Archive for the ‘Kitchen Organization’ Category

Keep an on-going grocery list and reduce trips to the store

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Here’s something that can change your life or at least improve your attitude about cooking.  I believe one of the most important things you can do for yourself, in the kitchen, is maintain an on-going grocery list.  Let me tell you how this works.

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I consider myself a fairly organized person.  I never shop without a list.  In the past, I used to make a grocery list right before going to the market.  I’d look through the fridge and cupboards, jotting down the things I was out of.  If you make a list that way, it’s not good enough.

When you make a list, at the last minute, there are always items you’ve run out of during the week, but won’t remember when making the list.  It’s really frustrating.  And you’ll go to the market with that last minute list, but in the back of your mind you’ll be thinking, “what was it that I needed?”  And then when you come home from your shopping it will finally dawn on you and if it was important enough it will mean another trip to the store.  Don’t you hate that?  Doesn’t that take the fun out of cooking, assuming it was fun to begin with?

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The solution to this problem lies in a 3×5 card and a pencil.  Take a 3×5 card and tape it inside your most-used kitchen cabinet.  If it’s taped inside the door, it doesn’t show. 

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Inside the cabinet you must also keep a pen.  That is very important.  The pen needs to be close to the card and it should never leave the cabinet.  Don’t remove it even for an emergency.  The kitchen cabinet must be its permanent home.

As you’re cooking during the week and use up the last drop of vanilla, you open the cabinet and write down vanilla.  If you run out of toilet paper, go to the cabinet and put it on your list.  If you’re browsing through recipes and need certain ingredients, add them to your cabinet list.  If you do this consistently you will never come home from the grocery store, kicking yourself for having forgotten an item.  The list is the memory.

This technique can be taken a step further by carrying a card with you to work.  If during the course of the day you think of something you need, write it down and then consolidate the two lists before shopping.  When you’re ready to go to the store, remove the list from the cabinet and immediately replace the old card with a new one and start the process all over.

You owe it to yourself to try this.  It will save you time and money.  And it’ll change your attitude about the kitchen.  I promise.

What to do with leftover tomato paste

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

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When a recipe calls for part of a can of tomato paste what happens to the rest?  Typically the rest of the paste gets thrown away or it gets stored in the fridge until mold developes around the edges and then it’s thrown away.  On rare occassion we might find a use for it. 

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One suggestion might be to take the unused portion and transfer it to a heavy duty ziploc bag or a small airtight container.

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That’s easily done by cutting out the bottom of the can…

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And then pushing that bottom lid into the can…

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and pushing the paste into the ziploc or other container. 

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Then flatten the paste with your fingers so it will freeze and thaw quickly.

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Label the bag and then take it to the freezer.  It might be helpful to designate an area of the freezer for small packages such as this.  

Next time you need a small amount of paste go to your freezer and if you allow it to thaw for a few minutes on the counter or if you defrost it slightly in the microwave you’ll be able to measure the quantity needed for your cooking and nothing will ever be wasted.

If you are looking for places to use tomato paste you might add the extra to your next batch of spaghetti sauce or meat sauce for lasagne.  The paste also makes a good spread for pizza base when used in conjunction with some herbs and fresh onions and garlic.  Add some paste to a pasta dish or give a vinaigrette dressing a tomato flavor.  Include some paste into a soup for a richer broth or supplement canned tomato soup with the extra tomato product. 

Note that tomato paste is concentrated tomato sauce so if you add water to the paste you create the thinner sauce.  Thinking in those terms might stimulate some other ideas for use.  If you make salsa, use the paste to thicken the mixture.  Add it to enchilada sauce or taco meat filling.  Include some in your meatloaf, either inside or on top.

There really should be no reason to waste any portion of that can.

Practical recycling containers

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

I am very frugal, especially when it comes to food and cooking.  I can’t bring myself to buy beautiful food storage containers when plenty of containers are already available.  Perhaps I shouldn’t  divulge my true colors but pictured below is my drawer of containers for food.  It consists of used and reused food containers from the market.  It may look like a jumbled mess but in truth it’s quite practical.  Inside the drawer are matching tops and bottoms.

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Every month or so I go through the drawer and match bottoms with lids. 

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Once things are sorted through the worthy containers return to the drawer for further use.   The containers must have a matching top and bottom to be worthy of this drawer.

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Cooking is all about practicality and convenience and so if I don’t have a matching lid for something then it’s time to retire the container and take it outside to the recycling bin. 

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Leftovers from meals go in these containers and are taken to work.  At the end of the day the top rack of my dishwasher is always full of containers that were used for lunch.

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If there is a downside to these containers it might be that they aren’t transparent; the contents can’t be seen.  Over the years I have learned to organize my fridge in such a way that I put like items on the same shelf which makes identification easier.   Sounds silly but I love my container drawer!  I feel good reusing what can be reused and when I need to send someone home with food I never have to worry about getting the container back.  The whole concept suits me.

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Keeping kitchen knives sharp

Friday, May 8th, 2009

It would be great if there were such a thing as a knife that never needed sharpening.  I remember, when I bought my first Henkel knife, naively thinking that a knife that expensive would rarely need sharpening.  Not  so.  All knives need regular maintenance and the frequency is determined by how often you use your knife and the quality of the knife, because generally speaking a good quality knife will hold an edge longer than a less expensive one.  So…what are our options.

There are several smaller sharpening tools on the market today and certainly if cost is an issue they are worth a try.  For many years I managed with this tool…

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and this…

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but as I did more and more cooking (and cutting) I had throw in a professional sharpening now and then to restore a truer edge.  If you don’t do a lot of cutting one of these smaller tools could be perfectly adequate for a long period.  A knife “steel” is a great tool for reviving an edge.  It is not a sharpening tool but will remove tiny burrs and increase the duration of the edge.  There are varying qualities of steels and some are designed to work with particular knives so consult with your retailer to match your needs there.

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A steel is great for temporarily “reviving” a blade but is not meant to be a sharpener.

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If you do alot of chopping and are giving your knife a workout on a daily basis you might want to invest in a more substantial sharpening system.  For around $80 I purchased (at the restaurant supply store) a series of graded sharpening stones pictured below.  There is a coarse block, a medium stone and a finer one (all in one kit).

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You start at the coarse block and pass your blade over the stone several times, then rotate the stone to the medium setting…

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pass the blade over the stone again a few times and then finally rotate the stone to the finer and final setting.

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While running the blade over the stone the knife is held at a 15 degree angle and there is a special technique involved.

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If you were to purchase one of these kits I would ask for a demonstration on sharpening or better yet bring in one of your knives and have the salesperson show you first hand.  I have yet to meet a man that isn’t thrilled to show off his sharpening technique.   I imagine you can go on-line and find videos demonstrating the technique as well.When using stones you have the option of using a honing oil to aid in the sharpening process.  Personally, I like the help of the oil but there are those who prefer to sharpen on a dry stone…something for you to decide.

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Maybe if you got good enough you could sharpen knives for others and charge them!

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Consider your needs and that will drive your decision regarding sharpening options.

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