Establishing certain habits can make cooking easier.
This morning I stumbled across a great article in the Washington Post featuring a list of '5 kitchen resolutions that you can actually stick with in the New Year'. It was full of ideas for rearranging, cleaning, and preparing your kitchen for new and improved cooking routines. Inspired by all the interesting comments, it got me thinking about the things I do (or at least strive to do) to ensure my kitchen operates as smoothly as possible.
1. Pre-cook on weekends.Putting in a couple hours of cooking on a Sunday morning or afternoon makes weekday meals much easier to pull together. I don't followed a detailed plan, but do things such as washing and drying greens, cutting vegetables, preparing vinaigrette, soaking and cooking chickpeas or black beans, making a batch of homemade bread, baking cookies or muffins for kids' lunches, making a pan of granola, cooking a large pot of soup that can stretch for several meals, hard-boiling eggs for egg-salad sandwiches, etc.
2. Store food properly.
I'm very good at reviving sad-looking produce, but I need to get better at not letting it get so limp in the first place. My recent conversation with Toni Desrosiers of Abeego got me thinking about that, and I've been using my set of beeswax wraps with more dedication in the weeks since our chat. I am trying to wrap things better, not let leftovers get forgotten in the back of the fridge, store herbs in water-filled jars, use spices before they expire, and finish fruit before it goes moldy. Another goal is to organize pantry shelves according to ingredient type, in order to make it easier to see what's there and what needs to be bought.
3. Take good care of equipment.
It's easy to get sloppy with equipment, but caring for it properly means it will last longer and perform better. For example, my parents gave me a carbon steel knife for Christmas that rusts if left wet for any time at all, so I have to be diligent about wiping it dry as soon as I'm done using it. This can feel like an annoying extra step, but it's worth having that beautiful, sharp knife to use. Seasoning cast iron pans, sharpening knives, sanitizing wooden cutting boards and spoons, cleaning enamel cookware properly, and not heating pans too quickly to avoid warping are all habits I've worked hard to develop over the years – and still have room for improvement.
4. Rearrange ingredients and tools.
Where things live in a kitchen has an impact on how efficiently you cook. After years of running to three different locations to pull together the components of my blender for a daily smoothie, I've recently started keeping it on the counter, and it makes life so much easier. I now have a pull-out drawer beside the stove with all oils, butter, salt, and pepper that I'd need for cooking, and the pots are stashed on the other side. All baking ingredients are kept in a single deep drawer. Give some consideration to what you use regularly and where its most convenient location would be, and don't be afraid to change things up.
5. Stay on top of cleaning.
I do a decent job at keeping the kitchen counters, stove, and floor clean. My husband and I do all the dishes after dinner, so there's never a mess to wake up to. But I struggle with doing deeper-level cleaning, such as the fridge, pantry shelves, spice drawer, under-sink cabinet, and cabinet fronts. This is where I need to focus my efforts on weekends when I have a bit more time.
6. Involve my kids in cooking.
A few months ago, it took my son forever to peel an apple; now he can do a half-dozen in a matter of minutes, which means we can have an apple cake in the oven in no time. (In fact, we've made the same apple cake recipe three times in the past week because I'm so relieved to have outsourced the least fun task.) I've realized that I need to give my kids more kitchen-related tasks in order to (eventually) get the help I want in preparing meals, and to speed up their own skill development.