Slapdash Gourmet: Celebrating slapdash successWritten by Amy Campbell | | email@example.com
A couple of weeks ago I observed, briefly, the first anniversary of becoming the lone adult in my household. It’s still a painful memory, but that event was the impetus for my cooking journey, and in marking it I realized that over the past year I’ve made some real progress in my new role in the kitchen. They’ve all been baby steps, but even baby steps get you somewhere eventually, right?
At first I worked in the kitchen as my husband had left it and did things the way he’d done them. But as I was pressed into regular service I started making discoveries about how I do things, and how I wanted my kitchen to work. Then I found, when I mentioned some of my techniques and timesavers to others, that no, not everyone had thought of that, and a number of people said they’d be adopting some of my ideas as their own.
So, although it seems a little absurd to me, the until-recently non-cook, here are some of the kitchen ideas and observations that have helped me get through the past year, offered with the hope that they might be helpful to some of you.
Prep for success: Chop, pour and measure every ingredient in your recipe before you touch a pan or turn on a burner. Some of this prep can be done hours in advance, and will pay off in a far less frantic cooking process.
Take inventory: Knowing what you already have to work with can save you time and money. If you no longer remember what all is in your freezer or pantry, take a few minutes to sort through, then make a list of what you find. I keep my list on the freezer door, and update it as I use or add items. You might be surprised by the number of complete meals you can put together with groceries you’d forgotten about.
Prioritize: Decide which ingredients or dishes are worth making from scratch, and which ones modern culinary technology can provide for you. If you enjoy focusing on entrées but have no interest in salads, pick up some coleslaw at the deli or a bag of Caesar salad in the produce department. Refrigerated dough products like pie crust allow you to get straight to the fun stuff, and are even sanctioned by celeb chefs like Guy Fieri and Paula Deen.
Freeze for speed: Precook recipe components, package them as single or family-sized servings and freeze them for use later. Cooked chicken is a staple in my freezer, as is cooked rice. When packaging meat for freezing — whether cooked or uncooked — individually wrap chicken breasts, pork chops and the like before throwing them all into a large freezer bag. This keeps the pieces from freezing into a clump of more meat than you need.
Stock up: As long you’re precooking that chicken for the freezer, buy it on the bone and make chicken stock at the same time.
You can’t have too many go-to tools: If you’re constantly reaching for your tongs, have three or four pairs on hand so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to wash your only pair. Discount stores often sell serviceable kitchen tools that are cheap enough to stock up on.
Cook on your countertop: Small countertop ovens — souped-up versions of toaster ovens — preheat quickly, can accommodate an 8-inch-by-8-inch pan and offer a variety of cooking functions including, in some cases, convection bake. These can be a real timesaver and are great for singles or small families.
Have fun: I’ve enjoyed my time in the kitchen a lot more since I stopped thinking of every meal as a life-or-death event. Stuff happens, but rarely is an entire meal ruined by one or two slip-ups. Start with a slapdash outlook, and more often than not you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.