Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

A Better Use Of Down Time

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have no control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. And where do you tend to have a lot of available time? While you're waiting! You could be sitting in a medical office, stuck in traffic, caught in a long line at the post office or bank, hoping to have your flight start boarding soon, trapped on a train during an hour-long commute, or early for a scheduled meeting. Instead of bitching about wasted time, use those precious minutes to get something done!

  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • listen to a book on tape or a recording of a seminar you've been wanting to hear
  • make a wish list of books to read, movies to see, restaurants to try, etc.
  • make a to-do list of things you want and need to get done in the next week
  • plan your menu and grocery shopping lists for the week
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • review and update your calendar
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • write a letter to a friend
  • make a phone call that you've been procrastinating on
  • pay your bills, either online or writing a check to go in the mail
  • balance your checkbook
  • work on your Christmas gift list
  • write and address holiday greeting cards
  • work on any sort of report / homework / project with an upcoming deadline
  • write in your journal or diary
  • meditate
  • file your nails (although I probably would discourage a pedicure in public!)
  • just relax and enjoy a moment of silence in the middle of a hectic day

See how easy that was? Wink

A Faster Way To Organize Your Home

There's so much to do when you're running a household — just keeping your physical space in order and making sure your family is properly fed can be a full-time job! However, most people can't (and don't want to) spend all week on chores, because they have other responsibilities to think about — so you have to find ways to make those routine everyday tasks take less time. The good news is that the right household environment naturally makes everything easier — that includes meals, getting ready in the morning, and clean-up. You know that old saying, “A stitch in time saves nine”? Well that's what it's all about — investing a little bit of energy up front to create a system that works for you will save a lot of unnecessary work down the road!

  • walk through one room in the house and put away anything that is out of place
  • set up a basket at the base / top of the stairs for items that need to go up / down
  • gather up every book in you own in one specific category (self-help, history, biography, etc.)
  • organize one grouping / category / author of books alphabetically on your shelves
  • set up your pills and vitamins for the week in a daily dosage container — AM, mid-day, PM
  • move everything  for your AM routine (coffee/tea, meds, supplements) together into one cabinet
  • group all of one kind of food (cereals, canned goods, baking items, etc.) together in your pantry
  • put all loose bulk food items in lidded containers in your pantry — don't forget to label them
  • figure out your menu for the week, including page numbers for the recipes
  • write out a grocery shopping list for the week's meals
  • chop / marinate / prep your veggies and meat (in containers in the fridge) for the week's meals
  • cook a batch of a favorite dish (spaghetti sauce, soup, lasagna, etc.) and freeze individual servings
  • rinse your dishes right after each meal to prevent food from drying and becoming stuck on them
  • choose outfits for each day of the next week, including shoes and accessories
  • separate your casual clothes from dressy, or summer from winter, or work from play in your closet
  • put all of your shoes on racks or in labeled boxes by pairs
  • set up bins for separating out “dry cleaning,” “repairs,” and “alterations” in your closet
  • break your gift wrap paper / bags / tags / bows / ribbon into separate labeled tubs
  • clear your bathroom counter of everything except what you use daily for your grooming routine
  • set up an area at each entryway where visitors can remove their shoes to keep from tracking dirt in

See how easy that was? Wink

Plan Ahead

When do you decide on your meal plan for the day — 15 minutes before you're due to get dinner on the table? If you know in advance what dishes you're going to cook for the upcoming week, you will spend a lot less time in the kitchen than if you stand in front of the refrigerator each evening saying, “Hmm…I wonder what we should have tonight.” Spend a few minutes on before you go grocery shopping planning out your menu for the next 7 days. Decide what recipes you have the time and energy for — should you keep it simple because you have a lot of other activities going on this week, or are you ready for a big Sunday dinner extravaganza? You're in charge of the kitchen — you call the shots!

Shopping is also much easier once you have your week figured out. Take a  look in your pantry and see what ingredients you have (or lack) before you write out your grocery list — this way, you won't have to run out at the last minute because you are all out of beans for chili or forgot to pick up enough eggs for all the baking you had planned. You can do all of your shopping at once, instead of making three or four trips throughout the week.  And you save even more time by choosing dishes that can easily be combined after the meal is over to form a new dish. My mother's favorite was to serve corn and lima beans as side dishes at two meals, then combine any leftovers to make goulash. Nowadays, I just throw any veggies we don't cook in a pan for stir-fry later in the week.

Stick With The Old Favorites

We are often seduced by the colorful pictures and tempting-sounding recipes we find in magazines and newspapers — and it's awfully hard to resist the latest sexiest cookbook that promises to change the way you eat forever! However, the truth of the matter is that most people make no more than 10 or 20 different dishes on a regular basis. Don't believe me? Pull out a notebook, keep track of a month's worth of your family's meals, and see how often you attempt something entirely new and out of character in the kitchen. You are who you are, you eat what you eat — and while it's great to experiment with new foods once in a while, you'll reduce a lot of kitchen clutter if you follow the “know theyself” philosophy when it comes to recipes.

