drawer with the rest of my spices. I have a lot more individual spices that I mix together for each meal as space is limited, but I always have a couple different mixes in there. Here is a list of 14 spice mixes that can get you started.
Quick Backups– Life happens. Be prepared. Have quick back-up meals that can be assembled in a few minutes. As I was writing this earlier my amazing husband was making our favorite “quick and easy” meal of salmon salad with cucumbers. I love the book 20 Minutes Meals for the ease of the dishes in it.
Cooking Days/Times– Have times set aside for baking or other homemade ingredients. Making 6 loaves of bread at once takes a lot less time then baking every couple days. Another way you can do this is by cooking or prepping ingredients ahead of time and storing in your freezer.
Meal Planning– I wonder, did you notice my nose just grew by about a foot? I love menu planning. I am not doing so well with it right now, though. I can not handle large trips to the grocery store and so once a week planning and shopping is out of the question. The extent of my planning right now is to get a few days worth of things and shop for them. I really do not like this, but have yet to see my way around it in this season.
Store Well– The more organized your storing spaces the quicker you will be able to locate ingredients. If you do not have enough space to store what you have efficiently, consider getting rid of things or otherwise simplifying. As awesome as a gadget is, if it takes you 10 minutes to find it chances are it saved you little to no time.
In your pantry, or wherever you store your dried goods, keep simple foods that can be made into a variety of things. For example I buy tomato paste which can be turned into ketchup, picante sauces, enchilada sauce, tomato sauce, caramelized tomato paste, tomato juice, and tomato soup; and it takes very little room to store.
Utilize Your Space- Very few kitchens are ideal. They might be small. They might not have a dishwasher. They might not have a pantry. They might not have counter space by your stove. Mine is all of the above but, it is the kitchen I have so I do what I can to use it to the best of it’s ability.
Do the bulk of your cooking when you feel up to it– My biggest struggle with cooking is breakfast. Struggling with insomnia and having young kids means mornings can be rough around here. Because of this, I try to make breakfasts ahead of time. If you prefer cooking in the morning to evening though, utilize your crock pot for dinners. Cook when you feel up to it!
Keep it simple– Meals do not have to be elaborate or have a TON of ingredients to be tasty. One of the biggest changes I have made in cooking over the years is using less ingredients. I develop a lot of recipes and am shocked sometimes as I write out a dish and see that often there are only a few ingredients in a dish that has a lot of flavor.
How about you? Any tips you’d like to share?
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