Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tips from the Mastermind

Get it!?? Mastermind, Brain cake?!? The site this picture was taken from will tickle
any scientist and chef alike. I about died with delight upon discovering it!! 

Below are several categories which have made a big difference in my life in the kitchen. For those working, over worked, or frazzled chefs out there - never fear - these are inexpensive, practical, and don't require over hauling anything other than your kitchen habits. They are quick to establish, and make kitchen management much smoother in the days to follow. Good luck on your journey.

For the avid learner - read this post all the way through to get the most out of it. For those interested in a specific area - skip to the heading.

Above all know this - Organization is key.

Menu Planning 

Each week, before going shopping, I create a weekly menu. This allows me to live within my budget, determine what food experiment I want to try that week, and gives me a shopping list. Plus, I HATE dealing with crowed grocery stores, so I'm in an out fast. 
I go isle by isle, starting with the produce section, and skip isles that don't contain items on my list. I end near the dairy/juice, then find the dog food/pet isle or some other boring isle to get to the front of the store. It's hard to impulse buy looking at dog food.

Generally eat the same thing for breakfast, scrounge or eat left overs for lunch, and party when it's dinner time - so I only really plan dinners. I plan lunch and/or breakfast if I'm ambitious. Maybe.

There are apps, websites, printable forms, etc. Find something that doesn't make you want to pull your hair out and USE IT! I made mine and laminated it at a friends place, and it works for me: here is what it looks like.

 Every day has a half size sticky note with the main dish scrawled on it. Yes, saturday has "Wild Card" under it. At one point I thought I'd try planning for a month, so I wrote in the dates - it was an epic fail. The four rows are for Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, and Dinner.
It's a bit of an eye sore - but it helps me manage my house so it stays where it is. If something is out of sigh, it's out of mind to me.

On the back of my menu plan, I have previous meals (loosely organized) that I can use in the future. On the right are sides that I occasionally stick with a main dish to remind me to incorporate something specific.

Fridge Organization 

I organize my fridge loosely by meal. When it comes time for cooking, I just grab the pile and a few things from the door. No searching, no pulling molding veggies, rotting fruits, etc that have been hiding. Every fridge is different but use these principles:

Sort by meal. 
Group frequently used things together, easily accessible.
Don't let things hide (use a lazy susan, baskets, or another organizer if needed). 

Top Row: Eggs, Lazy Susan with semi used ingredients
Drawer: Cheese, herbs
First Shelf: Chicken for Stew, left over squash soup, left over Tortellini Sausage soup.
Second Shelf (ingredients, sorted by meal): Chicken Fajitas, Bacon Blue Chicken, Hot German Potato Salad w/ Cabbage.
Drawers: Veggies for lunch, veggies for sides. 

Top: Frequently used stuff - spices, drinks.
Middle: Frequently used marinates, dressings, and other "I need to grab this quick" stuff.
Bottom: Infrequently used items, bulky items.
These are small items, that I use in about 80% of my recipes, so I keep there here and very handy. 

Freezer Organization

I buy in bulk (especially meats - way less expensive), and freeze it. I organize my freezer by food type, so if I need to see if I have enough chicken, I pull out the 'white meat' basket and see if I do or don't. No rummaging, no frozen fingers - it's just a quick glance. 
It's important food safety to freeze food in serving/frequently used size portions. As a habit, you want to avoid defrosting and refreezing food. As an example, I buy 6 lbs of ground beef, use one pound, and freeze the other five in one pound portions. When a recipe calls for 1lb of ground beef, I know just how many to thaw. 

Here are the principles:
Organize by food types (meat, produce, sweets, herbs)
Use containers (label if needed. Mine are from the dollar store). 
Keep a 'Lazy Meal' handy. Mine is usually a frozen pizza. 

Left to right, top: Sweets, White Meat Basket, Red Meat Basket.
Bottom: Ice,  Left Over Meals (Bagged Meals), Veggie Basket. 

Freezer door: Breads, Fruits, and infrequently used items. Small container for herbs (hidden to right of fruit). 

In conclusion, I hope this helps. Take it one step at a time. Buy the baskets one week, organize the freezer the next. This has make a huge difference in my budget, sanity, and enjoyment of cooking. It's allowed me to eat healthier, fewer over processes foods, and really enjoy trying some new ingredients. 

ENJOY the creativity of cooking! It's a beautiful thing! 

Reader digest version:

Plan your major meals, Shop with a list. Sort you fridge by meal, sort your freezer by food type. Label and free left overs - meals in single serving containers, ingredients in measured portions. Enjoy good for more often. 

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