Take a few minutes to gather up your favorites and store them together in one ring-binder, card file, or computer program (depending on how you keep your recipes) — this is your “top 10 file.” Focus on those dishes that the whole family loves, are easy to make, take very little time, and use fairly basic ingredients. You can still keep the recipes for Truffle Souffle with Grand Marnier and Lobster Thermidor — just store those separately from your everyday dishes. You might also consider setting up a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly schedule for cooking your favorites. One of my clients with three busy children has decided that Monday is always pasta night, Tuesday is a casserole, Wednesday is grilling out, Thursday is soup, and Friday is pizza. It saves her time and energy, and she never has to deal with the question, “What's for dinner?”

Cook In Batches

It's a law of nature — as you do a lot of oneactivity, it automatically gets easier. That's why housework goes faster when you wash 7 loads of laundry in a single day rather than one load a day all week long — and the same is true of time spent in the kitchen. When you first start cutting uponions, the going is slow. But by your 5th onion,you're the chopping master! Consolidate your food processing and prepare more ingredients as you need for just a single recipe. Slicean entire bag of carrots, grate a whole block of cheese, make a huge potof tomato sauce rather than just enough for one meal. You can freeze orrefrigerate the extras and save yourself a little effort the next timeyou get ready to cook.

One of the best time-management decisions I ever made was to do the majority of my cooking all on one day of the week. I usually go grocery shopping on Sunday mornings (less crowded than Saturday), and I'll spend about 2 hours in the kitchen cooking for the entire week. I make about three or four “one-dish” meals that my husband and I can each for lunches and quick dinners — usually including a casserole, a soup, and a pasta dish. These get stored in our fridge in meal-sized containers, ready to be reheated.  I also cut up veggies and store them in Tupperware, make a big jug of green tea for the week, and put together a couple of quick desserts. Then, for the rest of the week, we don't have to do much of anything to eat a healthy meal. We might throw together a salad, or make a stir-fry and grill some fish, or eat one of my pre-prepared dishes. And we save money because we don't end up eating out as much when we've got plenty of good food in the house. It's a complete win-win situation!

Prepare Lunches In Advance

One of the biggest kitchen challenges my clients with kids face is getting school lunches ready in the morning. Waiting until 7 AM to prepare a portable mid-day meal from scratch for several kids, then doing that over and over again every day, takes a tremendous amount of time — and it's not a very efficient way to get your children ready for school. In the same way that you would have them lay out the clothes they want to wear or gather up all of their school books the night before, have your children help pack their lunch bags in advance. That way, no one is rushing around in the morning (running late for school or work) trying to figure out what's for lunch.

It's actually pretty easy — on grocery shopping day when you come homewith the ingredients for your kids' lunches, have your childrenassemble their meals for the week. Store individual-sized portions of chips, pretzels, cookies, and other snacks in Ziplocs. Set up 5 brown paper bags for each child, complete with a snack, a drink box, pudding cup, fruit roll-up, etc. in each. Then mark the bags with the child's name and day of the week and line them up on a shelf in the pantry. When that day rolls around, all you have to do is add a sandwich or soup! You will save time each morning, and it will keep your kids from eating all of their school snacks before the school day arrives.

Don't Wait Until It Runs Out

How many times has this happened to you — you are making dinner, need some (garlic, mustard, milk, basil), and you pull out an empty container. Someone used the last of your precious ingredient and didn't bother to let you know that you should buy more. And it's particularly annoying when you do it to yourself!  The best way to prevent this kind of crisis is to follow the 3/4 rule. Whenever you find that something is three-fourths empty, put it on the grocery list. Keep a notepad on the front of the refrigerator so that family members can add to the list as they notice items running low. You can even mark your containers with a sharpie showing the “buy more” line so there is no confusion about when you are running low.

Another good trick is to buy in bulk whenever money and space allows. This is particularly important for those non-perishable items you use all the time — tuna fish, rice, peanut butter, cereal, etc. — your staples. Keep enough of these foods on hand so that you won't find yourself running out at a crucial moment. Shopping at a wholesale club like Costco can also save you a ton of money over the long run.

Clean As You Go

Cooking scares a lot of people — not because they dread the act of preparing a meal, but because they just can't face the spills, splatters, and piles of dirty dishes that are left behind when they're done! I personally take after Julia Child and make a huge mess every time I enter the kitchen (turkey dropped on the floor, flour on the ceiling, and unidentifiable stains on every possible horizontal surface.) If I waited until I finished cooking to clean up, it would take a week!

But if you take the time to clean as you go, cooking is more enjoyable, less stressful, and incredibly less time-consuming (not to mention the fact that your kitchen smells a whole lot better!) Instead of piling everything up for “later,” invest a few minutes here and there throughout the cooking process cleaning up. Put those dirty utensils in the dishwasher as you finish with them. Wipe up that spilled sauce before it hardens into a crust. Put your ingredients away as soon as you're done adding them to your recipe. And take out the trash from your food preparationbefore it starts to overflow the can. You'll thank yourself “later!”

Making Mealtime A Bit Easier

Today, pay attention to the way that you move while you cook — and the energy you expend in the process. How many times do you cross the length of your kitchen in one evening? Do you find yourself doing squats to get at your pans? Stretches to reach your dishes? Are you becoming a world-class hurdler, jumping over the dog's dish every time you go from refrigerator to stove?

And what about the time it takes to get dinner on the table — how many hours have you wasted looking for the right utensil — or trying to find your double boiler in the back of an overstuffed cabinet — or making a last-minute run to the store because you ran out of a vital ingredient? Would you be more likely to cook if your pantry wasn't cluttered with outdated canned and boxed goods that you know you'll never use? It only takes a few minutes of cleaning out and rearranging to make your kitchen storage function more efficiently, saving you a lot of time and energy in the long run.

Honey, Is This Good?

We all know how disgusting it is to pull an item out of the fridge — only to discover that it has mutated into something no longer edible and (quite frankly) a bit scary. However, we often mistakenly confuse “non-perishable” with “indestructible”. Even Twinkies have an expiration date!

Do yourself a favor today — go through your cabinets and toss out anything that is old, rancid, stale, or hairy. And as you purge, be sure to keep a shopping list of items you need to replace. It's also not a bad idea to make cleaning out the kitchen a part of your regular “home maintenance” routine. You may use these food “life expectancies” as a guide — but when in doubt, trust your gut (or your nose!):    

  • canned foods (2-5 years)
  • flours (3-6 months)
  • cereal (6 months)
  • grains/legumes (1 year)
  • pasta (1 year)  
  • dried herbs (6 months)
  • spices (6-12 months) 
  • condiments (1 year)

Five Centers

Every kitchen implement or supply that you use tends to fall into one of five categories — cleaning, food storage, cooking, food preparation, and serving. So if you can set up your kitchen and dining room to reflect these activities, both storage and food preparation will become a whole lot easier.

It's just like your kids are taught at Montessori — make it easy to find the tools you need for your work, and to put your supplies away when you're done. The goal is to keep your equipment nearest the appropriate center, making it easier for you to perform your kitchen duties.

  • Your cleaning station consists of the sink, dishwasher, and trashcan. Of course, soap, disinfectants, sponges, and rags should be stored in a cabinet nearby.
  • The stove is central to any cooking activities, so keep utensils, baking sheets, pots, and pans within easy reach. If you can, also move the microwave and toaster into this area.
  • Your food preparation center should be located near a large workspace (countertop or island). You will probably want to store knives, a cutting board, mixing bowls, blender, food processor, measuring cups, and other related implements close by.
  • Food storage, on the other hand, will center on the refrigerator — and should include room for Tupperware containers, canned foods, dry goods, and fresh fruits or vegetables.
  • Your serving center may be split between the kitchen and dining area. It is often easier to store serving dishes, linens, and candles near the table – while flatware, glasses, and plates usually work well closer to the sink (it's easier to put them away after washing).

Transform Your Existing Storage Space

In your cabinets and drawers, try to limit yourself to one category of paraphernalia per area. That may mean putting canned goods on one shelf and boxes on another — or keeping dishes separate from glasses. This just makes it easier for your brain to remember where things belong. Organize your kitchen in a way that makes sense to you, but try to avoid storing food and cookware together in the same cabinet.

Also see what you can do to make your current storage spaces work better for you. Stepped shelving allows you to see items hidden in the back of a deep cabinet — and drawer dividers will keep your utensils under control. Remember that rectangular storage containers take up less space than round ones — and pot lids and flat cookware are more accessible when lined up in a rack. Finally, don't forget the many ways to bring “dead” space back to life — including pull-out racks, lazy susans, cup hooks, stacking bins, hanging storage, and space-saving appliances.

The Triangle Theory

One final concern in your kitchen is movement from one “center” to the next. Some people claim that you should be able to reach every major appliance in your kitchen with just one step.  But that seems highly impractical to me, especially if you have a very large kitchen or a very large number of appliances. However, you can make your life a bit easier as you cook and serve and clean — if you keep motion in mind.

Try viewing your kitchen as a triangle — from the sink to the stove to the refrigerator. Your goal is to keep those paths clear! If you have to dodge garbage cans, recycling bins, or any other obstacles to get back and forth, you are doing too much work. And those of you with an island may need to have your triangle at a very oblique or obtuse angle, but you can still make it work — just pretend that your triangle has curved sides that go around the island. We're flexible here! Wink